Need to Get Your Message Out?
Mail it... Direct

By Joseph Finora

There’s a reason you get so much mail: it works. It sells products - from life insurance to vacations, direct mail can give you a huge potential for profit. And in sales, yes, size really matters. But creativity is also crucial when it comes to moving product.

Direct marketing, as opposed to “blind,” generally non-creative “junk mail,” (often addressed to “Resident”) can help you sell more. With a targeted list and the right message you can use direct mail to promote a special event at your shop such as a cigar rolling or new product introduction, trumpet a sale or special offer, or announce new store hours, a new location, new personnel, or virtually anything to draw attention to your business from the right prospects.

Having a cigar rolling? Having an expert speak on the virtues of Nicaraguan-grown tobacco? Let the right customers know with a direct pitch. A professional direct mailer can help you truly exploit this potential, generally at a low cost and probably with some innovative ideas you never would have considered on your own.

The Power of Numbers

Last year, U.S. direct and interactive marketers generated an estimated $1.86 trillion in sales, an 8.9 percent increase over 2000. Catalog sales were up 8.2 percent, and Web-driven sales were up 7.9 percent. Ad spending also grew. In 2001, U.S. marketers spent an estimated $196.8 billion on direct-response advertising, a 3.6-percent increase over 2000. That growth is only about half the annual growth experienced over the past five years according to the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), the oldest and largest trade association for users and suppliers in the direct, database, and interactive marketing fields.

Direct marketing is one-to-one marketing. Its aim is to isolate you with the prospect. Therefore, you need a very targeted message and the right list. Your goal is to try to bring them into the store. What you know about them and how you choose to contact them will be critical. The payoff can be rewarding. There are high failure rates to this method, but to minimize them, remember the two above-mentioned points - message and list power. When direct mail works you can really hit the sales jackpot, so it can pay to go with a pro. A lot has happened in this industry recently, making it wise to consider a consultant who can help you get beyond the “write them and mail them from the kitchen table” stage.

Direct mail can be easily confused with junk mail. It’s not the same. While you may have visions of yourself and a few employees and possibly some soon-to-be former friends standing around a table in a crude assembly line folding, licking, sealing, and stamping a stack of plain white envelopes on a Saturday afternoon, professional direct mail is very different.

Linda Squires, owner of The Squire tobacco shop in Santa Rosa, Calif. has been using a local mail house for about 15 of the 28 years she’s been in business. Among other things, she likes the bulk mail permit customers of mailing houses can use - drastically reducing postal costs. Squires does about two mailings annually but intends to do more. Her list of 2,000 contacts was built by asking customers to sign up for news of upcoming shop events. Periodically she “cleans” the list - removes names with invalid addresses.

“When we mail for a tasting we generally get a better than 50% attendance,” Squires says. “The Punch photo event and the Macanudo bus appearance were very heavy draws,” she says, referring to the current high-profile in-store tours sponsored by General Cigar Co. Squires uses both postcards and e-mail and occasionally hires a freelance artist and graphic designer to create a mail piece. At other times she’s used postcards supplied by a manufacturer, also an effective choice as they are inexpensive and have “staying power.” E-mails are even less expensive, but are easily forgotten.

“We did a mailing when we moved two years ago,” Squires recalls. “We used a cute postcard of antique advertising art - a cherub with a cigar. It got people’s attention. We’re only one-half mile away from our former location, and people are still walking in with that card.”

At the Owl Shop Tobacco Café in New Haven, Conn., in the shadows of the Yale University campus, relying on mailings is being revived. “The shop changed hands nearly four years ago after 56 years of the same owner,” says store manager Joe Lentine. “We use invitation-style mailings to get customers to tastings.”

The Owl Shop staff does the mailings itself and uses a 500-name list. Turnout for their events is “very good,” according to Lentine, who adds that they’ll probably be mailing more in the future.

Getting Started: The List is Key

You’ve got to reach someone with your message, so first you’ll need a list of names. Not just any names, but what they call in the industry “qualified names.” Basically, these are people who want your product or service. You can build your own list by simply leaving a spiral notepad on the counter and asking visitors to leave their name and address. This will help you reach people who already know you and means they’ve given their permission to be contacted - save the notebook. You can possibly make better customers from your existing ones this way.

