Dealership Marketing

Snail Mail – is it worth it anymore?

I’m converting our entire dealer group to a new CRM, so I’ve been working a lot.  Couple that with my other responsibilities and I’m typically getting home around midnight.  At that time the last thing I think about doing is getting my snail mail because it is now more of a chore than an incentive.  It seems my mailbox has a tendency to become over-filled with credit card offers, introductions to new real estate agents, coupons for my grocery store, big catalogs for furniture and clothes I’ll never buy.  I’d say over 95% of my mail is junk.  The other 5% is nothing but bills that I pay online anyway, so basically everything in my mailbox is trash.  I need to start carrying the garbage can out to the mailbox with me to just scoop it right where it is all going to end up.

Also, with a new CRM comes opportunity for new mail pieces.  I am obviously not a fan of snail mail.  Maybe it is me, maybe it is the younger generation I’m a part of, maybe I think trees are a good thing….whatever.  I also don’t subscribe to the newspaper (is that a sin in this industry?) – click here to read what Seth Godin has to say about that.   I’m in a little bit of a debate with the older generation about how many letters we should be sending through our new CRM.  I agree with sending a few to people who have purchased vehicles from us and something on a birthday or anniversary, but to contribute to the regular 95% junk pile is something I am not in favor of.  I also want to keep in touch with our customers who prefer the traditional communication methods they’re used to.

My real question is:   is snail mail dead? If an expected return on a mail campaign is 1-3%, does that mean you’re annoying 97% of the people who receive that expensive piece of mail?  As the cost of mail, and paper, continues to climb where does the cost out-weigh the value?

Who knew an argument with Jeff Kershner, in 2005, would lead to Alex becoming a partner with him on DealerRefresh. Where will the next argument take ...
Alex, I'm on board with you about the mailbox being a total waste of time... but remember that we're still young punks in this world. Lots of people use snail mail as a means of conducting their daily lives. Suckers.

Direct mail still has presence, still has value... and while it's produced in a similar format to newspapers, the reason this industry is so gung-ho about escaping the papers is the astronomical expense and the lack of a guarantee that your message is even reaching anyone. Mail's expense is a lot more realistic, and I'd entertain the argument that 75 cents for something in your hand (which has to at least be looked at once before you throw it away) can hang with 0 cents for something digital that might not even make it to someone's inbox.

Of course, we will get there at some point, because having something on paper is just plain stupid when the alternative is a virtual document with near-zero materials expense, infinite color and size options, and unprecedented targeting and reporting capabilities.

What's holding the world back from moving to all-digital are the consumers who have yet to see the benefits of it, and the product pushers who refuse to move on for any number of reasons. Fortunately for the planet, those people will eventually come on-board or become marginalized... but for now, those consumers are potential sales.
I believe snail mail can still be effective if its tied in with an Internet strategy.

I base this belief on the mere fact that people still pay attention to their mailboxes. As long as they are receiving bills, Amazon stuff, etc. in their mailboxes, they'll keep paying attention to it. Since people's attention is becoming a scarce resource, I need to be everywhere where I know they pay attention. A well-crafted multi-channel snail mail/website/email campaign can still generate a good response.

I suppose when the US Postal Service goes out of business, then snail mail will be dead.

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    Audrey Knoth
  • June 3, 2008
Alex, I don't think snail mail is dead, but I think it needs to be treated carefully. By that I mean that the days of blasting out all sorts of canned direct mail pieces are way past gone ... no question that stuff gets the direct heave into the trash. However, well-designed, well-written mail pieces used judiciously can work ... the key is doing this well and being judicious. If, for example, a dealership is having a special event, a nicely-done snail mail invitation can have an impact. What we're seeing, really, is that snail mail needs to be as personalized as e-mail ... we all know that what's making e-mail contact so successful is that it can be so targeted to the individual. The same approach needs to be taken with snail mail. The challenge is that it's all too easy to not put time and thought into this stuff and to throw a bunch of non-personalized standard-looking mailers out into an indifferent universe. And the result is ... indifference.
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    Erica Sietsma
  • June 3, 2008
Hey Alex,

We just redid our daily run for our CRM, which is essentially the same thing and I wiped out all printed letters for customers with an email address. The only people who will get letters are those with no email and since our email capture is between 70-80% depending on the dealership, that is less than 30% of the customers. And once they are sold, this percentage drops drastically.

What I know from my own experience is I only check my mail once every few days, at which point, I have a packed full box of pennysavers, valupaks, catalogs from hammacher schlemmer (you buy something once and they hound you for life) and the list goes on.

I sort the mail into junk - anything without a handwritten address and most all catalogs/rags and then "important" mail. Important mail DOES include "coupons' that are in the form of the big DM pieces bc they stand out and I can magnet them to fridge until ready to use. If I have to open an envelope - fuggedaboutit.

If you consider only 2-3% of the population is actively in the market to purchase a vehicle in a given month, a 2 - 3% response rate for an untargetted mailer is about right.

