Direct marketing: ways to find new customers

Direct marketing is any unsolicited contact your business makes with existing or potential customers in order to generate sales or raise awareness.

Direct marketing: ways to find new customers

It allows you to generate a specific response from targeted groups of customers, and is a particularly useful tool for small businesses because it allows you to:

· focus limited resources where they’re most likely to produce results

· measure the success of campaigns accurately by analysing responses

· test your marketing – you can start with a representative sample of your target audience and see what delivers the best response rates before developing a full campaign

A direct marketing campaign can help you to achieve the following key objectives:

· increase sales to existing customers

· build customer loyalty

· re-establish lapsed customer relationships

· generate new business

· Inform your customers of new products or services

Mail shots

Direct mail is often dismissed as junk mail, but it can be highly effective in both business and consumer markets if it’s properly planned and researched.

As well as a mailing letter, you typically might include a range of enclosures such as a product brochure, order form and pre-paid reply envelope. Don’t cut corners in preparing your materials – the success of your mail shot depends on it. You can read a step-by-step guide to all aspects of direct mail on the Royal Mail website, here

Database handling

Selling to existing customers is far easier and cheaper than finding new ones. That’s why your customer database is one of your most valuable assets. You need to clean your list regularly by removing or amending incorrect data. Failure to do so wastes your money, and your data could become unusable within three years.

There’s a range of commercial list providers you can use to generate lists of both businesses and consumers. You can find details of list providers on the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) website,

Leaflet drops and handouts

Leafleting is probably the simplest and cheapest form of direct marketing. It may be worth considering unaddressed leaflet drops and street handouts if you want to promote your business to consumers in your local area. The drawback of this form of marketing is that it is not targeted.

If you want to get a leaflet into every home in the area (blanketing), using the postal service is a possible alternative to organising your own door-to-door distribution and may make it more likely that recipients will read your leaflet. Or you could consider using your local free paper to include your leaflets.

Email marketing

Email is a relatively cheap form of direct marketing – a message can be sent to thousands of recipients for low cost. However, care and preparation are required to target the exact people you need to reach with the appropriate message or you risk being blocked from further communication.

Email software can produce eye-catching electronic newsletters with built-in response mechanisms to make measuring response rates simple. If you don’t have in-house expertise, there are specialist companies that can help develop newsletters and customise them for particular audiences.

However, there are disadvantages too. Increasingly sophisticated anti-spam software means that many marketing emails are deleted before they arrive at their destination. See our guide on email marketing.

Help for direct marketing

Small businesses may wish to design and deliver their own local leaflet drops, and conduct their own telemarketing calls or direct mail offers using their customer base.

As mentioned, Royal Mail offers a number of guides and online tools to help businesses design and specify their own direct mail.

Agencies and consultants offer a range of skills, including:

· planning campaigns

· setting budgets

· finding your target audience

· creating materials

· managing the distribution process

You can search for a direct marketing specialist on the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) website as above.

Alternatively you could project manage your own direct mail using professional copywriters and design and print specialists.

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