DIRECT MAIL: IS IT A GOOD SALES TOOL FOR HEARING PROFESSIONALS?

We chatted with Nikki Hughes, whose firm Beeman Marketing specializes in hearing aid marketing and audiology advertising, about the best way to use direct mail to reach potential customers for hearing devices.
Q. Why choose direct mail as a sales tool? 

Direct mail provides the highest volume of responses compared to all other advertising mediums.

It should not be the only marketing medium that you use, but it is the essential marketing element that holds up your business. Other mediums, while still important, don’t create enough response by themselves to create a highly profitable practice.


Q. What makes a great direct mail product? 
  • Urgency: Your direct mail needs a great call to action – contact us, visit us, call us  –  and a time limit. Otherwise your mail piece will be put aside and forgotten.  
  • Timing: The distribution of your mail should be planned in such a way that it arrives in homes with enough time to respond before a promotion ends. Certain days of the week are also better for responses than others. Holidays need to be figured into your promotion schedule as well.  
  • Quality of mailing list: Make sure your marketing company is using a high-quality data company that compiles results from multiple sources and updates the data monthly.
  • Design: You want quality design for your direct mail, but keep your target market in mind. Sometimes the simplest looking designs bring in the highest responses. A design you think looks very “high tech” and professional can backfire and be overwhelming or confusing to your target market.
Of course, your direct mail shouldn’t be ugly either! Your mail represents your unique brand. How do you want to be represented? Keep it simple but make sure it represents your business and how you want to be perceived.


Q. What are the different advantages of brochures, postcards and letters? 

We have a variety of factors that we analyze to determine the best format for a hearing care practice. We perform an analysis for each market looking at (among other factors), population density, socioeconomic factors, amount of competition and seasonality.

For example, a simple postcard may not do well for hearing care practices in a highly populated, affluent market but may do better in some rural areas with low competition.


Q. Why is direct mail a good sales tool for hearing professionals in particular? 

Really, direct mail is good for all industries. In a world where we are constantly bombarded with visual advertising, emails, and sound bites, it is refreshing to have something mailed to you that you can hold in your hand. It is the reason that I still have a mailbox full of clothing catalogs!

Direct mail is particularly successful for targeting the 60+ age range. While the 60-70 age range is doing a lot more online these days, our elders still appreciate (and pay more attention to) ads that are physically mailed to them .And if they don’t appreciate it, they will call and let you know!

The 60+ age range in particular is good at calling and letting you know when they do not want to be mailed (which I see as more evidence that they are paying attention to what’s in the mailbox). Make sure you are keeping an in-house “Do Not Mail” database. You can keep this in a simple spreadsheet.

Then be sure to share this list with your marketing company so that these folks can be removed from your next mailing list.Your receptionist will thank you and you will continually improve your conversion rate with each mailing.


Q. Which types of customers are best to target with direct mail? 

All buying stages.

We have messages for early buying stages for people who have questions about hearing loss. We also have messages for those who have gone further into the buying stage and are price shopping.

We can even take a practice’s customer database and send highly targeted messages to those who have purchased in the past. This produces a much lower volume of response but very high conversion rate and ROI.


Q. Can direct mail help with market positioning? 

Yes, if done properly. You never want to make the mistake of over-mailing to drive out your competition. Not only will you not drive out competition, but you may cause market fatigue and result in a backlash against your practice. You also don’t want to use mail to get into a pricing war with your competitor.

Think about what gives you competitive advantage. Is your products? Is it your customer service? Experience? Maybe even your location.

Use great direct mail and include concise points about your practice or a testimonial that prove why you can offer something your competition can’t. If you feel like you need a longer explanation, point customers to a web page to learn more. You don’t want to include too much information. Sometimes this will confuse your message. 


Q. A lot of focus is being put on social media and the web for marketing tools – what are the advantages of direct mail over these channels? 

Every hearing professional or hearing-related business should have a website. Ideally, your website should include a blog, Search Engine Optimization (more so even for the highly competitive markets), a Google Business listing, a social media presence, and an email newsletter sent to your customer database on at least a monthly basis.

