Thursday, June 17, 2010

Households Surrounding Existing Customers Are Easy Pickin'

By Jennifer Spitzer

I think everyone would agree that once you’ve sold your services to a homeowner, other households in that neighborhood immediately become prime prospects. Afterall, they’re going to see how good of a job you did at their neighbor’s house and they're going to want the same for their home. What I’ve learned by working with small business owners over the years is that agreeing on the the strategy for converting these households to customers is the hard part. Not long ago, I had a conversation with a service-based franchise owner that went something like this.

Me: “Tell me about your radius strategy. What happens when you’re installing a new system in a neighborhood where you don’t have any customers?”

Owner: “My guys flyer the entire neighborhood. We have a preprinted card and they put one in every mailbox.”

Me: “That’s good. Then what happens.”

Owner: “That’s it. We move on to the next neighborhood.”

I think if you were to talk about this type of marketing with six different business owners, you’d get six different answers. A common theme within the conversations I’ve had has been the focus on timing. Some are of the mindset that immediate communication with surrounding households is the key while others think it’s best to wait a few weeks.

From a marketing perspective, I wouldn’t debate the timing issue because I’m of the mindset that it’s one of the most important aspects of every strategy. The big question is – what is the timing? When is the exact timeframe for when the households in that neighborhood are going to say “That’s it! I want my house to look as good as the one across the street.”

About a year ago, I had a low-voltage landscape lighting system installed. It took 8 months before all of my neighbors got one. Some of my neighbors had a system installed immediately and others waited several months. My point here is this: if you flyer a neighborhood one time immediately after providing some sort of service to a homeowner, you’re less likely to get the business when others finally decide to buy. They won’t know who you are. Of the six homes surrounding mine, I’m the only one who bought from the vendor who sold my system to me. My neighbors bought the same product... from a competitor.

What this means is business owners should incorporate frequency into the marketing plan. Put your flyers or door hangers out there when you finish work in a customer's neighborhood. Then mail to surrounding households. Then mail again in a month. Then call your customer and ask for referrals. Send someone to the neighborhood with flyers a few months after the original work was done. Repeat. Do everything you can to consistently stay in front of those prospects.

Birds of a feather flock together. That means households surrounding your existing customers have a higher propensity to buy from you than someone who’s a “general prospect”. Be consistent and persistent with your efforts and when those consumers are ready, they’ll think of you first.

Friday, April 23, 2010

6 Key Components to Successful Direct Mail

by Jennifer Spitzer

Earlier this week I spoke to a prospective client about developing a targeted direct mail campaign to an audience proven to be in the market for the items they sell. Regardless of the years of research and actual response analysis data available to back up the strategy, the marketing director said, “We tried that kind of program once and it didn’t work so we’re not doing it again.”

If your business utilizes direct mail and you’re testing a “no-brainer” strategy but it isn’t working, you’ve probably made a critical mistake in your execution. To me, there are six key components of every direct mail program and you need all of them working together to have a successful campaign.

DATA. I’ve always thought that data is the most important component of any campaign. Every successful strategy starts with good data. You can have beautiful creative and a fantastic offer but if you put it in front of the wrong audience, it’s going to fail.

TIMING. In a recent study by Q Interactive, 88% of the 1,800 women they surveyed said they wished brands they trusted would send more tailored offers. When presented with a targeted ad, their response was “Cool! How did they know I wanted this?”

The timing of when you target someone is more important now than ever before. Consumers don’t have time to spend on things that are not relevant to the needs they have right now. The challenge we all have as marketers is to figure out the precise timing for when our prospects will be ready to buy our product and then hit them with a great offer right at that moment.

OFFER. It’s okay if you don’t know what offer is going to work... that's what testing is for. Just make sure it's compelling.

CREATIVE. Copywriters are going to hate me for saying this, but I am convinced that no one reads advertising copy anymore. That doesn’t mean you can have sloppy copy… I’m just saying I think copy isn't its own category. Creatively, when someone sees your direct mail piece, they should be able to figure out what you’re trying to sell and what the offer is – immediately. No one is going to take the time to read through all of your beautiful copy to figure out what you’re trying to offer.

