Want to start off 2015 on the right foot? Inject new life into your marketing strategies. The key to all marketing is to connect with an intended audience, to make an impression that impacts how customers and prospects think about you or the services you provide.
To do this, ad specialty companies need compelling strategies that tell stories. They need to rely on traditional tactics, as well as newer marketing concepts that appeal to new generations of buyers.
In the following article, we provide three strategies that can be implemented immediately to help distributors connect better with their promotional recipients. From case studies and testimonials to using direct mail effectively and increasing email marketing open rates, the tactics on the following pages can – and should – be injected into your marketing mix today.
Case Studies & Testimonials
Everyone loves a good story, from scary tales told around crackling campfires to the ear-splitting action of a summer blockbuster. Why not put that universal need for narrative to good use the next time you’re pitching to prospective clients? Product samples and a winning personality will only get you so far. To really demonstrate the proof of your pudding, you need a handful of strong case studies at the ready.
“Show them a character they can identify with that’s a happy customer. If your new customer sees himself in your case study, you’ve already won the deal,” says Joe Longtin, regional sales manager for AnaJet (asi/16000), a maker of direct-to-garment printers. He says the customers you want to keep want more than just a low price and product. “They want timeliness, accuracy, good quality and good customer service,” he says. “That’s what your case studies can communicate.”
The key to a good case study comes before you put pen to paper. “You don’t have to have great writing skills, but you need to have good question-asking skills,” Longtin says.
Put together a standard list of questions for your marketing team to ask satisfied customers, and plan to invest several hours putting the study together – from the interview process to the final draft. Also remember, not every customer you talk to will have a strong enough story to warrant a full-length case study; if that’s the case, pull out a quote or two for a brief testimonial or request a shout-out on social media.
Good case studies contain the following elements:
The challenge. Spend some time drawing out the reasons a customer was looking for a new distributor or decorator. What challenges was he or she facing? What pain points led the customer to choose you? Include details about your customer’s background and the industry he or she represents.
The solution. Explain in detail the promotional campaign or apparel program your company developed. What steps did you take to meet your customer’s specific needs?
The results. Describe how the campaign paid off, using concrete numbers if possible. Did the promotion work as planned, bringing in more customers or generating more sales? “Too many case studies are fluffy and do not tell a reader or prospect much at all,” says Valerie Jennings, CEO of Jennings Social Media Marketing. “The results should be very clear and concise and may be the most important part of the story.”
Pictures. Make sure your case study includes photos of the campaign you developed. “Photos are essential,” Longtin says. “We always strive to have proof. That comes in pictures.”
Post finished case studies on your website and link to them from social media. Don’t forget to link back to your customers’ websites. They’ll appreciate the bump in Web traffic and will be more inclined to be advocates and advisers in the future.
Your website, though, isn’t the only place to deploy case studies. “Throwing them up on a website and calling it a day means you’re missing out on a multitude of opportunities to drive additional value,” says Molly Wilson, CEO and founder of PR firm Kickstand Communications. She suggests incorporating case studies into slideshows for sales presentations, or making them a part of press releases or media kits. Other possibilities include distribution at trade shows or inclusion in the company newsletter.
It’s a good idea to have four or five strong case studies at any given time. Longtin uses two litmus tests to determine how long a given case study remains viable: Are you still trying to position those same products? And, is the customer still willing to be a reference? If the answers are yes, then the case study is still valid, even if it’s a decade old, he says. But don’t rest on your laurels.
“It’s important to keep trying to refresh them,” Longtin says.
Increase Email Response Rates
Check your email inbox. Now, check your trash folder.
How many of those messages did you toss into the virtual wastebasket, unopened, without a second thought?
Email has become a cheap and nearly ubiquitous form of marketing, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Done right, email can be the “single most important connection opportunity in existence,” says marketing consultant and best-selling author Jay Baer.
Done wrong, well, you know what happens then: nothing.
If you want to keep your missives from being relegated to the digital wasteland, you have to offer relevant, useful information and prove yourself to be a trustworthy source. “It’s all about the value exchange,” Baer says. “Use the mom test on your emails. If your mom (who loves you unconditionally) wouldn’t take action based on the email, the email isn’t good or useful enough.”
Much of the work behind a successful marketing email comes well before you sit down to compose it. Dave Roose, owner of Proforma Prana (asi/300094), has had great success by focusing his emails on confirmed customers and referrals rather than paying for huge, generic mailing lists. He breaks this smaller mailing list into industry categories and targets each with special promotions, based on what he thinks their specific needs will be.
