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.

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