What Your Promotional Materials Say

Lois Geller Every year before the DMA show, I get a slew of postcards from companies (some that are not at all relevant to my business), letting me know that they'll be exhibiting and telling me all about their products. I've been getting some of these same postcards for years. I'm thinking of one in particular, from a printing company that shows the plant, the presses and personnel lined up like stick figures.

It seems that companies feel obliged to send "something" to invite me to their booth - that somehow it's expected. They're just not aware of how poorly they've executed the task and how poorly it's perceived. It's like holiday cards. Most of the time, instead of being a sincere greeting, it's a mass-produced, impersonal effort with the company name stamped on the inside. Why do they even bother to send it? Last December, less than 20% of the holiday cards I received had a handwritten note.

I just feel that if a potential vendor can’t find out enough about my company to target a brochure or mailing to my needs and tell me the benefits of what they have to offer... why bother? If you can't even scribble in, "Happy Holiday Lois" and sign your name... why bother?

Take a look at your own promotional materials -- everything from postcards to trade show materials, to invoices to Christmas cards... are they still good? Has the information changed? Is the focus still relevant? Or, are they tired, old-hat and in need of a makeover? And are your response rates from these efforts declining?

Here are some points to consider as you take a fresh look at your own promotional materials:

Do your materials reflect your company?

Rule #1: Don’t ever try to come across as something that you’re not. Be authentic. Are you a creative quirky little company or are you really known for the fact that you’ve been in business so long and are extremely reliable? You really need to define your company’s core personality before you choose to redo or refine your materials. Everything emerges from the personality you’ve defined: the look of your materials; the colors, the tone, your web site, how you answer the phone, etc.

Role-play - now you're the customer.

If possible, call up and buy something from your company. Look at all aspects of your experience, the customer service, the delivery, the billing cycle, the follow-up. Call up and request information be mailed to you. Does your brochure or credentials kit have a response device? Why not? Email your site with a question or concern, how long does it take to get a response? Was your question answered? Register at the website. How was the follow-up - was there follow-up? Listen to you voicemail answer system - how bad is it really? Read your standard or form letters - are they still good? Do they make sense? Here's some copy from a letter I recently received from an insurance company, "XYZ Company will gladly perform an interim test for you; however the enclosed worksheet will allow you to take the actions to minimize the potential of failing test results at year end, without having to perform an interim test." Does anyone really speak like that? That particular sentence is in bad need of a makeover.

Be a tough critic.

On a big table, lay out your letters, your credentials, your brochures and your business cards. Do they have a strong consistent design approach? Even if you're not Proctor and Gamble, you need to have a consistent brand image. Also, is all information current and correct? Are bios and client lists updated? Is there email and website information on all your materials, including business cards? Is all your contact information (phone number and address) on the emails you send? Do your fax cover sheets look like a 7th generation copy? How do you send out proposals? What stock do you use for letters? Revisit and reevaluate your layout and typeface choices for business cards, letters and brochures. What about your web site? Does it "deliver?" The purpose of some sites is to be an online brochure and reference. Other sites are created to be revisited again and again. Think about and then define the objectives for your site. If fresh content is critical, keep it fresh.

The difference is in the details.

I have a friend who sends out a newsletter and writes a personal note on each one. Now, I try to do the sameÉand it’s not because I have some much time on my hands either. It’s because when I do this, I get a much, much, higher response rate. So, whenever possible, whether it’s a Holiday card or a response for information, keep it personal. I’ve talked about this in other articles and I’ll emphasize it again -- it's critical to make your correspondence look like it’s been touched by a human hand. Even handwriting your name in the return address portion of an envelope over your company information can really make a difference. Another way to add the human element is to use a live stamp. I believe that a lot more B2B would be opened with a live stamp. My assistant always puts my 1st class mail in a separate envelope, because a live stamp infers to her that that the information is important.

Anytime, you send a letter, shoot off an email, or even drop a Holiday card in the mail, you are making an impression - the point is to do everything possible to make it a good one. My third grade teacher used to say, "When you send something out, it’s a reflection of who you are." She was trying to make us write more neatly, but the point is well worth remembering.

So, as your getting ready to send your Holiday cards - pick out a nice pen, set aside some time and jot down your personal best wishes and regards. Oh, and use your best handwriting.

LOIS K. GELLER is President of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full service direct response agency in NYC. Mason & Geller creates direct marketing plans, direct mail campaigns, direct response commercials and other offline and online strategic services for many blue chip businesses as well as smaller companies. Lois is the author of the new revised and updated edition of “RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing” published Fall 2002. Lois is the developer of the popular corporate training seminar “Direct Marketing Boot Camp” which she has delivered to over 100 top organizations. If you have any direct marketing questions, email Lois at loisgeller@masongeller.com.

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