Variable data ideas

Personalized marketing materials get higher response rates. I could point you to several studies which confirm this (but I’d rather keep you here.) Below are a few ways to personalize yours using variable data:

Personalized correspondence

A personally addressed letter will consistently outperform a generic form letter. If you’ve purchased or assembled a mailing list, this is the simplest way to implement variable data. And if it is formatted properly in a spreadsheet, it will cost you only pennies extra per piece to personalize your mailing. Which sales or fundraising letter do you think will get better results — one addressed to Manager, Owner, Current Resident or perhaps one that actually identifies the recipient by name and title and refers personally to him or her throughout the piece? It’s a no-brainer.

Customer-relevant content

If you keep track of what your customers purchase from you, how often they buy, etc., you can incorporate this and other relevant information into your marketing pieces. Let’s say your customer purchased a purple widget from you recently. Your next mailing could reference this acquisition, either with a “thank you”, a promotion on widget repair or upgrades, or with pictures of other happy purple widget owners.

Demographic tie-ins

You can create marketing pieces with different content, art and images for different targets. Females can get different content than males. Older targets can get different content than younger ones. If you keep track of this information about your clients, you should consider using it in your marketing to get better results!

Think about how you’d like to personalize your marketing pieces and I bet VDP can be used to do it.

Logo design Q&A

Your logo is where your company’s values, message, image and identity converge before your potential customers’ eyes. It’s an incredibly important business asset. So once your business gets past the point of start-up and moves to viability, you should invest in making sure your logo sends the right signals to your audience. Below you’ll find some questions we get about our logo design services. The answers should help you when you’re considering creating a new logo or updating an existing logo.

How much do you charge for logo design?

Because every logo design project is unique, we charge by the hour. Our graphics rate is $120/hour. When they ask, we tell people that 2 hours of design time is often enough time for a logo. Sometimes it takes longer, but 2 hours is usually enough time to consult with you, get a few variations designed, listen to your feedback, and incorporate some revisions.

When do I need to pay?

We take a 50% deposit before we get started on any graphic design project, so you’ll need to pay us at least $120 up front before we start work on your logo design. Once we complete the design, you’ll pay us the balance and then we’ll send you the logo files in various formats.

What if I don’t like what you design?

This has never happened in 24+ years. Every client we’ve ever taken on for logo design work has been completely satisfied with our work. This is especially true for those clients who devote themselves to the project and are open and honest with our designers throughout the process.

Do you have any samples of logos you’ve designed?

There are several recently designed logos in our online portfolio. As is the case with anything we design and create, we’re happy to show you samples here in the shop.

What file formats will I receive?

When we’re done creating your new logo, we’ll send you the art in any format you require, including vector files so you can enlarge your logo to any size to fit any application. You’ll be able to use your logo for printed materials such as letterhead, business cards, brochures, posters, banners, etc. (all of which we can also design for you) as well as digitally in email signatures, on your website, in other web graphics and so forth.

How do I get started?

Let us know you’d like to move forward and we’ll send you an invoice for the deposit. Then call us (or come in) and talk with one of our designers, send us your sketches, drawings, marketing materials, existing logo, etc. We may get a feel right away for what you need. Many times we will have you complete a questionnaire to help us with your brand identity.

How long will the process take?

It really depends on how productive our initial consultation is as well as how quickly you give us feedback on our initial designs. If you watch for our first round of proofs and then let us know what you like, don’t like, and which direction to take things, we can turn around a logo design project in a matter of days.

Did we answer everything you want to know about our logo design services? Let us know in the comments (or call and speak with us in person) if you have further questions…

Marketing tip: try A/B testing

In many of our prior posts we’ve discussed the importance of tracking the performance of your marketing. If you don’t know how well your marketing is doing, and you’re not trying to fine-tune it over time to get the best results, you’re not maximizing the investment you’re making in your company. Now, it’s great that you’re investing in your business, but the idea is to get the best return on your investment. This post should help with that, especially if you’re new to marketing.