ANALYSIS. This is where most businesses fall down. If you’re not measuring your programs, how do you know whether or not they’re really working? Every single campaign you do must have a plan for measurement in place before you even execute it. Without skillful analysis, you’re doomed to repeat mistakes and you miss out on opportunities to refine your campaign.

COMMITMENT TO DIRECT MAIL. No one ever talks about this, but it’s really important. I once had a client say to me, “I’ll mail 1,000 pieces one time and if it doesn’t work, I’m not going to continue.”

If you’re stepping up to bat for the first time, it’s not likely you’re going to hit a home run. Some of your programs aren’t going to perform the way you had hoped. Assuming the strategy is solid, be prepared to take what you learn from the campaign and refine it.

What about the client mentioned above? I ended up telling him he should invest the money somewhere else because it would be a waste to pursue a strategy in this manner.


Over the next few weeks I’m going to take each of the first five categories and provide some additional insight and case study information, as well as resources and some ideas you can use to make your next campaign more successful. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Plan Properly and the 2011 Postal Increase Won't Be So Painful

By Jennifer Spitzer

This morning I’m reading an article in MailPro, the USPS’s newsletter for mailing professionals, about the postal service’s 10-year plan to avoid a cumulative $238 billion shortfall over the next decade. Some of the changes are already well-publicized, like the proposed adjustment of delivery days which will eliminate Saturday delivery. The USPS will also restructure retiree health benefit payments and work toward providing consumers more modernized access. Before you know it, you’ll be able to buy a cup of joe at Starbucks, eat a burger and mail a package – all while you’re shopping at Target.

As I’m reading, I see the second-to-last bullet point of the plan, “A modest exigent price increase will be proposed, effective in 2011.” Apparently my vocabulary is too limited for me to know exactly what this means, so I looked up the word “exigent”.

Ex-i-gent [ek-si-juhnt]- adjective. 1. Requiring immediate action or aid; urgent; pressing. 2. Requiring a great deal, or more than is reasonable.

To me, using “modest exigent” to describe an imminent postage increase is a contradiction of terms. To achieve an immediate increase for 2011, the USPS will have to propose new pricing to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) before the end of the year. I’m willing to bet what the USPS defines as a reasonable increase and what marketers are able to bear are two different things. So the question is will it truly be modest or are we looking at something a little more exigent?

It’s not all gloom-and-doom for businesses that use direct mail as a means of increasing business from new and existing customers. You just need to plan properly. Here are a few tips to help you prepare.

1. Once it’s announced, pay attention to when the increase is going to take effect and plan your mailings accordingly. If you’re planning a large mailing, mail before the increase and you’ll save a lot of money.

2. Challenge your marketing agency to review their delivery logistics. You may be eligible for additional postal discounts just by adjusting where you enter your mail.

3. Keep a clean database! Make sure you’re not wasting postage by mailing to addresses that have no chance of being delivered.

4. Finally, and most importantly… be targeted.

Now more than ever, your direct mail needs to move away from mass distribution and toward more targeted solutions. You’ll mail less, but enjoy a better return on your investment. Find consumers who want or need your product at the exact moment your message hits their mailbox and you’ll find that a modest exigent postal increase isn’t so painful after all.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Invest Time in Your Customer List and You'll Find Yourself a Goldmine

By Jennifer Spitzer

Regardless of the size of your business, you probably have a customer database. I use the term ‘database’ loosely though, because some of my clients have a professionally managed, relational database and others still use paper files and post-it notes to track their customers. If you fall in the category of “scrap paper customer management”, get it together and put that information in electronic format because this precious data will be a goldmine once you have it organized.

Here are ten triggers that make consumer spending more predictable, and each of these can be tracked, even in something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet.

1. A birthday. Offer your customer a special discount on her birthday. I love receiving my Victoria’s Secret gift card in the mail just before my birthday. They send it every year and I use it every time.

