4 Direct Mail Tips for a Great Yard Sale

One of the best things about this time of year is that it’s perfect for yard sales. But judging by what I’ve seen around suburbia over the last few weeks, a lot of folks are missing a good opportunity to unload their old stuff and make some money. If you adapt some tried-and-true direct marketing tips to fit your yard sale, you can attract lots of prospects, and then, get them to buy.

One of the best things about this time of year is that it’s perfect for yard sales. But judging by what I’ve seen around suburbia over the last few weeks, a lot of folks are missing a good opportunity to unload their old stuff and make some money. If you adapt some tried-and-true direct marketing tips to fit your yard sale, you can attract lots of prospects, and then, get them to buy.

Catch their attention. Like a great teaser on an envelope or a good subject line, your sale sign should be just as hard to ignore. You don’t really need posterboard — an 8-1/2 “x 11” sheet of paper, in a bright color, is good enough. In block lettering big enough to be easily read by someone on foot, bicycle or car, announce the street address, date and time. Maybe insert two or three keywords like “furniture” and “clothing.” That’s it.

Post it on telephone poles on the heavily trafficked streets near your home, and to be more helpful, draw an arrow on it to point people in the right direction. To help guide them further, hang some balloons or maybe another sign with a big “X” on a tree or utility pole closest to your house.

Also, going multichannel couldn’t hurt. List your sale with some specific details about what you’re selling on Craigslist and in local newspapers. And, for a personal touch, hand-deliver your sign to your neighbors.

Think like a retailer. Like a well-organized catalog or website with lots of high-quality photos, you need to place your merchandise so it can be easily seen. If at all possible, don’t use the ground, which can be difficult for some people to bend down and reach.

Borrow some tables if you don’t have any. After making sure everything is clean, group like items together, such as books or housewares. Retailers, no matter how many ways they sell, sort clothing by size, and you should, too.

Some things, like furniture or appliances, are big and attractive enough to be put up front by themselves. A kid at a small table selling lemonade, water or pretzels is another great way to generate traffic and further sales.

If you’re worried that you don’t have enough to sell, you probably don’t. So, bring neighbors and relatives in to be part of your sale. It’s like those co-op mailings everyone gets; the greater the variety and amount of goods that’s out there for buyers to see, the more likely it is that people will stop, then linger.

The offer rules. Maybe you have some idea of what your market will bear. So make it easy for everybody by charging a flat rate price for things like silverware, or CDs ans DVDs, and clearly mark individual ones for the rest.

But, as in direct mail, if you’re not getting enough (or any) results, dramatically improve your offer. Try “buy one, get one” deals for big volume items like baby clothes, and get ready to bargain further with larger discounts. That is, unless you really want to haul everything back to the garage or attic.

Like any good marketer, you’ll also want to give people options when paying you, so they don’t walk away. You’ll need to have small bills and coins on hand to make change.

Sell the sizzle. One great marketing rule is to talk about benefits, not features. Present yourself as having the answer to what other people need. Be polite and friendly as potential buyers approach you. Try not to be demanding or hovering, as that tends to scare people way.

Instead, BE the testimonial. That still-in-the-box belt sander over there? “I only used it once and it did a great job of refinishing my dining room floor.”

And show — don’t just say that your stuff still works. Run a heavy-duty extension cord to your house so your customers can try any electrical items before buying.

End your day on a high note. Of course, you can sell your leftover stuff another day. But instead, maybe donate them to the Salvation Army or Goodwill stores, or list them on Freecycle. Chances are that someone will be able to use them.

Be a good neighbor by taking down all of your signs after you pack up. Then, sit back and reflect: You’ve enjoyed the fresh air and sunshine, cleared your clutter, maybe made some new friends, and hopefully, brought in some decent money. Not too bad!

What ideas do you have for successful yard sales?

Paul Bobnak is the research director of Direct Marketing IQ and runs the Who’s Mailing What! Archive. He can be reached at pbobnak@napco.com.

