There’s a type of marketing that produces more sales than display advertising, PR, or community-based social media.
It’s called direct marketing, and surprisingly, it’s not widely understood.
But we believe that when in doubt, go direct.
A lot of online-based businesses, especially those built around a blog, don’t realize that the kind of marketing they’re doing is a form of direct response marketing — in other words, taking a marketing message directly to your customers, instead of running ads that potential customers might see.
In the United States in 2010, direct marketing accounted for 54.2 percent of all ad spending, according to the Direct Marketing Association. That’s a whopping $153 billion. DMA also says those efforts produced about $1.798 trillion in incremental sales.
In the world of traditional marketing, direct marketing is considered an advertising discipline. Direct response copy is written for, and to, the customer.
Flowery, corporate-communications-speak laden with “messaging” hits the trash can faster than an Olympic sprinter reaches the finish line.
Even if you don’t think of what you’re doing today as advertising, you can use the same principles to speak directly to your customers — and grow your business.
How to go direct
You may have already discovered that writing direct sales communication can present a big challenge.
Even if you’re used to speaking to the customer with value, personality, and entertainment, when it comes time to ask for the sale, you need a new skill set.
The communication needs to work well for the medium your customer is looking at — social media, direct mail, email, mobile media, etc. And it needs to include proven techniques that convert prospects into customers.
The first thing to understand is whether your communication will be welcome. It makes no sense to use a method that will produce lackluster results. For example, a random “snail” mailing about an offering is (unfortunately) much more acceptable than a sales pitch on someone’s Facebook wall.
In our new book Marketing in the Round, we suggest listing all of the places you can communicate directly to your customer.
Figure out where they spend time, and what media they like to tune into.
Next, consider whether you can communicate to them based on your own resources and capacity. If your budget is small, premium direct mailers are probably not in the cards. But email and social media can be a logical choice.
In other instances, when marketing feels like an apples-to-apples comparison with the competition, using newer tactics in mobile and social media can make a huge difference.
Following are some questions your marketing round should ask when considering direct approaches:
- Do we have a list? And is it a list of physical mailing addresses, email addresses, mobile numbers, or is it a list of users following us on a site like Twitter or Google+?
- Given how our prospective customers use media, what are the most likely ways to achieve our desired outcomes?
- What can we afford to do? Do we have enough resources to make a multi-pronged approach, or should we stick with one channel for now?
- What are our competitors doing? Can we differentiate from them by using a different medium or adding a creative touch?
Remember your objective. Based on these answers, can you achieve your sales or customer service goals?
4 ways to write direct
Once you know where you will communicate, it’s time to write.
We can go on forever about how to write direct, but let’s cut to the chase with four sure-fire tips:
- Understand the norms of your selected medium. A coupon may work in email, on a Twitter feed, or on a direct mailer, but it sure won’t work as a comment on someone’s Facebook status update.
- Compel your audience with a great entertaining and/or valuable story. If your story fails to compel customers, you won’t get where you want to go.
- Write to the customer like you are sitting across the table from them. This is not a time to “message” at people. Talk with them.
- Deliver a strong, simple call to action. Fancy closes don’t usually deliver results. Straightforward calls to action do. Don’t give the customer too many choices. Direct results diminish with each new option you present.
Finally, a word about creative.
Creativity goes a long way in direct marketing. According the USPS, we know that 77% of all mail pieces are sorted, but getting them opened is a different matter all together.
Whether it’s an email message, a mailer, or a social media message, your direct marketing needs to be developed in a way that convinces the recipient to open it. This includes strong copy and great graphic design — creativity that sells.
Creativity can separate your company from the pack — as long as that creativity serves the needs and/or desires of the customer first.
Edit, edit, edit, your copy
Make sure your marketing folks either have the skill to write effective copy or are going to hire it out to a capable pro.
Here are some exercises to vet and edit your copy:
- Read it to a small advisory group of loyal customers. Does the message move them to action?
- Does the communication have more than one call to action? How can you pare that back?
- Do you have more than three messages in the piece? If so, rework it.
- Go back to your original goal. Does this communication provide enough value to the customer to achieve that goal?
- Test the communication on ten customers. No response? Your marketing round needs to go back to the drawing board.
Send small sample communications to test different copy approaches. Watch what your audience members do more closely than what they say.
Let the strongest approaches lead the rest of your program.
Are you marketing directly?
Even a small-scale blogger can get seduced by the prospect of “monetizing” with advertising, while completely ignoring time-tested direct marketing principles and strategies.
Don’t let a lack of “sexiness” in direct marketing techniques fool you. There’s nothing sexier than bringing in prospects, customers, and sales. And with direct marketing and writing online, you can specifically test what works and what doesn’t.
How have you used direct marketing and copywriting in the past? How are you using it now?
Let us know in the comments …