From the September 1996 issue of Startups

For mail order catalogs, the Christmas season marks the single largest sales volume period of the year. In today's highly competitive market, smaller mail order marketers have to constantly think of new and better ways to generate more and bigger sales to current customers, as well as build their new customer base.

By using special advertising techniques in your holiday promotions, you can take advantage of this once-a-year buying frenzy to increase your sales volume and new customer list.

Richard Siedlecki, an independent mail order marketing and management consultant with over 31 years of experience, has some useful advice. He specializes in mail order and catalog marketing, strategic planning and new business development. In addition to his private consulting practice, Siedlecki acts as a seminar leader for mail order marketing at Emory and Kennesaw State universities in Georgia, and is on the advisory board of the National Mail Order Association (NMOA).

"The very first thing an entrepreneur should do when developing a holiday promotion," says Siedlecki, "is to determine-in writing-the mission and purpose of the promotion. Then the marketing and the methods of promotion will usually become clearer and more focused."

Siedlecki suggests asking yourself the following questions:

What are the goals and objectives of the promotion? What should be the emphasis in the marketing effort-getting new prospects or generating more business from current customers?

Do you want to develop new customers? If so, then start thinking along the lines of free holiday services (such as free gift-wrapping), a free catalog ("Gifts Under $50 Christmas Catalog," for example), or special holiday discount offers or mail-in coupons.

Do you want regular customers to be able to order from a special selection of holiday gifts? If so, you can offer a specially priced value line of merchandise available to VIP customers only. This special selection of "just for the holidays" merchandise should be attractively priced to encourage fast sales.

How can you get them to come back for more? Your promotional efforts can concentrate on after-the-sale promotions, otherwise known as "backend marketing." For example, in the customer's merchandise fulfillment package (the package in which the customer's order is shipped), you can enclose a "thank-you-for-your-order" letter, along with a flier that spotlights specially priced merchandise. You can also include a coupon for a premium (a low cost item with perceived high value, usually complementing the product being shipped). For example, if you're marketing baking and cooking products, you could offer a free set of Christmas cookie molds whenever customers order your baking utensils. You can also adopt backend marketing programs that feature samples of merchandise.

The number of different holiday offers available for you to use is limited only by your imagination. To prime your thinking pump, Siedlecki offers these idea-starters. Keep in mind, offers should include a deadline date which will prompt customers to act quickly.

Two-for-one offers. Two for the price of one, and the many different ways this can be expressed-"Buy one, get one free," "Buy one at regular price, and the next one is a penny," etc.-have been proven to attract bargain buyers and stimulate sales.

Baker's dozen. This time-proven extra bonus-"Buy 12 items, get the 13th one free"-makes people feel they're getting more than they paid for.

Preferred-customer discount. People love to feel special; it's just human nature. This offer not only builds sales, but also customer satisfaction and rapport.

Free gift-wrapping. This is a "convenience bonus" which provides a free service that makes the buyer's life a little easier. It's a good example of a low-cost way to provide extra value with what you sell.

Free shipping and handling. This service gives shoppers an extra reason to order by mail-they don't even have to pay extra for the convenience.

Special discount for orders totaling a pre-set amount. This is a good way of promoting and rewarding higher volume orders, rather than offering a flat discount on any order amount.

Free "Christmas Dollars." Offer simulated "play" money that can be used toward purchases during a predetermined period. For example, each piece of "currency" might state: "Order before this date and use this $20 Santa bill on any purchase of $100 or more!"

Upgrade to a more deluxe model available at a bargain rate. For a slightly higher cost, the customer can order a more expensive style or model of the item they've selected.

Free personalization. Personalized merchandise is always popular, and it's a low-cost way of adding a higher perceived value.

Free holiday surprise gift. Remember Cracker Jacks, and the "hidden surprise" in every box? Most people like pleasant surprises; again, it's human nature. It's also a way to move discontinued or slow-moving merchandise off your warehouse shelves. You clear out your stockroom, customers are happy to receive something they didn't expect, and everybody gets a warm holiday feeling!

The purpose of all of these ideas for special offers is to increase sales. These tips should give you a head start on developing your next holiday catalog. Here is one more tip: Start a holiday idea file. Every time you come up with an idea, or find one that another company is using, write it down or cut it out, and file it for future reference. And remember, many of the ideas can be easily adapted and used for other holidays or special event days. We have been talking about the Christmas season, but there are 34 other special days in the year that you can build promotions and special sales around. Can you name them? Send $2.00 P&H to the NMOA at 2807 Polk St. NE, Minneapolis, MN 55418-2954 (or call 612-788-1673) and I'll send you the list-along with a copy of Mail Order Digest, the association's newsletter.


John D. Schulte has been involved in mail order, catalog and direct-mail marketing for 15 years, and is chief manager of the NMOA.

Contact Source

Richard Siedlecki Consulting, 4767 Lake Forrest Dr. NE, Atlanta, GA 30342-2539, (404) 303-9900.