One method of fine-tuning your marketing is A/B testing. A/B testing or “split” testing is an experimental approach to design which tries to identify elements in your marketing which increase or maximize a desired outcome or result. Possible outcomes are numerous, such as the submission of a form on your website, a phone call or other direct contact from your customer, a click-through in an email newsletter or landing page, or even a purchase. We’ve talked about these outcomes as “valuable contacts” in prior blog posts, in which we’ve also stressed the importance of setting them up as conversions/goals in your analytics. This will help you monitor marketing performance as well as determine how and why a customer came to find you and/or contact you.

With A/B testing, two versions of your marketing are compared. They are identical except for one variation that you think might impact a user’s behavior. The possibilities for what you change are numerous. Here are just a few:

  • the call to action language or button
  • different fonts or combinations
  • text and background colors
  • layout changes, placement of content on the page or piece
  • different images

The goal is to figure out if one version outperforms the other. If the results are significant enough, you know which element should be used going forward.

Many people think A/B testing can only be used to test online marketing, but this just isn’t the case. Your print marketing can also be tested using this method. For example, rather than sending 2000 identical postcards to everyone on your mailing list, you could send 1000 postcards with your current layout and another 1000 with some element modified. To track the performance of A vs. B you’d simply need to include different information to help you collect and analyze the data, such as different landing page URLs (and QR codes that redirect to different landing pages) as well as phone numbers.

Give A/B Testing a try and let us know if it helps you improve your marketing ROI. If you need some help, you know where to find us!

How to use print as a gateway to more information

Want your flyer, postcard or letter marketing piece to be more effective? It’s pretty easy to make this happen. Aside from attractive graphics, effective copy and a good offer, you can give your marketing a huge boost by maximizing the use of space in your printed piece.

When you use print as a marketing tool, you have a limited amount of space within which to get your message across. Try to include everything you want your audience to know about you, your company and your offer and you will end up diluting your message and making a giant, convoluted mess of your marketing piece. There are ways, however, to best use the limited space and get your printing to act as a gateway to all the information you want to share. Below are a few ways to make your printed materials work hand in hand with the web, and in so doing provide a better customer experience.

1. Direct traffic to your valuable web assets.

Use your printed materials to generate traffic to your website and other important web assets. The more a potential client knows about you and your company, the more comfortable they’ll become with the idea of trusting you with their business. It’s really tough to accomplish this on a single flyer or postcard, so send readers of your print where they can find more information about you. Even on a “simple” flyer, you should include your contact information, your web address and any social media profiles where potential customers can learn more about you and get to know you better. With respect to this last point, here’s a little advice: asking someone to “Like” you on Facebook is so 2008. Don’t ask your would-be clients to like you. Give them a reason to like you — such as by providing great customer service. And don’t direct them to social media accounts where your business isn’t active. That’s a huge no-no. The tip is to direct them to your valuable web assets… not places where they find nothing but a blank wall or useless tweets you posted about how wonderful you are.

2. Provide URLs to specific information.

A URL is a web address. Most often a URL takes you to a web page, but it can also be some other resource such as a document. When when you use URLs in your printed materials, don’t fall into the common trap of simply including the address of your website’s homepage. Give the URL where the potential customer can find the exact information you want them to find. Don’t make them search your website for it! If you do that they’ll soon get frustrated and give up. If the URL of the page on your site (or Facebook page, Google+ page, etc.) is too long, consider using a link shortening service such as http://bit.ly. Doing this will help reduce typing errors which send customers to the wrong place (such as a 404 error page), and this will increase customer satisfaction as well as conversions. Another method of sending your customer exactly where you want them to go is to set up a sub-domain. For example, you could set up specials.yourdomain.com to forward visitors to a page on your website where they find the precise details of your offer, along with any terms and conditions that apply. Don’t waste valuable space in your printed piece with fine print when you can put it on the web and direct readers to it.

3. Include QR codes.

QR codes are little square black & white graphics that open up a specific page on the Internet when they are scanned by a bar code reader. Bar code readers are available on smartphones and tablets and they help connect the physical world (such as your printed piece) with the virtual world. While not everybody who owns a tablet or smartphone knows how to use QR codes, the numbers are certainly growing. You can make things easy for those that understand them by including these little “links” in your printed materials. They are eye-catching and they don’t take up much space. As with URLs, send your audience directly to the content you want them to read, not just your homepage.

