This “Dinosaur” Marketing Technique Could Mean Millions in New Revenue

03/13/2017 02:37 pm ET

The age-old question, “How do I attract more of the right types of clients?” is one we entrepreneurs seem to never stop asking ourselves. Even if we’re doing fine with our marketing, we continue to look for new and better methods to grow our business.

One of the best methods is also one of the oldest: direct mail marketing. Often written off as a “dinosaur” approach to client acquisition, direct mail can be hugely effective. One reason: Direct mail customers tend to spend more money over the lifetime of the relationship. Even Internet titan Google uses direct mail aggressively to market its AdWords program.

Recently I sought out Craig Simpson for some direct mail marketing insights. Simpson is the owner of Simpson Direct, Inc., a direct marketing firm based in Oregon. Since beginning his career in direct mail nearly 20 years ago, he has managed thousands of direct mail campaigns for clients in practically every industry--marketing everything from courses on the benefits of drinking water, to technical software, retail stores, real estate investment, financial services, health products, diet programs, insurance, and even wholesale clothing. He’s also the co-author of The Direct Mail Solution.

Here’s what he had to say about effective marketing techniques in today’s challenging environment.

1. Marketing is science, not art—treat it accordingly. You can put together the most beautiful, impressive ad in world and it can still bomb with your target clients. The reason: There are rules of what works and what doesn’t with various groups. Follow these rules, based in science and psychology, and your marketing will achieve better results.

Simpson explains, based on the hundreds of mailings he does for clients annually: “It could be as simple as a color change. We find that if we are mailing to women, we are going to have a better response if we use a turquoise and a pinkish color rather than if we use a blue or a brown-based design. You can mail the exact same piece--the exact same copy, the exact same design--and just change the colors, and response rate's going to change.

The photo choices you make will also have an impact: “One of my clients we dressed in all sorts of different styles. We found, after testing dozens of photos, that a denim shirt with a cowboy hat was the one that gave us the highest response rate—not what we would have expected based on our hunch,” he says. “Science told us that, by studying and researching and testing.”

2. Go for singles and doubles—don’t swing for the fences. As ambitious entrepreneurs, we want to hit home runs. But in our marketing, that desire can lead to big—and costly—missteps. There’s nothing more discouraging that spending loads of money on a campaign that promises to be huge—and that then fails to land. Believe me, I know.

Simpson’s advice? Do small campaigns that net you singles and doubles. “It’s smart to get started small and make some progress with a campaign, then look for ways to tweak it and improve it to keep you moving around the bases.”

In other words, don’t shoot for perfection at all costs. Get something out the door, let the market give you feedback and then adjust accordingly—whether it’s new language, a different color scheme or whatever else. At one of my companies, as we scaled back on the size of each campaign and began testing the results incrementally, we saw a huge jump in revenues and margins.

3. Work on the business, not just in the business. Simpson dedicates specific days during which all he does is take phone calls. Likewise, the series of meetings that used to occur throughout a given week have now been compressed into one meeting that happens at the same time every week. What’s more, each meeting is well defined before it starts, to ensure everyone involved knows what is expected. “I have to be very rigid with this, so I can spend the other days focused on projects and actually getting things done,” he says.

The reason this is smart: If we don’t allocate time to work on improving our companies, we’ll always be buried by the daily duties that are part of working in our companies.

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