Why Your Engaging Content Won’t Produce Leads

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

The ugly truth is, for many of us, engaging customers creates profitless prosperity—impressive marketing statistics that don’t ultimately, directly help generate leads and sales. Engagement is creating momentary value that is aloof from any kind of sales lead management process. Yet businesses who do create sales using social selling know something the rest of us don’t. Let’s find out what that something is.

Why We’re Failing to Sell with Engagement
For years now, we’ve been rising each morning, downing our coffee and suffering through questions like, “How do I know what to blog each day?” And the biggie, “How do I become engaging enough to produce leads and sales?”

Most of us are busy producing engaging content on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube and other social media. But in the end, even our most engaging blogs, YouTube videos and other forms of online publication fail to produce leads and sales. At best, sales are blindly attributed to content as part of a mass media branding success using fuzzy math. Why?

My on-going research confirms it: We’re failing to create sales engaging social media because we’re building content marketing on an outdated foundation. We’re clinging to mass media advertising ideas and values. Instead, we should be exploiting direct response marketing tactics.

“Marketers often come from two distinct backgrounds,” says best-selling author and IBM distinguished engineer Mike Moran.

“Brand marketers are the ones whose work you see on TV. They are all about branding, brand image, brand awareness—use whatever word you want—and their success has made Coca-Cola and many other consumer products into household names. Direct marketers are decidedly less sexy … constantly searching for the next idea that increases response. They are all about sales, and couldn’t care less about brand image as long as the cash register rings.”

Moran says engagement marketers with an interest in driving sales have much to learn from the practice of direct response marketing. Again, it’s not about influencing or leading thought, it’s about being a thought provoker.

How to Always Make the Sale
Why do so many of us pursue getting “liked” on Facebook or followed on Twitter? Because of this single idea: getting a lot of customers’ attention (reach) over and over (frequency) is enough to earn a sale … somehow, sometime. This is how advertising works.

Today’s best social sellers do not believe for a minute that exposure to engaging content will result in a sale. They have no faith that it will produce a lead. Rather, they believe in, and execute on, carefully mixing in calls-to-action. The content they create solves customers’ problems or vividly demonstrates (proves … think “infomercial”) compelling experiences relating to their service.

The best way to sell on Facebook is to solve customers’ problems (yes “for free”) in ways that earn trust and ultimately help them navigate their way toward your paid products and services. And by the way, I’m not saying attention or branding doesn’t matter. It does. I’m simply saying it’s not enough. Stopping at earning customers fleeting attention is a sure-fire losing strategy online.

I say avoid getting sucked into the profitless prosperity black hole by thinking in terms of direct response marketing when engaging with social media and content marketing. What do you think?

What Do Social Media Marketing and Weight Loss Have in Common?

Scams, lies and half-truths. They’re the staple of so-called gurus and a real problem for people trying to create tangible, measurable outcomes. Whether it’s losing weight or producing leads and sales, your success relies on ignoring tempting short cuts, forming better habits and not caving to everyday pressures. Believe it or not, tuning out advice that will not work is an easy task when it comes to social media marketing.

Scams, lies and half-truths. They’re the staple of so-called gurus and a real problem for people trying to create tangible, measurable outcomes. Whether it’s losing weight or producing leads and sales, your success relies on ignoring tempting short cuts, forming better habits and not caving to everyday pressures. Believe it or not, tuning out advice that will not work is an easy task when it comes to social media marketing.

Stop the Insanity!
“It’s official. It’s now impossible to keep up with the irrelevant data, false claims, illogical conclusions, and plain bad journalism associated with positive claims about social media,” says Robert Bacal, CEO of Bacal and Associates.

It’s hard to not feel just like Bacal. The din of misinformation is a major hurdle for our businesses. We’re constantly being told “do this, do that, but not like this, this way.” Then everything changes.

The mountain of contradictory advice emanating from the weight loss industry finally caused the iconic weight loss diva, Susan Powter, to yell “Stop the insanity!” Sure, Powter cashed in but that’s precisely the point. It was a stroke of marketing genius. Hers was the “anti-insanity” answer.

