Is Direct Response Marketing a Foreign Language to Small Businesses?

One Prospect’s Direct Response Marketing Story.

Direct response marketing has rules. Is your business currently using letters or postcards to attract new customers? These rules apply to your campaigns then. I’m grateful to Dan Kennedy for him distilling these rules:

  1. There will always be an offer.
  2. There will be a reason to respond right now.
  3. You’ll give clear instructions.
  4. There will be tracking, measurement and accountability.
  5. Only no-cost brand building.
  6. There will be follow up.
  7. There will be strong copy.
  8. It will look like mail order advertising.
  9. Results rule. Period.
  10. You will be a tough disciplinarian and put your business on a strict direct marketing diet.

All the rules are important, but I’d like you to be thinking of the ones in bold especially when I relate the story of a prospect who entered my world a little while ago.

Removals & Storage Company

This prospect is a removals firm. They offer removals and storage. Their approach is to send a letter to people who have recently listed their property for sale. Their goal is to get an appointment with the vendor to sell their services. Their experience is that people call 3 removals firms for quotes and they hope to be one of them. Every month, they buy data for these potential new movers on labels, which they apply to an envelope containing a single A4 letter, colour layered, non personalised and single-sided.

First, let’s reflect on their successes. They get some appointments. They repeat the exercise monthly, which may tell you that the exercise is working, just. They have been in business for a number of years. They must be providing a good service when they do acquire new customers. The thing is the MD was looking for a new source of data and was dissatisfied with his current home move data supplier.

Finely Fettled provides data services including supplying data such as the UK High Net Worth database and home mover data. Home move data can be pre-move and post-move. The pre-move data is ideal for removals firms because, naturally, they want to help the vendor move. There is some debate with removals companies about when the best time is to communicate with people who list their properties. Our prospect wanted to target them as earlier as possible following their listing. The early bird catches the worm.

There were 3,500 such people in the month just gone that met this new listing requirement in the postcode areas served by the removals firm. This spooked the buyer, as for years they had not seen more than 1.500 such notifications. I asked to see the mailing they were sending.

Around the time I received it, my youngest son, Nathan, who works for Finely Fettled, and who also runs his own audio mastering business, was on his way to live in Brazil for the next 6 months. A whole other story. Suffice to say, Nathan met Luana in Manchester whilst at University, fell in love and has followed his heart. Thank goodness for Skype.

Finely Fettled, Direct Response Marketing, Direct Mail Campaign, West Yorkshire

Nathan & Luana in Brazil

Nathan will attend a local University to take a course in learning Portuguese.

As many Brits will attest, learning a foreign language can be a challenge. So, whilst awaiting a connecting flight to Brazil, in Lisbon, I forwarded the letter being used be the removals firm and asked him for his comments. He is 22, not formerly trained in direct response marketing, but he’s been around Finely Fettled and his father, for enough time. Without disclosing the firm, here are some of his observations, delivered as a pdf mark-up:

  • “If this is the print logo this can’t be good.”
  • “Starting with the “Hello, my name is… and my company is this…” It’s an instant turn off. It needs one of your winning headlines. “Moving house is up there as one of the most stressful things you can do, we help take that stress away…”
  • “This text is way too long and really not that interesting. It’s the same old ‘all about us and nothing about you’. They need to swap out some of this stuff for offers and examples of how they helped customers like the ones they are addressing.”

It started to dawn on me that communicating direct response marketing techniques was like learning a foreign language. In a similar way that I cam concerned Nathan learns Portuguese quickly and effectively, so he can properly communicate with Luana’s family and friends, without relying on their use of English, if the removals firm continue to communicate in this manner they will find it increasingly difficult to attract the attention of their ideal audience.

Back to those direct response marketing rules:

  • The removals firm just didn’t appear to understand that their letter was the ‘start of a conversation’. It’s sole purpose was to move the recipient to the next step. Which was to want to ask them to quote for moving them. Yet there was NO OFFER. The first and arguably one of the most important rules of direct response marketing, broken.
  • I provided them with an analysis of their direct mail piece. I advised them to take out an A5 sheet of paper, draw a line down the middle, on one side list as many problems the vendor faces when moving, and especially, when using a removals company to help them move. Then on the other side, list all the ways they solve these problems, ideally better than their competitors. In other words, provide evidence that they were worth seeing. But the ask was silent. There was no ask. They ignored the second rule of direct response marketing – give them a reason to respond now.
  • What the firm was hoping was the mail recipient would keep the letter UNTIL they were ready to choose 3 options for quotation. That’s barmy! Why would you (a) leave things to chance (they might get 6 letters, and the firm might not make the cut), and (b) the best time to act is now. If the firm had offered something of value – like a free consumer report “7 Questions You Must Ask Before You Choose a Removals Firm”, the reader would have a reason to act now, and in the process provide the firm with their email address, so they can extend the conversation with the people most likely to become their next customers.
  • The letter contained no proof points. No testimonials, despite the firm being in business for years. Years!
  • There was no clear instruction as to what the firm wanted the vendor to do. The ask was “I look forward to hearing from you should you wish to contact us”. Passive, leaving all the decision with the vendor. A mistake. People like to know what to do next.
  • The copy was far from strong. There was one 12 line paragraph then some prices about storage took up the same space.

This story will not end well for the removals firm unless it makes changes. The sorts of changes that only direct response marketing can offer. Yes, they are targeting an audience for whom they should be relevant. However, they are potentially missing 50% of movers simply by choosing a supplier who simply does not have access to as much data as can be found. Secondly, their mailing is not good. It is the opposite of good. It is passive, misleading, and it does not effectively start a conversation to move the vendor to want to make an appointment.

About that, why on earth would you want to play along with an industry norm that gives you such poor odds for success? That is a choice the firm is making. Their logic is a newly listed vendor will choose 3 removals firms for a quote and if we are one, then we can expect x% to convert. Alternatively, with a commitment to a new strategy based on direct response marketing principles, the firm can make itself attractive to far more people than ever before.

How? First by starting a conversation not a sales pitch. A conversation that recognises that the vendor is entering a stressful period, and wants to be in control and feel that when the time comes to move they have no unanswered questions and they are completely confident in their choice of removals and storage option. They are not just buying on price. Which is the inevitable consequence for this firm given their current approach.

Secondly, that conversation involves giving first. Allow them to connect with a report that explains this market. Shouldn’t be too hard should it? A consumer awareness report on removals. Probably not the first, but maybe it will be to the next batch of vendors coming to market in their area. The give, i.e. the free report, creates a sense of reciprocity with the vendor. Of authority too. So your firm starts to look like they actually know what they are doing.

By exchanging an email for the report, the removals firm then has a subscriber base to continue helping the vendor with a step by step reminder of the things they should be doing as they near the point of making a choice of vendor and of move itself. Maybe emails about storage with checklists they should use to successfully put another tick against their storage needs.

If doing this seems like too much work. Then do everyone a favour and exit the market. You’ll get found out by a competitor sooner or later who is willing to invest in serving their market. With direct response marketing strategies.

Here’s my promise to you. You’ll get increased profits for your business from direct response marketing before you can become fluent in Portuguese!

For more information on data, direct mail campaigns and direct response marketing strategies for removals companies, please call Graham Arrowsmith on 01535 654930 or visit the contact page.