These elements can give you a high conversion rate with relatively low upfront costs. The ROI on these mediums look great.

However, unless you are in a large market full of very tech savvy seniors and with little competition, you cannot run your business on web and social media advertising alone. Simply put, direct mail gives you more traffic through your door. Your message is put in front of more eyes and has a higher value. You are giving your potential customers something they can physically hold on to and keep as a reminder. Also in a world of phishing scams, email spam and constant bombardments of online advertising, direct mail is easier to trust.


Q. What are some of the drawbacks to direct mail solutions? 

  • Cost. It can seem daunting to look at the total cost that you have to pay for up-front. However, if you sit and think about the rate of return, and the long-term benefits – it will more than pay for itself.

  • The post office. We all know the post office has its issues, which means it is difficult to make sure that your mail will arrive on a specific day. We have many tools available to time direct mail arrival as perfectly as possible… But you can never guarantee 100% accuracy when you are dealing with the post office.  Weather, holidays and major local events can also slow mail.

  • Lead time. With social media and online advertising, you can have ads up and running almost instantly. Direct mail takes weeks of planning. But we believe the volume of response and return on investment is well worth the preparation.


Q. What kind of results have you seen from customers who choose to use direct mail

Our nationwide average (for a purchased mailing list not a customer database) is a response rate of .2 – .3% response rate. So on a 10,000 piece mailer, a conservative expectation would be 20-30 responses.This is a very conservative average. We definitely have customers who do better than this. It just depends on territory, competition, timing, etc.

The message will also make a difference. For example, direct mail advertising a “Lunch & Learn” seminar can have a much higher response rate.

At a “Lunch & Learn”, a “free lunch” is offered during an informational seminar about hearing loss in general, or about types of hearing instruments, or with a representative from a hearing instrument manufacturer. 

Some businesses are afraid that this type of promotion will draw too many people who only want a free lunch. However, with careful planning and the right sales tools, we have helped our customers have huge success with these types of promotions. It’s all about preparation and the right sales techniques.


Q. What is one thing you should never, never do when using direct mail to target hearing aid customers? 

Over-mail your territory! We have seen it over and over… it’s Hearing Care Practice suicide. We have seen practices who think they can bully out competition by over-mailing the territory. Or practices that get so excited about the high response of a mail campaign, they are eager to keep mailing.

You need to space out your mailings and rotate with other advertising mediums. Use things like online marketing, telemarketing, newspaper and others to fill in the gaps.

While it depends on the size of a territory and the competition, we tell our clients that a safe goal is a quarterly direct mail plan.

(You can also rotate mailings between postal codes to spread out costs). If you are over-mailing your territory you will get a high volume of angry “Do-Not-Mail” phone calls to your office and your responses and sales will start to dwindle.

Anything else you'd like to say?
There are many factors that go into a successful direct mail campaign. You need to do direct mail right for your unique practice.

Always talk to someone who knows how to analyze your territory. One mailer is not going to work for every practice. You can’t base your direct mail plan on price alone or just on what someone else did in a different market.

Be open minded. You are calling a marketing company because you want help with advertising. Just because you think a message sounds great or a certain mail piece has a beautiful design, that doesn’t mean it will work for your practice. Being too technical can easily confuse your customers. Trying to look too cutesy or giving too much information can lose your message. A piece of direct mail has 3 seconds to engage its recipients before it loses their attention!

Always triple-proofread your direct mail! We have seen customers who approve proofs and then realized later they gave us a wrong phone number or incorrect address. Obviously this is going to affect your response and there is no way to take mail back and fix it.

Direct mail is not cheap (and you shouldn’t just settle for the cheapest.) Shop around. Talk to other practices to find out who they work with. Get references from practices that are satisfied with their direct mail provider. Look for a marketing company who has experience in your industry and will analyze your market.

Thanks, Nikki, for your time and good advice! 

You can contact Nikki and her business partner and husband, Alex Hughes, via their Beeman Marketing website at beemanmarketing.com.

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