If you target people who have driven the same veh for 4-5 years, I'm certain the response will be higher. Fortunately, the best source to find this kind of data is in our own databases.
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    Andrew Wright
  • June 3, 2008
We are beginning to limit snail mail to customers without email addresses. As for sales campaigns, why is a 2% return acceptable for snail mail but email campaigns and newsletters costing a fraction of snail mail generate higher returns. I think its a case of holding on to old habits. Its the same with newspaper advertising. Newspaper advertising still accounts for a large portion of dealer advertising even though circulations and readership levels are plummeting. And the newspapers have the audacity to raise their rates! The post office has the same problem with postage increases. I'm with you Alex. I think snail mail is a waste. I read Godin's post the other day and I couldn't agree more.
I don't think I'd ever suggest a snail mail campaign to sell a vehicle, parts or service.

However, I would strongly recommend it to build and/or strengthen a relationship.

A client of mine mentioned he enjoyed reading to his young daughter at bedtime. So, I took a page from Jeffery Gitomer and sent my client a children's book & had the author personally sign it for them.

Mail something personal and unexpected to a customer & you'll never lose them...

Hand-written thank you notes and birthday cards are always a nice touch too - but at least make sure you include their name...otherwise it just comes off phony.

Alex, you raise a very interesting question and I'm with you. But like Mitch said, "remember that we're still young punks in this world". Sometimes this makes it a little tougher to be objective. However, when I think back over the last 2 years there may have been 1 out of a gazzillion pieces of mail that got my attention enough to even consider the offer. The other question is how do we know how effective our CRM's are at getting through spam filters? Are there CRM's tools out there that know when we get through? If so, I would like to hear about it. Also, one company approached me about reverse electronic lead generation where if you have a phone number and address they can get a "valid" email 30% of the time. 10,000 clients means 3,000 emails not bad if that's true and I can find their information.
One of the points most of us seem to agree on here is that direct mail does work, but it depends on what you're sending. That basically puts it in line with most advertising scenarios: the people are there, you just have to get their attention. But i think it's important to keep in mind that first part - the people ARE there. This is unlike newspapers, where no matter what your message is, the people are no longer there (at least, relative to the expense of it), which is why it is becoming an advertising failure.

Remember also that everyone's store and everyone's geo are different; I say that all the time but it's necessary to keep in mind. Jeff can probably attest to the fact that Benz customers will line up 30 deep for something as stupid as a "free mug" promotion, ironically getting you better results than if you tried it at a domestic dealer, since Benz customers are more likely to have flexible work schedules or not have a job at all (trophy wives) and thus have the time on their hands to swing down to your store for the offer. Maybe selling cars over direct mail doesn't work for your area... maybe Service mailers are effective with your customer base because they already love your Service department... but you won't usually get these answers listening to dealers who operate across the country from you. Trial and error is half the fun of marketing after all... don't you think?
We’re all getting slammed with ad messages. Junk Mail, SPAM, Banner ads, Commercials on TV and Radio, now that I think of it, the 'Net is worse than all of the above combined.

IMO, Snail mail has its place in marketing. I think its best suited to keeping the door open with prior customers. You have a relationship with past customers, so your unopened mail is far more likely to be opened & read.


IMO, Snail mail has its place in marketing. I think its best suited to keeping the door open with prior customers. You have a relationship with past customers, so your unopened mail if far more likely to be opened & read.

Marketing is all about finding an opportunity to share a meaningful moment. Snail mail waits patiently for the reader to arrive, with a message that shares space with no other advertiser and is delivered in a time and place that is comfortable to your customer.

What are you gonna send them?
If you are a multi-franchise player, I can’t think of a better medium than a periodic snail mail newsletter with mix of unique automobile content and inventory/promotion. No one on the planet is better setup to leverage this idea than our Alex Snyder and his all new mega content monster The content they churn out is just sick… so sick, his local paper should buy his content from him!

Anyways, back to the rest of us humans…
If you are a small store, you sell you! A highly personalized mailer should get read.

Snail mail needs to hit some hot buttons. Content to include could be: Bird Dogs, Testimonials, Community Event(s), New Arrivals, What’s Hot, What’s on Sale, managers clearance, payment car, special finance and on and on and on… Use of coupons, tracking codes or exclusive discounts helps when it comes to ROI review time.

Just a few passing thoughts...
I'm talking to the paper now Joe - lol.
  • R
  • June 5, 2008
Two words, Spam Blocker. The reason to not completely eliminate snail mail is exactly those two words. We've all had numerous times when we've attempted to contact a lead that has only given us an e mail only to never hear back from them at all. You follow up for months on end, trying new techniques to get that person's attention, only to have them finally come to the dealership complaining that no one has ever attempted to reach them back. Or maybe it's just me..... Most lead's make you at least put an address or phone number. The people that want the less obtrusive shopping experience are much more likely to put an address online than a phone number. So for that reason I would say snail mail is not extinct yet.....although it may be going that way sooner rather than later as the "new breed" grows into the "old breed's" footsteps.
  • P
  • June 5, 2008
The modernization of mail from being the wild west or spam a lot has begun.

