Developing and maintaining a connection with your customers (or potential customers) is critical for most agricultural businesses. The more customers (actual or potential ones) you have, the tougher it can be to stay in touch. Long before email was conceived, direct mailing was frequently used to send advertisements and promotional materials such as coupons. Although many value-added agricultural business owners use email for e-newsletters and other communications, old-fashioned direct mailing can still produce results.
There are many situations in which a direct mailing could be beneficial to your business;
- You need to let people in the area know about your new business.
- You have a new product to promote.
- A special event is coming up.
- New housing developments are bringing customers to your area.
Whatever the reason, you need to think about the potential impact of the direct mailing campaign. Do you think it's worth the time it will take to develop the mailer and send it? That might be difficult to assess. But the dollar cost of the mailer is probably not very high. So maybe trying it once or twice to see if it works for you is a good idea. We'll talk later about some tools you can use to gauge how successful a mailer was in generating customers.
Once you decide to send a direct mail, there are six steps to follow. (This is adapted from the United States Postal Service's website. Check out their website for further details.)
You need a mailing list
In many cases, you can purchase lists from mailing list brokers, local newspapers or trade publications, your local Chamber of Commerce, or other entities. An internet search for "mailing list broker" will provide a good starting point for your search.
Another option is to build a list. This can be done by using a sign-up sheet in your market, by gathering addresses through your loyalty program or surveys, or by holding a prize drawing.
Decide what your message is going to be
What do you need to tell people about your business or your upcoming event? Having a clear plan for what you hope to convey will help you make some of the decisions that follow.
Decide what type of mailing is appropriate
Should it be a letter, postcard, brochure, or larger package? This will depend on the message you plan to convey as well as your promotional budget. If in doubt, develop a prototype. Can you convey the desired message on a postcard or do you really need a brochure with nice pictures? Because your budget is probably very limited, selecting the right tool is vital.
Design your mailer
Your design may be the difference between someone reading it or simply tossing it out. It should be eye-catching, yet simple. No matter whether you feel your design skills are good or not, allowing someone to review your work can be very useful. If design is not a strong suit, work with a professional to develop a template that you can use several times. Your design should be consistent with your business's image and logos. Your mailer might be the only connection with your business that some have ever experienced. Therefore, you should put plenty of thought into it.
Select the right paper. The paper you use can be an important component of your design. Using a colored paper helps to draw attention to your mailer. You will also want to be sure that whatever you use will hold up in the mail handling process. Talk to your local Post Office staff for help.
Decide how to pay postage
The Postal Service provides three options. You can either use stamps, online postage, or a meter. The Postal Service's website claims that stamps increase the chances that a customer will open your envelope. However, the other options may be easier to implement. See their website for details.
While the six steps are easy to follow, each one requires thought. A good mailing list, one that truly hits your target market segments, can be tough to find. Once you have one that works, keep it up to date, building on it where you can.
As you are developing your direct mailer, think about how you will evaluate its success. One easy way to assess your impact is to include a coupon that consumers may return. You can also provide a discount if they inform the cashier that they saw your ad in the mail. This method provides feedback, but you'll have to rely on cashiers to count responses accurately. Another way is to simply compare sales figures to relevant periods. Sales in the previous year are often used as a comparison for those businesses that have been open that long. You might also compare the sales against a goal you set when sending the mailer. Regardless, you should evaluate the success of your mailer.
Direct mailing can be a simple yet effective promotional tool. Following the steps described here and working with your Post Office will make it easy. But, be sure to evaluate your direct mailing. If it doesn't pay for itself, you might want to think about whether or not direct mailing is a good tool for your business.
Prepared by Jeffrey Hyde