Step 1: Recognize Lies
Losing weight and making social media produce a lead or sale have a lot in common: Charlatans selling short cuts to people who need to create change in their lives. Trying to make Facebook, Twitter, blogging or YouTube produce a sale can feel just as hopeless as trying to lose weight. Think about the constant stream of contradictory advice you get in both cases.

First, we were told if you want to shag the extra baggage you’ve got to cut calories. Then, more recently, we were told calories have little to do with weight loss. Remember dietary cholesterol? First it caused heart disease, then it didn’t.

Just the same, we all know that being authentic on social platforms is key to convincing customer to trust us right? Wrong according to a SocialMediaToday blogger showing your true colors is a BAD idea. Huh? There’s a fox in the hen house or a bat in the belfry!

Step 2: Mix in Tough Love
The problem is we humans prefer to believe simple lies rather than slightly complicated truths. 19th Century philosopher and historian, Alexis Tocqueville was the first to formally make the observation about human behavior. But here’s the reality: If you are going to succeed at generating leads and sales with social media you’ll need to start tuning out the simple lies and investing time in the slightly complicated truth.

That is, making the sale with social media has requires foresight, planning and application of direct response principles that have been around for decades. But some tough love is in order too.

No, success is not as easy as investing a certain, optimal amount of time with social media each day.

No, success is not a factor of being perceived as “more human” by customers or expressing your culture on social media.

No, success is not tied to how many times you get re-tweeted on Twitter.

No, you will not be successful by drowning yourself in the sea of “top 5” or “top 10” social media tips articles.

Step 3: Choose What Not to Do
Where to start? It’s best to tune out the noise. Think about it. When it comes to social media marketing, there are plenty of opportunities to not invest time in trivial nonsense-to choose what not to do. There’s a huge amount of worthless noise out there posing as helpful tips and tricks.

Next time you see an overzealous list of facts about how awesomely huge, fast, or urgent the social web is, consider asking yourself how relevant that fact is to the task at hand, selling. If there’s very little (or nothing at all) to do with the information, simply tune it out.

Yes, Facebook is the size of a country. And? YouTube is the second largest search engine. And? Fifteen percent of bloggers spend 10 hours or more each week blogging. And? Twenty-five percent of search results for the world’s top 20 largest brands are links to user-generated content. And? Twitter is adding 300,000 users a day. And?

If you can’t readily do anything with the information, just tune it out. The anecdote may be interesting, but ask yourself:

How is that fact relevant to our business?

Do I have time for enthusiastic or impressive anecdotes that don’t help me do things that plug into sales? Does our marketing team?

Becoming liberated (and you will feel liberated!) takes focus, patience, and a belief in your business instinct—that “doing less of some things” is the right thing to do.

Let me know if this helps!

Never, Ever Outsource Your Content Marketing Strategy

Should you outsource your content marketing strategy? Don’t—unless you want your blogs, whitepapers, videos or webinars to blend in with those of your competitors. Good, effective content marketing cannot be outsourced. No matter how much you’re struggling to create a constant stream of content that effectively generates leads, keep it in house.

Should you outsource your content marketing strategy? Don’t—unless you want your blogs, whitepapers, videos or webinars to blend in with those of your competitors. Good, effective content marketing cannot be outsourced. No matter how much you’re struggling to create a constant stream of content that effectively generates leads, keep it in house.

Let’s be honest. All of us are racing to “produce quality content” and distribute it on blogs, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social platforms. But what does “quality content” really mean and why is so much of it failing to generate leads for B-to-B marketers? And what can you do to make sure your articles, videos, white papers and webinars (content) produce leads? Keep it inside.

Despite what “the experts” say, effective content marketing has less to do with frequency or how often you produce it. Blogging often (and getting that blog retweeted) earns the fleeting attention of prospects at best. Content that generate leads:

  • Solves problems and/or dramatizes the emotional end benefit
  • Is designed to induce behavior (sometimes addictive)
  • Translates customer need (analyzes and feeds it back into design)

Eschew the “Experts”
Relative to these key success principles, having a constant stream of content emanating from your business will not produce sales. Despite what “the experts” keep saying, the most effective content is not that which gets discovered in search engines and gets people to your website. Nor is effective content that which has “your voice” or “reflects your culture” or “is authentic.” These qualities do not define effective content because they never have.

