It sounds about as modern and up-to-date as silver-gelatin prints and watching the birdy. In the age of social networking and pay-per-click advertising, the idea of sending marketing material via the post office feels like a trip back to the 1950s, the time when mailboxes first started filling up with unwanted bits of paper.
And yet, as any trip to your own mailbox will tell you, businesses still do it. In fact, Americans receive a total of about 4 million tons of junk mail every year. That’s an awful lot of overflowing recycle bins but if businesses are still filling envelopes, then there’s a good chance it still works. According to the Direct Marketing Association, an advocacy group, more than $173 billion was spent on direct marketing in the United States in 2007, generating over $2 trillion in incremental sales. Eighty percent of advertising material is at least scanned before being binned, the organization says.
At Least Paper Junk Arrives
The association’s definition of direct marketing is likely to be pretty broad to incorporate those sorts of figures – and its idea of “scanning” might well include a glance to affirm you’re not throwing out the gas bill — but it is easy to understand the appeal. Eight out of ten mailbox leaflets might be seen but spam filters knock out around ninety percent of marketing material sent by email. At least paper junk reaches its destination.
Direct marketing firms are also much better at targeting than in the past. DirectMail.com, a company which used to be known as the DM Group and which has been in business for 35 years, now has a “geoselector” that allows businesses to build a list of recipients by location and lifestyle, and even to see pictures, a “personality tree,” and a detailed profile of the sort of people they’re aiming at.
And the product range is broad too. Direct mail companies will print and deliver door hangers, rack cards and calendars in additional to the traditional catalogs and flyers.
But is this an approach a photography business should take?
In theory there’s no reason why not. The flexibility of today’s list builders make it possible for photographers to identify businesses that might need photography services, young families considering portraits and even new graduates in the first years after college who might be thinking of hiring a wedding photographer.
The costing isn’t unattractive either. To send 1,000 postcards using DirectMail.com will cost a little over $400. With an average response rate that ranges from 0.25 percent to 1 percent, a wedding photographer could reasonably expect to pick up between 2.5 and ten jobs from that mailout.
Or to put it another way, direct marketing can let a photographer buy a job for between $160 and $40. For work that can cost several thousand dollars, that might not be a bad deal and it might well be more effective than a newspaper listing or even pay-per-click advertising.
Make your Junk Mail Valuable
Those response rates are a typical figure supplied to us by DirectMail.com, but when it comes to direct marketing, photographers might well have an advantage. One of the rules for handing out anything for free – even ads – is to make the freebie valuable. It’s hard for a plumber to make a postcard valuable, but photographers sell postcards. A photography marketing piece that included a beautiful image is much more likely to kept, stuck to the fridge and eventually acted on than a leaflet with a phone number and a drawing of a blocked sink.
The fact that it’s also possible to focus a list on a specific area means that the photographer could even make sure that the image had local appeal. Instead of just showing a photo of a wedding couple, for example, the photographer could make a local landmark the focal point of the image with the couple providing an additional romantic touch. Recipients could be tempted to hold on to the image because it’s pleasant to look at – exactly what a photographer is supposed to do – while couples could find the romantic addition inspiring enough to make contact.
And if a business holds on to your calendars because the receptionist likes the pictures, there’s a good chance that their own marketing people will understand the benefits of producing their own professionally-shot calendars for their clients.
Of course, direct marketing like this isn’t for everyone. Junk mail is, after all, very annoying and while you might pick up one job for every 100 postcards you send out, it’s possible that you’ll alienate the other 99 recipients. Other marketing methods can also be at least as effective without any of the drawbacks. Craigslist, for example, is free, annoys no one and according to photographers we’ve spoken to can deliver a budget wedding booking for every ten to fifteen listings.
But it always pays to diversify your marketing streams and for photographers targeting businesses in particular, a trip back to the world of print and paper might be one effective way of getting your foot in the door.