My Best Promotion
Direct mail is one of the more lauded promotional techniques, yet it's also one that isn't always easy to master. Barry Roberts, CAS, sales executive for Proforma Executive Business Services and motivational business coach at BarryRoberts.com, shared a great example of a direct mail campaign that was not only a big success, but also educational on how to impress buyers and compete against a large number of other vendors.
A major airline offered Roberts a 20,000-piece direct mail campaign intended to reach travel agents around the country, his job being to pick an item to pair with the mailer. The airline was also listening to pitches from several of his competitors, putting Roberts into a position where he had to beat his competitors' best ideas to earn the sale.
"The first thing I did was I left my office and walked around Manhattan, popping in and out of travel agencies (this was years and years ago, they were a lot more popular then they are today)" said Roberts. "I was interested to see not what they were using around their desks, but to see if I could determine something they were not using."
After his investigations, Roberts realized that the travel agents spent a lot of time on the phone, so he settled on a classic phone shoulder rest to ease the agents' pain of always pinching the phone between their ear and shoulder. "Again this ways years ago, before headsets. These were all traditional phones," said Roberts.
"I also was aware that they were going to get ideas from some of my competitors," he said. "I didn't know who they were, but I respected them enough to realize that they might have thought of the telephone shoulder rest also, so why buy it from me?"
To differentiate himself, Roberts focused on making as strong a pitch as possible to the airline. He decided to schedule an in-person meeting with the buyer to do a single-idea verbal pitch, similar to a classic ad agency, and also to figure out a way to use the shoulder rest as creatively as possible.
"I began to study that telephone shoulder rest," he said. "I held it up, looked at it upside down, looked at shadows of it on the wall. I just stared at it and dreamed about it until one day it occurred to me that this telephone shoulder rest looked a whole like the tail wing of an airplane."
Roberts settled on the tail wing premise as his idea. He modified the design of the direct-mail brochure, replacing it with a die-cut piece of plane-shaped cardboard, the phone rest to be attached at the back as the tail wing. "We graphically made one side look like the fuselage and the wings of the airplane, and we put all the information they wanted to say on the other side," he explained. "It required a strange, bulky envelope, you know everything that's right for effective direct mail." Roberts had a prototype made, and took it to his sales pitch meeting.
"They loved it," said Roberts. "The fellow I was speaking with excused himself for a minute, came back with two of his colleagues, and they loved it. They never even asked me a price." The actual promotion was very successful for Roberts and the company as well, earning Roberts not only accolades from clients and peers but also travel tickets around the world.
WORDS OF ADVICE
"Take a risk," said Roberts. He explained his gamble to limit himself to a single pitch based on a quirky direct mail piece could have cost him a huge sale with a client he'd been courting for a long time, but it ended up paying off. "I believe that we have to take risks, otherwise we're just standing still," he said.
Roberts also noted the value of competing beyond the realm of price only. "Your clients and prospects need a reason to do business with you other than price. Because if the only reason to do business with you is price, you're always going to come out losing."
Want to be included in a future edition of My Best Promotion? Contact Michael Cornnell at email@example.com or (215) 238-5449 for a list of questions and other details.