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Getting it right with direct mail

Kelly Sharp is the owner of Heart of Iowa Market Place

I'll admit it: As a retailer, I have a hard time with direct mail.

Not philosophically. Direct mail as a marketing tool can be as powerful for small businesses as it is for national brands.

I struggle with it logistically and from a return-on-investment standpoint, because direct mail is an expensive thing to do. In other words, I want to make sure I'm doing it at the right times in my marketing cycle to get the best value for the money I'm going to spend.

Direct mail is like everything else I do when I market my store, the Heart of Iowa Market Place in historic Valley Junction. That means I ask myself some pointed questions before I do it. In the case of direct mail, those questions are:

  • To whom am I sending it?
  • Why am I sending it to them?
  • What do I expect to get from it?
  • What do I expect my ROI to be?
  • And, is it part of an overall strategy?

Too many businesses try a shotgun approach, such as sending direct mail to every single "current resident" in a particular zip code. That's not going to be an effective use of money for a small retailer.

My reasons for sending direct mail to particular customers or potential customers might be to promote a particular offer or keep the Heart of Iowa on the top of their mind.

My most recent campaign included three postcards over the course of several weeks to about 2,500 past and potential business customers in line with my ongoing strategy to create more business-to-business opportunities. The cards were mailed over the course of several weeks with one message communicated three ways.

Whatever the goal of a direct mail campaign, it has part of an overall strategy. Our direct mail is used to connect the dots -- and stay connected with customers -- between our catalogs, seasonal advertising, Facebook and email messaging. It's another way to touch current and prospective customers.

Businesspeople are very busy. They have a lot on their minds. I want them thinking about my business. So you've got to reach them in different ways. Direct mail is one way to do that.

If you don't have a direct mail component in your annual marketing strategy -- or worse yet, if you don't have an annual marketing strategy yet -- you seriously should block out time in the next few weeks and think about what you have to gain and how to do it effectively.

-Kelly Sharp


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