Content marketing is about as new as custom publishing (it’s not new at all). The most effective content produces measurable outcomes—leads and sales. Period.

I can hear the social media gurus screaming. OK, OK. Are all those things I just mentioned important pieces of the puzzle? Yes. But over-focusing on them will cause you to put far too much faith in them.

For instance, take frequency. Making content marketing produce sales is not purely (or even mostly) a numbers game, nor a matter of how much attention you earn from search engines or blog visitors. Believing this to be true will only cause you to—that’s right—outsource it!

The Key to Success
If leads and sales are what you’re after with content marketing, then you’ve got to come to grips with the truth: Effective webinars, blogs, videos, etc., take your target market beyond the realm of useful information. Sure, providing information is essential but you’ve got to go the extra mile—you’ve got to provide new, previously unknown knowledge that tells customers how to avoid risk or exploit opportunity.

Think about it this way: It’s difficult enough to hire an employee that a) understands this concept; b) knows enough about your competitive environment to know how and where to find what your customers truly need to know; c) can actually execute the research needed to produce effective (behaviorally provocative) content—and produce it over time. Good luck finding someone on the outside who can do all of that well enough!

Want your content to look like your competitors? Just outsource it to people who repackage information your customers already know. They’ll take your money and in return pass off what they create as thought leadership or insightful information. And then you’ll pass that junk on to your customers.

The Honest Truth
Ninety-five percent of content marketing is generating worthless information that everyone already knows surrounded by buzzwords. Need proof? Search the Web for whitepapers and give them a scan.

“I’m a huge fan of earned attention,” says Edward Boches, chief innovation officer at Mullen. “And owning content. And being in the publishing business. But the one downside of everyone and anyone—and that includes brands and companies—being a content creator is that just like cable television, the good stuff becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of all that’s out there.”

Want your content to produce leads and sales? Hire people who know how to produce written or multimedia materials that make readers/viewers say, “Hmm, I never thought of it THAT way … that’s scary” or “I see the opportunity in that, I better get in touch with these people to take action!”

This is what good social media marketing and content marketing does—induces responses that you can nurture toward an eventual sale.

Maximize Holiday Sales

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

As the holiday season kicks into high gear, brands are scrambling to maximize sales and results. The growing use of social media and smartphones adds enormous complexity, along with many opportunities for today’s digital marketing gurus. But fear not! With a little preparation and integration, double-digit sales increases are possible. Here’s how to get the most out of your Q4 digital efforts to drive sales and grow lifetime value for many years to come.

Community tagging. Tag existing offline marketing efforts with Facebook/Twitter tags. Integrate “Like” opportunities at key touchpoints, such as your homepage and product pages. A recent study from Syncapse and Hotspex found the lifetime value of a Facebook fan is about $136 to top brands. Consider offering an incentive to encourage consumers to become a fan of your brand, such as making a donation to a cause/charity for each sign-up. And remember to stress the value of being a fan or follower. Adding a “Like” button or “Join the Community” call to action only makes return on investment sense if you have a strategy and communication framework established to engage the community once you’ve converted them.

Belly up to barcodes. It’s estimated as much as 70 percent of all purchase decisions are made at the point of sale (POS). Therefore, it’s critical to stand out on store shelves and to offer some extra value. How about integrating new 2-D barcodes, which enables consumers to use their smartphones to “Like” your brand or product at the POS? Also, pay close attention to mobile applications like Foursquare, which now boasts more than 4 million users. Mobile will increasingly become a critical channel to not only acquire new customers, but grow the community and drive sales via the serving of location-based offers.

Segment and socialize. Implement sharing capabilities on banner ads and email marketing efforts. For existing email efforts, segment your audience based on engagement and social profiles. By targeting best customers and testing various incentives, you can encourage your best customers to get actively involved in the promotion of your brand, thus extending your marketing efforts’ reach and effectiveness. Remember to not only identify who shared the information, but flag them as an influencer for future campaigns.

