I recently attended the NAELB Regional Meeting in Atlanta, GA, and, as you would expect, much of the conversation revolved around the current economic crisis and the challenges it poses for both finding customers and then for finding funding for their transactions.  In one conversation with several leasing brokers who were relatively new to the business, I suggested they should be using direct mail and you’d have thought I was suggesting using leeches in medical procedures.  Too outdated, they said; it’s too old-tech; too unpopular; it’ll never work.  They’re wrong, though, and I’ll tell you why by using a simple example.  I used this example in an article I wrote for the current edition of Monitor.  [It’s also their 35th anniversary edition, by the way.  Congratulations to them.] 

I’d gotten much the same reaction from a group of salespeople for whom I was conducting a sales coaching teleconference not long ago.  I happened to know, however, that one of those salespeople was an avid model airplane builder and flyer.  He had just complained that he’d run a postcard mailing campaign that was a complete failure.  As a result he was very down on direct mail.  Do you subscribe to any printed newsletters or magazines devoted to keeping up with your model airplane hobby, I asked that rep?  He said he does.  Do you resent or appreciate receiving special offers or information related to it?  I appreciate it, he answered.  What do you do with things you receive about which you have a high level of interest but are of a serious or complex nature and to which you want to give more and careful study?  He said he puts them in his briefcase so they’ll be accessible to him when he has time.  (That’s what I do, too, by the way.  What do you do?) 

Isn’t that exactly the ‘pile’ you want your information to be added to; the pile that goes home in the prospect’s briefcase?  So then I asked him this.  Why do you think your postcards or other mailings didn’t work?  After thinking a moment, he supposed they weren’t of sufficient interest to the recipient to make it into the briefcase.  I suppose he’s right.  Was that the mail system’s fault?

The truth is, he was confusing the medium with the message and blaming the medium for a message that wasn’t meaningful.  He blamed the medium out of a knee-jerk reaction that it was ‘old school’ and, therefore, by definition, must no longer be effective.  Yet, upon thinking about it, he readily acknowledged that he still responds very favorably to that same ‘old school’ marketing technique when it’s focused on something he’s interested in. 

That’s exactly the key to using mail successfully as a marketing tool.  It has to be about something the prospect’s interested in.  Sadly, most business mailings aren’t.  I collect them; I keep virtually every direct mail piece I receive and my friends know to bring me what they receive, too.  Virtually all of the mailings make the same two mistakes.  The first is they’re about the wrong person.  Take a look at your own mailings and promotional pieces.  If they tell about how long you’ve been in business; what awards you’ve won; what an experienced expert you are; they’re about you and not about the prospect.  Let me ask you this.  If you didn’t know me, and certainly didn’t know you needed me for anything, would you care what a good guy I am and that I send my mother flowers or help old ladies across the street?  I don’t think so.  You, not me, are the center of your own universe and you want to know, first and foremost, before you bother learning anything about me, that I know something about your universe.  Once you believe I know something about your universe, then, and only then, will you care enough to see if there’s a place in it for me. 

The second mistake virtually all of them make is they’re too short.  The conventional wisdom is that a business mailing should be brief.  Let me ask you another question, though.  Is your universe such that I could demonstrate my grasp of it in one or two or three paragraphs?  I very much doubt it.  In fact, my brevity would tend to have the exact opposite effect.  Since I couldn’t possible talk about anything meaningful in any detail, I’d be left to generalities that would convey the opposite of any real understanding or empathy for your problems.  Now, let’s go back to the guy with the model airplane hobby; (you can substitute your own interests).  What goes home in that target briefcase?  Is it the simple generalities that can be discussed —and dispensed with— in one or two paragraphs?  Not likely.  No, what goes home in the briefcase, the same briefcase you want to be in, are the in-depth discussions that really engage the prospect.

A real writing lesson is beyond the scope of this article but suffice it say that it’s a learned skill and, yes; YOU can do it.  But here are the real reasons I like and recommend direct mail marketing; especially right now.  Right now, when funding is tight and credit standards are high, you need to be culling your applications from a much broader list of prospects.  In other words, it takes more prospecting to find a bookable prospect today.  But unless your universe is WAY different than mine, that hasn’t created any more hours in your day.  That means you need to reach more people in less time and be able to pre-qualify/pre-sell them.  Direct mail is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to do that.

I like it because it gives me complete control over my message.  That’s not true with telemarketers or any other form of human delivered message.  Every letter in every campaign delivers every word exactly the way I want it delivered.  Don’t underestimate that.  I also know, in advance, exactly what my costs.  Controlling costs is something I put a high value on.  Finally, I don’t know of anything else that has the staying power of an effective mailing.  That letter can sit on a desk or in a briefcase for days, weeks, or months and still is the same —and as fresh to reader— as the day it was created.

Old-Tech?  Only if you believe people aren’t still interested in what interests them.  If your mailings haven’t worked, I’d look to the content, rather than the method.  If you need to quickly ramp up your marketing to ‘get-in-front-of’ more prospects economically and with a powerful and controlled message, the answer may well be in your mailbox —in the outgoing bin. 

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