Marketing Matters Featured

10:07am EDT July 22, 2002

When most people think about direct marketing, images of junk mail cluttering home mailboxes and in-boxes at work come to mind. But did you ever stop to think about why you were on a particular mailing list?

There’s a reason you receive offers from: record clubs (you’ve added to your diverse CD collection by buying discs from Neil Diamond and Vanilla Ice); computer catalogs (you recently beefed up the amount of RAM in your computer to a level that would make Tim Allen proud); and lingerie mailers (that’s your personal business).

The fact is, that because of your age, income, purchasing habits and other demographic information (and this information is readily available from a lot of sources), you are a prime target for very specific groups of products and services. The good news is that this also holds true for prospective customers of the products and/or services you offer.

Defining the target

Who are your customers? How do you define them? If you target consumers, what is your customer profile by geography, sex, age, income, occupation and interests? If you are a business-to-business company, who buys or specifies your products and services? Can you identify them by industry or SIC code, job title, and also location, number of employees, sales revenues and so on?

If you can define your audience, then you should be able to develop a list to reach your prospects. Your needs may lead to the use of a list-brokerage service or purchase a list from a magazine or trade publication that reaches your target. In most cases, you can choose to receive lists in either diskette or mailing-label formats. At a cost of anywhere between $50 to $200 per 1,000 names, buying a database list can be an excellent investment of your marketing dollars.

Communicating your message

Now that you have a list of prospects who will want your products or services, give them a reason to buy. Create a mailer or series of mailers, but have a particular message in mind. Announce a sales promotion program. Introduce a new product. Send an informational newsletter to make prospects aware of issues specific to their business. This keeps your name in front of prospects while positioning yourself as an expert in your industry.

The key is to strategically plan the information you want to mail. By clearly understanding your objectives, you can better evaluate whether your program is working. What is your call to action? Clearly communicate if the reader should call an 800 number, write to you, or visit your Web site for more information or to place an order.

Qualifying and fulfillment

When calls, faxes and e-mails come into your business in response to your mailing program, have a response system in place. Ask “where did you hear about us?” This will help you to gauge response from a particular mailing vs. other advertising and publicity programs in place.

Qualify prospects by asking a few simple questions. Survey them to confirm they are the decision-makers. Find out if they have particular needs now, or within the next three to six months. Do they want to place an order now? Do they want a sales representative to call? Are they simply collecting literature for future reference?

Next, do you know how you will fulfill requests for information? Do you have literature, newsletters or article reprints ready for quick response? It’s a poor reflection of your company if a prospect requests information and has to wait weeks to receive it. Also, it’s important that follow-up information is complete and offers some type of value to the prospect. Many companies simply respond by repeating the same information that was in the original mailing.

Measuring success

Set up a realistic goal of response. Variables include the quality of the list, the messages being sent to prospects and the fulfillment and follow-up system in place at your organization. But, remember, measurements of the program will vary if your goal is to educate customers and prospects, rather than to generate inquiries and leads.

The bottom line is that a well-planned and implemented mailing program will put important information into the hands of qualified prospects and set your company’s message apart from other pieces in the junk-mail heap.

Jeff Krakoff is president of Krakoff Communications Inc., a Pittsburgh-based marketing communications consulting firm. Comments and questions can be sent via e-mail to