Designing And Writing Direct Mail Packages – It’s Absolutely Not Something Just Anyone Can Do

The very first thing you need to know about writing and designing effective direct mail packages is that “you” probably should not. Effective copy writing and design is very difficult for the average person, and those that are good at it have done a lot of studying and have tested a multitude of approaches and styles depending on their understanding of the nature of their audiences. Don’t expect a copywriter that is successful with “non-profit” solicitations to be equally as adept at writing copy for “for-profit” offerings. Both Picasso and DaVinci were masterful artists, “in their own right,” with distinct styles, preferences, abilities and “audiences.” Copywriters are like artists. People who are successful at creative are, in fact, practicing an art form.

The best way to find good, professional copy writers and graphic designers that can relate to your specific set of needs is to contact a direct marketing association office (i.e., DWAW is the Direct Marketing Association of Washington). There is one in every major city across the country. The people who work there are very familiar with the range of resources available to you. They can save you a lot of time in your quest to identify people who have a background of success in your interest area. This is not something that demands close physical proximity and you have a vast array of alternatives available to you. Finally, you definitely want to make “a previous record of success in your arena” a prime consideration in the process of identifying your “creative partner.”

On the other hand, maybe you are a small business with limited funding and you want to give it a shot on your own without risking a lot of money. The best way to begin on your own is to look at the creative used by other entities like yours and essentially copy those things that (1) appeal to you and (2) you see on a repetitive basis. It is being repeated because it works! I don’t mean you should copy other material word for word, but by format and general content. You can also find lots of copy writing resources on the Internet (type the words “copy writing” into your browser and you’ll be amazed at how many resources you’ll find).

What you will quickly come to learn about creative is that testing is the name of the game when it comes to direct mail, and I would strongly suggest (in fact, insist!) it be done constantly to determine what creative will work best for a given offer or solicitation. If you are not testing alternative copy (among other things) in every one of your mailings, you are not taking advantage of the single biggest advantage that direct mail offers over other kinds of less targeted marketing types — “measurability!” All of your mailings should be predicated on past results.

Finally, those creative people that work closely with their production manager or printer in the early stages of creating a package are more likely to be able to accomplish their objectives most cost effectively and in the time frames they require by avoiding package designs that result in production hurdles and challenges (wasted money).

Whether you use a professional resource (highly recommended!) or give it your own best shot, I wish you many profitable mailings.

Directionals Move Properties

One of the most effective and frequently overlooked methods of filling or selling a property is the use of directional arrow signs. I’m guilty of it myself, although usually I’m merely lazy instead of overlooking this great marketing technique. Being lazy usually costs me in terms of holding costs, especially if you happen to be in a buyer’s market as I currently am. Even if you’re in a hot market where everything is moving quickly, directionals will move your property that much quicker.

Yes, there are numerous other methods you can use such as: flyers in the neighborhood and large stores and shopping malls, ads in the large and small papers, listings on the internet, listing with a real estate agent, calling real estate agents to inform them, mailouts to apartment complexes, yard signs with flyer boxes, open houses, calling loan officers, emailing your buyer list, etc., etc. (I have one friend use advertises her properties on the cable preview channel and she says it works great. Unfortunately, that option isn’t available in my area.)

Why Do Directionals Work So Well?

Directional arrow signs work well for a number of reasons. First, they are targeted to the neighborhood where the property is located so the folks who will actually see them are the buyers or tenants who are already driving the neighborhood looking for properties. The second group of people who will see the signs are the residents who already live there. Many times the nearby residents will have family or friends who want to move into the neighborhood.

Flyers delivered to the neighborhood will also accomplish the notification aspect that there’s an available property, but what flyers don’t do is lead the prospect or prospect’s friend straight to the front door.

Why Not Just Use Typical Bandit Signs?

For those that don’t know, bandit signs are the road-side signs that many people utilize to advertise their business, favorite politician, and/or properties for sale or lease. The signs come in many colors and sizes, some professionally done and some hand-written. The nickname bandit signs stems from the fact that many municipalities have sign ordinances that prohibit their use or restrict use in the public domain or right of way.

The primary weakness of typical bandit signs for marketing a property for sale or lease is that the sign provides a little information (often impossible to read while driving by) and a phone number. If I’m out looking for properties today, I don’t want to leave a message or turn around to go see what the sign said. I want to drive by NOW, not tomorrow, not later today, right now.

How is a Directional Arrow Sign Different?

Who said anything about one directional sign? I’m talking an entire series of signs that leads the prospect from the main thoroughfare all the way through the neighborhood to the driveway of your property. There’s no thinking, major squinting, turning around, or phone calls involved here. “Oh, honey, turn there quick.” Then it’s “look, there’s another sign, turn there.” etc., all the way to the property. Then, of course, there’s more information including contact numbers available at the property.

