Don't Forget Sound Marketing
Marketers are excited. So are consumers. What's the cause for all this excitement? E-commerce. Marketers recognize the opportunity to broaden their share of the market with e-commerce. Consumers are intrigued by the promise of online convenience, the myriad choices and outrageous deals.
So as a direct marketer whose success is rooted in direct mail, what should you do? Should you have a Web site and use it as your base for doing e-commerce? Should you forget about direct mail? Or do you integrate your direct "snail" mail advertising with your Web site and, if so, how? Here are four tips on what to do and how to do it.
#1 Use common sense.
#2 Do not replace the direct mail that has made you successful.
#3 Continue to practice sound direct marketing principles.
#4 Keep asking, "What does my customer want and expect?" and continue providing it in all your direct response efforts.
1. Use common sense.
The Internet is changing the way people communicate, shop and search for information. But change is a gradual process. Unless your audience is a highly focused group of early adopters, you need to continue to make doing business with you attractive for all customers. The best way to do this is to let your customers choose how they do business with you—by mail, phone, fax or by visiting your Web site. When you let your customers tell you how they want to do business and then deliver on the promises you make, you are truly integrating your direct response advertising.
2. Do not replace the direct mail that made you successful.
Even though you're excited about new e-commerce opportunities … even though the headlines of every trade publication, daily newspaper and business magazine are filled with news about online shopping, and even though you're concerned about seeing your (old and new) competition entering the world of e-commerce, use common sense and look at how other successful marketers are doing it.
• Use your direct mail to drive people to your Web site, giving them another option for how they do business with you.
• Put your Web site address on everything: letterhead, catalogs (see Gooseberry Patch example at left), orders forms, shipping boxes, space ads, invoices and statements. If you've invested in developing a user-friendly Web site, use every opportunity imaginable to lead customers and prospects to it.
• Use your Web site as a source of additional product information for customers who still prefer to complete credit card transactions by mail or phone. Martha Stewart uses direct response techniques to link her readers/customers with her magazine, TV show, catalog and Web site.
• Use a direct mail piece (postcard, invitation, letter or self-mailer) to drive first-time users to your Web site.
• As a direct marketer, remember that your offer is the secret to getting people to take action and change old habits.
• Special online offers generate Web site traffic, but use common sense and a sense of fairness when you develop e-commerce offers. Do not make offers that penalize customers who spend their money at your store, by phone or by mail. If you're going to make a free shipping or buy-one-get-one-free offer at your e-commerce site, be prepared to honor the same offer for customers using other methods of shopping. A more appropriate traffic-generating offer for your Web site would be one that is tied specifically to an online activity such as providing a "Talk with a Technical Expert" chat room or online weekly special.
3. Continue to practice sound direct marketing principles.
As a direct marketing professional, don't lose sight of the basic direct marketing principles that have helped you succeed. Track, measure and analyze results. Make sure the traffic you generate, the orders you fill and the offers you make fit with your financial objectives. It's possible to get so involved in generating traffic to your e-commerce site that you lose track of the cost of generating the traffic and the cost of making the sale. While giving away free product may get customers to your site, you are attracting a customer who then expects significant "deals." What is the acquisition cost and lifetime value of this customer? What happens to his or her interest in your company and the integrity of your organization when you can no longer afford to make these unbelievable offers? Just because the Internet is a new medium with new bells and whistles, you shouldn't set aside the direct marketing principles on which you've built your business.
4. "What does my customer want and expect?"
If you're a successful direct marketer, you've learned how to target the right audience with the right offer at the right time and then meet (or surpass!) your customers' expectations on the back end. This means you've not only learned how to generate sales through effective targeting and advertising, you keep your advertising promises by offering reliable fulfillment.
The following building blocks of your mail-order business also apply to the customers and sales you generate online:
• Your customer service (in-person, on the phone, by fax, through the mail or e-mail) should be impeccable.
• Your delivery time should be appropriately prompt—or faster.
• Your product quality should meet or exceed the expectations set by your advertising.
• When there's a problem, your customer should have every right to believe you will go the extra mile to solve the problem because her problem is your problem.
• The resolution of any problem, including product returns, should be fast and hassle-free.
If there's been any post-holiday negative press about online shopping, it's focused on this last point: product returns. And the culprits are e-commerce companies that are not seasoned direct marketers with direct mail experience. The companies that were excited about getting involved in e-commerce and making online sales forgot that the "big moment" for the customer is not when he or she hits the Send button, but when the order arrives and how he or she is treated after placing the order. You've gained less than nothing if you attract a customer to your site and he or she has a bad experience returning a product.
What are the rules to follow that assure success in building profitable synergy between your Web site and direct mail? At this point, it's difficult to find tried-and-true rules to follow. E-commerce is too new. The technology is constantly changing. But that doesn't mean you're dealing with a mission that's impossible. Instead, return to where this discussion started: Use common sense. Don't give a premature heave-ho to the direct mail that made you successful. Continue to do what you've always done by practicing sound direct marketing principles online. And when in doubt, ask the expert—your customer.