How to capture wary consumers
"You can't knock on the door or send a piece of mail asking for business until you warm up the customer," says Burke

"You can't knock on the door or send a piece of mail asking for business until you warm up the customer," says Burke. "The best way is to give something for free that's of value to your target customer.

"Working with Bellevue, Wash., marketing consultant James P. Cecil, for example, Burke was hired to help an insurance broker client break into the trucking industry. Research into trucking showed that staff turnover was rife; government regulation was intense; and CEO peer interaction was nonexistent. Plus, truck owners tended to be stubborn.

So Burke and team decided to warm things up.

They planned a six-month campaign, tapping three top-level experts who could speak to each of three issues: How to recruit, train and retain drivers; how best to deal with regulatory issues; and how to motivate lone-wolf CEOs.

Each expert taped a talk, offering strategies and advice on the issues. The cassettes went out in six-week intervals, each accompanied by a letter from the broker simply saying the owner might find the cassette worth a listen.

"Only after sending the tapes and providing value did salespeople make calls," says Burke.

Before any direct marketing, Burke suggests you find positive answers to these questions:

Is the message targeted to the right customer?
Is it creative? In other words, will people pay attention?
Will it provide value before the sale?

Make your campaigns relevant.

Even when campaigns demand mass-market coverage, make sure you craft appropriate incentives. Then see that the messages get in front of particular customers you want to reach no matter how large the group.

"We're in a scenario of rising costs and falling effects," says Dane Madsen, chief executive officer at YellowPages.com. As a result, it's important to make your message credible and targeted, he says. That goes for every channel. "If the message doesn't sound good in the offline world, it won't work in the online world, either," he says.

Based in Las Vegas, YellowPages.com provides a free online directory of more than 14 million U.S. business listings. For marketing efforts through 2002, YellowPages.com will be sending out 26 million business inquiries via e-mail and other direct marketing outlets, says Madsen. The leads were gleaned from VeriSign, Juno and Pitney Bowes.

With about 23 million businesses in the country, YellowPages.com expects companies to receive multiple messages. But Madsen is confident that discounts, incentives and benefits will reach his targets. The lists have been screened, cleaned and filtered. For instance, inquiries are going only to Juno users that are businesses. Madsen's advice:

Focus on customers looking for your service or product.
Offer incentives and special products.
Send your message more than once.

Nobody gets something for nothing. If you want customers to give you the time of their day, give them something of value first.

-Joanna L. Krotz

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