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Monday, 31 October 2005 17:00

Postcards are an inexpensive way to reach out

Written by Tom Franklin

These days hardly anyone escapes receiving reams of junk mail every day. If you're like me, you throw many pieces of mail into the round file without even opening the envelope. But there is one kind of promotional mail you almost can't avoid glancing at: the glossy color postcard. 

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Realtors send postcards with entrancing photos of mansions they recently sold (or are hoping to sell). Restaurants send postcards with enticing photos of food. Entertainment events are often promoted with postcards portraying attractive performers or actors. And I even receive a monthly postcard from a gardener showing off his latest landscaping assignment.

Economy and convenience

The fact that postcards are read more often than letters and other materials inside of envelopes would be reason enough to prefer to send postcards. But an equally important reason is cost. Today digital color printing gives you full-color printed materials for a fraction of the cost of color materials that once had to be printed on four-color offset presses. An 8 1/2"x 11" sheet printed with color on both sides can cost as little as 60 cents each. Printing with color on one side and black and white on the other side is even cheaper. Cutting four postcards out of the sheet can reduce the per card cost to about 15 cents in quantity.

Additional economy is provided by the post office which currently charges only 23 cents per postcard. Given this printing cost and this postal rate, postcards are by far the most cost effective of all promotional mailing methods.

A full arsenal of postcard missiles

While postcards alone are no substitute for live visits, phone calls, or personalized letters, they can be a shop's most powerful means of connecting and staying in touch with customers, prospective customers, agents, DRP decision-makers, dealerships, fleet and commercial prospects, business exchange prospects and more. The following is a brief summary of possible card types:

• Estimate Follow-up cards 1, 2 & 3

• Thank-you cards 1 & 2

• CSI card

• Prior customer card

• Referral reward card

• Referral source info card to agents, DRP contacts, and dealerships

• Commercial fleet biz card

• Announcement card for events

• Neighborhood discount & coupon card for seniors, students, parents, stores, etc.

Estimate follow-up cards

One shop owner I called on had three postcards he sent out after doing an estimate. The first one thanked the prospect for coming in. If that didn't bring in the customer, the second card offered a special discount and free rental car for both the prospect and anyone he or she might refer. With still no result, the third card offered everything possible: free pick-up and delivery, complete detail inside and out, and even some extra mechanical services. This shop owner told me this post card system had kept his shop filled to capacity for years. He never had to do any other advertising or promotion.

His marketing philosophy is consistent with a view of marketing experts who say that the cost of bringing a new customer to any place of business is so high these days, that every business owner should do everything possible to retain any prospect who sets foot in the door! This shop owner followed that advice perfectly with his escalating postcard offers.

Standard thank you cards

Most estimating systems and management systems come with built-in thank you letters - the impersonal kinds of letters you might receive from your bank or insurance agent. You can tell at a glance they're computer-generated. Nevertheless, they're better than no thank you letter at all. But one shop owner I know of took a more real, more effective and more artistic approach to sending a thank-you. He put before-and-after photos with the thank-you letter. You can be sure no customer would quickly forget that thank you!

This was in the days before digital color postcards. Today it would be a simple matter to put the before photo on the front side of a postcard, and the after photo on the other side. Not only would your customer not forget that repair, but he or she would probably keep that postcard for years.


The "thank you" selling card

The following card text appeared in an earlier article this year:

"We appreciate your business."

As our way of saying "thank you" for being a customer of Anytown Auto Collision Center, we have arranged to provide you with a free rental car for up to three days - if you have damage on your vehicle again and bring it back to Anytown Auto Collision Center for repairs.

If you already have rental car coverage, we will treat this "thank you" as a $75.00 coupon that you can use as a credit against your deductible, to be deducted from a self-pay repair amount. Or you can reduce any towing charges that are not covered by your policy.

Additionally, if you refer a friend or family member for a repair, we will honor this "thank you" coupon for them on your behalf. If you or your company have company vehicles, we will further extend this coupon offer to the first three vehicles that are brought in to us. This will apply to the repair and refinish of any scratches, dents or dings on the vehicles that could be giving the company a bad image on the street.

Again, thank you for being our valued customer. We are pleased to offer these return visit and referred visit rewards. When you are in need of our services, call us toll free at (800) 555-1234. For towing, call 555-123-1234.

At Anytown Auto Collision Center, we appreciate your business and look forward to continuing to provide you with excellent service.


Andy Shopman, Owner

Anytown Auto Collision Center"

This card is to be read to the customer by the estimator when the vehicle is delivered. The intent is to generate additional business! (Contact me for the full article if you missed it).

The customer satisfaction survey

The C.S.I. postcard is an excellent way to get fast feedback from customers. The postcard is pre-stamped. All the customer has to do is check off the appropriate boxes, from excellent to lousy, make a few comments, and drop the card in the closest mailbox. Some shop owners post up favorable cards where waiting customers and prospects can read them.

An even more important use of favorable customer comments is to capture them on a monthly postcard mailing to agents, DRP contact people, dealership principals, commercial fleet managers, and other potential referral sources. This steady drumbeat of favorable comments gradually builds a positive image in the minds of the recipients and increases your odds of getting that referral business.

The prior customer contact card

This card should be the workhorse business-building card in every shop. Prior customers should be contacted on a regular basis. Ten of these cards mailed each day, 50 cards in 5 days, in 52 weeks that's 2,600 cards to 2,600 prior customers. A 5% return is 130 customers. At 10%, it's 260 customers. At an average cost of $100 a month, no shop can afford not to do this simple promotion. By adding a coupon on the opposite side, this can also become a "Referral Reward" card. Here's the text that appeared in an earlier article:

Dear Friend & Customer:

If we haven't seen you in quite a while, we hope that means you haven't had an accident and that your car is running well. We wouldn't want you to have an accident just to come in and see us, but we know that many cars get minor dents and dings from inconsiderate drivers in parking lots. You might be surprised at the low cost of fixing those dents and dings at our shop.

Also today's acid rain can harm the fine paint finish on our cars. Ordinary car washes may fail to remove oxidation and contaminants from a car, but by using our professional buff and polish equipment we can do the job. Keeping you car in good condition will maintain the resale value of it and will give you greater pleasure from seeing it look like new.

So it may be beneficial for you to stop by for a brief estimate, and to meet some of our new personnel. Give us a call and we'll arrange an estimate at a time that is convenient for you.


Unlimited postcard power

This is just an introduction to what you can do to promote your business with postcards, but just using even these few formats should greatly enhance the flow of prospective customers to your doors. And, given the low cost of this promotion, they should greatly increase your bottom line as well!

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.


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