Better Business: Increasing Sales With Direct Mail Advertising

Mar 11, 2013

Digital marketing is all the rage. As you probably know, digital marketing is connecting with customers and prospects via computer and/or mobile phone to promote your hot rod and/or restoration shop.

Marketers spent a lot of money on digital marketing in 2012: $1.2 billion on mobile marketing to iPhone, Android and other mobile devices, $3.4 billion on social media advertising on platforms like Facebook and Twitter, and $13.1 billion on search ads on Google, Yahoo and Bing, according to estimates by Zenith Optimedia.

But that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $50 billion spent on putting direct mailers in mailboxes.

Why are marketers spending almost three times more on old-fashioned print advertising than on mobile, social and search marketing combined? Because direct mail works.  It is tangible, scalable, and, most importantly, measurable.

The big buzz about digital marketing is for two major reasons: it’s new and it’s cheap.

Because it’s still relatively new, digital marketing tactics are still the fastest growing categories of marketing. People love to talk about what’s new.

It’s also cheap – in part because it’s mostly self-service – but also because it hasn’t proven its value, yet.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not discounting the impact of digital marketing. It’s definitely where marketing is headed. My firm does digital marketing and it’s quickly growing in importance and value to our clients. But you can’t abandon tried and true marketing just to be trendy. You need marketing that works, especially in this new economy.

Direct mail and its digital cousin, email, used together are proven money makers. So, experiment with digital marketing, but be sure you are also using targeted email and print mailings. Good marketing is all about a good mix of marketing tools.

The Secret to Perfect Timing

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” they say.

Whoever they are, they obviously never worked in marketing. Customers quickly forget. It’s the job of marketing to remind them of who you are and give them reasons to come to or return to your shop. That’s where mailings can help. It allows you to target the right group at the right time. The most effective marketing gets in the customers hands exactly when he or she is ready to buy.

How can you know that? You can’t. So, you need to constantly communicate with customers and prospects with an ongoing schedule so when they’re in buying mode, you are top of mind.

Let me tell you a story about a marketer selling automotive services to a very marketing-savvy consumer: my wife, Beth. Being married to a marketer like me, Beth is pretty well immunized against most marketing tricks. But good marketing isn’t a trick.

One day, I got a birthday card with a free oil change coupon from a local repair shop. Their timing was perfect, so, Beth took in our family van. After the oil change, the owner asked if she’d heard a rattle in the front end when going over bumps. She had. He offered to repair the tie rod that afternoon. But, she delivered her standard sales pitch outmaneuver: “I need to talk to my husband.” (Her other great line is “It’s not in our budget.” A hard objection to refute!)

Several days later, she got a thank-you note from the garage. About a week later, she got a reminder of the needed repair. After a few more days, she got a coupon for 10 percent off the specified repair. She was in the shop just before the coupon expired.

“The mailings almost bordered on stalking,” Beth says of the frequency. “But we had a road trip planned and needed the repair. The timing was perfect.”

I realize general auto repair is nothing like hot rod customization or restoration work, but the same marketing concepts work whether you’re selling repair or restoration. The goal is to keep in touch. The more consistent you are about regular emails and mailings the more likely you’ll be to find that your timing will be perfect.

Make A List & Check It Twice

A good direct mail program all starts with a good database. Build a list of email and mailing addresses for every customer you deal with. Also, consider including a customer wish list in your database.

When you first meet with a new customer, find out what he or she aspires to. What are their hot buttons? Make notes. Put it in your database and send them reminders about that hood scoop, turbo or set of rims they’re dreaming about. There are lots of good database programs out there. Your point of sale system may even include a tool for it. You can use Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet as a basic database tool.

Or consider using an online tool like Constant Contact to manage your master database for both email and postal mailings. Email services are great resources in themselves, for a few dollars a month, they help you track things like which emails are opened, if a link is clicked on or if your email has bounced. Using them to maintain your mailing list just adds to their value.

When you’re ready to do a print mailing, just export your whole database and print labels or turn your file over to a mailing service. By making your email service do double duty, you avoid having to maintain two separate lists. (Go to bitly.com/tryemail for a 60-day free trial of Constant Contact.)

You’ll notice that the deal closer for Beth was the discount. It may be the same for your customers, too.

Giving a 10 or 20 percent discount is a small price to keep customer coming back compared to the cost of advertising for new ones. And in today’s economy, a coupon may just put a purchase within your customer’s budget. Make your discounts specific. Avoid a blanket “25% off” coupon that can eat away a lot of profit. Instead, focus on small discounts on high profit products or services. That can also focus your customer on a particular product or brand that they may not realize you provide. But, be aware, when used too often, discounting can erode your profitability without creating customer loyalty.

A hot rod or restoration business like yours should discount only a few times a year, if at all. Once a customer experiences your quality craftsmanship and excellent customer service, they’ll want to remain loyal – with or without a coupon. If you don’t find that kind of loyalty, maybe you should take a good, hard look at improving your standards.

Turn Old Customers Into New Ones

Direct mail to your existing customers can also be a great way to bring in new customers.

The idea is simple – guys and gals who are into their car or truck tend to hang out with other guys and gals that are into their car or truck. Try a Tell-A-Friend postcard. It can be a great win-win-win proposition for your customer, their friends and you. Consider a headline like: “Give This Postcard To A Friend. You’ll both get $25 off your next purchase of $200 or more.” When the new customer brings in the postcard, your current customer’s name will be on the mailing side. Make sure you immediately mail or email that customer a $25 off $200 thank-you coupon and another referral postcard. Don’t think just because they referred one person they won’t refer another.

One of the benefits of direct mail advertising is that it’s measurable. That is, you can crunch the numbers and analyze its profitability. The key to successful marketing is to test your offers until you find the ones that work best for you. It’s very specific to you and your location. What works in Long Beach, California may not work in Long Beach, New York. Keep trying ideas until several stand out at the best. In the end, the only way you’ll know how well email and direct mail can work for you is to try it. Start small. Test different designs and discounts. And be patient. It may take a few mailings before you see results. But with a little persistence you’ll find that, one day, your timing will be perfect.