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By Erik J. Heels
Some simple online tools—from preformatted document templates to budget calculators—will help you bring your snail-mail marketing campaign into the digital age.
When I was heading up marketing and sales for Verio's Boston office in 1997, one of our sales guys was having a hard time getting a Fortune 500 prospect to call him back. So he bought a telephone, programmed his number into it and mailed the phone to his prospect.
He got a call back—and the sale. I thought it was a pretty creative take on direct-mail marketing!
At Verio, I did so much direct mail that I was known as the ";crazy direct-mail guy." Today, in marketing my law practice, I still like direct mail—although my marketing plan also includes print advertising, event marketing (such as seminars), e-mail (newsletters) and, of course, Web advertising. (See my December 2005 nothing.but.net.)
The Web has certainly expanded the range of options that we have for promoting our services. But in the age of the Internet, more ";traditional" marketing programs such as direct mail also have become easier to launch, easier to manage and more cost-effective. Here's how to get started with a direct-mail campaign that puts the Web's efficiencies to use.
To begin, you have to do the same thing you need to do for any effective marketing tactic—make a plan.
First, figure out your firm's value proposition. What value do you bring to your prospective clients (your target audience)? How are you different from the competition? What is the value of that difference? You need to answer those questions to figure out what you're going to say, to whom and how.
Second, develop or acquire a mailing list of the people you plan to target. You should already be maintaining a database of existing and prospective clients that you can include in your campaign. If your targets operate in a particular industry, consider contacting publications that cater to that industry and see if they will let you purchase their subscriber mailing lists. You might also ask your existing clients what mailing lists they use—if, that is, their target market is the same as yours, which it very well may be.
Third, determine what you want to communicate to your targets with this mailing. For example, is your mailing designed to be informative only, or is it designed to convey a particular offer? Be sure to check your state bar's ethics rules for what you can and cannot say in a direct-mail piece.
Fourth, pick a format. Do you want to mail a letter? A brochure? A postcard? A booklet? There are many options, some of which are going to cost more than others.
Fifth, pick a vendor to facilitate your mailing. Here's where it gets really fun and interesting. Once you have an electronic copy of your mailing list (for example, as a CSV file) as well as your creative component, meaning the piece to be mailed (for example, as a PDF file), you can launch your campaign from the Web. In fact, you can do it directly through the U.S. Postal Service's site. I have been using NetPost, www.usps.com/netpost, from the USPS since 2001 and I love it.
The NetPost services on the USPS site include preformatted templates that you can customize to your wants. You can also order samples of the 12 direct-mail types that they offer to see which you like. The site supports a variety of file formats, including Adobe PDF 5 or below, Adobe Postscript, Microsoft Word, Encapsulated Postscript (EPS), BMP, GIF, JPEG, PCX, PNG and TIF.
Then, when it's time to launch the campaign, the steps are fairly simple. You log in to the NetPost site, upload the document to be mailed, upload your mailing list, preview the document, set a mailing date for the campaign, and pay by credit card. It sure beats stuffing envelopes by hand. Plus, one of my favorite features is the ability to validate your mailing list. If your addresses all validate, the USPS will give you discounted postage.
A cost calculator helps you manage your budget. For example, you can send 1,000 two-sided black-and-white postcards for $302.70 (including postage), which is just over $0.30 per piece. For 1,000 full-color four-page booklets, your cost (including postage) would be $2,101, about $2.10 per piece.
Other online direct-mail vendors typically require you to pay separately for printing and for postage—and it is typically a multistep multiday process. But with NetPost, I am able to launch a campaign in minutes and never have to worry about it again.
Is NetPost perfect? Of course not. But it is good. And one of the rules that I live by is that a good solution today is better than a perfect solution tomorrow. There are other marketing programs that can be managed, improved or supplemented by the Web. But the Internet really makes direct mail a breeze.
When I was the ";crazy direct-mail guy" at Verio, the truth is that we didn't have a budget for anything else, so I didn't have a lot of options. These days, I have choices and do a little bit of everything in my marketing.
A balanced marketing portfolio—like a balanced stock portfolio—is a good strategy for the long term. Though I admit, I have to force myself to maintain this balance. Otherwise, instead of writing this column, I might be mailing you a phone!