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A marketing strategy will help you identify your best customers, understand their needs and implement the most effective marketing methods.

The internet has transformed business marketing. No matter what you do, the internet is likely to be at the heart of your marketing strategy.

Social media is firmly established as a marketing tool. Having a presence opens up new lines of communication with existing and potential customers.

Good advertising puts the right marketing message in front of the right people at the right time, raising awareness of your business.

Customer care is at the heart of all successful companies. It can help you develop customer loyalty and improve relationships with your customers.

Sales bring in the money that enables your business to survive and grow. Your sales strategy will be driven by your sales objectives.

Market research exists to guide your business decisions by giving you insight into your market, competitors, products, marketing and your customers.

Direct marketing can be a highly successful way to generate sales from existing and new customers. Find out how to target them in the best way.

Exhibitions and events are valuable for businesses because they allow face-to-face communication and offer opportunities for networking.

PR

Favourable media coverage can bring a range of business benefits. But how do you attract the attention of editors, broadcasters and journalists?

Direct marketing

Your mailshot has to stand out from the other post on the doormat. It must have a clear and simple message and grab the attention of the recipient. Above all, a direct mailing has to convince your target market to respond.

Creating a successful mail pack depends on getting all of the elements right. Before you plan your approach, it's a good idea to answer a few questions. What is your target market and your key message? What are the main selling points of your product or service? How can recipients take advantage of your offer? What sort of response are you looking for?

Use your answers to draw up a creative brief that will inform all your decisions about the mailshot from now on.

What to include in a mailshot

Mailshots come in all shapes and sizes. They can be simple leaflets or flyers, or they can be highly personalised packs with several components. The most important element in most mailings is the letter. This personalised letter, addressed to a named individual, should demonstrate that you know your market and have something relevant to offer.

Apart from the size of the letter box, there are very few restrictions governing mailshots. As a result, the look and content of door drops vary widely. You can include a variety of items to help make the sale, such as product brochures and catalogues; flyers advertising events and offers; order forms and pre-paid reply envelopes; samples and coupons.

Coupons are especially effective. Make sure you include any conditions for redemption, the starting and closing date for your offer, a barcode and your full name and address. Your coupon must meet the Code of Sales Promotion Practice.

Writing a direct mail letter

It may sound obvious, but the letter should look and read like a real letter. Write in a direct, lively and personal way, using 'you' wherever possible. You're writing to a real person and your letter should come from a real person.

Your letter must have a proposition - a clear message that the recipient will remember and respond to. The proposition should communicate two things: it should say what is special about your product or service, then show how these features can specifically benefit the end user. The most effective approach is to tell recipients that you can save them money or time or improve an aspect of their life.

You can highlight the key benefit in a snappy headline or by opening the letter with a question, such as 'Are you losing money through your old windows?'

Once you have their attention, explain what you can offer. Add credibility to your argument by including testimonials from satisfied customers. Add an interesting PS, reiterating the main message and with a call to action.

Get the right response

Your mailshot must include a clear call to action. Indeed, every aspect of the mailing should lead the recipient to the response mechanism. If you include a brief question-and-answer section, for instance, finish with a call to action.

Offer as many ways to respond as you can: mail, phone, fax, email and internet, but make sure you have the stock and staff to deal with the demand. Make it easy to respond with pre-paid reply envelopes or freephone numbers. Add an incentive, such as money off or free gifts for a quick response, and include a closing date.

Producing an effective mailshot

Taking a mailshot from concept to final artwork takes time. To ensure the process goes smoothly, break down the jobs into stages. The style of photography, the weight of the paper, the words on the page, the colour of the envelope - all these elements have the power to persuade or put off your potential customers. Allow time to edit and refine the words and images to make sure you get it right.

Unless you have strong design skills in-house, it's a good idea to find a design professional to help lay out the mailshot. A freelance designer will be the cheapest route, or you can approach a local design agency. Alternatively, you could ask your printer to handle the design as well as the printing. Whoever you choose, make sure you see lots of examples of their work to ensure they offer the best service.