Let's Get Physical
By Robert W. Bly

In the good old days before CDs, I used to record speeches I gave on marketing and duplicate them audio cassettes.

Whenever a prospect asked for information on my copywriting services, I'd send a brochure, client list, and samples of my work. But I'd also enclose one of the audio cassettes.

This inquiry fulfillment trick was amazingly effective. Often prospects would tell me, I listened to your cassette on the way home from work, and it convinced me to hire you.

Why was enclosing an audio cassette such a powerful marketing technique?

My competitors were all sending potential clients envelopes with nothing but paper in them. When prospects got my envelope with a 3-dimensional object enclosed, it got their attention. The audio cassette added bulk to the envelope, which made it stand out.

What's my point? Giving the prospect something tangible is a field-tested marketing technique that we know works. When you go to the pet store to look for a dog for your kids, for example, the store clerk takes the puppy out of the cage and puts it on the floor for your children to play with. Why? The salesperson knows that petting, touching, and handling the product is more likely to result in a sale than just looking at it in its cage.

Yet in today's digital age, prospects receive fewer and fewer physical communications, instead getting the bulk of their marketing messages via web sites, e-mail, online ads, and social media. Therefore, adding physical marketing communications to your mix can help you gain attention and leap ahead of the pack.

Here are some recommendations on how to improve marketing results by making your communications more tangible:

1-Direct mail. Because of the low cost and quick turnaround times on campaigns, marketers are flocking to e-mail as a favorite online direct response medium. Mailing to rented opt-in e-lists can cost $150 or more, while the cost to e-mail your house file can be a tenth of a cent per name or less. That compares favorably with direct mail's cost of hundreds of dollars per thousand.

In many instances, direct mail can generate more and better qualified leads than e-mail marketing (thought not always, of course). In addition, some industries, like insurance, find direct mail, not electronic marketing, to be the workhorse of their direct response campaigns.

2-Reply forms. A growing trend for direct mail is to omit the response device and drive recipients to either a toll-free phone number or a URL. But a recent test by a conference promoter suggests this may be a mistake.

The conference promoter intended to offer the web and phone as the only response options. But at the last minute, they decided to add a paper registration form to the mailing. Result: Of the 793 registrants, 320 mailed back handwritten registration forms.1

I have found that adding an order form to a direct mail piece or a coupon to an ad can actually lift online and phone response. Reason: the order form or coupon is a visual indicator that tells the reader to respond.

3-Dimensional mail. Also known as structural graphics, dimensional mailers are paper mailings that unfold into three-dimensional shapes. The response rates are sometimes multiples of conventional 2D control mailings.

For instance, John Deere sent a mailing that unfolded into a paper replica of a tractor. The paper tractor was folded up inside a box along with a USB memory stocks containing photos of the tractor.

Iggesund Paperboard, a manufacturer of virgin fiber paperboard used in packaging, sent a structural mailing to promote its Invercote, a high-end grade of paper. The dimensional mailing generated 400 percent more replies than a previous marketing campaign.

4-Physical mail. One of the most famous physical mailings was the free CD mailed in enormous quantities by AOL to sign up new customers. All the mailings contained the CD, though AOL experimented with the outer carrier, testing (among other things) a metal CD box.

According to MarketingSherpa, a company promoting a web-conferencing platform used direct mail to generate leads. The mailing, which included a pair of 3D glasses, generated a 31.11 percent response rate.

5-Print brochures. Paper brochures are out of vogue. Today product information is increasingly found on marketer's web sites and in PowerPoint presentations residing on salespeople's laptops.

But don't underestimate the persuasive power of a well-designed, attractively printed capabilities or product brochure. The brochure says to that prospect that your firm is real in a way a web site cannot. It also highlights key information about your products and services; the reader can be directed to your web site for product specs and other details. Plus, many prospects will keep you brochure on file in case a need for your solution occurs.

6-Sampling. A particularly impactful form of physical marketing is to put a product sample in the prospect's hands.

A manufacturer of pollution control equipment marketed a device made from knitted wire mesh. It had the flexibility of a Slinky and the appearance of thin chain mail. The company mailed a sample to prospects with a faux shipping tag that was in fact a sales letter with a reply card. Sales reps found that many prospects kept the mesh on their desks and played around with it frequently.

7-Freemiums. A freemium is a premium, a free gift or incentive, enclosed with your cold direct mailing.

In consumer fundraising, address labels are the most frequently used freemium, followed by (for Christian charities) small crucifixes and rosaries. The freemium's effectiveness is based on the principle of reciprocity: giving the prospect a gift makes him feel compelled to reciprocate by giving a little more attention to your promotion.

In an inquiry fulfillment package going to chemical engineers, we included as the freemium a custom-made slide guide for converting between the metric and English systems of measurement. A mortgage broker used a free mortgage table as a freemium and a bank selling foreign exchange services used a currency converter slide-guide.

About the author:
Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 75 books including The White Paper Marketing Handbook (Racom). You can find him on the Web at www.bly.com, or e-mail him at rwbly@bly.com, or phone 201-385-1220.