However, to reach new clientele you may need to buy a list from a list broker. Generally, you pay for the one-time use of a fixed amount of names. Your mailing material is sent to a mail house, which then coordinates it with the list from the broker and distributes it. Always add a few “decoy” addresses to be sure everyone’s being honest. Also, add some sort of return vehicle, i.e. a mail-in slip for a catalog or special offer so you can capture some of the names yourself. These will undoubtedly be good prospects. Other prospects can be ranked according to age, income, gender, geographic location, profession, or product preference. If a customer is a dedicated pipe smoker, he probably wouldn’t be interested in a mailing on clove cigarettes.

Another tip: insert a “name-of-a-friend” feature. This will help build names by recommendation. While these names were not directly furnished by the prospect, they are a “warm” lead, meaning they probably are interested in your product and will at least open your letter.

Hit the phonebook or get in touch with an industry association. The DMA can help you find a direct-mail company or consultant in your area. As a member, they need to be of high ethical standards. Most have a wide range of experience and will probably offer a great amount of ideas for getting out a fresh and productive message.

Getting it Opened

We all know the scenario: You grab your mail for the day and the first thing you do is throw out all of the stuff you don’t want or don’t recognize. How does the mailer get past this? By being creative.

“The object of direct mail/response is to obtain a greater ‘share of mind’ of the prospect,” says Elliott Black, president of EMBA, Inc., of Northbrook, Ill., a marketing-consulting and integrated-marketing communications firm serving business-to-business and business-to-consumer companies. “We’ve regularly used direct-response tactics for small businesses over the past 20 years.”

As with all marketing programs, using an outside service to coordinate the program is essential, notes Black. “We can establish demographics of the targeted customer, obtain the appropriate mailing list, and select the right mailing house to minimize costs and assure proper execution.”

Black recommends postal cards, noting they are “very effective.” The idea is to build awareness and name/logo recognition. The cards can equally be used as individual calls to action, he says.

Technology and Tradition

Bob Blackman of AmazingMail.com utilizes a combination of traditional mail supported by the Internet and full color to attract attention.

The AmazingMail Internet service allows you to create real, full color postcards conveniently on the Web; they are then printed and mailed the next business day. This is ideal for small businesses because there are no minimums. “You create and mail exactly the number you need and can change the images and messages any time,” says Blackman, whose firm has helped many small retailers to efficiently promote themselves. Paper quality must be considered. For a postcard try 110 lb. paper, hi-gloss lamination. If you go it alone, talk to a printer about this, but remember it will require more time and money.

By utilizing a service you can also take advantage of mail merge features that allow you to automatically personalize every card. This can help separate your mail from the rest of the pack. AmazingMail will also host your images, address book, and more. Prices generally range from $1.25 for a single piece to $0.84 in quantity, and if you buy 1,000 direct, as low as $0.60 each.

“While the mailing list itself is most important,” says Black, “creativity is essential to get through the clutter.” In developing a direct mail program, the retailer first has to establish their objectives.

“Is it to build awareness? Is it to build store traffic? Is it to drive people to their Web site? Is it to promote a particular program or product? This will determine the direction to take,” Black says. The creative approach follows.

“As with most marketing communications, it is frequency that becomes the driving factor. Sending one piece is like whistling in the wind,” Black says. A campaign of at least three mailings will bear the most fruit. “One particular technique that we have employed utilized postcards where each one was a part of a larger, suitable-for-framing poster. If the recipient brings all of the postcards to the store, they receive a copy of the poster.”

Elizabeth Dutton, a direct mail marketing expert at Portland, Oregon-based Inside Prospect, says a list broker can be a retailer’s best friend.

“The broker knows where to find lists and has inside information about sources, compilation, and update procedures, and will ask the right questions to ask the list owner to make sure the list is appropriate for the product. This can save time and can avoid costly mistakes.”

A mail house can save the retailer time fighting with labels and lists and money on postage, plus provide the ability to select by interest or demographics, Dutton adds. “The retailer is then able to get his or her message directly into the targeted individual’s mailbox and subsequently into their hand.”

Dutton’s other points: “Direct mail is the most measurable form of advertising. You can test a list and/or a mail piece and track the results. Once the retailer knows what works they can repeat their success over and over again.”

Direct Marketing Association,
New York, N.Y.,
Tel: (21) 768-7277, Fax: (212) 302-6714,
Web: www.the-dma.org

EMBA, Inc.,
Northbrook, Ill.,
Tel: (847) 272-2884, Fax: (847) 272-3551,
E-mail: info@EMBAInc.com
Web: www.embainc.com

Inside Prospects USA,
Tel: (800) 451-2014,
E-mail, info@insideprospectsusa.co,
Web: www.insideprospectsusa.com

SMOKESHOP - December 2002