Direct mail gets ads to likely clients


November 09, 1992|By JANE APPLEGATE

With advertising budgets tight, savvy small-business owners are searching for cost-effective ways to pitch potential customers.

With the right list of prospective buyers, direct mail is one of the best ways to tout your products or services. In fact, U.S. businesses spend more money each year on direct-mail advertising than on magazine, radio or television ads, according to surveys in the direct marketing industry.

"With direct mail, you can zero in on a limited group in a geographical area and design a tailor-made message," said Jules Field, publisher of Pool & Spa News, which is affiliated with Baker Advertising & Mailing in Los Angeles. Baker relies on a list of more than 1 million pool and spa owners to prepare direct mail campaigns for scores of small, pool-oriented businesses.

A direct-mail campaign to 5,000 pool owners costs about $1,100, excluding the cost of printing and designing the flier or postcard. Direct mail is so cost-effective because you can take advantage of reduced postal rates if you sort the mail by ZIP code and send it out as bulk mail, rather than first class.

Baker relies on Hooven Direct Mail, a 70-year-old company in Gardena, Calif., to prepare and send frequent mailings to pool owners across the country.

"More and more companies are looking seriously at direct mail to reach the people they have to reach," said William Kyle, a former Hooven customer who joined the company as chief executive a few years ago.

Kyle said he saw how effective direct-mail marketing could be while serving as marketing director for a major cruise ship line. The cruise line wanted to contact people who had taken cruises before or who fit a certain age and income bracket, rather than a broad range of travelers.

"The key is to put something in the hands of the right people and ask them to act now," Kyle advises.

Creative business owners should consider sending free samples, miniatures of their products and coins or foreign currency to attract attention, according to Stan Holden, a free-lance copywriter who specializes in sales letters.

"I can't think of any company, even a one-person company, that would not benefit from direct mail," said Holden, author of "How to Increase Business Dramatically With Super-Effective Sales Letters" ($15, check or money order, to Holden's, Dept. A, Box 1, Evanston,Ill. 60204).

The best direct mail pieces urge customers to respond quickly. Retailers, for example, should send a letter or postcard offering customers a substantial discount if they visit the store within a week. "Start off the letter with your best benefit -- say why he or she should respond right away," said Holden. "The benefit of direct mail is you can see right away if the offer is working and keep track of the response."

If you are not the most creative person, hire a free-lance graphic designer and writer to help you design the mailing.

Holden offers these tips:

* Illustrate your sales letter. People would rather look at a picture than read a block of text.

* Play down the price and play up the value of your products.

* Use testimonials from real customers and use their full names. Be sure to get their permission before you quote them in the


* Emphasize what is new about your products or service because people are always interested in something new.

For more helpful tips, try: "A Small Business Guide to Direct Mail," by Lin Grensing, $9.95 (Self-Counsel Press, 1704 N. State St., Bellingham, Wash. 98225).

(Jane Applegate is a syndicated columnist and author. Write to her through the Los Angeles Times, Times Mirror Square, Los Angeles, Calif. 90053.)

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