Hopefully these tips will help you get the most out of your next print marketing piece. Let us know if you get results!

Real world marketing and PR for the small business

Wouldn’t it be nice if your small business had a marketing and public relations team? A group of people that could help your business put forth a better image, tell a better story, send a better message. If people only knew more about your company — the type of business you operate, the quality of your services, the pride your employees put into each job — getting this information out to potential customers would surely help your business thrive.

But we both know why you haven’t hired a marketing or PR firm to tackle this project. They are too expensive. They cater to large businesses with big marketing budgets. And although you’ve promised yourself this will be the year you’re going to personally evaluate and revamp your marketing, the fact that you’re swamped with the management of your company’s day-to-day operations means this important project always seems to get put on the back burner. How long has it been sitting back there? Be honest.

Every single action or communication your business makes is marketing. Does everything you put out reflect favorably on your business? Is your message clear? Do you even have a message?

If you want to improve your marketing and sales, you need to invest in your business. But you don’t need a big team of professionals working overtime on this. You can do just fine with a top notch writer, a creative graphic designer, some analytics/tracking strategy, and some tweaking over time to obtain the best results. And this is true whether you use direct response marketing such as Every Door Direct Mail, in-bound online marketing, or a combination of the two. Solid writing combined with creative designs and a smart marketing can enhance your visibility, improve your message and grow your business.

Your business may be small but your dreams are not. So make this year the year you really revamp your marketing.

People still prefer to use the phone

One of the neat things about analytics is that the data doesn’t lie. Sure, people can interpret the same data differently, but the data “is what it is”. And if you’re monitoring the right metrics, sometimes the data can flat out surprise you.

Take our site, for example. We choose to display our contact information at the bottom of every page — rather than just including it on our “Contact” page — so as to make it easier for people to communicate with us. We recommend this tactic to our clients as well. The easier for customers the better.

We also have forms on our site which enable visitors to request estimates for different types of work or send us logos and pictures or even camera-ready art. We designed our forms as “bare-boned” as possible so that they would also be easy for customers to complete. You don’t want people getting frustrated with the process and hitting the back button.

We treat online actions such as completed forms as “Goals” in Google Analytics, meaning we’ve identified them as having a special value to us, and we track data relating to them more closely. These valuable contacts are all different ways of doing (or considering doing) business with us, and when they occur, they show up in our analytics data and we can drill down into the data for more information. By more info I mean stuff like 1) how the customer found us — directly, referred from another site, organic search, PPC; 2) what keyword they actually searched for (if it was a search); 3) whether they were using a mobile device; and 4) which pages they viewed before filling out the form, just to name a few. This info and more is all there in the data if you know how to extract it.

But with all the things our clients can do on our website, and despite the fact that our contact information is on every page of our site, the Contact page blows all the other Goals away. In fact, our Contact page gets more action than all other Goals combined. And what do people do on this page? They locate our phone number and they call. We can see them do this in “Real-Time” in analytics.

So how do we interpret this data? It’s simple. People still prefer to pick up the phone and talk with us. As fast as communication online can be, it really doesn’t compare to the instant gratification of a live voice on a phone line. And we’re just fine with that.

Does your headline deliver what it promises?

I spend part of every day reading. RSS readers, email blog subscriptions and social media and sharing sites make it easy to get a fresh supply of content on topics I like to follow — mostly technology and marketing because that’s a big part of our business. And as massive amounts of content are being generated and shared online, one frustrating thing I’m dealing with is authors falling into the trap of focusing too much on the headline and failing miserably to deliver on content.

There’s a marketing tip you can take away from this. Stick with me for a minute.

A lot has been written and demonstrated regarding the value of a great headline. As it is often the only chance you’ll get to grab a target reader’s attention, without a good headline your piece may never get read. If your piece never gets read, what was the point in creating it? So it’s no surprise that a lot of effort goes into writing amazing, attention-grabbing headlines.

