Ultradirect Marketing

For most people, the term “marketing” conjures up big-budget national prime-time TV ads, billboards, and magazine spreads. This is the stuff that gets all the press and attention, and when it’s especially good, it becomes fodder for water cooler chats.

Less sexy is the world of direct marketing — direct mail, email, events, and seminars. It’s got boring written all over it. But even if it’s boring, it can be quite effective.

Which is not to say that the sexy side of marketing doesn’t work. My 20-month-old son, Carter, yells, “French fries!” anytime he sees anything resembling the Golden Arches. Most start-ups, however, don’t have a couple hundred million dollars hanging around for that kind of brand- and sales-building effort.

However, direct marketing doesn’t necessarily take a lot of outgoing cash to cash in. Sometimes the best marketing and sales efforts during a company’s early stages are highly focused on a select group of customers: Call it ultradirect marketing.

Honing in on a small number of highly influential customers is a strategy that can help you build and improve your business model while gaining customers whose word of mouth can rocket your business forward. There is nothing like a happy customer to help you secure new ones. Here are some tips for a low-cost yet effective ultradirect campaign.

The List Is Everything

The single most important ingredient in a great direct marketing campaign is the list of people you are marketing to. And it’s more than having the name, address, and title right.

Have you targeted the right kinds of companies for your product? You’d be surprised, but I’ve seen campaigns in which half or more of the companies targeted wouldn’t have purchased the service or software being offered. Is the list too big, too small, or just right? I always try to have the internal bandwidth to follow up with the entire target list within a two- to three-week period.

Are the people on the list the decision-makers or influencers in the decision process for purchasing your product? Make sure you include both. Is the list 100 percent up to date? At the very least, spot-check the list. Typically, I build these myself and spend the extra time to call, check, and verify information. Hey, you get only one chance to make a good first impression, and certainly, you know how you feel when you get something incorrectly addressed.

Details Matter

You get a big stack of mail and start shuffling through it. Except for a government tax refund check, what mail typically attracts your attention first? For most people, it’s something that has been personally addressed (no label, but typed or handwritten directly on the envelope) and uses a real stamp (no postage meter). I know, it takes a bit longer to do, but the goal of this exercise is to get noticed. A little extra effort goes along way.

Get to the Point

To date, I have personally responded to three direct mail pieces sent to me. That’s after 20 years of getting them. All three caught my attention because they respected my time by being well written, short, and to the point.

The most recent was by a design firm in San Francisco called Lux. Most design shops send you flashy pieces with a generic letter addressed to someone named “colleague” talking about all their awards, blah, blah, blah. Lux zigged to the zag. A three-sentence letter from the company principal on elegant, well-designed stationery basically told me all I needed to know — that the company wanted to work with my company (it actually named our company, a shocker), it had the bandwidth to do it, and it looked forward to a personal meeting. It was so short and to the point that I had to call the company just to compliment it on the brevity of its letter. (By the way, Lux’s work is great, and the company’s now on its second project for us.)

Damn the Expense?

Some companies eschew simplicity for elaborate direct mail pieces that demand to get noticed. These can be a mixed bag because in many cases they just try too hard. That said, I have seen excellent packages that cut through the clutter and make a statement about the company.

magnifi.net, a company that specializes in brand asset management for advertising agencies and marketing departments, did an introductory mail piece for its product launch that was on message, elegant, and, as it turned out, a real crowd pleaser. A highly targeted list of a few hundred execs received the package that included an outstanding collateral piece, a personal letter, and a very expensive magnifying glass suitable for display on the most discriminating executive desktops (no magnifi.net logo on the glass — a nice touch of class). Although it cost more than $50 to put together and deliver each package, the limited number sent and the high response rate made it all worthwhile.

Have any great ultradirect marketing tips to share with your fellow ClickZ readers? Send me your submissions, and the best ones will appear in an upcoming column. A happy and restful Thanksgiving to all of you.

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