Sorting the mail

Jan. 1, 2020
Direct mail marketing has changed dramatically with the advent of new technologies, making it an even more effective marketing tool for repair shops.

Direct mail has been around seemingly as long as the Great Pyramids. Since before the days of television, radio, billboards or even newspaper advertisements, business owners were mailing flyers and cards to potential customers to drive sales. 

Because it’s been around for so long, direct mail doesn’t always rise to the top of the list when shop owners are looking for marketing vehicles for their businesses. But like most everything in the past 10 years, direct mail marketing has changed dramatically with the advent of new technologies, making it an even more effective marketing tool for repair shops.

You’re probably hearing a lot about the growth and accessibility of social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare and how they’ve stolen the marketing focus from direct mail. While those new technologies allow you to communicate to your potential customers, they aren’t as multi-faceted as direct mail is.

You can do more with direct mail today than you ever could before.  But the question is how can simple postcards, flyers and mailed collateral trump the power of the Internet? 

Know Your Audience
The ability to target quite strategically is one key benefit of direct mail.  In the past, you might have directed campaigns to specific neighborhoods.  Today, direct mail marketers can target specific households within neighborhoods.

The first step is to review your immediate market area to determine where the middle- to high-income neighborhoods are. If you’re a suburban shop, you goal is to typically target those middle- to high-income households located within a two- to three-mile radius of your shop. If you’re based in a rural locale, the target stretches to five to 10 miles away from your store.

So, how do we figure out where those “ideal” customers are?  Well, advances in technology have made it possible to mine a wide range of data. The information we can access to help clients develop a target strategy includes: household size, income levels, home values, spending habits and length of residency.

It’s also possible to analyze a shop’s current database of customers to determine who their customers are (demographic-wise) and where they are coming from. Once you have that information, we suggest mailing to the “best” areas, which will include both your current customers and new targets who have similar demographic profiles. That approach will allow you grow new customers and to blunt the impact of competitors who are out there targeting your current customers. And remember, even your loyal customers will forget about you if you fail to mail consistently.

The combination of mailing to the highest caliber customers around your store consistently and creating a compelling message that drives customers to action is what makes direct mail effective in the auto repair industry.   Too many shop owners try to exclude existing customers because they feel that offering a discount to existing customers is a waste of money. What they fail to realize is that most existing customers need a postcard reminder or reason to come back in — they don’t decide to come in on their own unless they need a repair.   But it is way too risky to let good customers flounder out there when they are getting flooded with advertising from competitors trying to woo them with new customer discounts. Your reluctance to provide discounts to current customers (which might save you $20 to $50), could cost you a customer that will spend $900 over a year’s time and will serve as a constant flow of referrals.

It is important to continue to mail into your best carrier routes or neighborhoods monthly because even the most well-established stores that have been marketing for years only see a 20 to 25 percent penetration rate in their markets, so there is always room to grow in these areas.    In addition, you have an influx of families moving in and out of these great neighborhoods, so you are going to want to be top of mind for these new potential customers.

The Return
Once a direct mail campaign has been mailed, the real work begins.  Shop owners need to know to know how successful their campaigns are.  What was the return on investment?
There are various tools to help gather this kind of information.  Mudlick uses an ROI Data Extraction Program to judge the impact of our direct mail efforts.  This program helps determine who specifically responded to the monthly campaign by matching the addresses where postcard where mailed that month against addresses in the customers point of sale system within a specific period of time.  In addition, each campaign is sent out with a specific tracking number that is used by the clients to not only determine when a customer is responding to the direct mail, but also allows them to find out how much a customer spent during the recent visit.

Call tracking is also a big part of the success of a direct mail marketing campaign. 

The typical call tracking number is a local phone number that is created to log and record all the calls that are generated from the direct mail postcard.  The calls are routed through a call tracking company that ultimately redirects the customer to the business. 

While originally created to help advertisers figure out where leads were coming from, call tracking has evolved to the point where the information this tool provides is too valuable to pass up.

Today, call tracking allows a business to realistically evaluate the success of a campaign by calculating response rates.  But it’s more than a simple tally of phone calls.  Analytics can show which campaigns perform better in certain areas, during certain times of the year and even which households respond better to one campaign over another.

Call tracking can also record phone calls to determine if extra training is needed to increase customer response.  For instance, if you send out 1,000 pieces and get 500 responses, but only a few actually show up and spend money with the business, the problem might not be with the campaign or the direct mail targeting, but in the way your staff handles new customer calls.   

It is mind boggling how owners spend good money to drive business through advertising, but do not train and inspect how the front line employees answer the phone. While I could write an entire article on the topic of how to make the most of prospect calls, I’ll briefly say here that the goal is to make life convenient for the customers and not the shop. Basically, move heaven and Earth to fix the problem and you’ll be rewarded with a new customer.

Some companies will even evaluate your staff’s performance, based on the factors you consider important.

Ultimately, knowledge is power.  The more you know about your customers and potential customers, the better your direct mail campaign is going to be.  More than that, you should also be fully aware of how your own employees and sales staff are handling customers.  A direct mail campaign might generate calls from hundreds of people, but your staff has to be able to convert those responses into sales.

With today’s direct mail technology, that kind of information can easily be gathered and evaluated so that changes can constantly be made to ensure the highest possible return on the direct mail investment. 

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