On the receiving end of a postcard or mailing, it’s pretty easy to figure out whether that attention-grabbing headline relates to something that may be valuable to you. If your truck needs a full set of new tires, you might be drawn into a headline such as “Buy 3 Tires Get 1 Free” enough to read the full details. A time-sensitive discount on dinner at that new French Bistro you’ve been hearing such great things about (“$26 between 5 & 6″) may wet your appetite enough to read the fine print. At the same time, if a headline concerns a product or service that doesn’t appeal to you, or perhaps it does but the offer just isn’t special enough, you can move on without wasting much time. Or you can set the piece aside for later consideration.

Online things are a little different. On the Internet, where generating marketing materials is “cheaper” and the content tends to be longer, readers need to spend more time with each article, blog post or web page to figure out whether the headline delivers what it promises. And, sadly, a lot of the stuff you find online is just regurgitated crap dressed up with a catchy headline. For example, if your piece claims to provide 7 Amazing Ways to Increase Revenue Immediately, but instead is really The #1 Way to Waste 3 Minutes Right Now (because it is just another Hubspot affiliate piece), you’ve got a problem. I’m leaving and not coming back. I certainly won’t sign up with Hubspot because of your article. According to your headline, your post was going to help me, not send me to another site where I need to spend thousands of dollars. You hoodwinked me.

Yes, headlines are important. But the content — your offer — is just as important if not more so. Your content drives the sale. If it is good, it can push your reader down the sales funnel. But to do so it absolutely needs to confirm what you claimed in your headline. Over-promise and you lose. Lie to readers to get their attention and you just wasted their time, causing far more damage than a traditional no-sale.

So if you create your own marketing materials, here’s the tip: stop wasting time and energy dressing up your pig with a fancy headline. You may get traffic, but you’ll get no sales. Focus on quality for both elements. Combine a great headline with an offer that meets (or, heaven forbid, exceeds) the reader’s expectations and you may have just discovered One Golden Way to Improve Your Marketing.

You don’t need a social media manager

You don't need a social media managerYour small business doesn’t need a “Social Media Manager”.

If the thought of hiring someone full-time to poke around social media websites like Facebook and Twitter on behalf of your company scares the hell out of you, you’re not alone. But I have good news. You don’t need one. The Social Media Manager position was just a ploy by Generation Y to create work during the Great Recession.

Seriously though, instead of hiring a warm, young body who may know little to nothing about marketing, the odds are good that what you really need is a better understanding of the basics of online marketing and then a strategy that you follow religiously with all of your online content. So while you won’t end up with a viral video or thousands of Facebook “likes” which have no affect on your revenue, you will formulate a comprehensive strategy that actually works to generate leads and sales for your business. Here are the basics your strategy will need to address:

1. Web presence

First, figure out if your current website is adequate. It must be optimized for search engines, mobile responsive, and fast. If it isn’t, you need a redesign immediately. Basic on-page SEO tactics are easy to follow and you should do so with every bit of new content you create. A good CMS like WordPress makes this really easy. And with more and more people using mobile devices to access the web, if your site doesn’t render properly on the smaller devices, you’re going to get killed by your competition. Lastly, if your site loads slowly because you use some cheap — or even worse, free — hosting company, guess who’s leaving before your site loads? Everybody. So now you have a website worthy of directing visitors to.

2. In-bound marketing

Your potential customers must be able to find you on the web. But even more importantly, they need to be able to find out more about you and the type of business you operate. You can kill two birds with one stone by maintaining a business blog. Good blogs help potential clients answer questions and solve problems they are facing, all while generating organic search traffic and increasing your brand awareness. If your site and other marketing materials just talk about how wonderful you are (note: nobody believes you), it’s time to change your strategy and start producing valuable content so people see that you are, in fact, wonderful. In-bound marketing also involves being visible where potential customers are talking about you and your competitors. Depending on your business, you may need to monitor one or more social media platforms. This is not a full time position, and there are plenty of tools that make it easy. Social media sites may also be used to share the content you create for your blog. If your business is part of the conversation, you will also need to respond in a reasonably timely fashion to complaints or questions. You don’t need some fool tweeting all day about your wonderfulness. The better course of action is to consistently create and share content that helps people. By doing this you’ll establish yourself as an industry expert. People hire experts when they really need help.

