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Dimensional Mail Most Effective Direct Response Strategy for B-to-B Sales - Part II

Jun 6, 2008
Every direct marketer has faced the challenge of getting past all the gatekeepers, and grabbing the attention of top executives, each of whom receives over 8,000 messages daily.

Based on our research, the best approach seems to be the following: a series of small hits designed to introduce brand and build recognition, and then an intriguing package, large enough to stand out, unusual enough to get opened, and relevant enough to trigger action. A tall order, but not impossible, with the right research and the right concept.

Dimensional mail seems to be the most effective door opener for senior managers and executives, but it must be relevant and come from a known or at least recognized source. A reasonable question might be "How is that accomplished?"

It is a multi-step process, starting with intelligently planned market research, applying that data to credible, functional list selection. Working closely with your list broker or other source, even your house list, review the lists and make finer and finer slices, reducing the number of recipients to those you have the most data in common with - only the "A" list names, with fully deliverable street addresses end up on the final list. Append that list with as much data as you can afford, and model for commonalities.

You should now have a solid list that shows several transactional or behavioral traits in common. Those common traits are the key to relevance in your dimensional package. Base the creative concept around those common traits, which show personal and professional interest, and you will strike a chord that resonates with a majority of your list, boosting open rates, building trust with the audience and enhancing response rates and sales.

The lead-up materials should be given just as careful consideration as the "Big Guns" at the end. For them to be effective in imprinting the brand and imparting recognition, they too have to resonate with the recipient. They are what creates trust with the audience, what starts the relationship off on the right foot, sets the tone and builds a platform that allows the final piece to gain traction and have impact on the recipient enough to trigger action. These smaller pieces can be as simple as a postcard, or more elaborate depending on the product or service and what kind of story you need to tell. They should be as perfect as you can make them, and reflect the qualities your brand represents.

If you're selling high-end software, hardware, or services, quality is a hallmark of many indefinable characteristics about your brand. These characteristics show in the quality of paper, of photography or illustration, even good typography and design play a role here, in showing the prospect that you are a legitimate firm, offering a legitimate product or service that is worth their precious time to investigate further, that speaks their language.

These lead-up pieces should be clear in the offer, but leave much to the imagination as to specifics, and drive recipients to another media for more information, like a website or an 800 number. These are more accountable media, and your responses are likely to be more investigative than purchase oriented anyway based on a postcard or letter from an unknown source. You may as well send them to a place where they can get answers quickly while giving up what amounts to little personal information, in their minds anyway - you really can learn quite a bit just studying lag times and media choice, but that's another article).

If you've driven sufficient response and made some sales off the lead-up materials, be sure to purge your master list of them quickly - sending someone a solicitation after they've responded to something prior is a huge red flag that you don't have your act together and don't really know the audience. It breaks the trust and you'll likely lose them as a repeat customer.

OK, by now you've created several small but relevant pieces, gotten at least some response by which to judge your list and your offer, now it's time to bring out the "Big Guns" and put together the closer, the piece that will drive the recipient to action, whether it's an appointment from a follow-up call, a call to your sales office, or even a referral to a colleague. Where to start?

Start with the big picture thinking - what are these folks' lives like everyday - full of meetings, or full of phone calls, or laced with e-mail and drudgery-like paperwork at their desks. What are they trying to accomplish every day? Are they getting anywhere or just grinding it out? That information is where your research really shines, as it will give you clues to the type of personalities and job responsibilities each has by their title, location in the organization, type of business or industry, and their transactional habits that lead you to include them on the list in the first place.

Your package concept should promise to solve a problem for them that you are fairly sure they have, or at least can identify with easily. It should be intriguing enough to get them to open it, trusting in the brand awareness you've built up over the last several weeks/months to know that it is worth their time to find out what's inside, and to know that they won't be disappointed when they do.

This is a good time to not only flesh out the concept for the package, but also any incentives, promotional items or other inclusions to the package, some of which will likely require some lead time to produce. One angle is to select a two-part inclusion, and include the least functional part first, promising the "real" item when they agree to a meeting or as an incentive to a sale. These items should be carefully selected for not only their quality, but for their functionality on a daily basis and how they relate to the daily endeavors of the target audience.

The most important trait that this big package has is its ability to inspire trust while evoking mystery - "Why are they sending this to me, what is it, I hope it's something I can use?" is the stream of thoughts you want to produce upon it landing on their desk. If you achieve that, an open is almost guaranteed. And as we've seen in our study, an open is at least halfway to a win. The other half rests on your research, your offer, and your reputation.

At the end of the day, these multi-step programs garner tremendous response rates, but are most effective when performed on a small scale, to a tightly selected niche target with a high-dollar offer or service. They require strong research and planning skills, and nearly flawless execution. If done correctly, they can pay off huge dividends, even showing greater retention and higher response rates for up-sell offers, cross-selling and longer lifetime value of customers generated through their use. Our research shows that customers gained using this program can add 46% to their overall lifetime value, either through length of time as a customer or in total dollars of purchased goods. The key is to use research data to drive relevance and to generate trust over the longer term for the brand.
About the Author
David Poulos, Chief Consultant at Granite Partners has been offering marketing guidance to firms for over 25 years. Specialties include non-profit marketing and full-scale strategic marketing campaigns. He can be reached at http://www.granite-part.com, or 410-472-4570.
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