That has been my argument for some time now about "open" e-mail contact.

I have chosen to keep the contact mail address off websites period.

What I am doing is setting up incoming mail that only accepts forms submitted from the website or e-flyer.

Also when sending an e-campaign using a disposable address so it doesn't linger and collect junk.

Every month a campaign is run the return contact e-mail is different. The fact is that noboby goes back probably after a month to view the e-flyer and contact you at a later date.

That's my thoughts and the best to all...Pete
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    Jeff Kershner
  • June 7, 2008
I have do doubt that snail mail can still be a very effective medium of advertising and lead generation for dealers. I've witnessed and helped a dealer completely cut all traditional marketing (TV, radio and print) while having a record year of sales with only a new marketing (internet) and direct targeted snail mail mix.

But wait, I gets lots of mail at home and I throw most of it away. So if our dealer is using mail as part of our marketing mix, could we be throwing away a lot of money?

It would be great if all of our potential customers were online when we wanted them to be, but they're not. One could argue that this is where email comes into play but no matter how you toss the dice, getting your message into someones email inbox isn't always 100%.

I like to get mail. I always have and always will and I'm sure most would agree with me no matter what gen you are. 95% of Americans check their snail mailbox on a daily basis.

The real problem isn't the effectiveness of snail mail but rather the message. Spray and pray usually only yields a 2-3% return rate (though could still make sense for some markets). A clear concise targeted message to the right person (by data mining your DMS) at the right time is the bread and butter.

A recent study I read pointed out that 75% of both Gen X and Gen Y feels as if their snail mail offers immediate value and that snail mail is actually well received by all geographic groups from Gen X to baby boomer's.

I forget where I read it but what I read showed that mail responders are 10 to 20% more likely to convert to a qualified lead then the online counterpart. Of course combining the 2 has been very effective for me in the past.

Again, the most effective direct mail contains a compelling message to a qualified targeted audience. There is no better audience then your own!
  • P
  • June 9, 2008
"the most effective direct mail contains a compelling message to a qualified targeted audience"...Posted by: Jeff Kershner

Perfectly put Jeff and the top 3 things to a successful e-mail:
1. compelling message
2. compelling message
3. compelling message

It's like the old saying "garbage in garbage out" so my add is
make a choice of what to say in that message;

A. Be entertaining-i.e. video clips or high quality pics of the new models NOT computer generated assimilations.

B. Be informative-period...Simple good looking and formatted text of what's new and exciting about your PRODUCT. I could care less about the dealership. We are not friends and have not been over to each others home for dinner, so I don't need and EGO invite to come to the store to see the new and improved showroom or service department.

Customers want to keep it professional that is the balance and has been my experience in the 20 years on the automotive retail side.

*5 seconds is my guess on how long you have that they will read the message "IF" the prospect even opens the mail because the subject line was interesting enough to do so. Hi it's me AGAIN from ABC motors keeps the knowbody home lights off on my e-mail.

I hate when I get sent everything possible that someone cant put in a message just short of e-mailing the entire site.

Also, I'll get some crap for this...Oh well. Get the pic's of the kids, girlfriend and fishing trips off the desk unless you are an owner or manager.

Your better off limping on the lot seeking sympathy that you need to soften up the customer to buy because the $$$ will help pay for the operation.

Thanks and that's all my ramble for awhile...
Have a great summer!!!

I make my living on selling direct mail (snail mail) to dealers. Some mail isn't even worth the cost of the postage, that is a fact. But some pieces work better than everything else combined.

Here's an example. I ran a mailer for a client last month (Honda store) that featured the high fuel-efficiency of certain Honda products. We featured the vehicles, lease payments, APR's, but the leader was the MPG! With high gas prices on the mind, we took advantage of that and spoke to their wallets.

We did 10k for $7800, sold 42 units which broke down to $185.70 per car (a number that brought smiles ear-to-ear)!

I'd say that this mailer worked, amd most would agree. The difference is in the thought, creativity, and execution of said concepts that make these kinds of mailers work while others fail.

Just my humble opinion!

Thanks for the post Alex.

Here's the kicker. We didn't send it to a credit list or a saturation list, we sent the Honda mailer to all the '85 to '95 gas guzzlers (F150's, Dodge Ram's, C1500's) within the dealers PMA.

These owners were most likely to be the segment that were affected most by high gas prices, and most likely to respond to the MPG leader! We also mentioned new and pre-owned trucks and SUV's in stock in case the compacts were out of the question.
  • C
  • June 19, 2008
Sending THANK YOU cards immediately after someone has left the dealership has some rewarding results. You may ask yourself if it's worth the 5 minutes, and first class postage - but consider the impact:

#1 None of your competitors is doing it.
#2 You stand out from the crowd.
#3 It show true appreciation towards the customer.
#4 Your chances of a be-back skyrocket.

I always learned that you don't have to be better than everyone else, just different.