3. Lead nurturing and conversion

Potential customers are at different points of the buying process. Some are gathering information; some are comparing providers and pricing; some are ready to purchase right now. Your online marketing strategy needs to adequately deal with customers at every point. This means you need different content and features for different types of visitors. Now that you have a good website, you’ll want to create more content that speaks to buyers at different stages of the sales funnel. Your business might benefit from automated processes such as email marketing. Perhaps your business is a good candidate for PPC (pay-per-click) advertising such as Google Adwords. Either way, your business should definitely be monitoring site analytics as well as fine tuning landing pages and other pages in your sales funnel so they perform their best. Although it is an endless process of testing, tweaking and testing again, it is not a job for a social media manager because these issues relate to the performance of your website.

Of course there is a lot more to online marketing, but these are the essentials. So until you’re confident that you’ve addressed these crucial needs first, you don’t need a social media manager (and perhaps you never will).

2012 Response Rate Report from the DMA

On June 14, 2012, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) released its Response Rate Report for 2012. The DMA has issued a similar report annually since 2003 in order to provide key cost and performance benchmarks to help marketers gauge the relative efficiency of their campaigns. In plain English what this report does is break down data from several sources in order to establish national averages for various types of marketing — direct mail, email, etc.

The types of marketing campaigns covered by the report has grown over time, and the DMA is now also able to provide some industry-specific figures. This year the DMA relied upon information gathered through surveys as well as “transactional data” from Epsilon and Bizo (including data surrounding 29 billion emails and 2 billion display ads) to draw their conclusions, some of which were pretty interesting. Here are two figures that got our attention:

1. Direct Mail to existing customers had a 3.4% response rate; Email to existing customers had a 0.12% response rate.

Customers were almost 30 times more likely to respond to print?!?! Interesting. We’ve talked in the past about doing email marketing “right” as well as the dangers of abusing email marketing because it’s pretty easy to do. We’ve also talked about the staying power of print, and how it is just less intrusive and less annoying than email. The DMA’s 2012 figures seem to support what we’ve seen, and it will be interesting to follow these numbers over time.

2. The cost per order or lead for acquisition campaigns were roughly equivalent for direct mail ($51.40), post card ($54.10), email ($55.24), and paid search ($52.58).

No matter how you try to do it, getting new customers is never free. Time, energy, planning, design, paper, postage, code. They all have a price. And it seems no matter which combination you use, for the time being they all get pretty much the same results. So it’s not really about which method you use as much as it is doing your best with the method you choose. (We suggest that for best results you’ll want to use more than one, including the method your customers want you to use.)

What do you think about the figures in the DMA report? Are they surprising to you? Which marketing methods will you be focusing on this year? Feel free to comment below.

A website is not enough

I don’t hate salespeople. In fact, I’m always interested in hearing about new products and services that can help our business thrive. But when I request more information about a company that is trying to sell us something…

“You can find more information about us on our website.”

This is a typical response from some salespeople when you request a pamphlet or brochure describing their services and giving some background on their company.

A website, however, is not enough.

We’ve written in the past about the importance of providing information to potential clients in the form they want it. So when someone like me asks for a brochure or pamphlet, they don’t want to be directed to your website. They asked for a printed piece because that is how they wanted the information. Printed materials are often more concise, to the point, easier to read, and easier to keep for later review. They also give some legitimacy to a business that you have never heard of, or know little about.

“But printing is expensive,” you may be thinking. Well, yes, when you compare printing a brochure to you posting new information on a website manually, printing is expensive. But that is hardly the comparison to make. Instead, compare the cost of designing and printing an attractive brochure for customers who request print to the “cost” of the customers whom you fail to convert because you refused to invest in your business properly.

If you’ve read our blog before you’ll know that this is not just another post promoting print. We try to avoid self-promotion here. And we are more a full service communications provider than simply a print shop, offering a full array of digital services such as web graphics, web design and development, ebook creation, and digitization of print materials, in addition to print. But as we’ve said before (here is just one example) you need a comprehensive marketing strategy for best results.

