Whether you are in the early stages of marketing, promoting, and advertising a new business or are about to reintroduce yourself to the world (a necessity that could be created by a variety of circumstances ranging from a great new product or service to a need to come back in a somewhat altered form from a national pandemic), a typical group of activities are usually considered:
Advertising via online and/or print publications
Press releases announcing your presence and/or highlighting a change
Direct mail/e-mail to existing and/or prospective customers
Social media postings to highlight important details and communicate news
To reach out to the largest possible audience in a coordinated way with a consistent message and visual component, basic branding practices are key. As you embark upon your campaign, we suggest you read the following blog entries . . . and keep checking back as we post new material on topics such as: building your own ads; properly preparing artwork for various print and online media outlets; understanding the role and use of paid search and ad words as an advertising tool; etc.
When read together, the articles shown below provide a branding tutorial relevant to marketing campaigns. (By the way, we are always interested in hearing from you and will carefully consider special requests to cover specific topics; either use the form at the bottom of this page to deliver your message or send us an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
BEFORE YOU BEGIN YOUR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING EFFORTS, take the time to create/review a style guide that puts into writing the most basic rules that must be observed to properly build the visual elements of your new campaign.
Note: Helpful downloadable tools/templates are included.
Your marketing/advertising campaign is almost certainly going to involve a variety of multi-media components – many of which are already included on our sample Branding Activity Calendar that could also be used to coordinate the various elements you’ve incorporated into your promotional campaign. (The template we’ve provided allows you to add the specific activities associated with your effort.)
Why does branding matter when your current focus is to launch your new sales campaign? Why get distracted by the time, effort, and resources needed to make sure your advertising and marketing efforts reflect your chosen branding? This article (as well as the one below) answers that question!
These pieces discuss the content and crafting of your direct mail message (including the document to be mailed/emailed) as well as the mechanics of obtaining your list and building your database of recipients.
The following articles cover various aspects of building a social media presence – from creating profiles on platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest to strategies used to identify appropriate content. As an added bonus, we provide tools helpful in promoting your social media accounts, including templates. (Last but not least, we address tools for requesting customer reviews so you won’t forget the importance of that aspect of social media.)
Branding involves far more than just creating a few recognizable visual elements. Customer Service is always at the heart of your brand. Taking a close look at this time helps identify those branding qualities that will resonate with your audience and are, therefore, worth promoting. Then, be sure to take all of the necessary steps to ensure that your customer service systems are properly tuned to support the front end of your sales efforts. Once you are successful, remember the value of repeat customers by immediately thanking them for their business.
In a recent article, we discussed some of the benefits and obstacles encountered in utilizing a direct mail/e-mail initiative to further promote your brand and perhaps realize some additional new sales along the way. Since we expect many (if not most) small business owners must take a very hands-on, DIY approach to such activities, we figured we’d devote this short article to illustrating the ease with which a Mail Merge letter can be used to generate a physical mailing – using our blog (as always) as an example/Guinea pig. Please note that while we will be utilizing Microsoft Office products in our example, both because of their popularity AND the fact that we happen to have those apps on our machines, other competing products offer similar functionality.
Our particular plan calls for sending out inquiries just a few at a time – requesting that a link to our blog be added to their web site. Therefore, the next step was to take the information yielded by this search and start constructing our database a few entries at a time. (Interestingly, we’ve elected to include the clearinghouse that assembled the search results as one of our prospects.)
As you can see, little detail is provided, but the name links to a
website, which can be used to develop complete information. Very often, the “About Us” content provides a
good lead to the correct recipients (and often includes a means to track down
the prospects’ e-mail addresses).
Once the data is assembled, you need to create a simple Excel
spreadsheet. Each column can be used to
store a piece of relevant data. (You
will pretty quickly identify which items should be kept separate because the
information will be used that way and which can be combined because the content
is always called as a group – EX: city,
state, and zip as three fields as opposed to citystatezip as one.)
Your spreadsheet will be very simple and can use row one as a header for labels (later used by the Word mail merge function for field names).
In a few cases, I found several contact people that seemed worth approaching, so each of them is included in a separate row with most of the fields simply duplicated. Zip codes that began with a leading “0” were converted to text because the app drops the lead number “0.” (In case you are wondering, you can change a number to text by highlighting the cells to be affected and selecting “Format Cells” and then “Text” from the drop-down menu.)
The Merge Letter
Now that your initial pool of recipients has been identified, you can open your sample letter (the text included in our previous article) and begin the simple merge process.
As you can see, placeholder names have been included where fields
will be added.
Next, select the “Mailings” tab as shown below. While several paths can be taken at this point, including a helpful wizard, this example will begin by choosing “Start Mail Merge.”
While we are selecting “Normal Word Document” for this
example, please note the other useful functions available from this submenu
(including the ability to generate labels or envelopes, though that’s a
separate article set for a later date).
For now, press “Select Recipients” and “Use an Existing List” as shown below. You will be given the opportunity to browse to the Excel database you created.
