Achieving Direct Response

Small to Medium size Enterprises (SMEs) often find direct response campaigns unaffordable. Here’s some best practice advice to help.

The single most effective way to improve the direct response from marketing to the SME sector is to get inside the heads of the particular audience you’re trying to engage. Few companies succeed – not because it’s difficult, but because they haven’t tried.

The term ‘SME’ is part of the problem – it’s a catchall that covers a multitude of sins. Up to 250 employees, £50m turnover – those are the standard classifications. But there’s a world of difference between what’s going on inside the decision making heads of a 5-person company and those of a 250-employee team. Truly small companies expect instant response. They have no ‘budget’, but have the ability to spend on anything they believe to be important right now. Larger companies have reporting lines, management structures, procurement processes, planning cycles – with significant budgets for those able to engage with the process and stay the distance.

So the data has to work hard here – a generic SME list isn’t sufficient. Segmentation is vital in identifying smaller more targeted groups that are likely to deliver a better response level. Spend time breaking the list down and looking closely at how you can squeeze value out of the individual sectors. Don’t be afraid to exclude the ones less likely to deliver that improvement – you’re never going to be able to sell to everyone effectively. The place to start is your existing customer base. You’re far more likely to sell to new prospects that closely resemble existing customers. Have the ambition to grow the market by all means, but focus the message on those most likely to spend.

“Knowing your audience isn’t difficult, but it’s usually forgotten.”

To do that you don’t have to look much further than the last few customer contacts. The way your existing customers engage with your brand should influence the DM communication with prospects. The tone of those conversations, the queries being raised in the emails, the willingness of the customer to take your calls – all of the ‘real-world’ experiences should affect the concept, content and message for your DM campaign(s).

Knowing your audience isn’t difficult, but it’s usually forgotten. All too often the communication focuses on the product functionality: ‘Our widget does this that and the other’. So what? So do any number of other widgets from other competitors. ‘We understand that you have a specific problem, so we’ve come up with a widget to make your life easier’, is a far more compelling proposition. It not only allows considerably more creative and conceptual expression, but understanding and help are things that people want. Widgets they can take or leave.

Start thinking of your audience as people and not as an audience or a segment or a job title or an SME. Use the classifications, yes. Then leave them behind and look at how those people get through the day. What makes them smile, what makes them happy, what makes life easier, what makes life difficult. Then shape your communications around the things your customers need to hear rather than simply what you want to tell them. Most companies never look beyond the initial classifications. Most direct marketing never reaches the audience.

Scot McKee
Managing Director
Birddog Ltd.

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