Q: I own a small neighborhood restaurant and would like to increase sales from my immediate area. Most advertising choices — radio, newspapers — seem to hit too broad of an audience and therefore are too expensive for me. How can I target the people I most want to hit?

Ruth, Atlanta

A: I recently ran across a Gallup survey that seems to have the answer to your question. The poll of 251 businesses found that the top choice for educating consumers, creating sales, and introducing products was… direct mail.

Direct mail is one of the oldest, most tried-and-true marketing methods around, and it is especially good if you know exactly who it is you want to reach. Using direct mail letters, flyers, coupons, and reply envelopes, you can sell your products or services to qualified prospects, increase awareness of your business, and create new customers.

In your case for instance, you might send out a flyer to all homes within a three-mile radius offering a free glass of wine with dinner. There is no doubt that you would create some new customers in the process.

There is plenty more that can be accomplished with direct mail marketing:

  • You can announce a big sale
  • You can offer a new product
  • You can provide a discount off coupon
  • (Insert your idea here.)

The point is, direct marketing allows you to get your business noticed.

Creating a successful direct mail marketing campaign is a three-fold process. First, you must find a letter/offer/flyer/coupon that works. This is a matter of testing, testing, testing. Start small, tinker, and analyze results. Your restaurant
might try sending the free wine offer to one-third of the homes in the area, a 10% off coupon to another third, and a free child’s dinner to the last third. After tabulating the results, you would know which coupon pulled best, and could then send it out every four months or so.

Step two requires that you acquire a usable list. One of the nice things about direct mail marketing is that, not only is it a chance to attract new customers, but it is equally valuable helping you stay in contact with present customers too. As such, your list could be self-generated, if the goal of the campaign is to get old customers back in the store. If the goal however is to find new business, then you need a broader list. You can buy lists from list brokers (look in the Yellow Pages under direct marketing), but you need to be very specific about the type of audience you are trying to attract when you buy your list: “I want a list of homeowners in the surrounding five counties,” or “I want a list of men in the county aged 25-34,” or whomever it is that is your target market.

The final step in a successful direct marketing campaign is to get people to read your offer and respond. Here is how:

  • Depending upon the size of the mailing, consider hiring some high school kids you know to address the envelopes. Are you more likely to open an envelope addressed by hand than one computer generated? So too your potential
    customers.
  • Remember that an effective offer answers the question in the mind of the reader, “What is in it for me?” You must offer something they want; saving time or money works best.
  • YOU MUST GRAB THEIR ATTENTION, QUICKLY. Use a conversational tone, deliver credibility — customer testimonials are great as are guarantees — and give them an incentive to act; an expiration on the offer works well.
  • Be patient. Often several letters are needed to get a response, and even then, remember that a good direct mail campaign response rate is about five percent. But, think about it. If you send mail to 1,000 potential customers, it will cost about $500. But how much will you make with 50 new customers?

P.S. Always include a P.S. because they are almost always read. The post script is a great place to call for action.

Today’s tip:
You can also try buying lists from The American List Counsel: 1-800-822-LIST, or Edith Roman Associates: 1-800-223-2194.

Maximize the Value of Your Ad Dollar with Direct Marketing

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