Just How Often?

 How Often?The issue of how often to send out promotional information is an important one. If you don’t do it often enough, you’ll lose sales. If you do it too often, your customers will start ignoring what you send them and, instead, relegate your printed or e-mail newsletters to the wastebasket or spam filter.

In many instances, customers get absolutely nothing from their local dive center, either through direct mail or e-mail. In other instances, stores send out regular e-mail newsletters — but apparently forget that they still lack valid e-mail addresses on up to two-thirds or more of their customer database. It is important to remember that, while the ability to promote via e-mail can reduce the need to send out regular direct-mail promotions, it cannot eliminate it. For most stores, direct mail represents the only means of reaching the majority of customers in their database.

On the e-mail side, the problem is increasingly that stores send out too much in the way of e-mail newsletters and promotions. For example:

  • DiveRetailing.com is on the the mailing list for a number of dive store’s e-mail newsletters. (It’s one way we stay up to date on what dive stores are doing.) We remember that when one California store started doing this, we read each issue with great interest. However, when the e-mails started arriving on a weekly basis, we started ignoring them. This wasn’t a conscious decision; it just happened. You have to wonder how many of the store’s customers started doing the same.
  • One midwestern dive store has been sending out e-mail newsletters on a monthly basis. Recently, though, they sent out a special e-mail sale flyer just one week after e-mailing their regular, monthly newsletter. Normally, the store gets no more than one person opting out of their mailing list each month. When they sent out the sale flyer, just one week following their regular newsletter, over a dozen people opted out. It was as though they were saying, “Once a month is okay; however, if you are going to send me something every week, I’m not interested.”

The ability to send e-mail to your customers on a mass basis is seductive. It’s fast, easy and, unlike direct mail, costs next to nothing. You can’t afford to overdo it, however, or you’ll end up losing your customers’ attention. As a general recommendation:

  • Send out a direct-mail (printed) newsletter or promotional piece at least twice a year (and when you do, encourage customers to sign up for your e-mail newsletter, so they can hear from you more often).
  • For e-mail newsletters, once a month appears to be a good interval for most retailers. Any more often than this and you’ll risk losing people. Any less often and you may miss opportunities.

Keeping Your Mailing List Up to Date

It’s estimated that the average American changes physical mailing addresses at least once every three years. Any retailer who has done even a single direct-mail promotion knows there is a high cost associated with not keeping your mailing list up to date. Every newsletter, sale flyer or other direct-mail item you send to a bad address can cost you up to 50 cents or more in printing and postage.

Put another way, the money you save by removing or correcting just 200 bad addresses from your mailing list could equal the money you would make (assuming a net profit before taxes of up to ten percent) on a $1,000 regulator/BC package sale.

Sobering, isn’t it? This is why you want to mark every piece of direct-mail with an address correction endorsement (ask your mailing house how to do this in accordance with current postal regulations). This will cost you and additional fee; however, it can pay for itself by helping prevent you from repeatedly sending expensive mailing pieces to bad addresses. (Of course, for this to work, you need to actually enter the corrected addresses into your database when you get them.)

People appear to change e-mail addresses with much greater frequency than they do physical mailing addresses. Change of jobs, change of Internet service provides — or just plain frustration over an ever-increasing deluge of spam — these are all reasons customers drop their current e-mail address in favor of a new one. Customers often get a second e-mail address from services such as Hotmail, Yahoo or Gmail with the specific intention of abandoning it once the amount of spam they receive becomes overbearing. Unfortunately, such addresses can easily constitute 20 percent of your electronic mailing list.

Of course, at first glance, it may appear as though e-mail sent to bad addresses doesn’t cost you anything — at least not in terms of printing and postage. But consider:

  • If you send e-mail directly from your store (often the case with mailings to groups of 50 or less recipients), every message you send to a bad address will bounce back and fill up your e-mail In box. This could be several dozen messages that you have to take the time to deal with.
  • If you use a commercial mailing list service, such as Constant Contact, e-mail sent to bad addresses won’t bounce back to fill up your personal In box — but you may still end up paying for them. Services such as Constant Contact charge higher fees when your mailing list goes over a certain size. If it is a couple hundred bad e-mail addresses that you haven’t bothered to remove from your database that puts you over your limit, you’re going to pay for it.

In the long run, it helps to know that the e-mail addresses you have in your customer database are as accurate as humanly possible. It can save you time an money, and help you better track the effectiveness of your e-mail marketing campaigns.

The first time you do an e-mail or direct-mail promotion, the volume of bad addresses you have to deal with (as much as 30 percent) may seem daunting. However, if you take the time to remove or correct these addresses, you will find that the number you have to deal with on subsequent mailings will be manageable (typically ten percent or less).

Updating mailing list information in your point-of-sale computer is a good task for your employees during slow periods when there are no customers in the store. (It beats paying them to just stand around.) Just don’t procrastinate.

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