Okay, So How Do I Implement This Technique?

Here’s the way I do it and you should tweak it and improve to suit you. When a property becomes available, I study the neighborhood and determine the “best” ways to lead prospects to my property. By “best”, I take into consideration ease of navigation, neighborhood amenities like parks and schools, and surrounding properties. If there’s a back way into the subdivision or location, I map out both paths.

My target locations are every single corner that my prospects will need to turn in order to get to the property. If there’s a really long stretch without a turn, then I might need a directional arrow in the middle of that stretch to keep them coming. My experience has been that I will have to replace signs within the neighborhood only a few times, but I have to monitor the signs on the major roads and replace them fairly frequently. However, these signs tend to stay put much longer than a traditional bandit sign.

Then I simply go door-knocking and ask people if I can place a small directional sign in their yard. I intentionally do this during the day to miss folks because I’d rather not get involved in lengthy discussions about the property and I’ve got many doors to get to. Once I’m sure no one’s home, I leave a letter in the screen door or someplace where it will be easily seen. I drop this letter at all four houses on each corner on the route.

What Does the Letter Say?

I’ve found it’s important to NOT come across as a real estate investor or a company. I use an informal style and simply ask for help in finding someone to buy or lease my property. Points that I include in the letter are:

  • It’s just a small directional arrow sign
  • I’ll put it right by the corner and not really in their yard
  • I’ll make sure I don’t damage any sprinkler systems
  • They get a $20 gift certificate once the process is done
  • They get to choose the store, restaurant, etc.
  • Please call me to replace the sign if it gets removed
  • The first person who calls me wins

This technique has never failed. Frequently, I’ll have two or more people from each corner call me, but I’ve always had at least one person call to agree to the arrangement. Some of them have even taken serious offense to do-gooder neighbors who remove the signs as the property owner is concerned they might not get their gift certificate. I’ll describe the signs in more detail below, but I started adding “Placed With Permission of Owner” on the top of the signs and this reduced my losses.

The end result of this effort is that perhaps I pay out $160 to $200 in referral fees, but I have to run my $50 to $150 worth of weekly newspaper ads many, many fewer weeks. It definitely pays off from a monetary standpoint. The other benefit is that I now have a list of folks near each property (whom I’ve never even met) who think I’m great. Every single person will call me back after receiving their gift to thank me and the large majority volunteer that I’m more than welcome to do this anytime I need.

What Do the Signs Look Like?

The signs I use are basically the standard bandit signs cut in half. A normal size bandit sign is 18″ x 24″ and I use 9″ x 12″ signs for my directional arrows. I have a red directional arrow that takes up about 5 inches of the sign, leaving the bottom 4 inches blank. Within the red arrow I ask the sign company to put my message which could be “Owner Finance” or “Lease Purchase” or whatever you prefer. The message is easy to read.

In the blank space I use a large marker to write the property address. It’s important to leave enough blank space below the arrow to write the address in large numbers and letters. Also, as I mentioned above, I include the “owner permission” tag line on top of the arrow. I buy 36″ wooden stakes from Home Depot and attach an arrow sign to each side of the stake so the information can be seen coming and going.

If you don’t have a source for these signs, please contact BanditSigns.com to get some. They’re inexpensive and well worth the cost.

I hope you’ll add this tool to your marketing techniques and discover the same success I’ve had in using it. You may find that you abandon many other advertising tools you’ve been using in the past.

Marketing Got You Stumped?

It’s not unusual for entrepreneurs to find the whole idea of marketing
intimidating. Even seasoned business owners often feel their marketing
efforts aren’t working.

Don’t let marketing intimidate you. At its core, it’s really not much more
than common sense – the key elements that form your plan. Add some
creativity. This is what you’ll use to implement your plan and make it
work. That’s the basis of marketing. Pretty simple once you break it
down.

Let’s do a quick overview. There are a few key questions you need to
answer upfront.

1. Is there a market for your product/service?

If the answer is no, go back to the drawing board. Start over. Because
no matter how great you think your product is, if no one needs it/wants it/buys it, you don’t have a business.

2. Can you make a profit?

Have you done the number crunching to ensure profitability? If not, go
back and work your numbers. Figure out what you need to charge to
make your profit on each item or service you sell. See what the
competition is charging. Be in line but don’t necessarily be the
cheapest. Your products may command higher fees (better ingredients,
exciting packaging, snob appeal). Or you may choose to be the low
price leader – but you’ll need more volume than you would at the high
end. In any event, do your homework.

3. Can you survive?

Do you have the resources to see you through until your business starts
to show a profit? If not, you may need to keep your day job and do this
on a part-time basis initially.

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to proceed.

The Plan

You’ve determined that you’ve got a product or service that is
marketable. Now you need a plan.

