Narrow the Focus to Control the Big Picture
Targeted direct mail offers distributors a level of comfort, as well as an increase in profits.
Most distributors shudder at the thought of tackling high-volume, bulk direct mail projects, and with good reason—the labor that brings forth the fruit is pretty grueling work.
Targeted mailings to specific consumer groups and individuals, on the other hand, are contained, controlled, profitable opportunities that offer distributors the perfect transition into direct mail sales.
And, according to industry veterans Bob Boldig, president of Avant-Garde, Tullahoma, Tenn., and Paul Beegan, owner of B&W Press, Georgetown, Mass., targeted direct mail is a growing area that represents a true bright spot in the printing industry.
Both companies specialize in short runs (500 to 25,000 pieces) of personalized, targeted direct mail, bringing to market unique, cost-saving, value-added solutions.
Avant-Garde, for example, is known for its laser- and ink jet-compatible postcard-format designs, while B&W Press is unique in its one-pass, inline production of personalized, single-piece mailers.
"Manufacturers must consistently reevaluate where the market is going and offer the products that are headed in that direction," observed Boldig, "provided those products make sense for that manufacturer." (Luckily for Avant-Garde, adding new equipment to complement the existing forms presses was relatively easy.)
Boldig credited direct mail market trends in Europe—usually a precursor to what will soon follow in the United States—and end-users' shifting buying habits as dot matrix printers are being replaced by laser and ink jet technology for his decision to gear his product lines toward the newer applications.
Further influencing the direction of his company's product line, Boldig said, were the fears associated with receiving and opening Anthrax-tainted mail, as well as his research into the effectiveness of various mail formats. "The most read direct mail piece is a postcard," he reported, "and the most read postcard is one that is an unusual size. Making and mailing a card that is a little bigger than average doesn't cost a whole lot more, but the response rate will definitely increase."
Avant-Garde's variable press capabilities allow for unique, value-added sizes. "A typical web size is 11˝, but we can go up to 17˝ for unique mailers that may feature four-color process and one-to-one personalization," added Boldig.
B&W Press carved out its own niche by creating unique, single-piece mailers, some featuring envelopes or postcards for return purposes, often doing redesigns for customers bogged down by multi-piece mailers. "Mailers consisting of three or four pieces that need to be printed, properly folded and inserted into an outer envelope can be complicated and problematic," explained Beegan. "Simplifying the design to eliminate inserting, as well as the printing and folding of multiple pieces, is significantly more cost-effective."
In addition, a single-piece mailer can make the most of immediate visual impact on the recipient. Beegan mentioned that some people still prefer an outer envelope and various insert pieces. "It all depends on the individual," he reasoned, "but a customer can reduce costs from 38 cents a piece to 29 cents a piece with single-piece designs. Over time on repeat marketing campaigns, the savings can really add up."
B&W Press manufactures its products from rolls on high-speed web presses that perform inline personalization both on the inside and outside of the piece before it is folded. So, for example, the recipient's address appears on an inside order form, as well as on an outside panel for mail processing.
Beegan explained that the pieces are often sealed with a fugitive glue, as opposed to a wafer seal that can rip the paper. "Fugitive glue is more like a Post-it adhesive," he continued. "It doesn't tear the paper fibers, and it can restick if necessary."
Like Avant-Garde, B&W Press frequently handles the entire project from personalization to mailing or will pack a job and bulk ship it to a designated mailing house.
But, with laser and ink jet technology, as well as in-house databases, many end-users can send marketing messages right from their offices if desired, leaving the mailing houses out of the loop for additional cost containment.
Occasionally, distributors even handle personalization at their own facilities for additional profit-boosting rewards. Beegan added that some orders are for long runs of generic pieces, which are shipped to mailing houses and then personalized and addressed on an as-needed basis, for end-users who don't want to be inundated by huge mailings.
Boldig explained that targeted marketing is perfectly tailored for independent distributors. "Not only are the big direct mail houses not interested in the numbers generated by short-run personalized mailings," he said, "but the small- to medium-size businesses that utilize this type of personalized direct mail are also exactly the market independent distributors were meant to serve."
Boldig went on to say that unlike large bulk mail projects where customers frequently dictate pricing, "targeted mailings offer better margins and better relationships with customers, and the scope of the projects is something independent distributors can easily get their hands around."
Distributors oriented to purchase order-type selling will need to learn the nuances of solution selling. "Targeted direct mail still takes a lot of time, involves test runs and requires calling on marketing people rather than purchasing agents," explained Boldig.
He also touched on the fact that many distributors have a tendency to cling to the familiar and avoid exploring new areas. However, he reassured distributors that, whether they know it or not, these are products that they already understand. "This is printing produced by running rolls on web presses and then sheeting the product—something forms distributors are quite familiar with, including registration issues," he said. "These mailers involve many of the same factors encountered when selling statements, checks, invoices and unit sets, only the markups on these products are unbelievable."
Getting the Job Done
Make no mistake—selling targeted direct mail involves work. The key is for distributors to team up with quality manufacturers willing to show them the ropes, including assistance with design elements and postal regulations.
Beegan noted that his company routinely sends color proofs to the post office for approval to ensure that a piece meets all of the size and spec regulations, thus avoiding unpleasant surprises once a job is printed.
Both gentlemen explained that their companies have designed selling tools to help ease the transition into direct mail sales.
For instance, Avant-Garde provides materials and samples clearly indicating effective applications for the hospitality industry, financial institutions, health-care organizations and the retail sector, and the company's Web site was specially designed to serve as a demo that distributors can use to educate their customers.
All of B&W Press' single-piece mailer formats are available as templates that can be e-mailed to conveniently specify measurements and overall construction. "The end-user can then simply drag and drop the artwork into the design," explained Beegan. "Plus, we continuously revise our designs, adding different features or folds as needed."
To become involved in targeted direct mail sales, Boldig advised interested distributors to sit down, remain quiet and listen to customers. "The customers know who they want to reach and are just looking for that special something that will bring these consumers to the door," said Boldig. Avant-Garde then needs the distributor to pass on the information about the type of printer that will be used so it knows how to produce the piece.
Beegan added that when taking an order, it is important to get accurate counts—including the number of lists that will be used to make up that total—and specifications for the number of colors and the type of paper stock desired.
Boldig and Beegan both stressed that one of the most enticing incentives for investigating the targeted direct mail market is the simple fact that it has a greater than 85 percent repeat rate. "Once you get this business, you've got it," Boldig observed. "This is a whole different type of a relationship with the customer because the distributor is actually helping to drive revenue."
Said Beegan, "The idea is to create a piece that does what the customer needs it to do to get the message out, and that elicits a healthy response from recipients."
By Maggie DeWitt