Q: I've heard about direct-mail postcards as a way to get the word out affordably, but I don't know much about it. Is it something that can help me drum up more business for my homebased gift basket business?

A: The direct-mail postcard is a powerful, yet very affordable, marketing tool for many types of businesses, including yours. With a compelling message on a 4-by-6 (or whatever size you choose) postcard and the right mailing list of potential and current customers, you can get business coming to you without having a Coca-Cola-sized advertising budget.

Here are four reasons you should consider leveraging direct-mail postcards in your marketing efforts:

  1. Cost efficiency. Your printing costs are lower than a full-size direct-mail package because you don't have envelopes, inserts and other materials that need printing. Also, as long as your postcard is 4-by-6 or smaller, your postage is at the lower postcard rate (21 cents) instead of the first class rate (34 cents). The difference adds up when you're mailing out to a few thousand prospects.
  2. More likely to be read. With the recent anthrax scare, people are leery of opening envelopes from businesses they don't recognize. Furthermore, the envelope is a barrier to your message because you need to convince the recipient to actually open the envelope to read your offer. With the right balance of copy and graphics, you can grab recipients' attention from the get-go.
  3. Multiple uses. Create a postcard mailer to announce things like:
    • New product or service
    • New client
    • New sale or special offer or invitation to sample a product or service
    • New Web site launch
    • New location or expansion
    • New seminar or something like a "lunch and learn" workshop
    • New promotional event, such as a book signing or musical guest or entertainment for kids
  4. Measurability. You can measure the effectiveness of your campaign on several levels. What's your response rate? For example, if you send out 2,000 postcards that generate 100 inquiries, you've achieved a 5 percent response rate, which is pretty decent. Of those who respond, what is the percentage of people who actually buy from you? When people buy as a result of the mailer, what is the average purchase amount? Armed with this information, you're equipped to adjust your campaign to maximize future success.

When should you implement a direct-mail postcard campaign? To maximize effectiveness, you should do a mailer on a consistent basis, such as monthly or at least quarterly. Prospects who don't respond to your offer in month one may respond in a few months after becoming more familiar with your business through your mailers.

Should you print out your postcard using print software and your inkjet printer to save on cost or should you use a professional printer? I suggest using a professional printer, but it doesn't have to cost you a lot of cash. Talk with a local printer to explore creative ways of working together. You might be able to work out a win-win barter arrangement to make the printing costs more affordable.

The bottom line: Whether you need to generate new business or do a better job at drawing customers back to you, a direct-mail postcard is an effective and affordable marketing tool to do the job. Brainstorm what you want to announce. Build relationships with local printers. And put your postcards to work for you.

Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.