At this point, you are ready to “Insert Merge Fields.”
A list of fields will be displayed that correspond to the
columns you defined in your spreadsheet.
So, start replacing your placeholders with actual fields. (i.e., You delete the placeholder; then, with the cursor already in the desired location, select the field by the same name from the drop-down). Note that “date” could have been supplied to the template via a preexisting function, though we elected to handle ourselves.
Once all of your fields have been applied, you should “Preview Results,” which will allow you to proof and check your work. (See Completed Template with fields.)
Once satisfied that the output is as expected, “Finish & Merge.”
Be aware that you will be able to select your output device. For illustration purposes, I routed the merged letters to a pdf that can be printed and mailed at a later date. Be sure to check your final documentsvery carefully. Then, you are done.
While we will be mailing the letters we created, we will also be reinforcing this exercise with an e-mailed copy. (With this particular letter, the ability to link directly to an exhibit is significant.) In another article, we will be discussing the multitude of options available to you. For now, we are looking to generate just six e-mail messages. As a result, our selection of tools will be based on the situation.
If we happened to be using a compatible version of Outlook for our e-mail activities, we would have been able to merge from Word directly to that app. Since we are not and want the simplest possible way of getting the electronic follow up out quickly and easily, we will be simply copying from the already merged Word document and pasting the results into six separate messages. (What can I say – sometimes the low-tech solution is the most efficient, though better answers are needed for larger or more frequent mailings.)
That said, lots of checking and testing will still be required to
identify any of the countless anomalies that can turn up when dealing with a
wide variety of e-mail platforms.
Once the mailings are out in the world, we will immediately start
tracking our results. If you happened to
guess that we will be doing an article on the task as well, you’d certainly be
right! Please watch for our future
installments and feel free to provide feedback.
As always, thanks for your interest in “Brand Building for Small
Business.” We hope you come back soon.
Alternative Ways to Use Our Samples as Templates: Download our letterto your desktop and open in Microsoft Word. Click ‘yes’ when asked if you’d like to continue, navigate to your database when prompted to ‘Select Data Source’, and click ‘open’. Include your logo and adapt the letter as needed to work with your spreadsheet. Then, go to Mailings > Preview Results. OR, download our databaseto your desktop, open the file in Excel, delete our information, and include your own.
Postscript: Need to generate an envelope from Word but can’t wait for our article? See the envelope template we used to generate our physical mailing (same Excel spreadsheet as the letter).
Direct mail/e-mail is not for the faint-of-heart . . . OR for the
impatient. When a campaign is working
well, results tend to be measured in single digits with the difference between
success and failure often just tenths of a point. (Try explaining that to someone and
justifying the value of the effort.)
Despite the negative sound of my opening remarks, I am, indeed, a
strong proponent of direct response tools.
You have a blank page just waiting to be filled with a refined, well-branded message that can include a sales pitch as well as a reminder about who you are and plan to be – providing a glimpse into your culture.
Direct mail and e-mail are extremely inexpensive and can be repeated many times without a loss of effectiveness, which aids branding through repetition; in fact, by sending your message over and over again to the same list, you ensure your message is heard at the right time – buying time . . . which, in turn, can occur as often as every day or so . . . or as infrequently as once or twice a year.
While the numbers measuring results tend to be low for any single mailing, the cumulative impact can be great as you produce small gains on a very regular basis and retain those new customers over time.
According to the Direct Marketing Association, the
average response rate for direct mail house lists is 9% and 5% for prospect
lists. However, if your direct mail piece is advertising an expensive or
complicated product, a response rate that is less than one percent is not
unusual. (Responses / Pieces Sent =
While the quality of your “creative” (i.e., text, art, branding,
etc.) DOES matter as well as the quality of your mailing list, timing may be
the single most important factor in determining your success.
More About the
Direct marketing provides an excellent blank tableau for you to
communicate who you are, what you sell, and the company you hope to
become. Furthermore, you can express
this information in a manner consistent with your culture and the image you
want to project. Beyond that, your
self-portrayal needs to reflect reality to resonate with your audience and,
therefore, be more memorable.
The Headline – Headlines matter and create your first (and often only) chance to grab the attention of your audience. Short, memorable, and descriptive works best . . . but ain’t easy to accomplish!
I developed my first appreciation for the potential impact of the
headline many, many years ago. The
company I worked for had bought an old furniture store and was disposing of the
contents via flash sales conducted by their small group of employees, most with
The first two weekends went great and all of the big, expensive,
and nicer items were sold pretty quickly.
Clearly, we had gotten the word out.
By week three, however, only lots and lots of odd accent items were left
. . . and we weren’t having much luck selling them out.
Our solution: we took out a
large full-page ad in the newspaper (which people actually read back then) that
ran under the headline “Adopt an End Table or Be a Foster Family to a Few
Good Lamps and Chairs!”
Something about the line struck a chord because the crowds
returned the very next weekend, and the majority of the remaining merchandise
was moved. Since then, I always pay
close attention to the headline, very often using that as my starting point
when creating an ad, flyer, or direct mail letter.
