Why Direct Mail Should Still be in your Trade Show Marketing Plans

July 21, 2014

It's easy to get caught up in the latest and "greatest" in technological gimmickry.  However, the tried-and-true methods still work, and you shouldn't overlook them when it's time to promote your trade show displays.

After all, direct mail is still one of the most-used methods for trade show outreach, accounting for an average of 30 percent of trade show attendees' ad spend.

Further, direct mail offers several distinct advantages over electronic communications. Even in this age of always-online customers and consistent beeping distractions, plain ole' "snail mail" is still a highly effective solution.

Getting the Most Out Of Direct Mail at a Trade Show

1 - Plan at least two campaigns.

Some say it's best to hit your leads early on, so they can pencil the trade show into their calendar.  Others say to wait until it's close to the show, to build immediate interest and excitement.  We say, do both.

An "awareness" campaign early on will tell people in an area that you're coming, but supplement it with more exciting materials as the trade show nears.  That way, you catch the long-term planners, as well as those who decide to attend on a whim.

2 - Optimize your geo-targeting.

There's now an absolute wealth of information online about cities, neighborhoods, and even specific city blocks and the people they contain.  It's no longer necessary to blanket an entire city.  With some time spent in research - or utilizing a marketing professional - you can quickly identify the districts and regions that will be most likely to attend a convention.

One of the big problems with direct mail is the relatively high costs of printing and mailing. This can be mitigated with smarter trade show outreach that reduces the size of the print job.

3 - Include Complementary Tickets

Hey, why over-think things?  If there's an entrance fee for the convention, send out freebies.  A free ticket to a trade show means, if nothing else, that person has something to do that weekend.  It's also going to get them ripping into your materials.

4 - Get More Personalized

Previously, it was usually necessary to order direct mail materials in large batches, to save on printing.  With computer-aided layout and printworks, it's now far easier -and more affordable- to introduce variations into a print job

Rather than running off ten thousand copies of the same materials, it's now possible to, for example, run off 10 variations, at one-thousand each, to create better targeting.

Or, it doesn't have to be that complex.  Something as simple as creating two versions, except one using "he" and the other using "she," could be highly effective when mailed out to the appropriate sexes.  Why worry about making gender-invisible "mass market" mailers when you could enhance their direct appeal with targeting based on gender instead?

The same can be true for targeting minority groups, fans of particular hobbies, or virtually any other demographic subdivisions you care to make.   If you're targeting Latinos, make a version that talks about Juan rather than John.  If you want geeks, talk about eSports like Starcraft instead of real sports like Football.

These are simple substitutions that a modern print shop can easily set up.

5 - Be Tactically Tactile

One of the biggest benefits to direct mail is that it offers something the Internet cannot:  actual physicality.  Online ads are necessarily limited to audio and visuals.  DM can incorporate all of the senses.

(O.K., granted, engaging the taste buds can be tricky, but it's possible.)

Try creating mailers that are legitimately interesting to hold and manipulate.  Use a variety of physical materials in their makeup.  To the fingers, it's like a multi-course meal.  It's a very subtle psychological effect, but in this age of soulless touchscreens, people can be starved of things that are actually fun to touch.

Likewise, if you can work in gimmicks that make the package fun to open, that adds to the experience.   Perhaps some sort of interesting origami fold, or a nested set of packages that all get tugged open in different ways.

6 - Include Digital "Sneak Peaks"

Since there are now numerous options for integrating digital materials into your marketing, they can even ride along with your direct physical mailers!   This is a great way to build interest in your products ahead of the show.

You've got two basic options here:

A.      Send out USB thumb drives.  They weigh almost nothing and one-gig versions are dirt cheap to buy in bulk these days.  You could include a full copy of your promotional materials, or a "teaser" video, or virtually anything else.  Plus, a branded memory stick is a nice reusable gift that keeps your name in circulation.


(Physical discs might also be possible, but they're a bit passé and seen as wasteful - and they can't be reused.)

B.      Attach QR Codes that lead to downloads on your website.  In practical terms, this is nearly the same, although leads don't get the nice freebie and might face long download times for a large file.  Still, it's a lot cheaper for you.

Either way, a headline like "Open here for your free video!" is a good way to get people looking at your direct mail materials, and build plenty of buzz!

And for that matter ...

7 - Use More QR Codes

Even if they aren't attached to downloads specifically, QR Codes (or other barcode styles) are virtually guaranteed to boost response rates to direct mail campaigns.  When literally all that's needed is to wave a smartphone in front of your mailer, you'll get responses out of people who might not otherwise be bothered.

Even something as simple as a mailing list or RSVP can get a lot more interaction. Better, this allows for direct digital tracking of response rates.  You'll know on a per-person basis how many of your mailers got someone's attention.

8 - Keep Tracking Your Results

Finally, for a direct mail campaign to really be successful, you should be tracking it in a data-rich environment.  A database of customers, response rates, and past campaign performance can quickly build a complete picture of which DM tactics work with your leads... and which don't.

Just like with tracking the performance of your trade show displays themselves, you should be looking to track as much data as possible with your trade show marketing.  This can be used to fine-tune campaigns, find more appealing approaches, discover new/better neighborhoods, or simply track which gimmicks/freebies get the most attention.

Direct Mail Still Has A Place in Trade Show Outreach

So, don't get too caught up trying to use the latest and greatest technological innovations in your trade show marketing.  The tried-and-true methods are still highly effective, especially when they're combined with more high-tech methods to boost their response rates.

The (relatively) high cost of direct mail can easily be mitigated with smart tactics, planning, and good data collection.  Keep this in mind, and you'll see a lot better results from your direct mailers - especially if you can make the mailers themselves fun to explore.


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