Email, social and loyalty. Lots has been written about the integration of email and social media. But the importance of coordinating efforts across channels cannot be underestimated. Coordinate socialized email deployments with Facebook and Twitter posts. Furthermore, for those of you with established loyalty programs and sites, don’t forget to sweeten the deal for loyalty members.

The old rule still applies: With proper pampering, your best customers will become your best advocates. Studies and data also show that they buy more products and purchase more often, so remember to treat them extra special. Integrate offers into loyalty websites and statements, and highlight additional benefits for your best customers.

Remarketing/targeting. If you’re a direct response marketer, you likely have access to lots of data. Start with the basics this holiday season by implementing a remarketing strategy for key efforts. With average open rates hovering around 20 percent, look closely at open/click activity and resend offers based on observed behaviors and actions. Consider sweetening offers when and where appropriate. Implementation of a remarketing strategy can lift overall conversion rates anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent.

However, be careful not to annoy your customers. Be conscious of the law of diminishing returns. Also, look closely at website data and leverage cookie/pixel technologies to target users both onsite and offsite via ad networks with relevant, targeted offers based on their profiles and behaviors. Don’t forget to review your privacy policy, always be transparent and offer users the opportunity to opt out.

Search and destroy. Search remains an effective and efficient vehicle to drive desired behaviors as consumers are actively in the market for your products/services. But search remains underleveraged. Think carefully about corresponding landing pages, and look to integrate data-capture opportunities that offer relevant value to encourage subscriptions. Doing so will allow you to continue the conversation. Also, pump up your search marketing efforts by adding social links to paid search terms to increase visibility and “Likes” for your social efforts.

Earlier this month, the National Retail Federation forecasted holiday sales to increase 2.3 percent, slightly lower than the 10-year average of 2.5 percent. While this year’s estimate represents a significant improvement over last year, marketers must continue to look for operational and marketing efficiencies. That means working smarter, not harder. While paying close attention to supply chain management, inventory control and minimizing markdowns is a must, marketing must overdeliver as well. Marketers must learn to better leverage data, their best customers and emerging/efficient channels like mobile, social media and email to drive sales in today’s difficult market.

Good News: Online Sales Expected to Rise This Holiday Season

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

If you’re like me, you noticed that on Nov. 1, right after the bags of Halloween candy were pulled off the supermarket and drugstore shelves, the holiday items began to appear.

Folks, the holiday shopping — and selling — season has begun.

This year, there’s actually some good news leading into the holiday season. For starters, on Nov. 5, major retailers announced their best sales in months.

What’s more, U.S. online sales are expected to rise 8 percent this holiday season, according to a recent report from Forrester Research. Online retail sales in November and December are expected to reach $44.7 billion this year, up from $41.4 billion a year ago, according to the report, providing a bright spot to a retail industry that could still see total sales for the season fall.

So, how are online retailers planning to increase sales this year? Through social media and free shipping promotions, at least according to the results of Shop.org’s eHoliday study, conducted by BIGresearch.

Since many shoppers today use Facebook and Twitter regularly — and because these tools are more cost effective than traditional advertising — 47.1 percent of online retailers surveyed for the study are increasing their use of social media this holiday season.

More than half of the online retailer respondents have updated their Facebook pages (60.3 percent) and Twitter pages (58.7 percent) this year, while two-thirds (65.6 percent) have added or enhanced blogs and RSS feeds. 



As for the multitude of free shipping offers expected during this holiday season, 79.4 percent of those retailers surveyed said they will offer free shipping with conditions at some point during the holiday season. More than half (57.4 percent) also plan to offer free shipping without conditions. More than one-third (35.7 percent) said their budgets for free shipping are higher than last year, and nearly as many (30 percent) said free shipping offers will start earlier than a year ago.

Many online retailers have also revamped their websites this holiday season to make it easier for people to shop. Many, for example, have added or revamped their sites’ shopping carts (45.2 percent), search capabilities (44.3 percent), suggested items (42.9 percent), customer ratings and reviews (40.6 percent), and featured sale pages (37.1 percent), according to the study.

