Powerful Pr Lessons From Successful Direct Marketing Techniques

Direct marketing--including catalogs and Internet sales--is a $1.85 trillion industry in the U.S. that accounts for 7 percent of total U.S. sales, according to the Direct Marketing Association. Direct marketers make their money by understanding exactly what customers want and giving it to them. Here are five key public relations lessons to learn from direct marketing:

Target your message

Successful direct marketing is targeted. It gets the right offer in the right format to the right people who have an interest in or a need for a manufacturer's product. Direct marketers spend millions of dollars creating and refining mailing lists and subscriber profiles to find just the right consumers to buy their product.

Direct marketers don't try to be everything to everybody. They use their budget wisely to reach only the people who are their best prospects and reach them frequently enough to encourage new sales and spur repeat sales.

How targeted is your message?

Do you write your brochures, advertisements and radio commercials with your typical customer in mind? Is your message telling them how they can solve their problems, achieve their dreams, or meet their needs? Direct marketers know that customer benefits outsell product features. Targeting your message to your most likely buyers will make the best use of your budget and yield the most sales.

Test your message

Direct marketers base their ad copy, list purchase, media buys and graphic design on research and industry information. Testing is a basic part of successful direct marketing. Direct marketers will take two versions of an ad--one with slightly different copy from the other--or two different lists, or two different regional versions of the same magazine--and run their campaign tests. All the research in the world can't substitute for testing. Research gives you a theoretical answer. Testing validates your theories in the real world.

Many business owners give up on marketing if their first ads don't send customers flooding into their stores. Or they abandon advertising in a magazine if one ad doesn't make the phone ring. Direct marketers know that it is often the message--not the medium--that needs to be adjusted to speak more persuasively to the customer. Don't be too hasty to give up on a whole type of advertising because one effort did not bring a crowd. Change your ad, re-write your mailing piece, adjust your list and try again. When the right message reaches a receptive potential customer, sales happen.

Change your definition of success

Direct marketers are patient. They understand that testing is essential to capture sales. But they also have a realistic idea of success. Depending on the size of the campaign, the type of product and the break-even cost, some direct marketers consider a response of 1 - 5 percent to be very successful. They know that large percentages aren't realistic.

A campaign's success also depends on its purpose. Some offers are made just to generate leads in order to build a better mailing list for the next offer. Those campaigns are focused on screening out non-buyers, not necessarily on selling product. Getting 1,000 names of people who are interested out of a mailing of 10,000 people on a list might be very successful under those conditions.

Make sure you have defined success in a way that is realistic and based on solid criteria.

Tailor your offer

Direct marketers know that the magic is in the way the product is offered. Are you selling closet shelving--or an organization system? Is your product an air cleaner--or a way to reduce indoor air pollution?

Even the way the price is stated makes a difference. If you're having a sale, is the price half off, fifty-percent reduced or two for one? Direct marketers know that different ways to say the same thing get different responses. Make sure that your offers are tailored to what encourages your customers to take action.

Know your customer

The most important lesson is to understand your customer. Find out what the customer is really purchasing when he buys your product. Direct marketing success happens when in-depth customer knowledge is used to tailor an offer, create a targeted, customer-oriented message that is tweaked and perfected through testing, and that produces profitable results.

Even if your business doesn't currently use direct marketing, you can apply its wisdom to your public relations process to increase your business success.