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Advertising vs Direct Mail 18 January 2008

I received the following question recently, which sums up a lot of the emails I get from clients and prospects:

“I sell stress relieving and health giving ‘brainwave’ products, but seem to hit a brick wall with advertising. It’s really not paying off for me. Can you recommend any ways I can do better?”

––Kath Browning, via email

For small businesses, I don’t think advertising is necessarily the best form of marketing/promoting your products. Sure, you might well receive some response if your message is compelling enough and the desired target audience is reading the publication in which you advertise. Also, your product base is a niche one; one that is potentially difficult to explain and get across the benefits in the space of a typical advert.

In any event, I’d suggest using direct mail (sales letters, postcards, etc). It has a number of distinct advantages over advertising:

  1. You can target recipients much more precisely.  
  2. Costs are a lot more modest than advertising. The great thing with direct mail is that it allows for you to create a campaign to fit either large or small budgets.  
  3. You can see a response from direct mail very quickly. With a modest campaign to a known and targeted audience, you can acquire a mailing list, develop a compelling mailing (including a sales letter, flyer, reply card device, etc), launch that mailing and start to receive results in just a few weeks, if not months. This is faster than a typical advertising campaign (whereby you normally have to repeat adverts to get any result) – and a lot faster than waiting for the phone to ring.  
  4. You can test different appeals (called ‘offers’ in the trade) to determine which is the better message to run with for other campaigns. By making a different offer to randomly different portions of your mailing list, you can see which offer pulls best. As you try these different offers and different letters, you should find that one will do better than another. Use the better one, and then try to beat that in your next mailing. Eventually, you should get better and better response rates.   
  5. You can mail to the same list again with a slightly different mailing slant and still garner worthwhile results. Most direct-mail experts say that companies don’t get enough mileage out of their materials. Use them until they no longer produce any worthwhile results.  
  6. You can never run out of prospects. Use your imagination to find new niche direct-mail markets for your products, whether retail or business-to-business. Your list broker or direct-mail consultant should be able to suggest possible target markets that are worth trying.  
  7. When you place an advert, you have to be sure that your target audience will actually open up the publication and turn to the page where your ad appears. No one can predict or guarantee this. Because direct mail is (or should be) much more tightly targeted, then the likelihood is that your audience will want to read what you have to say. You have already identified these people as having a need for your products, so all you have to do is make sure your offer and outer-envelope message has a relevant appeal.

This is not a sell for my services! I just want to let you know that there are other, often easier ways of garnering the results you’re looking for.

If you do want to carry on with ads, the best way to achieve a better result is to:

  • Repeat your ad. You really do need to be consistent in your advertising (at least three consequent issues), whatever form of media you use.   
  • If you did your own design and layout, asking sales reps to help with that can really boost impact – it should be a free service when you purchase ad space.

I hope this helps, and I wish you success whichever direction you take.

Do let me know how it all goes.

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9 Responses to “Advertising vs Direct Mail”

  1. Guerrillero Says:

    Thank you for an interesting post. Could you dwell a bit on the preparation for direct mailing? This is also an interesting issue to discuss.

  2. Ian Denny Says:

    I can only agree.

    Direct marketing is always best.

    For people a little afraid of it, it’s often better using “research”.

    I’ve found that asking carefully crafted questions which don’t ask for a sale, get great insight and knowledge, but also very often out-perform “salesy” efforts.

    A couple of weeks ago, I sent an email to prospects asking them if they could tell me what they like most about their current IT support company.

    I was planning for the year ahead and wanted to pick up some tips on what the competition was up to that we could plagiarise!

    It was also our most successful campaign for a while. Why?

    Because if they couldn’t think of anything good to say about their current company, they realised a change would be good.

    And why not ask a company who cares enough to find out how they could improve to quote?

  3. Thanks, Guerrillero and Ian for your input. Much appreciated.

    To answer your question, Guerrillero, briefly:

    I’d say the number one tip for direct mail preparation is to sit down and work out exactly who you wish to target – and why. Any direct mail campaign starts with the list, preferably one that is highly targeted as a lot of success depends on a highly targeted audience.

    I’ve talked about the importance of getting to know your target audience or market a lot on this blog, so will not go into it here. But you can easily do a quick search (using the box on the top right of this blog) for ‘target audience’ to read pertinent posts.

    I hope to do a more in-depth article on direct mail planning either here on this blog or for my newsletter, Communiqué For Success – so keep an eye (or two) out!

  4. Guerrillero Says:

    Hi, thanks for the reply. I’ll keep tabs on the info from the site you mention.

  5. Debbie Kirk Says:

    While having a great sales letter and targeted list are major proponents of a direct mail campaign, if you are not familiar with the regulations for preparation of direct mail by the United States Postal Service, you will end up spending excessive amounts of money on wasted postage.

    There are numerous reports on how to prepare a fantastic sales letter and several websites available to purchase mailing lists, but knowing the essentials of direct mail preparation such as correct paper weight and verifying and certifying your mailing lists are somewhat vague.

    You might check out the USPS.com website or http://www.SecretsToDirectMail.com/blog for other tips to try to weed through the process of direct mail preparation.

  6. Articles Says:

    This new year the web will come of age. Quality will prevail as the cream rises to the surface

  7. If you want to see a reader’s feedback 🙂 , I rate this post for four from five. Detailed info, but I just have to go to that damn msn to find the missed bits. Thanks, anyway!

  8. Hi everyone

    Thanks for stopping by and your useful comments. Much appreciated.

    Please note my NEW blog address (I haven’t posted to this one for quite some time now):

    http://blog.mediaminister.co.uk

    Take care!

  9. […] Finally, to read what I think of advertising for small businesses, read this previous blog post. […]


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