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Why Small Business Direct Mail Campaigns Fizzle and Fail


Small business direct mail marketing campaign

“Happy Birthday. Enjoy the $20 gift card from your friendly Ichiban Steakhouse!” was printed prominently on the outside of a small envelope I received in Saturday’s mail.

So what if it arrived a few days after my birthday--it’s the thought that counts, right? Not to mention the fact that I’d been looking for an excuse to go out for some sushi and I figured their generous birthday promotion just had to be it. That is, until I read the rest of the gift card.

“…with minimum purchase of $100 dinner.”

With minimum purchase of $100 dinner? Am I reading this right? That seems like a ridiculously high minimum for a “birthday” promotion. After all, what if I want to celebrate alone? $100 in sushi and stir fry would almost certainly put me on par with some of the world’s most famous competitive eaters or even possibly Adam Richmond, star of television’s Man vs. Food.

Beyond the exorbitant “minimum order” dollar amount, they also completely missed the boat by stipulating the offer was only good the week of my birthday. Remember, the gift card arrived in my mail box a few days after my official birthday so that technically left only one day before it expired. So much for allowing me enough time to actually redeem their gift card.

The final blow to their (and most other) direct mail birthday promotions is asking for ID. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are dishonest folks out there who lie and say it’s their birthday just to get a free piece of pie, but do we really have to card everyone to prove it's their birthday?

Restaurants and other small businesses create direct mail campaigns to attract and retain customers and drive sales. However, as was the case with Ichiban Steakhouse, all too often the attractiveness of their direct mail incentives are outweighed by unreasonable, and often unnecessary.

As you plan your next direct mail (email) campaign, keep the following three tips in mind:

  1. Think like your customers. How much money do they typically spend on your products and services without a discount? Look at your average transactions over time for some insight. Then, based on that information, determine how much of an incentive they’ll need to convert your coupons into actual sales.
  2. Avoid quick expiration dates. You must give your customers enough time to actually redeem your coupons. When you only give them a week, there’s a pretty good chance the promotion will expire before they ever have a chance to use it.
  3. Limit the small print and stipulations--they only create barriers that will keep potential customers from making a purchase. For me, there’s nothing more frustrating than going to redeem a coupon only to find out it isn’t good on Saturdays, requires a really high minimum purchase, or requires proper ID to get a free birthday dessert.

I want to hear from you. Small business owners: which direct mail promotions do you find work best with your customers? Consumers: which direct mail promotions do you typically gravitate towards and why?

Needless to say, I didn’t enjoy the $20 gift card from my friendly Ichiban Steakhouse. I guess there’s always next year?

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