So, are you ramping up your use of social media or free shipping promotions this year? Doing anything else you’d like to tell us about? Leave a comment here.

HULU.COM: An Intriguing Advertising Opportunity

Hulu is a fascinating Web site. Not only can its content be riveting to the viewer, but also represents a highly efficient medium for advertisers, enabling them to close the loop and measure actual ROI.

When I read that Hulu is drawing huge audiences, I went to the Web site and clicked on a movie—”Abel Raises Cain.” It is a 82-minute documentary about professional hoaxer Alan Abel, who was famous in the late 1950s for dreaming up and publicizing the “Society of Indecency to Naked Animals” with the mission of clothing naked animals. Over the years he has duped the media and made talk show hosts look like chumps and generally made a hilarious nuisance of himself with a slew of nutsy-fagen schemes, many of which are chronicled in this film.

This unique Web site offers full-length television shows and motion pictures; viewers remain on the site for a long time, sometimes a couple of hours—a boon for advertisers.

I sat through the entire film, which was presented with “limited commercial interruptions.” The TV-type commercial advertisements ranged in length from 10 to 30 seconds. Among the advertisers:
“Angels and Demons” (upcoming Tom Hanks film)
Nestea Green Tea
Honda Insight
Healthful Cat Food, Purina
Sprint Now Network
Swiffer Cleaner
Coldwell Banker

Returning to “Abel Raising Cain” on another day, I found additional advertisers:
American Chemistry Council
BMW Z4 Roadster
Toyota Prius
Panasonic Viera
Plan B Levenorgestra
Citi

At the end of this blog is a screenshot snapped during the BMW commercial. As you will see, the moving picture area takes up about half the computer screen, leaving a blank area above. At upper left is the film title, running time and the number of stars by reviewers. At upper right is a small response box that shows the car, the BMW logo and the headline:
The all-new Z4 Roadster
An Expression of Joy.

In light gray mousetype are two words: “Explore now”—the hyperlink to more information.

Once the commercial is finished and the film resumes, this little box remains on screen until the next commercial interruption. Then the next commercial’s response box stays on the screen. For the advertiser, this represents his presence onscreen for far longer than the 10-30 seconds allotted in the commercial.

Further, Hulu combines the razzle-dazzle of action-packed TV commercials with the advantage of direct marketing. The prospect clicks on the box, the advertiser has a record of the response to that commercial and that venue. This closes the loop: ad — response to ad — further info requested — and (hopefully) sale. The advertiser can do the arithmetic, measure the sales and determine whether the ad more than paid for itself or whether it was a financial loser.

This is far more valuable than running an ad on old-fashioned TV and hoping that people (1) have not left the room for a potty break and (2) will remember the thing when they are at the car dealer or supermarket.

What a direct marketer would do differently:
1. The response box at upper right is tiny compared to everything else going on. If Hulu wants happy advertisers, it should at least double its size, so that it is immediately obvious what to do.

2. The advertisers must make a terrific offer—something Free, for example—so the movie watcher is impelled to leave the film and go for the freebie. Or download a $500 certificate. With the tiny box and mousetype, these advertisers seem almost ashamed to ask you interrupt your movie to see what they have to offer. “Learn more” or “Explore now” in teeny-tiny light gray mousetype is not a compelling call to action.

3. My sense is that Hulu may be a tremendously efficient and relatively low-cost medium for testing TV commercials. Run an A-B split where one viewer gets the A commercial and the next viewer gets B and so on. The commercial that wins—gets the most responses—becomes control and is rolled out on TV, in movie theaters and anywhere else … until it is displaced by new commercial that tests better on Hulu.

With the Hulu model, razzle-dazzle TV-type commercials are combined with an immediate direct response mechanism. Trouble is that it is obvious the advertisers are allowing the general agencies that created the great commercials to handle the direct marketing element, which they know nothing about.

Old rule: never use a general agency for direct marketing.

But do spend some time at Hulu and think through how you might use it—either for sales or for testing.