A journey of 1000 miles starts with the first step. The same can be said for finding new customers. How successfully you take those first steps will define how many new accounts you open. If your new business approach is dull or haphazard it's not going to make you rich. By contrast, if you develop an effective technique for kicking open those doors - no matter how simple - you can work it to death and it will lead to more sales.
In the last issue I quoted the approach used by Top Banana Sportswear and it's a first class example of the approach. They print a personalised bespoke letter on a t-shirt and mail it. This has a list of advantages: it says they think creatively about their business; it's distinctly different; it's memorable; it doesn't go straight in the bin (or if it does, who'd want that client anyway?); it communicates the benefits of printwear; it samples a product. Perhaps the biggest advantage is the follow-up benefit. A phone call that starts "I sent you a letter on a t-shirt..." is so much easier to make and so much likelier to result in an appointment than one starting "I sent you our catalogue".
I would always stress the importance of that benefit in any marketing communication. Is this idea going to get me in front of more people? If you don't feel very positive that it will, you're probably wasting money. Following up mailers isn't the most exciting job at the best of times, but if the response to your call is continually "I don't remember/you're on file/ who did you say" the enthusiasm to follow up evaporates rapidly.
Allow if you will a personal anecdote. I have used a mailer which has long-term track record. The headline says "Give your marketing a boost" Stuck beneath it is a Boost bar. I promise you, few people object to having chocolate sent to them and they certainly remember it. A nice side benefit is that the mailer is printed one colour and the bar's packaging does the four-colour work. It's substantially the same approach as Top Banana's and it works for much the same reasons.
You probably couldn't guess how many of those Boost bar mailers led to responses. The answer is one - out of many, many hundreds sent out. But my follow-up typically led to appointments with just over 10% of recipients. Without the creativity I doubt I'd have made the calls and I wouldn't have picked up the business. The key point here is that if you make the follow-up easy, it happens.
Banks are not exactly renowned for the creativity of their marketing. But occasionally you see a gem. A division of Nat West once sent a former MD of mine a mailer on a cotton handkerchief that had one corner knotted. It said, in essence, "Don't forget to use all your capital allowances before the end of the tax year" Although a highly virtuous message, that is the sort of deeply dull subject material that would be straight in the bin in most cases. The knotted hanky is a low-cost mailer this industry could use and there are dozens of "don't forget" opportunities in the calendar generally, but also in every client business's calendar (if you've asked the right questions, of course).
Major brands' TV advertising is something else which you can ride in on the back of. "Do you love someone enough to give them your last Rolo". You can bet your life that if you remember it, your clients do, too. ‘We'd love to do business with you' is only the start point. You must be able to work this lots of ways. You and your staff get to eat a lot of Rolos preparing the mail piece, as well, and that can't be so bad.
You could copy this idea from a design agency. They created a list of female brand managers and sent each a paste engagement ring on St Valentine's Day with the simple message "We have a proposal for you". Not cheap, but not hugely expensive and, I'm told, highly effective.
Big is always impressive, or at least impactful. I was once sent a mailer, which was folded to A5. The point is, it folded to A5 from A0 so as it folded out it became ever more impressive. The copy and images just kept getting bigger. Since it's similar to a traditional road map, you could use this, starting with "Where can I find great printwear ideas..." Ideal for stressing how big your range/stockholding is, too.
What constitutes over-kill in sending out marketing messages? Indeed, can you communicate too often with someone? The answer to the latter is definitely yes, but the cut-off point is far higher than most people imagine. I recently accessed a web-based marketing business and they sent me e-mail every day for 30 days. Each was different. Each was interesting. Each was relevant. At no point did I want to shout, "stop!" (I could have unsubscribed anyway). When they did stop, I almost felt aggrieved. If they had responded to my initial query (instead of just kick-starting the system), I might well have bought.
How many P&P readers have bombarded a potential client that way? My guess is very few. Had I not been on the receiving end, I would have rejected the idea myself. Typically, businesses actually send 2/3/4 communications and then give up. This is like those football stats that prove the team with most shots on target wins the league (instead of shouting shoot! at the telly, do it for your business). I recall a former client who never saw a potential new supplier until they'd chased him for six months - he wanted to know how serious they were. As long as you apply that different, relevant and interesting package, I think this works. I'm certainly going to use it - I'll let you know how I fare.
The next idea is borrowed and, personally, I wouldn't do it, but the business owner who used it swore blind that it was very effective. It's about focusing on a small number of valuable clients. Research each one with care. Know everything they do, in particular be tuned into what printwear they buy or might use. Find out the names of all the people who could have an impact on the business decision - do it over time. Then you pitch a set of ideas in a good thick document, featuring all the research you've done, demonstrating your knowledge of their market and how your product can drive sales in it. This you support with catalogues from appropriate suppliers, copies of press releases generally saying how well printwear works and any from the client's specific sector. Then you deliver it in a damn big box to each of the decision-makers. Give them 3 days and then burn the phone lines.
The core benefits of this approach are that it's flattering and very professional. Despite appearances it's not that much work because you re-use much of it each time. Once again, it is entirely memorable; you will be the only supplier in your sector who invests so much into getting their business. That is why I wouldn't do it: you could spend a lot of time achieving zero. However, the guy who used it said he was only interested in working with substantial businesses, that there aren't very many so they justify the time invested, their business potential merits this treatment and they are used to it from other suppliers. If you take the same view, try his approach.
Finally, consider two ideas without particular relevance to the industry - and normally I stress the importance of relevance. But I've seen the effectiveness of these two. First, the furry pig. It's cute(ish), about 8 inches by 4 inches and, predictably, pink. But when you squeeze it, it grunts and it's very, very funny (there's no mechanism, it's just air being expelled). It's not cheap but, boy, will it stay with the recipient forever. Perhaps "we're greedy for your business" would work. The second one is the sponge brick. Shaped and coloured exactly like a house-brick, it's made of sponge. No big deal? True, until you throw it at a window - a great stress-buster. Again, everyone wants one and they keep it, long-term. "Clothing that makes an impact" perhaps, or maybe "we take the stress out of choosing printwear". For suppliers of these and similar ideas contact the BPMA.
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