Copy (The Message and Offer) –
This point raises one of the great disputes of all time. What sells best? Long copy or short. If you can conclusively answer that question,
your name will be entered into the annals of the direct marketing hall of fame.
Just search long copy vs. short copy, and you’ll get the general
Frankly, I’ve used both successfully. Cop-out?
No. My personal preference has
always been long copy . . . and I have identified substantial amounts of expert
opinion in support of the long-copy case (ex:
David Ogilvy in Ogilvy on Advertising – an industry
standard). However, my professional
career has mostly involved parties who believe “no one reads anymore!” . . . so
“bulletize” (another way of saying “dumb-down the content”), though the words
used to express the sentiment are generally more like “keep the wordiness to a
minimum.” (Just writing this paragraph has kicked up my stress level a notch or
two.) In the end . . .
If you are preparing a direct mail piece and answering only to
yourself, I suggest using as many (or few) words as are necessary to make your
point persuasively, remembering that one or two pieces of carefully chosen and
cited data can be the key to establishing credibility and making your point in
the most convincing possible way.
Artwork/Graphical Visual and Format – Your need
for (and selection of) artwork will depend upon whether you are sending just a
letter, just a flyer, or both.
Traditionally, multiple pieces were recommended (though current
conventional wisdom is far more flexible).
Personally, I’ve used all of those approaches in format and have not
noticed a significant difference in the outcome. Other factors – such as the quality of the
list, effectiveness of the message/offer, and timing – seem to be the
That said, artwork – when included – can be an attention-grabbing
element. As a result, choose the most
compelling OR familiar image available.
If you have some well-known quality with a high degree of
recognizability (perhaps your physical location), use that to your advantage
and stick to a picture that capitalizes on a good address. Humor can be successful as well as art that
in some form presents the unexpected.
To state the obvious, always be sure your logo and any byline are
prominently displayed as part of your basic branding of the piece.
Note: While the choice of
traditional mail vs. e-mail will affect your selection and use of some of the
items discussed in this article, your choices can be easily tweaked to work in
either environment. In fact, these
elements should be similar to ensure consistency across various media.
Snail Mail vs. e-Mail – So . . . which works better?
The answer may ultimately depend upon the nature of your mailing
list (with the first question being whether or not e-mail addresses have been
Needless to say, e-mail solicitations are faster, less expensive,
and very immediate – all very attractive qualities. You can:
Link to large volumes of supplemental
Create custom “landing pages” that
provide an easy (and very trackable) opportunity for immediate response
expressing an interest.
Repeat the process many times.
Get immediate feedback about mailing list
names that are no longer valid and are now undeliverable.
However . . .
In this era characterized by inundations of
electronic messaging and spam e-mail, you can be easily ignored AND DELETED
Spam and junk mail filters can keep your
messages from being seen by the intended party.
While one might logically guess that the cost, time, and immediacy
of e-mail would doom snail mail to extinction, I have found that certain (often
demographically older) audiences pay more attention to physical mailings. Interestingly, the traditional approach also
has the added benefit of a longer shelf life with parties interested but not
currently at “buying time,” causing them to set aside the printed letter or
flyer for a quick review at a later date closer to the actual time of need,
which gives you the best possible chance of success.
My proof? I’ve had mailings
that produced a response that could be absolutely traced back to a physical
mailing occurring six months before.
While an electronic equivalent to setting a piece of paper aside clearly
exists, I’ve seldom seen evidence of that occurring.
A Direct Response
Project for Our Own Blog
Well . . . one of our goals for this blog is to build an audience. As a result, we searched for (and found) a list of associations, agencies, and affinity groups that appear to have a connection to small businesses (https://smallbiztrends.com/2018/05/small-business-associations.html). As a result, we are planning to systematically approach at least some of them via e-mail and/or mail with a request to link our blog from their web sites. Unlike some mailings, our intention is to do just a few at a time to properly manage the kind of follow-up required.
Since our blog is still in the early stages of development, we
will wait until we feel we have accumulated a sufficient amount of
content. (Perhaps 20 or so
articles?) Also, we realize we do not
yet have any meaningful performance data (i.e., visitors, followers, likes,
etc.). So, the letters will initially
have to be created without those key elements that will be added upon becoming
Nevertheless, we have drafted the text of a message and included an offer with the intention of sending out the first few inquiries in the upcoming weeks with plans to revise our message as time passes based on new feedback, performance results, and early results. (We’ll keep you posted. Until then, feel free to comment upon our draft.)
Looking for More
Concrete DIY-Type Information?
At least two more direct response articles are planned for the
Detailed instructions on preparation of a Word
Mail Merge document that can be linked to an Excel address spreadsheet to
generate your own mailing.
An article explaining the various alternatives
that exist for generating a mass e-mailing, including the use of vendors vs.
your own word processing and e-mail programs.
Until then, good luck moving forward with your campaigns.
For information about the typical elements of a direct mail package, see: