In a classic business-to-business print ad from the late '50s for McGraw-Hill Magazines, an imposing-looking executive sits in his chair. He has both feet planted firmly on the ground, and a look on his face that is a cross between a frown and a scowl. His hands are folded together in front of him, and his elbows rest on the chair; he leans ever so slightly forward. To his right run these eight lines of copy:

I don't know who you are.
I don't know your company.
I don't know your company's product.
I don't know what your company stands for.
I don't know your company's customers.
I don't know your company's record.
I don't know your company's reputation.
Now—what was it you wanted to sell me?

Across the bottom, a single line of copy drives home the selling proposition:

MORAL: Sales start before your salesman calls—with business publication advertising.

This ad amplifies and expands on what many, including David Ogilvy, consider the best definition of advertising ever given. "Advertising," said copywriter John E. Kennedy nearly 80 years ago, "is salesmanship in print."

Any salesperson worth his or her commission check will tell you that landing worthwhile new business takes a repeated and concerted effort—and lots of contact with the decision maker. This is all the more true with salesmanship in print (or across the airwaves, phone lines and other forms of modern communication).

Repeatedly Exposing Your Market to Your Message

Repetition is, of course, fundamental to the success of any advertising program. The marketplace proves this fact, as does scientific research. Several years ago, a group of researchers at Harvard University were asked, "How many times must a prospect see a marketing message to take them from a state of total apathy to purchasing readiness?"

After a yearlong study, the researchers responded with a definitive answer: nine times.

Important note: Do not assume that your prospects will see, hear or otherwise experience your advertising every time you expose them to it. Ample evidence exists that in the din and clutter of today's communication-saturated world your prospects will miss or ignore your marketing message two out of every three times you convey it.

That's why, in print advertising, if you have the budget to run either six full-page ads or 12 half-page ads, it's almost always better to go for the 12 exposures. Another approach is to run a full-page ad in the publication's biggest, most popular issue (or issues) and smaller-size ads in other months.

Cost-Effective Ways to Use Direct Mail

These are two of direct mail's biggest benefits:

  1. Pinpoint targeting ability

  2. Ability to deliver a full and complete sales presentation of any length

Correspondingly, this makes direct mail a highly effective way to repeatedly expose your prospect to your salesmanship—and positively influence his or her actions.

That said, I'd like to outline two direct mail marketing strategies (as opposed to single-shot mailing ideas) that virtually any business can put to work to achieve better, more profitable marketing and lead-generation results.

1. Repeatedly mail the same letter or direct mail package to the same people. If your sales letter or direct mail package is generating an acceptable number of orders or leads, don't hesitate to mail it again and again to the same list. The basic premise for recommending this strategy can best be summed up in five words: "People quickly forget," and, "things change."

Consider this. The average person is exposed to well over 500 sales, marketing and advertising messages every day. And the vast majority of these messages do not even so much as register a blip on the mental radar screen. Of the handful of messages that do register, most are forgotten within two weeks.

Another reason this strategy works is... change. Your prospects' lives are constantly evolving. For example, you're an insurance agent mailing to a list of new homeowners. Three months ago Mr. and Mrs. Jankowski had all the life insurance they needed. So they tossed your envelope without even opening it. But, three weeks ago, Mrs. Jankowski found out she's pregnant—with twins. Because of this life-changing event, it's a good bet they'll be a bit more receptive to your next mailing.

Many highly successful direct marketing organizations, such as Dow Jones & Co. and Geico Corporation, routinely practice this strategy of repeatedly mailing the same message to the same people. Speaking from my own experience, I know that every year I get several identical mailings from the Wall Street Journal, and likewise Geico. Chances are, you do too.

A prominent example of a company whose repeated mailings of the same "package" helped make it a huge success is AOL.

How frequently should you do your mailings? Quarterly is probably a good idea for starters. But, as with everything else, test to determine the optimum frequency.