2. A moving household. Even a small business can afford to regularly run National Change of Address (NCOA) on their customer file. A move event triggers spending on furniture, home improvement, households accessories… the list goes on and on.

3. “Birds of a feather flock together." Neighborhoods generally share similar lifestyles and demographics. If you want new customers, take a look at where your existing customers are and go after neighboring households.

4. A specific product purchase. If someone buys a new bed, send an offer for the matching dresser.

5. Anniversary of the purchase. I have a beautiful outdoor lighting system installed in my front yard. It’s been over a year since the installation and the system needs some service. When you contact your customer to service a product, sell something new while you’re at it.

6. Arrival of a new baby. The expenditures and changes that occur in a household with a new baby are too long to list here. This is a great consumer group to target because spending occurs from both emotional (perceived) needs as well as actual necessity.

7. The start of a project. If your customer is building a new deck, she’s probably already looking for the items she’s going to put on that deck, like new furniture, a grill or other accessories.

8. An accomplishment. We all have customers who share personal information. Your customer’s accomplishment may not be an opportunity for you to sell something, but it’s certainly an appropriate time for you to stay top of mind with something as simple as a note of congratulations.

9. Age of your customer. Needs change as a person ages. As an example, now that my parents are retired, they’re travelling more.

10. The Wish List Trigger. The next time you talk to a customer, focus on listening to what she’s going to need from you down the road. Then, capture the information so that you can followup at the appropriate time. As an example, over the winter I had some curtains made for a bedroom window and I mentioned how nice it would be to have new covers for my deck furniture this summer. Fast forward six months… she just called to help me place the order so that my deck will be ready in time for the season.

Effective marketing, whether it be through direct mail, email, social networks or even a phone call, is all about timing. Robust customer data will help you identify ‘triggers’ that enable you to put the right offer in front of your customer at the exact time they’re ready to buy.

I would love to hear your success stories. Post a comment here or send me a note at:

Friday, March 5, 2010

USPS Eliminating Saturday Delivery Could Impact Response Rates

By Jennifer Spitzer

Even if you’re not in the direct marketing industry, by now you’ve probably heard that the USPS plans to submit a formal request to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to reduce mail delivery from six to five days a week, eliminating Saturdays. I believe this change will eventually happen… after all, they’ve been hemorrhaging money for years so they have to do something, and they can’t keep cutting retiree benefits. But, keep in mind that it will take an act of Congress to make this happen so I encourage all of you to not hold your breath while we wait.

I had to laugh today as I read an article suggesting that marketers may see a reduction in postal costs as a result of this major change. Given that the elimination of Saturdays is expected to save about $2 billion annually and the USPS lost more than $3.8 billion* last year, I think we’ll be lucky if we can maintain both standard and first class rates through the end of 2011 before they request another increase from the PRC.

Companies that utilize direct mail to generate sales from both new and existing customers will need to adjust, and marketing agencies will need to help. If you use a mail specific or “in-home” postal endorsement date (which, by the way, the USPS is not required by law to honor), you will need to take that into consideration when you plan your mail date.

As a direct mail marketing agency, I’m not as concerned about adjusting to the change as I am in regard to the impact it may have on response rates for those who don’t adjust.

Each year the USPS conducts a consumer Household Diary Study (HDS), which surveys over 5,200 households each year. A portion of the study reports consumer attitude toward direct mail. (Go to to download a PDF of the most recent HDS report). In a nutshell, households with higher incomes receive more advertising mail than lower income homes and the more they receive, the less likely they are to look at everything.

Here’s what I think could happen as a result of the elimination of Saturday delivery. First, for marketers normally targeting Saturday as an in-home date, there will be a push to reach mailboxes earlier. Consumers may notice an increase in the amount of advertising mail they receive just prior to the weekend. Everything that isn’t delivered by Friday will wait until the beginning of the following week, thus loading up mailboxes on Monday and Tuesday.

If you’re in-home on the same day as everyone else, your mail piece is going to have to work harder to get attention and this could have a negative impact on response rates. Keep a close eye on this when Saturdays are eliminated and think about adjusting your mail schedule so you can be in-home on days when mail volume is light.

