You can have a wonderful product and a fabulous advertisement or sales letter, but if it doesn't get to the right audience, you'll have poor results. Maybe some people really can sell ice boxes to Eskimos, but I'd much rather try to sell them to people in Florida. They are pre-disposed to owning a refrigerator.
In The Ultimate Marketing Plan, Dan Kennedy tells the story of how he helped a person in the carpet cleaning business improve his marketing response. The business owner was mailing sales letters to people living in the same zip code as his business location. When Kennedy and the business owner made a tour of the neighborhood, they found the homes were in desperate need of repair and paint, the lawns were not maintained, and cars were parked on jacks in front of homes. Kennedy and the business owner found another nearby neighborhood where the homes shouted: pride of ownership. The first area had a response rate of ¼%. The second area had a response rate of over 2 ½%!
At least 50% of the response for an ad or sales letter is determined by who the message is delivered to.
One way to identify a potential audience is to make a tour, like Kennedy did.
Another way is to develop a profile of the customer likely to buy or who is currently buying the product or service. Is the product or service more likely to appeal to men or women? What type of occupation is the buyer likely to have? What income level?
In another case cited by Kennedy, a business owner noticed most of his customers were men with crew cuts! He went to the barbershops in his community and bought lists of the customers who had crew cuts, and marketed to those people with phenomenal results.
There are mailing list brokers in most communities that can help a business owner develop and rent customized lists. For example, you could make a list of subscribers to Good Housekeeping in Saratoga, California that have a Mastercard or Visa. The more refined the list, the more expensive the names will be. However, the increased response usually more than pays for the additional investment.
One reference for mailing lists or potential places to advertise is the Standard Rate and Data Service Direct Mail List Rates and Data. You might find a recent copy at your public library that you can (and should) study. For information, write Standard Rate and Data Service, Inc., 5201 Old Orchard Road, Skokie, IL 60077.
Before making a full investment, you should make a test mailing to a portion of the list to learn what response to expect.
Remember that the investment for most mailing list is only good for one mailing, and some addresses where list use is monitored are included to assure you are not illegally reusing a list.
The same philosophy applies to advertising in magazines or newspapers. Can you advertise only in a certain region? Will this publication appeal to a customer who is likely to want your product or service? It's probably more appropriate to advertise cosmetics in Redbook than in Sports Illustrated!
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