How Much Is ‘Free’ Worth?

In a world where information and content are free, one mail piece stands alone and demands payment. Ummm … actually, pretty much all of them do. It’s just that there’s one that makes a good point up front while doing so.

In a world where information and content are free, one mail piece stands alone, and demands payment. Ummm … actually, pretty much all of them do. It’s just that there’s one that makes a good point up front while doing so.

“Free is a magic word,” said the late Dick Benson. It’s all over direct mail. You can highlight it, put it in all caps, add an exclamation point, or just let it work its copy mojo all by itself. It’s a great way to lift response.

FreeGeneWBut most of the time, there really is no such thing as a free lunch.

What sparked this post was a subscription effort for an investment newsletter that I came across while analyzing mail for Who’s Mailing What!

Morningstar_0001As you can see from the outer, it’s kind of on the plain side. No big, screaming type, no wild predictions of financial boom or doom. Just a calm introduction to a good argument made inside the envelope.

It grabbed me right from the jump with the teaser: “There’s so much free mutual fund information out there. Why do I need Morningstar FundInvestor?” I love that bit of internal monologue.  And I don’t even remember seeing the concept of free content addressed so bluntly by a direct mail campaign.

Inside the envelope, the letter, by Russel Kinnel (the newsletter’s editor), calls out the “free” competition available in the marketplace. “[F]ree investment information often comes at a price,” he writes. When that price is bad information, “too many investors do the wrong things.”

He boasts about how the newsletter’s researchers – “the best in the industry” – provide guidance to investors. They help with “a 360-degree view of a mutual fund” in a “market flooded with mutual fund information … [and] make sense of it all.”

The tone throughout the letter is pure confidence, and why shouldn’t it be?

Providing free content is great because it’s a nice thing to do. Done often enough, you can position yourself as an authority. But the added value that Morningstar talks about, like cutting through clutter, and curating what their experience tells them is important to clients at a more individual level, bring credibility and trust to a whole other level.

A lot of direct mail and email I read every day actually hits on a lot of this, whether it’s an insurance agent talking about his extensive training, or a telecom provider promoting the exclusive programming it carries.

It’s like the difference between doing your own electrical work, or hiring a professional to do the job after you’ve done your due diligence. You not only get the desired result, but you get structure, support, and accountability that come along with it.

Yes, information can be free. But education is priceless.

3 More Direct Mail Ideas (+1 Bonus) to Drive Local Business

I heard from an old friend a few weeks ago who, in a roundabout way, asked me for some free marketing advice. This is kind of rare for me, and I asked a lot of questions. When she told me that Facebook was just not working well enough for her, I think my next words were: “direct mail.”

I talked with an old friend a few weeks ago who, in a roundabout way, asked me for some free marketing advice for her housecleaning business. This is kind of rare for me, and I asked a lot of questions. When she told me that Facebook was just not working well enough for her, I think my next words were: “direct mail.”

Now, I like housecleaning, but I know a lot of people don’t. There’s a really good market for this kind of work. I showed her how the Cleaning Authority does a terrific job detailing its services in a very simple self-mailer.

Then I remembered my blog post on copy and design ideas for using direct mail to drive local business. I listed seven of them then, but in talking with her, I came up with a few more, thanks to mail that comes into Who’s Mailing What!.

1.Tap Into Emotions
Salvation_01
This one is so obvious that I can’t believe I missed it the first time.

To make a personal connection with a prospect, your direct mail should use copy (and images) that generate an emotional response. Although there are many motivators, the seven main drivers of action are: fear, greed, guilt, anger, exclusivity, salvation, and flattery.

Over the years, I’ve seen all of them used in local offers, whether mailed solo or as part of a co-op package. Salvation seems to be the most common, as in this example.

2. Ask A Question
Question_01
This is an easy way to involve a prospect in your promotion. Providing the right answer helps customers to self-qualify for your services. In this case, it’s helped along by a bullet-pointed checklist that backs up the impulse to take the offer … or at least think about it.

3. Use Testimonials
Testim_01
The voices of satisfied clients can be quite powerful. Existing customers can talk about their own experiences, in their own words. For prospects, reading the opinions of other people that are similar to them the most, maybe even their own neighbors, can make the offer more relevant. Using a photo of a real person, an authentic story, and a specific problem or issue addressed by one or more of the selling points helps bolster a company’s claims. Add social call-outs adds even more credibility.

BONUS: Include The Magic Word
Free_01
That magic word is “free.” Or even better, “FREE!” This is pretty simple. Free estimate. Free inspection. Free bonus. Free item. Free membership. Free Service. Free dessert. The possibilities are endless for offering something of value.

Direct mail is highly measurable and cost-effective, when done well. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to help. I also pointed out to my friend that many of these tactics can be applied to the online world. When I last checked in with her, she was working with a local marketer on a direct mail plan, as well as her Facebook and the rest of her online presence. She should be turning away business in no time.