Printing Help Beyond the Business Card

Given some of the difficulties with building email lists, it's probably wise for would-be entrepreneurs to exercise patience with that assignment while they focus on old, reliable direct mail, which is making something of a comeback. When it comes time for entrepreneurs to leverage print services to launch new ventures – beyond the basics like printing business cards – the construction of a database with the help of direct mail has emerged as a more viable option. Not that start ups or any business should eliminate channels in marketing, but they should take a realistic view of them.


Comeback kid

Kevin Lucius, vice president of Econoprint/Powderkeg Interactive, said direct mail has come back for a couple of reasons: first, even though the mechanism of email delivery is simple, the hardest thing to build on the e-side is the email list, given the intrusion factor of email and the lack of quality of purchased lists, plus the opt-out rate, the spam rate, and the potential to be flagged.

A direct mail list is a different story, especially because it's not nearly the chore of an email list and because the demographic quality is pretty good. "With a client starting from scratch, being able to identify demographics and acquire a good-quality mailing list is really the strategy that we see with most of our clients," Lucius said.

John Berthelsen, president of Suttle-Straus, Inc., said people still have that coveted "mail moment," and the importance of that should not be dismissed. "Hopefully, entrepreneurs would be looking at doing something like targeted direct mail or possibly personalization – buying a mailing list and doing some targeted direct mail," he stated, "and direct mail is still very effective.

"It's been shown that people still have what is called the 'mail moment,' where they go to the mailbox, open it, and look through their mail, and it's still something that's very personal."

In piecing together any kind of list, start-up business owners can collaborate with printers to define their value proposition (what makes them unique in the market) and leverage that information on a targeted piece.

"Targeted" might mean a small audience, or it might mean a variable audience where varying imagery and information can be used on the front of a postcard as you try to get them to an event or take action in your cause, and then test the result.

Targeting is possible in both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets, but it's somewhat easier in the B-to-B space. "You can be pretty specific in the consumer market as well, but in the business market you can be very specific about the size or the type of business or the person you are going after, even within a business," Berthelsen explained. "For instance, you could go to the financial officer within a business, or the marketing person within a business, or the CEO of a business, and you can get very segmented in the type of business you want to promote to, or the type of industry they are in, or the geographic area they are in."

All of that can be done, at a high-quality level, with the digital presses that hit the market several years ago, Lucius noted. What they produce rivals anything an offset press can do in terms of quality, yet they can vary an image during the course of a 400-piece print run. "We have an organization that is related to the remodeling industry, and they have a list that is below 600 targeted customers, and they will vary that imagery," Lucius said. "Some mailings will be done with 100% variable, meaning that every person in that audience will get a unique message and image."

This is called "versioning," and it involves tailoring mailings by job title and by the potential of the market. Businesses may run five different postcard images in a single run, based on an individual's job title or potential sales. "If you are able to identify something about a buyer that is unique, and offer a value that appeals to him, direct mail has got pull," Lucius said, "and it's a quick thing to measure and an easy thing to test right now, versus email marketing, which gets a little more tricky in reading through open rates and click rates."

"You do things like personalizing if you have a good database," Berthelsen added. "You can do a lot of things to make direct mail very targeted and very focused, so I think that's something that can be looked at to be much more effective than some other type of media in today's market."

Email has moved up the personal space violation chain, and while direct mail had a stigma for awhile, a lot of it has been filtered out. The organizations that are engaged in direct mail campaigns now typically have good customer data, which enables them to get stronger results. Printers have seen a trend away from large mass mailings of 20,000 pieces or greater, toward sub-setting lists and getting down to unique lists of 200 here, or 400 there, but it takes a lot of thought, research, and keen understanding of your value proposition.

It also enables any business to immediately hit the street and start driving results.

Even though direct mail is coming back, printers do not want to discourage the building of an email list, but entrepreneurs have to consider two factors: the best email lists are home-grown, not purchased, and it's not something that is ever really done. Keeping an email list fresh and accurate requires constant attention. "The challenge ends up being the quality of the list," Lucius said. "You have to be asking and asking and asking continually for email provided by the client in everything you do: on your print resources, on your vehicles, on every communication that goes out if it's print form or electronic. You have to be getting customers to opt in."

Usually, there is a joint strategy where businesses are touching their clients with a direct-mail piece, an email component going out – and perhaps an email newsletter – and all that is probably funneling back to a website where they are gathering more information from someone.

From a start-up standpoint, even though the U.S. Postal Service, with its shaky financial condition, is getting a lot of bad publicity right now, there are fewer mail messages out there, so there are more eyeballs on everything that's landing.

According to Lucius, it's also easy to measure return on investment with a targeted list, and "if you've got anything unique about your client base that you can leverage with your message, and do either versioning or variables, you are going to move those response rates up even further."

The Web factor

A growing body of evidence suggests that all businesses still need to use traditional means like direct mail and print advertising to make newer technology like the Internet work for them. Part and parcel of an effective integrated direct mail campaign is an attractive website because it is one way people "qualify" you as a company to do business with. There are many levels of substance and quality to business websites, and some can go to the extreme of overkill. In most cases, however, organizations do not put enough emphasis on what Lucius called their "first impression maker."

A good direct mail campaign should lead people back to your website because people are using it as a qualifier. A poor website can undermine a quality product and a well-defined value proposition, in effect disqualifying your business in the eyes of a potential business partner and convincing some not to spend money with you.

"The website is your 24/7 sales rep," Lucius noted. "It's easy for anybody to recognize that people use the Web to not only transact business, but to qualify a potential business to deal with. What you need to be able to give them on your website, at the very least, is a message of stability about what you do, and an easy-to-navigate site that does not confuse the clients."

Sign up for the free IB Update – your weekly resource for local business news, analysis, voices, and the names you need to know. Click here.