Ordering Scallops Online

mailbox.jpgI thought briefly about opening the email from Herron Mole. The sender name wasn’t really very creative, but the subject line, “Scalloped!” caught my attention. To me, the names and subject lines that accompany junk e-mail are just as fascinating as the subject matter isn’t.

Here’s one of the best ones I’ve received lately: Remuneration P. Linoleum. I wonder what the P. stands for. I suspect that he is kin to Transforming R. Pachyderm, another of my favorites. One of my acquaintances informs me that these unusual epithets are created by some sort of random name generator. This does little to satisfy my curiosity; it only makes me wonder about the warped brainpower that could program such a thing. It’s like the IRS. What if you took all of that energy and manpower and focused it on something productive?

Spam is about as non-productive a venture as can be conceived. With the sheer volume of it out there, it’s hard to imagine that a mass junk e-mail could ever produce any business. It does definitely obstruct business, especially in a line of work like printing, where proofs occasionally get mistaken for digital junk. But it’s difficult to suppose that even the most deranged hacker could get much satisfaction, fame or return by adding his junk (even by the thousands) to the millions of unsolicited missives zooming through hyperspace.

There was a time when printers were very concerned about e-mail marketing as a threat to direct mail. Direct mail, even for a shop the size of AlphaGraphics, represents a chunk of business that we could not do without. Most of ours takes the form of letters and postcards. A lot of the volume is from schools and non-profit agencies who communicate with parents, prospective students, donors and supporters.

Admittedly, there is a nuisance factor to direct mail. We order odd-sized boxes and packaging supplies from a very good company, U-Line. Over the years, we’ve ordered a lot of stuff from them. I would love to be their printer. AlphaGraphics receives catalog after catalog from them. We keep one around to use as a reference for orders and throw the rest away. We just don’t need an additional catalog each week by mail. U-Line could save a lot of money and reduce their printing costs by sending a catalog every 6 months and a postcard every now and then telling us that a sale is running.

The good thing about direct mail is that it is ultimately governed by economic rules that (obviously) don’t apply to spam. Direct mail has to produce a return to justify the investment. And it has to be well conceived to produce a return.

We can always tell when a mailpiece will be a one-time run. Generally, the printed piece is poorly crafted. The message is not clear and there’s too much information. The mailer thinks that every recipient will read every word, so they pack paragraphs onto a 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 postcard. Wrong. It won’t work. There will be no response to the mailing.

And then there’s the mailing list. A similar attitude can prevail. The mailer thinks, “We’ll send this mailing out to everyone in town, because they’ll all want to read it and place an order.”

Wrong again. The result will only be that more people will throw the mailpiece away. Even though we might get one large mailing job, the end result is ultimately bad for AlphaGraphics. We’d much rather do regular targeted mailings that work for a customer than a massive mailout that flops. And somehow or another, the failure always seems to rub off on us a little. Shoot the messenger. Blame the printer.

Here are some tips for effective direct mail campaigns:

  1. Keep it simple. Make the message easy to understand. Aim for an impression. Most of the impact of direct mail is like mortarfire. It softens the ground and makes the customer more receptive to your other selling and marketing efforts.
  2. Target. Fire rifle shots, not shotgun blasts. Keep a comprehensive customer or audience database. These are your best candidates for a response. Use narrow criteria for purchased lists. Printers and mail houses have some interesting sources for specialized marketing lists. If you run a wedding-related business, mail to subscribers to Bride magazine in the 312 zip area instead of all households with women between the ages of 18 and 25.
  3. Personalize. It’s pretty simple to merge name data into the message on a postcard. It’s even cooler to send customized versions to different customer categories.
  4. Make an offer or a call to action. This is the equivalent of a salesperson asking for the order. Give the potential customer a reason to respond.
  5. Repeat, Repeat, then repeat again. The impact of the first mailing will always be weaker than the fifth. Responses and resulting sales grow as the direct mail message is repeated and built upon with subsequent mailings. Refine the target list, but make sure that the best prospects receive regular communications.
  6. Follow up. Integrate direct mail into the rest of your selling and advertising efforts. If it is possible or practical, have a human being follow up with the potential customer to ask for an order or at least gauge interest.

I did think briefly about opening the email from Herron Mole. I doubt I’ll ever here from Mr. Mole again, though; and I’m not sure that I’d buy scallops from him. I’d only order seafood online from a reputable, established company; one with enough financial wherewithal to send me a postcard or two. Mr. Mole, if you’re really out there, call us . . . we can help.

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