The following post is a contribution by small business expert Gene Marks.
Here’s a crazy story about a client of mine. “Katie” from Dallas.
Katie doesn’t “tweet”. She doesn’t “like”. She has no “fans”. She has no followers. She isn’t even “linked” to anyone. And yet, she runs a successful, profitable five person engineering firm. And she does it all the old fashioned way. Paper. Stamps. The U.S. Postal Service. Yes, Katie uses direct mail as her primary way of drumming up business. This is how she finds them. This is how she pitches to them. This is how she does her marketing. At about a buck a piece.
Is this shocking news in today’s “message a second” world? A small businesses that primarily uses direct mail? Is Katie serious? You bet she is.
But Katie’s not alone. Yes, the direct mail industry has been shrinking. But it’s still a $13 billion a year industry. Why? Because to thousands of small business owners direct mail makes sense. Katie, like many of my clients, relies on some form of direct mail to grow her business. In 2012, using direct mail is easy, cheap and, if done the right way, amazingly effective.
Katie understands her customers and has found a way to reach them that they welcome. That’s more than half the battle. Next month, I’m moderating a discussion on just that subject next month with some small business experts who know their stuff . There will be stories and ideas shared for small businesses that will do just that – attract customers – not repel them – and have them choose your product over the competitor when they are ready to buy.
Katie’s weapon of choice is postcards. They’re less expensive to buy and cost less to mail. She sticks a photo or a graphic on the front and on the back she does something very unusual: she doesn’t promote her company. Instead, she tells a story.
Like the other month when she and her husband took their five (yes five) granddaughters to Washington DC. They had fun and they took lots of pictures. One of these photos, a happy shot of the seven of them in front of the White House, made it to the front of her next month’s postcard mailing. And on the back Katie wrote about the experience, how patriotic it made her feel, what a great country we live in, etc. etc. Yes, of course there’s a little tag line promoting her business on the bottom of the card. But the rest of the card was the story.
Because people like stories. And they want to build trust. They want to get to know us before doing business with us. They want to feel as if they have a relationship with us. We all get so many advertisements, bulk emails, commercials and sales letters that we become immune to the message. Katie does something different. She uses her postcards to reach out and connect with her audience.
And her audience is everyone in her community. That means customers and prospects. Suppliers. Partners. Friends. Associates. Katie has about a thousand on her list. She keeps them all in a database so she can update their information when it changes and add new people as she connects with them.
Her intention is to reach out to her community just once a month, using a simple postcard, to keep in touch and to tell a story. And it works.
“I have people calling me that have been getting my postcards for years who say “I love your stories and now need your services.”” She told me. Katie gets it. She may be from Texas, but she realizes that she can’t put a gun to people’s heads and say to them: buy from me. She needs to be touching her community frequently enough so that she’s thought of when an opportunity comes up.
A few things I learned from her.
Keep it short, sweet and personal. Never advertise your company, she told me. Don’t self promote. Just tell a story. Something about you that a person will enjoy reading. And if you can’t think of anything then tell a story about a friend or family member that affected you. Or give a customer space on a mailing to tell their story. Stories are interesting. “People tell me they look forward to getting my postcard every month,” she says.
Mix it up. It doesn’t have to look the same every month. Maybe one month you send a normal letter. Or another month you send a different sized postcard. The idea is to attract a little attention.
For Katie, it’s all about creating something unique and fun that stands out so people will read her little story.
Once you start, stay committed. “Doing a one-off mailing is a waste of money,” says Katie. “I’ve been doing mine for five years now, every month. It has to be a commitment.” Katie chooses direct mail, as opposed to social media, email, telemarketing and other forms of communication as her primary way of keeping in touch with her community. And she commits. Somewhere some ad-man said that it takes at least 20 times of viewing an ad before someone remembers it. That seems about right.
What works for one business might be post to Twitter or Facebook. For Katie, it’s a post of a different kind. Postcards. What works for you?
Consider joining me and many other small businesses for a free live–streamed discussion, presented by Pitney Bowes and Google, on how to attract customers through marketing and search next month. Mark your calendar for Tuesday, November 13th.