Make It Your Business: Frequency, Reach and Terms of Engagement

Are your marketing efforts making an impact on your sales conversion rate?

I love Friday mornings. Not only because the weekend is squarely in sight, but I get to attend the Business Strategic Alliance meeting of the West Cobb (Georgia) Business Association. For 75 minutes each week, we table, discuss and tackle the various relevant and timely challenges facing small business owners today. Many an ingenious idea and solution has come from these meetings of-what we like to call-our own personal, informal Board of Directors. If you ever get a chance to form or join such a group, seize the opportunity. You won’t regret it. But, I digress.

Recently, the thought-provoking question of the week was, “With the barrage of marketing messages that we all receive each day, how often and by what means should a smart business owner contact customers and prospects in order to evoke the best response and reap the optimum sales conversion rate?”

The conundrum with most of the group members’ responses to this question was eerily similar to what many salespeople do in the face of sluggish sales, or customer resistance, indifference or rejection:

  • They talk more and listen less;
  • They speak faster and often louder;
  • They over-emphasize product features and fail to highlight the benefits to the customer; and
  • They act more nervous and less confident.

Today’s customer wants you to talk with her, not market at her. And it all begins with the frequency, reach and way with which you engage in a true, mutually-beneficial dialogue.

What’s the frequency?

Though most marketers are interested in the concept of optimal marketing impact, few know how to actually measure it. Common sense tells us that too few impressions-that’s the term commonly used for every singular attempt to direct a marketing message at an individual-won’t generate significant results, while too many impressions delivered to the same person tends to cause annoying over-saturation and a waste of marketing dollars.

During my seminars on small-business marketing, I often pose the following questions to attendees:

  1. In the course of a year, how often should a business initiate contact with a current client via mail, email, phone, text, social media, sales call or hosted event? How about with a prospective customer?
  2. How well are you doing maintaining your scheduled plan to contact prospects and clients on a frequent-enough basis?
  3. How do you measure the effectiveness of your marketing-communications efforts? Is sales conversion rate the only metric to track?

The typical answer I get to the first question is “it depends” or-worse-a range of numbers from one (“We mail out our catalog to everyone once a year”) to about 50 (“We send them an email to promote our specials weekly in hopes of getting them to place an order.”) I hope it’s obvious-it is to me and, actually, to most of the seminar attendees, as well-that any response that specifies a set frequency is virtually inconsequential and moot. There is not a “one-size-fits-all” answer to the question. Usually, at least one of the seminar participants will boomerang the question back at me.

In turn, I offer the following rules of thumb in determining how and with what frequency it is appropriate for a sign and digital graphics business to market to clients and prospects:

  • First and foremost, be bold. Adopt an approach that most competitors wouldn’t even think to do. Call, visit and/or poll every key client and target prospect and ask them directly how often and by what medium they would want to be contacted. Start with your top 20 percent customers and ideal prospects and see if their responses form a trend.
  • Separately, decide on a default frequency strategy for the different types of customers that don’t express a preference. If a client orders only once a year, quarterly communiqués are probably sufficient. If the client orders every week, no more than 12 “special” marketing messages should be adequate without running the risk of becoming a nuisance.
  • Use your best judgment for customers in between. Most research indicates that a frequency of less than three is a waste of money and more than seven starts to wear people’s patience thin and have diminishing returns. You’ll most likely find that you will decide the majority of your clients should be contacted between six and eight times during the year-but not everyone at the same six to eight times.

At very least, have a good and relevant reason for each attempted contact-such as, it’s the customer’s birth month,  it’s the anniversary of when they started to buy from you, or you’re celebrating your business’s anniversary with a sale (to name a few)-and vary the vehicle by which you convey the message. Don’t always just send an email blast or run the same tired ad in the local community paper.

Personalize the message to the intended recipient even though you are sending a mass mailing. There are a number of companies-such as Outstand.com, Constant Contact, Get Response, Campaigner and Mail Chimp-that can affordably help you manage and schedule personalized emails to your client and prospect lists. The same holds true for SMS texting services-such as EZTexting.com, MessageMedia and Trumpia. Regardless of the means of communications, having opt-in and opt-out choices for your email and text message recipients is a must.

The ultimate litmus test as to how often you should initiate contact with customers and prospects is asking yourself, “What lasting impression is my business leaving when it reaches out to communicate with our customers? Are we in front of them enough or too much? Will my efforts cause them to seek me out when they are in the market for my goods and services? Will they think of me first and go out of their way to do business with us?”

Reach vs. frequency

Here’s a good question: Is it more effective to touch 100 potential customers once or 25 potential customers four times? Reach and frequency are terms generally used when planning advertising campaigns. However, the concept of reach and frequency applies to any prospecting activity you undertake: direct mail, direct selling, and even networking.

Reach is the number of people you touch with your marketing message or the number of people that are exposed to your message. Frequency is the number of times you touch each person with your message. In a world of unlimited resources you would obviously maximize both reach and frequency. However, since most of us live in the world of limited resources we must often make decisions to sacrifice reach for frequency or vice versa.

For example, a Marietta, Georgia.-based sign shop that has decided to do a direct mail piece. They will have to decide whether to approach every real estate agency/brokerage and building management office in the eight-county, metro-Atlanta area only once or select two key counties surrounding Atlanta and mail to those clubs four times. When faced with decisions of reach versus frequency remember this- reach without frequency equals wasted marketing dollars. For years, marketing companies have professed that a “one to two percent response rate” to a direct mail piece was considered a successful campaign. I don’t buy that. It needs to be much better than two out of a hundred, don’t you think?

Marketing is the process of building a business relationship with potential customers and nurturing that relationship with current customers. Have you ever established a lifelong friendship with someone you had contact with only once? Probably not. Generally friendships (and all relationships for that matter) grow as a result of frequent contact over time. Even when the potential of forming a great friendship is there from the beginning, it is unlikely it will grow without nurturing.

Unfortunately, when it comes to actually implementing a marketing campaign, we often opt to sacrifice frequency for reach. And then we complain about the ineffectiveness of our promotional efforts. Undoubtedly one of the biggest wastes of marketing dollars is promotional activities that are implemented without adequate frequency.

Some final thoughts

The subjects of effective frequency and casting a broad net can be quite controversial. There are numerous studies with their own theories or models as to what the correct number and the best mediums are to achieve optimum impact. So, how many times does one’s target audience need to be exposed to varied marketing messages before the effort will likely trigger a response/sale?

Yes, your message and positioning need to be compelling and timing is key, but advertising and marketing work gradually over time. Frequently, sign and digital graphics business owners promote their business using a spray-and-pray methodology. While this occasionally generates some sales, the reality is that you need to develop a sound strategy and have multiple touch points whereby your message reaches your target audience from a combination of mediums.

A diversified marketing approach starts to create awareness of what your shop does, makes your enterprise appear perhaps larger than it is, and creates a local buzz gradually over time with frequent messages that reach your target audience.

At the end of the day, like it or not, your target audience will want to categorize your shop into a box. Your local reputation and brand will gradually take shape if you select a compelling message, stick to it for several years, and build on it over time with repetition-a.k.a. frequency. And when perspective clients eventually need your goods and services and transition into search mode, you will have a much better shot at ending up on the top of their list of businesses they are considering. Good luck!

Avatar of Matt Dixon

Matt Dixon

Matt Dixon is the executive editor of GRAPHICS PRO and WRAPS magazines. Before that he was served as editor of Sign & Digital Graphics and Sign Business Magazine. He can be reached at 720-566-7286.

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