If you listen to the marketing gurus, you might think a new era of marketing is upon us. The movement started with Seth Godin’s “Permission Marketing,” and has only expanded from there. Today’s customers are supposedly savvier than ever, with unlimited options at their fingertips. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, we’re told, restaurants shouldn’t be looking for “customers,” they should be looking for “fans” or “followers.” Advertising is out; loyalty is in. It’s all about the soft sell. And anyone unenlightened enough to be doing radio or TV ads, or even — gasp — direct mail is practically a dinosaur. These methods, we’re told, are simply incompatible with today’s customer.
Mike Roseberry, co-owner of Johnny’s Pizza in Atlanta, isn’t buying it.
“When thousands and thousands of restaurants compete, you have to reach out to people,” Roseberry says. “We have to keep reminding them that we’re here.”
It’s called “direct” mail for a reason. While Roseberry has dabbled with Twitter and e-mail blasts, he’s put most of his efforts into coupons, menus and flyers. In a world saturated with trendy, soft-sell approaches, a straightforward request for business can be surprisingly powerful.
“We had a good response to each and every one of our coupons,” Roseberry says. “You give (people) a reason to come in with the deals.”
Jay Siff would agree. His company, Moving Targets, is a marketing firm that specializes in highly targeted neighborhood promotions. By sending a special offer to someone on their birthday or welcoming people who have just moved to your neighborhood with a free breadsticks coupon, he says, you can get their attention in a way that a generic advertisement won’t.
“I’ve got to grab your attention,” Siff says. “I’ve got to say ‘I’ve got what you’re looking for.’ If you’re really looking for what I have, all of a sudden it’s not junk mail anymore.”
One of the biggest advantages of direct mail marketing is customization. By tailoring different pieces to different audiences, you can emphasize different advantages. Whether you’re sending a flyer on your pizzeria’s birthday party package to parents with young children or a coupon for Happy Hour to local college students, you’re able to zoom in on what potential customers want and avoid what they don’t.
“If you have control over the list, that’s a big part of it,” Siff says. “If I’m going to send a mailer about pizza to an audience on a carb-free diet, it’s ridiculous.”
So where do you find lists? One option is to generate your own by getting customers to sign up for a giveaway or a loyalty program. This works well for existing customers, but for new customers, you have to take another step. List brokers sell lists directly, and local magazines may sell lists of their subscribers. Another option is a direct partnership, where you trade your house list for someone else’s.
“Maybe, you work with another business,” Siff says. “The local carwash happens to be across the street. Maybe their customers could be prime customers of yours.”
Once you’ve got your audience, it’s time to craft your offer. While modern advertising can be very minimalist (think Absolut Vodka), Siff says that when it comes to direct mail, more is more.
“Copy really adds to the whole thing,” Siff says. “To say ‘here’s a free pizza’ is one thing, but to say, ‘here’s a free pizza, and we hand make our dough every morning and we slice our own pepperoni,’ it’s a whole different deal. You may not read it all, and you may not want it all, but some people do.”
Roseberry learned this the hard way. His first direct mail piece was a simple flyer with no coupons, and response was weak. After coming up with a package including coupons and a menu, he said responses went up significantly.
Of course, not everyone has the time or talent to put together a spectacular direct mail piece. Jim Fox Jr. is the vice president of national chain Fox’s Pizza Den, which has been using direct mail marketing since the 1970s. He says outsourcing has been key to the program’s success.
“We don’t do anything,” Fox says. “The company we use has a database to put on labels. They give us maps, carrier routes, everything. If we had to do it, it would be a major pain.”
Whatever approach you take, direct mail marketing can be an effective part of a marketing strategy. Even in an age of social media and QR codes, direct mail marketing is still relevant. It might be an old method, but it’s also a proven one.
“If you have a TV or a radio advertisement, there’s no guarantee that anyone will see it,” Fox says. “Everyone is going to see your flyer in the mailbox. It’s always been the best market for us anyhow.”
We asked three direct mail experts: “What’s the most important thing to consider when planning a direct mail marketing campaign?” Here’s what they said:
“Your question about the most important thing about direct mail is a loaded question. It’s like asking what’s the most important part in a car? Motor, wheels … Direct mail is a complete process which, unfortunately, most pizza operators don’t commit to.”
–– Mark Sibilia, president of the MPP Marketing Group
“I’d say the list or target audience would be the most important thing.”
–– Jay Siff, CEO of Moving Targets
“The perception of added value is king. For example, if one of your offers is ‘$5 OFF Any $15 Order’, you are going to lose $5 in margin on every order that comes in. If you substitute a $5.00 ‘perceived customer value,’ such as breadsticks, your food costs may only be $0.75 –– saving you $4.25 in margin per order. As an added benefit, this empowers you to include the word ‘FREE’ on your coupons. Nothing sells more, or catches more eyeballs, than ‘free’ offers.”
–– Chris Barr, Marketing Director of Taradel LLC
Robert Lillegard is a Wisonsin-based freelance writer living in Duluth, Minnesota.