For example, Roose’s nonprofit client list may get an email blast early in the year, promoting flip-flops in advance of a summer conference scheduled in Miami. Or, Roose might send out a special on website design at the end of the year, since that’s when a company is working on the budget and more likely able to allocate funds for such a promotion.
It takes time (and lots of Google alerts) to perfect this technique. Roose says it was two years before he saw real returns. Last year, Proforma Prana had revenues that were 160% higher than in 2012, he says, thanks in part to the targeted online marketing strategy.
“I’ve decreased my lists and increased my margins. Instead of having 20,000 emails go out, now it’s probably only a few thousand,” Roose says. “I’ve been able to spend more time doing the research for each group and trying to hit the nail on the head with those individuals versus throwing everything against the wall and whatever sticks, I go pick up.”
Once you know whom you’re sending the email to, it’s important to figure out exactly what you want to have happen next. Do you want the reader to visit your site, call your company or watch a video? Not having a clear goal is one of the most common problems with marketing emails, says David Blaise, owner of Blaise Drake & Co., an industry consultancy.
“You need to know what you want them to do, and every word needs to lead them to that conclusion,” he says. “Realistically, if we don’t know what it is we want to say to someone or want them to do, we probably should not be emailing them in the first place.”
Any business conversation about marketing begins (and often ends) with digital marketing. An Accenture survey found that a third of executives expect digital spending to account for more than 75% of their marketing budgets within five years.
So what does that mean for direct mail, that venerable marketing war horse? Contrary to common belief, direct mail is still very effective. The Direct Marketing Association puts its cost per lead on par with email and pay-per-click advertising. Moreover, businesses spent more on direct mail in 2013 than the previous year, and people prefer to be contacted through direct mail over any other medium.
The lesson is simple: mailers are still held in very high regard by both marketers and consumers.
“Everybody wants to email because it’s free,” says Ryan Sauers, the president and owner of Sauers Consulting Strategies. “Well that’s great, but if it never gets to the intended person, they never read it. Direct marketing is more important than ever to have as part of your marketing mix.”
Direct mail is, indeed, an essential tool for distributors to attract sales and stand out. Postcards, coupons, letters and more are all effective at spreading a brand identity.
Top distributors agree that “bulky” mailers containing distinctive self-promos are the best at conveying creativity and impressing customers. Overture Premiums and Promotions (asi/288473), for example, makes a habit of sending bulky mailers with humorous items to win over clients and prospects.
One recent package included a custom coffee mug with an imprint that read “Awesome Ends In Me. Coincidence? I think not.” It was sent to good customers who spent a certain amount of money with the company.
“We had so many of our clients giving us a call back asking for more,” says Tej Shah, vice president of marketing and ecommerce for the Vernon Hills, IL-based distributor. Those conversations easily led into discussions about their upcoming events and interest in other items. “It’s something that we’ve always found phenomenal ROI with,” Shah adds.
Axis Promotions (asi/128263) makes sure to package its self-promos in custom boxes, tubes and mailers, and picks a carefully chosen item to demonstrate the company’s creativity. “You always hear about how many touches it may take to get that first order, and some of our biggest accounts are proof that it takes time,” says Marketing Manager Katie Smart. “It’s not enough to rely on phone calls and emails alone. You need clever self-promos that open doors, creative marketing pieces that help you get that first meeting, and something in your marketing kit that helps you say ’thank you.’”
It’s important to toe the line between clever and confounding. One credit card company sent Overture a remote control boat – “It had to be a $100, $150 boat,” remembers Shah – that was completely functional except for one catch: they had to call to get the remote that operates it. “It’s kind of smart but also kind of cheesy,” says Shah. “In our case, we never actually called. Instead of holding that piece of action over the recipient’s head, for current customers we send it as a thank you. ’Hey, we’re thinking about you.’ It gets a great response.”
For prospects who you haven’t done business with before, an actionable item in the mailer makes more sense.
Sauers stresses the need for balance with a marketing plan. The power of digital marketing can’t be totally ignored. Likewise, it’s foolish to throw all your efforts into digital marketing without mailers and face-to-face networking.
“People want to completely stick with the old and not embrace the new, or embrace the new and forget the old,” says Sauers, who is writing a book on branding. “It’s about using all these tools.”