*In November 2009, the USPS filed its 2009 year-end financial results and reported a net loss of $3.8 billion. Several blogs I’ve read quote the loss as $2.8 billion. So, there’s a discrepancy floating around out there but hey, it’s just a billion.

Make sure your direct mail is targeted! Visit

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Homeowners Buy Furniture

By Jennifer Spitzer

Earlier this week I found an online thread between several business owners who were discussing marketing strategy. I had to jump in because the topic was new homeowner marketing and its relevance to the furniture industry. The conversation was initiated by Randy*, who has been thinking about developing a campaign to target the audience but wanted to know how often the move event triggers spending in the furniture category.

David* jumped in to say “There is probably some connection between the move event and the decision to buy furniture”.

Probably? I’ll get to that in a moment.

Clint* joined in to say people may want furniture when they move into a new home but their budget has been blown on the house, so you may be better off targeting homeowners who have lived in their primary residence longer.

Joe’s* opinion is that new homeowners are broke and you would be better off targeting college students immediately upon graduation because they have more disposable income. (I'm going to save that one for another day).

I get excited when I read these types of comments because I know these are business people who need help. The fact of the matter is, if you are in the furniture business and you’re not targeting new movers – you are missing out on an incredible opportunity. New homeowners are THE single most predictable audience for purchasing furniture. Over the last ten years, research has proven time and time again that over 75% of new homeowners will make a furniture purchase as a result of the move event. Many of those consumers will make their purchase within the first three months. We also know for a fact that this audience will spend more than a non-moving consumer and they’re likely to make multiple purchases for the next 12-18 months. All of this is backed up by a combination of survey data, industry research and analysis of long-term direct mail marketing campaigns.

If you operate a furniture business, no matter how big or small, talk to someone who knows how to put you in front of this audience at the right time with the right message and offer. Even if you find that there isn’t a significant amount of new mover activity in your trade area, it’s better to reach 1,000 highly targeted consumers who you KNOW are in the market for your product, than to reach 100,000 people who aren’t ready to buy.

*Names have been changed to protect those who may have given marketing advice to others without having quantifiable results of said marketing strategy.
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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Push or Pull... What's Your Marketing Plan?

By Jennifer Spitzer

I had a discussion with a client earlier today about his lead generation strategy for the coming year. After finalizing plans for the targeted direct mail campaigns, I told him the programs would bring in a steady stream of good prospects during the year but the small mailings alone won’t be enough to sustain the business. “How are you going to kick-off your selling season to the larger audience of prospects in your market?” I asked. We went on to discuss co-op mailings, B2B efforts, magazine and email – all of which are great traditional “push” strategies.

If you’re a push marketer, you’re not sitting around waiting for prospects to come to you. Push marketing is about being aggressive in your pursuit of new business and more often than not, you’re going to attract more prospects this way. Pull marketing, like social media and pay-per-click advertising, means you’re going to attract prospects that are already looking for what you have to offer. This is important too because if someone wants or needs what you sell, you want them to either think of you first or find you before they find your competition.

Push or pull… what should you do? A fellow marketing pro talking to a group of executives was encouraging the group to move toward the pull model and then went on to say it’s up to you as the business owner to decide which is better and adjust your strategy accordingly. The point I’m about to make brings me back to the original discussion I had with my client.

After finalizing the budget for the Push Tools, he asked, “Since I’m doing all this, do I really need to invest in the internet and my original pay-per-click plan?” If we had been in the same room together, rather than on the phone, I would have been shaking him by the shoulders as I yelled “Yes! Yes! Yes!”.

The thought of deciding between a push or pull strategy and then adjusting your plan accordingly is absurd to me. You must do both, especially in this current market. When potential new customers look for your product or service, you need to pull them in. At the same time, you need to aggressively push your business out to good prospects with unrelenting perseverance.

