A vital tool for your marketing tool chest
How one company uses direct mail to differentiate its company and increase awareness of its surveying capabilities
BY KATHY BAST
Surveyors are involved in many different aspects of the built environment. They serve a wide variety of clients, from residential and commercial developers, land owners and attorneys to architects, engineers and public agencies. Keeping in touch with a large number of clients and prospects on a regular basis can be a costly and time-consuming task. That’s why we at KS Associates, a civil engineering and surveying firm in Elyria, embarked upon a direct-mail initiative.
The number one goal of our direct-mail campaign was to remain top of mind in the marketplace and be the first company people think of when they need surveying services. We wanted a way to communicate the value KS Associates brings to surveying projects, and to reinforce our brand and identity in the markets we serve.
We developed a series of six postcards mailed to more than 2,500 contacts over a 10-month timeframe. This is the inside track on what it took to execute a successful campaign, along with tips on how other professional services organization can develop DM initiatives.
1. Identify the audience. The first thing you need to do before launching a direct-mail campaign is to evaluate your audience. That means developing a list of current and prospective buyers, then crafting a message that speaks directly to those decision-makers. Once your list is final, the number of contacts you have will help determine the medium (electronic vs. print) and overall design direction. With 2,500 contacts in our database, we decided to print six postcards at one time to reduce printing costs. We also wanted to invest all of the work upfront to ensure that we would, in fact, mail consistent-looking pieces according to a pre-determined schedule. Another cost-cutting measure was to eliminate an envelope and go with a self-mailer.
2. Craft your message: Once you determine your delivery method, the next step is to craft your message. Our approach was to focus on attributes that set us apart from competitors rather than on specific technical capabilities. In Client Satisfaction Surveys, we discovered that some of our clients perceived surveying to be a commodity. We therefore positioned KS Associates as the value leader by communicating our differentiators, such as dependability, accuracy and responsiveness.
To communicate the firm’s attributes, each postcard uses a metaphor that reflects the manner in which the Survey Group services clients. One postcard, for example, depicts a black dog jumping through a ring with the title, “Jumping Through Hoops for our Clients.” The canine theme is carried throughout by using words such as “hard-working” and “loyalty.” Another card, “The Degree of Difference,” shows a thermometer registering 99°C., just 1° short of boiling. The corresponding text explains that even though KS Associates is just one degree different than other firms, it means the difference between a “lukewarm project or a smoking hot success.”
3. Use client quotes: To substantiate the claims KS Associates made about its services, each postcard contains a quote from a client. The clients are genuinely giving KS Associates praise for the work performed on projects. “It’s one thing if you make claims about your firm; it’s much more powerful and credible when your clients make those claims for you,” Bast said.
Rather than simply sending a postcard as a one-way communication, KS Associates wanted to provide a way for clients to communicate back to the firm. We did this in two ways.
First, two of the six postcards included a perforated postage-paid business-reply card offering free Lunch-And-Learn sessions. Topics included how to specify the right type of survey for a project, or what to look for when hiring a professional surveyor. Although we received few requests for these seminars, we liked that the invitation provided an opportunity to convey the message that KS Associates is an expert in these areas.
Each postcard also includes a call-to-action, directing clients to the KS Web site. Each time a post card is mailed, a project reflecting a specific attribute (accuracy, dependability, etc.) is swapped out on the Survey Group’s home page.
KS Associates is more than satisfied with the results of the campaign for several reasons. First, the program supports business development efforts of the Survey Group director, who has taken on a greater sales role as a result of the company’s growth. According to Mark A. Yeager, P.S., “It is impossible for me alone to regularly reach out and touch a large number of people who procure our services. The direct-mail campaign helps keep our company name in front of decision-makers, and makes my job of selling our services much easier—people recognize the KS name and are more willing to speak with me, especially those who may have never worked with us in the past.”
We also track the number of hits to our website. Each time a postcard is mailed, Web traffic spikes. Our web statistics reveal that people are hitting the Survey Group pages to learn more about those specific services.
Most importantly, clients are responding. KS Associates receives a steady stream of comments about its market visibility from clients and colleagues, either anecdotally or through formal programs such as Client Satisfaction Surveys. One architect noted he placed KS Associates on his project team because he sees the firm every time he opens his mail. Another client mentioned that he had been searching for a company to perform surveying services in tunnels. He saw the postcard with a picture of a KS surveyor in a tunnel, and found the resource he was looking for.
Even if the client does not pinpoint the campaign directly, we knows this has been an effective tool in our marketing tool chest. Direct mail is helping us remain visible in an increasingly competitive marketplace. BXM
Kathleen Bast is marketing director of KS Associates, a civil engineering and surveying firm located in Elyria, Ohio. The direct mail campaign won second place in the 2007 Society for Marketing Professional Services National Marketing Communications competition. www.ksassociates.com