2. Send a series of mailings to the same people. To quote consultant Richard Brock, "Sales is a process of communication, not an event." That's why, especially if your sales process involves a long lead time, it's a smart move to plan and budget for a series of mailings to the decision maker and key decision influencers.

Particularly in business-to-business direct marketing and "big-ticket" consumer purchases, a follow-up mailing program to prospects gained through your lead-generation efforts will help you convert a substantially higher number of sales.

Before starting a program like this, give careful thought to what you want to say and how you want your campaign to unfold. For example:

  1. In your first letter, highlight the three biggest benefits of your product or service.

  2. In letter two, take just one of these benefits and amplify and expand on it; focus the majority of your copy on this one benefit.

  3. In letter three, take another key benefit and do the same.

  4. And so on.

Let's say, for instance, that you market a software package that sells for $20,000, but the payback time for your product is typically six months. One of your follow-up letters would focus exclusively on this benefit. You'd give your prospect lots of details and explain how your product is able to generate such a fast payback.

Plus, you'd include several very credible testimonials. And the offer in your letter would be an eight-page case study, detailing exactly how a current user achieved payback in half the normal time—and is now enjoying a highly profitable return on investment.

And don't stop with just four letters. Depending on your sales cycle, you may want to send six letters, four post cards, three cover letters attached to product reviews or magazine articles and eight emails (assuming your prospect has given you express permission to send her email.)

In every mailing, always give a reason and a method for responding. Always ask for some kind of action.

When it comes to large-ticket, long-lead-time sales—it really is a process of communication. And the program I've just outlined is an ideal way to carry out the communication process while gaining top-of-mind awareness and building relationships that lead to increased sales.

A Postcard Approach

A somewhat different approach is to mail a series of postcards. For example, copywriter Rein Nomm of Rein Nomm & Associates ( created a series of five post cards for an environmental engineering firm. Here's a brief synopsis of how the program unfolded:

Postcard 1. A full-color photograph shows a thickly gloved hand moving a forlorn looking chess piece (queen, I believe). The headline reads "Wasted Move?" And the sub-head states, "With waste, a wrong move can be costly." The body copy goes on to, among other things, tout the benefits of the environmental firm's Corrective Action Group and its waste-assessment and remediation services.

Postcard 2. This time, the post card shows heated action from a little league baseball game. It's a close call at home plate, and the ump is giving the "you're out" sign. The headline reads, "Are The Calls Going Against You?" with the body copy singing the benefits of working with the firm's Industrial Compliance Group.

The post cards continue in this vein until we get to card number five, the last in the series. This time, the photograph is of a man-eating great white shark. Its giant head is breaching the water and its menacing jaws are open wide, revealing an even more menacing set of teeth. The headline? "FISH OR CUT BAIT!"

The cards were mailed to prospects and former clients at the rate of one every 10 days over a period of two months. And the campaign's compacted and concentrated series of informative contacts generated substantial top-of-mind awareness and, most importantly, several new projects.

To Repeat...

The bottom line, as any successful salesperson or marketer knows, is this: You've got to stay in front of your prospect through repeated contacts—whether that's in the mail, by phone, via permission-based email, in person or, as is most likely, a combination of activities. Not just any contact, mind you, but meaningful, informative, educational, persuasive contacts that address the issues and concerns of the crotchety executive in our ad.

Direct mail—salesmanship in print—is one of the most effective, and profitable tools any business has at its disposal with which to achieve such repeated contact.

Subscribe's free!

MarketingProfs provides thousands of marketing resources, entirely free!

Simply subscribe to our newsletter and get instant access to how-to articles, guides, webinars and more for nada, nothing, zip, zilch, on the house...delivered right to your inbox! MarketingProfs is the largest marketing community in the world, and we are here to help you be a better marketer.

Already a member? Sign in now.

Sign in with your preferred account, below.

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


image of Ernest Nicastro

Ernest Nicastro is an award-winning B-to-B freelance copywriter who is also equally adept at crafting B-to-C content. For more information, and to review samples of his work, visit Positive Response.

LinkedIn: Ernest Nicastro

Twitter: @enicastro