I spoke to the President of Omaha steaks about direct marketing research, particularly using outside firms. He cordially told me that he didn't need outside research because he received all the research he needed from the results of his mailings. Omaha steaks is one of the largest direct mailers and the company can well afford doing research by the numbers.
But we all can't do that. And we can't use the word "testing" interchangeably with "research." They're not the same. We just don't have the budget. Every letter or postcard that gets thrown away costs us money. It pays to do research before we do our direct mailings to optimize results, perform proactive disaster checks, and to put a human face on our customer -- who we almost never see. Testing is deciding how your direct mailings work. Research is deciding how your marketing WILL work.
Here's an example of how research can prevent big losses.
A woman called me and wanted to direct market a germ proof computer keyboard cover. She said all her friends loved it. I suggested she take her idea and product to Office Depot and interview prospective buyers. She did and sadly told me that "people hated the product." I told her she just saved herself $10,000 that she was planning to spend on her first production run. I also suggested she show her product to call centers which had multiple users sharing keyboards. Again it failed. The product was a bomb, but she invested minimal amounts to learn whether there was an audience for her product.
To succeed in the world of direct mail marketing, you need to move away from the old assumptions and adopt a new way of thinking. Rather than asking, "How big is my list?" you need to ask, "What is the face of my customer?" What is his or her involvement with my product? Think about it. Most direct marketers never see their customer. Research, not testing, will put a face on your customer.
Your customer is right next door. Perhaps at the local mall. Bring your product and variations of you direct mail piece to a local mall and find out how excited your prospects get. This should mimic real world responses. The cost is low -- far less expensive than a direct mail campaign. You'll discover how relevant your product and communications are to your prospect.
Can you afford not to do research? When you do your mailing. you're essentially paying people at least 30 cents apiece (for postage) to become your customer. It's Darwin's theory on survival of the fittest. He stated that not all organisms can survive in a crowded world and only those that are most fit will survive the competition. Your recipient's mailbox is no different. Only the most relevant campaigns will ensure that messages survive the increasingly Darwinian mail box.
Customers are far more sophisticated than they were a few years ago, and they have come to expect much more from the companies they interact with electronically. What's more, the penalties for practicing poor direct mail research have become far steeper. Without changing your mindset or without understanding the new customer, you significantly risk your customer relationships and your brand.
Instead of asking, "What does my headline line say?" you need to ask, "How am I building my brand? Instead of asking, "How frequently should I send my customers emails?" you need to ask, "How often do my customers want to hear from me?"
How should you find these out? Call a sampling of your prospect base. Tell them about your new idea. But don't get caught in the questionnaire lock. Questionnaires, for the most part, don't work. As your customers questions like "would you be interested in this new product." And then ask "why". Both negative and positive answers will help.
In this age of the Internet, people ask "who Cares About Catalogs. Consumers still love them. In fact, 79% of consumers browse through most of the catalogs they receive. But retailers must optimize catalogs to take advantage of the new ways that online and offline consumers now use catalogs. If you go to a friends house and use the bathroom, chances are that you will be staring at catalog after catalog. It all has to do with positioning. Research your pages with your prospects before you send them to the printer.
Use consumer interviews to differentiate your product and accentuate its positive point. It's easier to sell a solution to a problem than to sell a positive benefit or substantial features. What problems are your potential clients facing? A great way to find out is to spend some time networking and doing market research by contacting potential clients. Find out what their needs are by spending time asking questions and intently listening to their answers taking mental note of their needs, problems, and pain.
Once you see the presence of a problem that your product or service can solve, study that problem and reposition your marketing so that it is offering a benefit and a solution to that problem. You will notice that by doing this marketing and selling will become a lot easier.
The key to keeping your marketing efforts effective is to focus on selling the solution to the problem not selling the features or benefits. How do you find you if you're on the road to a successful opportunity? Ask.