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Written By: Trynka Shineman
Too often small businesses just starting out don't realize how easy it is to market themselves. There are a number of obstacles that entrepreneurs feel are too great to overcome when it comes to a direct marketing campaign. In reality, nothing could be easier, and when done right, cost effective. But with everything from expenses to a spot on creative to a decisive target list - and finally addressing, stamping, and sending the specific pieces - it can sometimes be a discouraging thought for small businesses to complete a direct marketing campaign.

The truth is, those worries are no longer the problem they once were, as there are a number of services and companies who focus on small businesses that can help you through the entire process, from start t  finish. While sitting at your computer, you can design your own direct mail postcard, refine your own list, and then with a few clicks have it mailed out to the targets you have chosen. There are now dozens of companies that give customers these opportunities online. But while the services are now available, there are still a number of factors to keep in mind, a few key points that can elevate your campaign from average to extraordinary.

Build The Correct List

This is where some people tend to panic, but if you take your time and put some thought into what your target market truly is, you'll be successful. There is also this to consider: sometimes a failed direct marketing campaign can also be turned around and deemed a success. By finding out what works and what doesn't, you can better streamline your efforts to ensure that you're only getting the potential customers you really feel will give you the best chance to thrive.

Targeting the right list means understanding the demographic that you think you might have the best chance of turning into a customer. If you're operating a flower shop, it's best to target a female demographic above the age of 30. If it's a landscaping business, you'll want to target homeowners within a certain area close to your home base at first. Once you determine which audiences are most successful, you can continue to market to them to keep on top of mind, while expanding and testing into other areas and demographics.

You can compile a list by keeping track of your customers and asking them for referrals, or you can go through a third party company that lets you purchase a list of prospects that meet your target demographic. Many companies that have mailing services allow you to upload or rent your own list, and then send out your creative all from one place.

Ensure The Creative Is Effective

Here is probably the single most important aspect of the direct mail campaign, and unfortunately it's sometimes overlooked. The standout nature of your postcard or brochure can't be understated. Not only does it have to standout and be bold in terms of color, text, and appeal but it also has to have a clear call to action, and an offer that the potential customer will act upon.

If you don't take the time to make sure that your offer is an effective one, and that it is conveyed in a clear, bold manner, then sending out a direct mail campaign will turn out to be nothing short of a waste of time and money. Your call to action should tie directly to the product or service your company offers - for example a free estimate for a company providing a service.

It's also important that the creative is unique, and clearly represents your company brand. Uploading graphics and specifically your company logo also adds a nice touch, and will hopefully start to generate brand awareness for your small business. The design and overall look and feel are only bound by your own imagination.

Test for Success

So why is testing so important? Testing is every direct marketer's best weapon. It lets you determine what works and what doesn't so you can learn for the next campaign. In fact, every direct marketer should learn from every single mailing so each consecutive one becomes more successful.

Testing doesn't have to be difficult, or extensive. Start by testing different audiences to see who the right target is for your product or service. Once you have a good list to work with, test an offer to see if a discount works better than a free product offer. Then, test the format of the piece to determine, for example, if envelopes work better than self mailers.

Once you've tested for the most effective, most reliable kinds of marketing programs, no matter how small, you can continue to roll them out time after time, stay on top of mind, and continue to generate business.

Keep It Going, Keep It Consistent

Most consumers need to hear from a company multiple times before they buy. Build a contact plan to make sure that customers see your message multiple times - focusing on the time of year when they are most likely to use your products. This will make it more likely that you are in their consideration set when they are ready to make a purchase.

Remember that you don't need a lot of time or a big budget to do direct marketing campaigns. And, if you combine all these elements, you'll have a direct marketing machine that can turn on a dime and quickly and easily produce, test and deploy cost-effective direct marketing campaigns that make a difference to the bottom line.

Trynka Shineman is the Senior Vice President of North American Marketing at VistaPrint (www.vistaprint.com), a leading online supplier of high-quality graphic design services and customized printed products to small businesses and consumers.

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