Rather than try to decide if you should push or pull, take a look at your strategy for the coming year and ask yourself if there’s a healthy mix of both in your plan. If there isn’t, you still have some work to do.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Social media is not The Magic Bullet

By Jennifer Spitzer

If you own a business, especially a small one, and you decide to sink all of your marketing funds into social media, your business is going to fail. There… I said it.

As a marketer, I always find it interesting when I work with small business owners who are searching for what they call the “magic bullet” of marketing. What they’re looking for is a single tool or strategy they can invest in, knowing it will drive revenue for their business consistently over time. I can see the wheels turning in the heads of business owners who have experienced some success with social media. “This is it. It’s fun, and easy, and doesn’t cost anything. Think of the money I’ll save by cancelling my direct mail program or skipping the next trade show”.

The fundamental truth about growing a successful business is There Is No Magic Bullet. Marketing strategies are like financial portfolios – you need to have a combination of short and long term investments and you need to be well diversified. In today’s world, that means a healthy mix of traditional media, like direct mail, magazine and television as well as new media like social networking and email. Heck, even Google uses direct mail to promote their pay-per-click advertising. The notion that this sexy new media is going to replace traditional marketing strategy is crazy.

What’s even crazier to me is that some social media “experts” are suggesting it will. First of all, social media hasn’t been around long enough for there to be any real experts. To me, there are simply people who know a lot more than others on the topic. They understand the tools and know exactly how to use them. The answers to the real important questions like, “How long is it going to take before I see new customers and start generating revenue?” and “What kind of ROI can I expect?” remain to be seen.

You have to put your business where the customers are, and that’s why a diversified marketing mix is so important. Some of your customers will find you online while others will call you because they saw you doing work in their neighborhood. Others still will respond because they received a direct mail piece or simply because their friends said you do good work. Now you have social media to help you connect to consumers in new ways. Over time, you will gain trust within these networks and business will grow.

There’s no doubt that social media is here to stay. If your business hasn’t embraced the tools yet, it’s time to get on board. Just don’t expect your phone to ring off the hook with new customers simply because you start tweeting a few times a week. Instead, think of it as a powerful new opportunity to add to the overall marketing arsenal. Reaping the rewards of social media is going to take time, effort and a strong strategy… and it will be worth it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The old adage "The customer is always right", is sometimes wrong

By Jennifer Spitzer

Every now and then I have to work with a client through their advertising agency. Most of the time, the collaboration is a good experience because sharing new ideas makes the campaign more successful. I’m reflecting on a recent experience where this wasn’t the case and I find that it’s a lot like what happens when two adult siblings disagree about how to care for a child.

If you and your siblings have children, you can probably think of at least one time when you said to yourself, “I cannot believe he’s going to let that child do that”. I usually say these thoughts out loud, which almost always causes trouble. I’m learning that there are times when it’s absolutely necessary to step up and call out what has the potential to be a mistake, and times when you just keep your mouth shut and walk away.

I think a different approach is necessary in business. As marketers, we’re responsible for helping our clients make the right choices in regard to how they invest their budgets. Now more than ever, campaigns must generate measurable results. To me, this means sometimes I have to tell a client they’re wasting their money, or that the strategy doesn’t make sense, or the creative is too weak to use for the program.

In the case of my recent agency collaboration, our opinions about the importance of response analysis couldn’t have been further apart. To me, regardless of whether a campaign is successful or performed poorly, there’s always a benefit to measuring exactly what happened. When you analyze the results of a campaign, you learn what worked or didn’t and you capture the information you need to refine the strategy. When you don’t analyze, you’re doomed to either repeat the same mistakes over again or, even worse, miss out on a great opportunity to increase sales in your business. This usually happens when programs with a smart strategy aren’t refined properly, which can leave response rates stagnant over time.

Despite my best effort, at the end of the day it wasn’t my child and the parent had made his decision.

Educate clients. Be willing to step up and influence your customer when you think they’re about to make a bad decision. It’s hard to tell customers things they don’t want to hear, but in the end they’ll know you’re more interested in their long-term success as opposed to this month’s billing. When you create that kind of trust in a relationship, you keep a customer for life.