Many smaller companies who use direct mail don’t have a large staff to identify digital alternatives. This column is for the organization wondering what to do online when direct mail response is declining, costs are increasing, and inevitably, profits are shrinking. Today’s topic was triggered by a phone call from the new owner of a company we worked with a few years ago.
His challenge was typical of a lot of small business owners using direct mail: declining response rates, with lower profit, exacerbated by the fact that postage, once again, has recently gone up.
When we worked with the previous owner of this company a few years ago, we identified a more responsive direct mailing, built a new website, and got him started with a modest pay-per-click campaign. We wanted to test email, but the owner didn’t want to use email, so we didn’t. The outcome from these efforts was a combination of a better list; the capability for responders to complete a lead form on a new, search-engine-optimized website; and a PPC campaign that put them back in the black.
Fast forward about five years and direct mail response has declined yet again, while costs are up. The new owner wanted to rebrand his company with a different website. But in his attempt to save money, and having no clue what he was doing, the “new” website became a brand liability and all optimization was lost. And the pay-per-click campaign faltered because of the website switch.
So what to do? He called us for help.
In an instance like this, and in the interest of keeping a plan of action simple and as cost-effective as possible for the small business going at this alone, here are three initiatives that should be explored to keep things simple and cost-effective.
1. Website Review
Most small businesses have a website. But what is its purpose, and is it effective at achieving that? Ask someone to evaluate it for you who will understand what websites should do for a company. Get an audit. Invest the money to make it a stronger representation of your brand; create great content, videos, and don’t forget your all-important opt-in form to capture email addresses. Make sure it’s optimized for the search engines. And make sure you claim your local listing on the search engines if you’re a local company.
2. Manage Expectations if You Test Email to Prospects
Because email marketing costs less than direct mail, it’s natural to think you can divert all your efforts to email and achieve the same results. But that’s often not the case, especially when you’re prospecting and not emailing a customer list. Making email prospecting more challenging is that there is no established relationship between the marketer and recipient. This isn’t to say that email prospecting shouldn’t be used, but rather, run the numbers first to manage expectations (see “Crack the Email Prospecting Code” for more on this topic). If you’re going to use email, make sure you have a compelling, relevant landing page and opt-in form to begin nurture marketing with regular email or direct mail follow-up (more about nurture marketing in a future blog post).
3. Give Pay-Per-Click a Shot
PPC enables you to set a daily budget comfortable for you. It can be ramped up, or shut down, without a lot of cost exposure. But you need strong text copy, understand your keywords, and have a powerful landing page. There, someone who clicks will opt-in by asking for more information. You can add those individuals to your nurture marketing campaign.
Bottom line: If you’re looking for a quick and affordable way to reinvent or expand your direct marketing from exclusively direct mail to cross-media online efforts, these three initiatives are a good place to start.