The Magic in Knowing a Name

I was waiting for my plane to board recently, when a little boy about three or four years old had just about come to the end of his patience level. He was running all over the place, bouncing off walls, getting underfoot, and causing a little general disruption as kids under five can do, when they've about had it.

His mother kept yelling: "Joshua, don't do that . . . Joshua, come here this instant . . . Joshua get of there . . . Joshua, sit down!"

The plane got ready to board, and the young boy was now in the jetway. Sitting down. Standing up. Running around. Sitting down again.

I grabbed my carry-ons and started down the jetway. As I passed Joshua, I said, "Look out Josh, you're going to get run over." He got up, ran to his mother, and yelled, "MOM, HE KNOWS ME . . . HE KNOWS MY NAME!" Amazing. Now we were buddies. He waved to me as he passed my seat on the plane.

In the kitchen and bath market, just knowing your customer's name and using it creatively can do wonders for your sales. And in direct mail, it can get you tremendous results.

If you're using a direct-mail campaign for your next promotion, you know that results can be minimal. In fact, in many ways, it's kind of a crap-shoot, depending on the number of pieces, how strong your message is and related factors. I know that sometimes we're lucky if we get a one-half of one percent response on a mailing.

And sometimes those mailings cost a lot. Besides the cost of producing and printing the piece itself, there's stuffing, sealing, stamping and sending. Postage rates are high, and response can be low. Many times, to reduce costs, we use the same letter for everyone. It usually begins: "Dear friend," "Dear customer," "Dear homeowner," or something equally bland and generic.

Of course, if the letter was addressed to you personally, and began with "Hi John" (assuming, of course, that that's your name) you'd probably feel a little differently about it. Or maybe "Dear Mr. Jones," or "We thought this would be perfect for John Jones.

It would at least get your attention for a few more seconds. Responses do go up dramatically if the direct-mail piece has the reader's name at the beginning. People like it when you know their names.

How to proceed
Despite the wisdom of using first names on direct-mail pieces, the reality is that many kitchen and bath dealers don't have up-to-date mailing lists, sophisticated mail-merge computer programs or the time or the money to put together individualized, personalized letters. In those cases, there are a couple of things you might try when it's time for your next mailing.

For starters, consider sending out just a few letters a day that are personalized, rather than generic, to see if using your customer's or prospect's name in the letter increases the pulling power and is worth the extra time and cost.

You could also consider using the same technique as a friend of mine in the publishing business uses to grab readers' attention. He sends the same letter to a number of people (maybe 300 or 400 at a time), and in the letter he lists the names of about 100 of his customers. The letter states, "For our best customers, if your name is listed below, you can order the current or new products (whatever he's promoting) at 40% less than the retail price." Or it could be 20%, or any other figure you choose. It depends upon the product or service you're offering.

The first thing people do when they read one of these letters is check to see if their name appears on the list. If their name is there, they feel special. They feel honored that he thinks about them as one of his better customers.

My publishing friend told me that the first time he sent out these letters, he knew it was going to work immediately because people called him to ask why their names weren't on the list. And they wanted to know if they were entitled to the discount. People call him. He sells product.

Sometimes he gets very creative with the list. In his last letter, I noticed my name was between Alfonse D'Amato and Joey Buttafuoco. I guess it was a "New York" list. But generally, he does list his most recent customers, some of his better-known customers and certainly some of his best customers. He tells me he achieves a 15% response rate on these letters - a substantial improvement over the 1% response his letters get when he doesn't list the names.

Remember: People love to hear their names. People love to see their names.

The more you use them, the more likely you are to get a positive response to a direct-mail campaign.

Many alternatives
How you do all of this is entirely up to you. You can roll the dice and spend big bucks with a personalized approach and customized letters to thousands of people. Or you can do a few at a time to see if it works first. Then again, you can be clever and creative - simply to give the appearance of personalization.

But how you do it doesn't matter. All that matters is whether it works. You see, direct mail is a "what" medium, not a "why" medium. We know "what" works, but we seldom know "why." We know for a fact that the more personalized a letter is, the better response we'll get.

It starts with using the recipient's name on the envelope (never send something to "occupant"). And the name has to be spelled correctly. Then, when you use the person's name in your letter, it really gets the reader's attention. It's a rifle-shot approach to buckshot marketing. It could also give you a bigger bang for your buck!

P.S. Don't forget, too, that the "P.S." is the most important part of your letter. Many times people scan the letter and go right to the P.S. If you personalize the P.S., it's three times as effective. A good postscript can make the recipients want to go back and reread your entire letter.

So, if you do have to send a form letter to everyone, you might consider adding a handwritten P.S. to the letters going to your most important customers. The few minutes it takes you to write a sentence by hand to your best customers could pay off big in terms of a better response rate and increased sales.

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