Depending on your budget and/or level of expertise, it can be as simple
as a Guerilla Marketing Plan – or a more detailed plan prepared by
someone who specializes in this area.

Basically, your plan will cover the following:

o Stating your goal or objectives

o Defining your target market

o An overview of the competition

o Defining your niche or what differentiates you from the competition

o Developing a strategy to achieve your objectives

o Evaluating the various marketing tools and deciding what you will use/
when

o Preparing a time line with goals written in

o Reviewing your budget

A detailed list, elaborating on the above items, can be found at the end
of this article. You’ll see that most of these questions are really based
on common sense, nothing more.

Action

I was going to call this section “The Execution” but decided it had a
negative ring to it.

Actually, here’s where creativity comes into play. And this is where you
may want to call upon an outside resource (or two) to help.

You can’t start a business without business cards and stationery (well
you can, but don’t). If your marketing plan calls for a logo and identity
development – and you’re not a creative – find yourself a designer.
Interview some freelance designers to see if their style fits what you
want for your identity – and also if their rates fit your budget. Or you may
want to find a design or marketing firm that specializes in working with
smaller companies.

A marketing firm will be able to help you with all of your marketing, not
just logo design and development, so that may make more sense.
Whichever route you decide to take, make sure you’re comfortable with
the people who will be handling your business. If it doesn’t feel right, it
isn’t. Keep looking. There are lots of firms and freelancers around.
Don’t settle.

Make sure your logo and business cards really reflect your company’s
unique identity. The goal is not to look like everyone else.

Promote, Promote, Promote

Networking is probably the entrepreneur’s most important marketing
tool. So get out there and network. Take your business cards (always!).
Join a networking group – or two or three. Join chambers of commerce.
Attend events. Look into associations relevant to your industry. Make a
list of everywhere your target market might be – and go there.

Where’s Your Web Site?

Today, most businesses have web sites (mine is coming….). A web site
can serve as an online brochure — a sorry fact for printing companies –
a plus for small businesses with limited budgets. It also gives you an
unlimited geographic reach and the ability to update 24/7.

If you opt for a web site, make sure it presents the image you want for
your company. Unless you’re skilled at web design, get yourself a
professional to handle this. Nothing will send potential customers
running as quickly as a bad web site. Think about what you do when
you’re on the internet.

Your web site should be:

o Well designed

o Clean and uncluttered (ie. easy on the flash if you must include it)

o User friendly — easy to navigate, fast to download (not everyone has a dsl line)

o Well written (written for the web, not for print — and no typos)

o Informative and/or newsworthy

You want visitors to bookmark your site and come back often

o Optimized for search engines

Most of your visitors will come from either search engines or links –
your pages need to be planned for search engines to find them.

It may help to put together a list of sites you’ve visited that you really like.
Use these as a blueprint for your own web site, and don’t get side-
tracked by a lot of irrelevant glitz. In fact, you may want to also compile a
list of sites you dislike. Show these to your web developer so she totally
understands what you want.

What About Traditional Marketing Material?

Brochures

Ideally, it’s great to have both printed marketing material and a web site.
Your printed brochure is used as a “leave behind” or mailer. Take it when
you make sales calls or attend events. Mail it out with cover letters to
prospective clients. Ask colleagues to distribute them along with their
marketing material.

But if you can only do one, opt for the web site. Whatever you do, make
sure that everything with your company name on it is well designed and
well written.

Direct Mail

Along with networking, direct mail is one of the most effective, affordable
marketing tools in the small business marketing toolbox. Not only is it
highly targeted, but it’s affordable enough to allow for ongoing
promotion.

Use direct mail for:

o Introducing new products or services

o Special offers

o Sale announcements

o Drawing traffic to your web site

In addition to traditional direct mail, look into direct e-mailing. Recent
studies show that it’s about to overtake direct for most U.S. businesses.
Newsletters or sales letters, particularly created in html, can be an
extremely effective way to keep in touch with existing and/or potential
customers. Just be sure to include that “opt out” on the bottom for
people who do not want to be on your e-mailing list.

Other Marketing Tools

For reasons of time and brevity, let’s just list some other marketing tools
you may want to consider as you plan your assault:

o advertising

o public relations

o speaking engagements

o trade shows

o newsletters

o flyers

o premiums

o door hangers

Depending on your product or service, the list is pretty extensive.
Fortunately, it’s just a buffet from which you can pick and choose.

Evaluate everything and decide what will work best within your budget.
Test and test some more. If one tool doesn’t work, try something else.
And don’t expect to get a hit the very first time. You may – you may not.

Like all good things, building (or growing) a business is a process. The
dotcom bust should have taught all of us that overnight successes aren’t
necessarily lasting ones. The goal is to reach your key audience as
efficiently and effectively as possible. And to grow a successful (ie.
profitable) business.

Copyright © 2002 Rickey Gold & Associates