A website is not enough. It may be a printed brochure or catalog; it may be a brick and mortar shop; or it may be referrals or recommendation letters. But whatever your potential clients want to see from you to make them confident in your business, you need to think about giving it to them. Your competitors will.

Email marketing is free but it can cost you dearly

Recently I came across several writings about bad marketing practices that I wanted to share with you. I thought they might help you with your own marketing plans and campaigns.

The first is a 2012 survey conducted by Pitney Bowes. The accompanying report entitled “Why Some of Your Customers Are Just Not That into You” gives the results of the survey and identifies several marketing no-no’s, from the consumer’s perspective. At the top of the list of bad practices, receiving the highest percentage of negative feedback, is weekly emails. A whopping 89% of those surveyed found emails sent once per week to be extremely annoying. Although I agree completely, I was surprised both by the high percentage as well as the frequency of contact which bothered folks. I had no idea so many others felt the same way.

Next, in the May 2012 Quick Printing Magazine is an article by Steve Johnson entitled “Email Marketing is Too Easy”. In it Johnson describes how, after he made a single purchase, a large mail order company bombarded his email with coupons and specials for unrelated products. Not only did they send email too often, they sent irrelevant information he had no interest in — it had no connection to his original purchase. “Email has the power to annoy that is unmatched by any other medium”, concludes Johnson. He’s right. Johnson says savvy marketers find success with a good mix of print and digital marketing. What’s a good mix? It’s all about testing, tweaking and testing again. We’ve written about this before.

The last related article I wanted you to read is in the June 2012 issue of Target Marketing. In the Famous Last Words column, Denny Hatch likened the practice of opening his Yahoo! email inbox every morning to “going into a vast sewer looking for a turd that doesn’t smell.” Do you think Denny is sick and tired of spam cluttering up his inbox? He’s not alone. Denny also has some neat ideas about a spam-free Government sponsored email system. Check out the full article here. Would you, like Denny, gladly pay to avoid spam? I would. We’ll see where ideas like this lead us.

So what do these articles tell us? That there is a lot of emotion surrounding email marketing. And we’re not talking warm and fuzzies here. All the emotion is negative. Email may be free but if you’re using it for marketing purposes you need to do things right or there is a real risk that you’ll alienate customers. Doing things right means walking the fine line between (1) staying in contact with your customers and (2) annoying them and chasing them away.

We try and try to walk that line but we just can’t please everyone. Our mailing list subscribers get no more than one (1) email per month (and each with a valuable coupon), but as infrequent as that is, people still occasionally unsubscribe. And we totally get it! Information overload is getting to all of us. We are frustrated more and more by companies that don’t think about our feelings and just keep sending us email after email. Some are so annoying in their tactics that they literally lose customers because of it.

So be careful. Email may be “free” but it can cost you dearly if you abuse it.

Local business puts phone number on website

“Today in Washington, DC a design and print shop had the stones to put its telephone number on its website! Sources have confirmed that when the number is dialed, an actual human at the shop answers the phone and also answers any questions the caller has about services, pricing and the like.”

Of course this news flash is just a joke but have you noticed how many companies seem to be hiding? A growing number of businesses make customers search through FAQs, whitepapers, and support forums before giving them direct contact information or accepting an online customer service or support request. It’s a disturbing trend. Businesses are supposed to help customers solve problems, not create confusion and frustration!

I don’t know about you, but when I find a company that is difficult to communicate with while I am trying to make a purchase, I think twice about doing businesses with them. If it is hard to speak with a company at this point in the relationship, imagine how hard it could be to get an answer or resolution when something goes wrong!

So if you’re in business, think about how accessible you are. Is it easy to get through to you? Do you have direct line for customer service inquiries? Or does your PBX phone system require several steps of navigation? Do you have a physical office? Do you maintain consistent hours? Do you return every phone message and email inquiry? Is all of your contact information conspicuously provided to all potential customers? Or are you hiding in plain sight too?

What do you think? Are there any other disturbing trends you’re noticing in the context of customer service? Give us your thoughts below.