Webcast: Direct Marketing for Small Businesses

April 16, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Online Marketing

I do a fair amount of liveblogging in my job. Okay, that’s an understatement. I do a lot of liveblogging. So as you can imagine, attending webcasts on my “day off” isn’t really something I typically do for kicks. However, yesterday’s webcast on direct marketing for small businesses was one I knew I shouldn’t miss and so I thought I’d share it with the lot of you lazy bums too. Why? Because I love you.

Also, check out the guest list:

  1. Moderator: John Jantsch, Duct Tape Marketing
  2. Recovering attorney Brian Clark, Copyblogger
  3. Janine Popick, Vertical Response
  4. Anita Campbell, Small Biz Trends


The gang was in town to talk about the ins and outs of direct marketing and how small businesses could leverage it to see big results. Here’s a bit of what I took away from the seminar.

The goal of direct marketing has not changed with the fads.

One of the questions first posted by John was whether or not direct marketing has altered over the years. The panelists seemed to agree that it hasn’t, even if everything else around it has.

Direct marketing is NOT those boring postcards you get in the mail and write phone messages on. Direct marketing is using valuable information to create a need. It’s using that information to educate, to establish trust and to build yourself as an authority. It’s very much what we see companies trying to do every day. And it can be done through site copy, a one shot piece of direct mail, or even a series of articles that build on one another. It’s the act of starting a relationship with your customer by first giving them something valuable. It’s the best kind of relationship; it’s where you give before you worry about receiving. Direct marketing is like Christmas.

Janine commented that it’s why things like white papers are so effective as direct marketing tools. Customers buy from people and companies that they like, trust or that they view as an expert on a topic. From that perspective, sales is really about education. You need to educate someone on your product or service so that when they need that product, they’ll buy it from you. You don’t convince someone to buy something they don’t want (that’s advertising!) You give them enough information to decide that you’re the right choice.

John agreed that a big part of direct marketing was to “create like and trust”. Business owners are trying to establish an awareness that often means educating first and then creating a second step where you direct them to a place where they can see what you have to offer. That’s where the next phase of the relationship starts.

Direct marketing starts with the small business owner.

If direct marketing is about educating your market about a need, then there’s no one more qualified to do that than a small business owner. They’re the ones who will know their audience and what they’ll find unique, irresistible and compelling. They’re the best people to craft the message. Everything else in the organization can be outsourced, but the knowledge that a small business owner has about the people they serve, that can’t be replicated.

It’s the owner’s job to:

  1. Be an expert on their market.
  2. Know how to engage and inform.
  3. Select the best medium to do that.

Brian really rang home that idea that you have to know where your market is. You want to be anywhere that you know *your* people are going to be. You need to understand your business. Anita spoke a bit about bringing social media networks into the mix. If your audience is on Facebook or LinkedIn, those sites give you the power to send messages to your group. Use those outlets.

Janine instructed business owners to be aware of the power of an option form. Whether it’s all over your site or you have an offline business, you want to develop that relationship with your customer. That’s when you describe what kind of value you’re going to be giving them in return for their info. Tell them how often you’ll be sending them emails (she advises monthly) and what you’re about. There has to be an exchange of real value or no one’s going to care.

Direct marketing is a more subtle form of advertising. It’s not like an ad on TV. When done right, someone shouldn’t even realize they are being marketed. Like most other things today, it’s about creating direct relationships with people to lay the groundwork for a purchase down the road. And it’s up to the small business owner to know how to make that offer unique. They’re the center of the whole process. I’m just the center of my own universe.

Your direct marketing efforts should be focused on accountability.

Small business owners are consumed with buzzwords like Return on Investment Advertising because those are the things that resonate with them. They want to hear about the return. They don’t have a lot of money to throw around. The ‘response to act’ is key. If there’s a need to act, then there’s accountability. And accountability is like cupcakes. You can never have too much!

Janine advised looking at things from a customer retention point of view. Look at things like the Open Rate. Look to see how many people took the time to open your email. If your open rate this week was 22 percent and last week it was 28 percent, take the time to see what changed. We’re all busy and wearing a bunch of different hats, but even just noting if it’s the subject line that changed, what links were clicked on, etc, can give you insight and help you figure out how to gear your campaign.

You shouldn’t run any advertising unless you can hold it accountable.

Good sales techniques haven’t changed.

One of the best pieces of advice came from Anita who said that even if you don’t have a marketing plan, you need to write down everything you hope to achieve in your direct marketing campaigns. Because that’s how you’re going to get it. By writing it down It’ll serve as your road map for where you’re headed and will keep you on track. You want to build direct marketing into all of your marketing activities, that means creating marketing touch points in in-person events, finding ways to repurpose content, etc.

Amen to that!

I want to thank Brian, Janine, Anita and John for putting together a great panel yesterday afternoon. The next installment of the Small Business Marketing Guide series will take place on May 6th in a webcast called Taking Your Brand Online with John, Chris Brogan, our BFF Guy Kawasaki and David Meerman Scott. You can sign up on Brighttalk, if you’re interested. I already have.

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