Direct Results

Contractor/consultant Jeffrey Scott is a big fan of direct marketing. "It's a very targeted, cost-effective way to market your business," he says. At the same time, direct marketing—direct mail in particular—can be a drain on your resources if you don't implement your strategy in the right way.

"Breaking through with your marketing message can be a challenge, especially these days with all the 'white noise' consumers are dealing with," Scott points out. "Cell phones, e-mail, billboards, advertisements ... the consumer's brain is forced to deal with so many things that it simply tunes out most marketing messages that it sees and hears."

Enter the double-edged sword: direct marketing. If you do it right, your message can slice through the flurry of white noise and make a direct, positive impact on a potential customer. If you do it wrong, your direct marketing efforts will simply add to the white noise and detract from your bottom line.

Scott says there are five main mistakes to avoid when putting together your direct marketing strategy.

1. Mass Mailing

According to Scott, the biggest direct marketing mistake is adopting the "mass mailing" approach without having a target in mind. You blanket an area with door hangers or a postcard mailing, with little thought given to who those prospects really are. Sure, you might pick up a few accounts this way. But chances are, you'll have wasted money in the process.

"A friend was telling me how, every April, he gets a very impersonal mailing from a lawn maintenance company based in a town 40 miles away," Scott relates. "This company obviously wants to expand into this market, so it's sending mailings to just about everyone who lives there. My friend said he laughs every time he gets that mailing because it goes straight in the trashcan. 'If this company knew anything about me, they'd know I'm not the type of person who's going to purchase their upscale lawn care services,' my friend pointed out. This is a perfect example of how you can waste money on 'mass mailing.'"

To maximize your response rate, Scott says the first thing to do is invest in a good mailing list. Think about the important demographic data points you can hone in on: age, income, home value, job title, and magazines the prospect subscribes to, etc.

"Develop a target profile," Scott advises. "If you don't, you literally won't know what kind of list to buy. The more defined your target, the more effective your mailing is going to be. You will be able to send more mailings to your target, but fewer mailings in total, thus saving money while increasing your chances of response."

2. Sending to Dear Resident

When you have a good list, you can make the mailings personal. Collecting addresses and sending out "Dear Resident" mailings is not enough. "I think it was Dale Carnegie who said, 'The sweetest sound a person has ever heard is their own name,'" Scott tells. "That's true in direct marketing, also."

Some marketing studies suggest that direct marketers can enjoy a 44% increase in response if they use the prospect's name, a 135% increase if they use the prospect's name and some color, and as much as a 500% increase if they also incorporate some customized text. So personalize your mailings.

3. Me-too Marketing

Scott says the "me-too" look typically proves to be a waste of your marketing dollars. More importantly, "When you start to look like everyone else, you're in danger of making your business look like a commodity," Scott reminds. "And that's when closing the deal often comes down to price."

As Scott points out, green industry companies tend to paint their trucks green. "I think that's a mistake," he says. "The consumer's brain sees so many green landscape trucks that it says 'no big deal' and moves on. If you want to catch the consumer's attention, you need a color that stands out. Our company uses blue and silver. I know of another leading landscape company that uses orange; boy does that stand out. Pick a color that does just that, and use it in a tasteful way."

In addition to color, your marketing headline needs to capture the consumer's attention. Again, Scott emphasizes, it can't be the same old me-too. "You must capture the consumer's emotions," he says. "I recently saw a great example from a business magazine; it had an article titled, 'The Sexiest Economists Alive.' Most people consider economics boring, but I am sure many people read this article because of the title.

"It also helps if your marketing uses really beautiful pictures," Scott continues. "Investing in photography is like printing money, because a great picture will stop a consumer in their tracks and elicit an emotion."

The size of your mailing is also important. Standard postcard-size mailings can get lost in the white noise. "I usually go with 6" x 9" and extra thick," Scott relates. "They do cost a bit more. But if you're narrowly targeting the recipients, you can afford it because you're mailing fewer cards and the response rate should be greater."

As a service provider, the promise you make to your customer is important, and should be incorporated into your direct marketing efforts. Once again, the me-too approach doesn't work. "Make a promise that's different and more focused," Scott says. "Quality workmanship and great service don't cut it. Everybody promises that. Instead, talk about response time or offer some kind of guarantee. Whatever you do, make it different, specific, and focus on things that will really matter to the customer."

4. The Super Bowl Approach

With all the white noise consumers must contend with these days, the frequency of a company's marketing message has become increasingly important. You can't do one big ad, like during the Super Bowl, and expect to build your business.

"The American Marketing Association says a person needs to see something three times before they even recognize it," Scott points out. "That person needs to see it seven times before they associate it with what you do. And the person needs to see it 27 times before he or she is comfortable giving money to that company."

Now, your results may vary from these numbers a bit, but the concept is clear: You must communicate your brand and marketing message in a consistent and repetitive manner if you want the public to start paying attention.

In relation to direct marketing, "Don't be afraid to re-send a mailing 10 days after you sent it the first time—even if it's the exact same one," Scott says. "Consumers don't view that mailing the same way you do. They won't say, 'Hey, that's the same photo they used last time. How boring is that?' Repetition is key to getting them to pay attention."

As for the theory that it takes 27 impressions before a prospect is willing to buy from you, don't think that means you should send the same mailing 27 times over the course of a year. These impressions also come from the other marketing efforts you make, including your trucks, signs, invoices, shirts and hats. "Everything should have the same overall look," Scott says. "A unique logo is important in this process; it will reinforce your marketing message and help you achieve these 27 impressions."

5. Marketing is an Expense

All of this takes time, patience and money, which leads to Scott's fifth most important key to making your direct marketing efforts a success. You should view direct marketing, and marketing in general, as an investment, as opposed to an expense.

"You may have to spend real money to make it work," Scott says, "but it should be helping your business grow, no different than a piece of equipment or software program you purchase. Some people say they want to spend 2% of their sales on marketing. That's fine. But if you're not thinking about your marketing efforts and spending the money in the right ways, it just becomes dead weight.

"You have to track your marketing efforts, just like you track a job," Scott goes on to say. "Know where your leads are coming from, figure out which marketing is working and which is not. Don't think you can do just a single mailing. Marketing is something that happens over time. It's like courting; you have to make multiple favorable impressions before you convince your partner that you are the one."

About the author: Jeffrey Scott is co-owner of Glen Gate, a pool/landscape builder for the rich and famous, including David Letterman and the owner of the Empire State Building. He is passionate about helping green industry firms grow their businesses. For a FREE REPORT on the "13 Biggest Direct Marketing Mistakes," e-mail him at Jeff@jeffreyscottbiz.