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Keep Those Postcards Coming: Don’t Abandon Traditional Marketing Tools

Originally published: 05.01.11 by Terry Tanker

Last month I wrote about how social media, wireless devices, and other technologies are shining the spotlight — repeatedly and annoyingly — on famous and important people who don’t think before they speak and wind up with a foot in the mouth. (See “Fools Rush to Speak, and Their Reputations Suffer,” Page 5, April 2011.)

Obviously these technologies have changed how we communicate, especially how businesses communicate with their customers. But sometimes their role as “disruptive technologies” is overblown. We’ve been providing how-to articles on multiple aspects of Internet-based marketing for several years now because our readers tell us that they need this information. For many of them, social media, SEO, and the like are entirely new concepts. Recently, a discussion on a Service Roundtable Daily Digest forum got us thinking that we haven’t been writing about the more “traditional” forms of marketing much lately, and our readers might think it’s because we think them irrelevant.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Print ads, T.V. spots, radio commercials, direct mail — all remain powerful marketing tools for today’s HVACR contractors. Websites, online newsletters, blogs, and social media sites are merely additional tools. It would be a

mistake to ignore them, but it would be a bigger mistake to abandon what’s always worked.

The Service Roundtable discussion addressed postcard promotional mailings specifically. Alex Walter, owner of Alex Walter Furnaces A/C & More in Aurora, CO., weighed in on a discussion about whether direct mail postcards still work. They do, Walter said, and gave some best practices on using them that he’s learned over the years. We called Walter and asked why he thought postcards still work. His response was a) they are something different in a world of electronic information overload, so they get noticed, and b) some people still prefer this type of communication. 

Research backs him up. According to the Sixth Annual Marketing-GAP Tracker report from marketing research firm fast.MAP, almost 80% of adults open and read promotional mail, and — while this number is actually on the decline — the number of adults who open mail sent to them by companies they use is increasing. This tells me that the lesson for contractors is to still use direct mail, but make appropriate adjustments as your customers’ behaviors change. 

Referrals are still his No. 1 source of his new customers, Walter said, but he uses a variety of marketing tools also — traditional and new.

“There’s no one thing that suits everyone,” he said. “Some want text messages from you. Others don’t. Some people send an email to you, and they may or may not expect you to respond to them instantaneously.”

The one rule Walter has, regardless of the type of communication, is that the message has to be an elevator speech — complete but concise. Don’t try to cram too much information on a postcard or anything else. White space, he says, is golden because it accentuates your message.

Another tip from Walter: Don’t use a communication technology if it makes you less efficient. For example, even though he is the top dog at his business, he doesn’t screen his calls by letting them go to voice mail. Why not? 

“I consider that to be inefficient because then I’m playing telephone tag.”

By the way, we called Walter at 7 a.m. his time, and he still answered the phone.

Terry has over 23 years of experience in the advertising and publishing industries. He began his career with a business-to-business advertising agency. Prior to forming Hutchinson Tanker Ltd. and HVACR Business in January 2006, he spent 20 years with large national publishing and media firm where he was the publisher of several titles in the mechanical systems marketplace. 

In addition to his experience in advertising and publishing, Terry has worked closely with numerous industry-related associations over the years including AHRI, AMCA, and ABMA. He has also served on the Board of Directors for the American Boiler Manufactures Association (ABMA) and as chairman, for both the Associates Committee and the Marketing Communications Committee of ABMA.


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