Dealer Outlook

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Snail mail is still a great selling tool

The U.S. Postal Service has been losing about $42 million per day ($11.6 billion this year). It recently defaulted on a $5.5 billion payment for retiree health benefits. In spite of a penny increase in postage this year, it will still lose big bucks next year.

So I asked myself: should I really care? After all, this is the 21st century. Today we have email, social media, FedEx, UPS, texting, Skype, you name it . . . more ways than ever to get our message out. But the truth is, as retailers, we should care about snail-mail. We should want it to be there. That’s because good old direct-mail promotion still has all the power and success it’s always had and it’s still a bargain even with any increase in postage costs.

We know that using email blasts and social media are cheap ways to reach customers and prospects. They are great tools and should be part of any dealer’s marketing plan. One of the problems we’re seeing, however, is that we’re getting saturated with email promotions today. Do you activate your computer’s spam blocker? Do you get mad when some advertiser finds a way around the blocker and gets into your email uninvited? I do. It’s leading some experts to report that the rate at which recipients open email messages, let alone click through, might actually be falling.

Enter snail mail. By all accounts, direct-mail promotion is still a leading selling medium. In fact, it still might top the best-promotional-tools list. Ever watch the popular movie “You’ve Got Mail?” As Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks entered their respective apartments, the first thing they did was go through their snail mail, even before they walked to their computers to see if the “You’ve Got Mail” flag would pop up. That movie simply reflected what nearly all of us still do every day, even in this digital age — check our snail mail first. In the office, don’t we usually stop what we’re doing to see what’s in the mail just dropped on our desk? When a holiday hits and there’s no snail-mail delivery, don’t we feel like something’s missing?

Experts agree that there is something about a piece of mail that has our name on it. It’s personal, we can actually touch it and we sub-consciously think of it as “ours.” Even more specifically, surveys show the top dog in snail mail — the most read piece — is the lowly postcard. Yup, while we might toss out an unopened envelope after seeing the sender’s name, etc., we will always turn over a postcard and scan the message.

When it comes to successful direct mail, it’s all about the offer and not the product. It’s the offer that motivates action. There are several proven offers that work well and can be adapted to many things from accessories to service that we’re selling. These include:

• The Free Trial: This one even beats money-back guarantees by 2-to-1.

• The Time Limit: You must respond by a certain time. Limits seller’s exposure.

• The Rewards: Join the club for special deals, services, values.

• The Free Gift: Order now and receive something extra free.

• The Conditional: Get your service now, pay later, etc.

• The Contest: Purchase and name is entered to win prize, etc.

• The Discount: Works where value of product is clearly recognized

So while postage is set to increase another penny in January (postage can only rise by the rate of inflation without approval of Congress), snail mail remains a promotional bargain for dealers. While it does take some cash outlay vs. email, there’s a reason leading industry marketers like West Marine or Bass Pro use direct mail extensively. And while their investments in fancy pieces is obviously large, even dealers with very limited budgets can still capitalize on inexpensive direct-mail postcards featuring creative offers that can boost business.

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