Canon develops sales through traditional mail

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Score one for traditional direct mail. Canon USA has found the medium far more popular and more effective than e-mail when marketing its office equipment to new and existing customers.

"The traditional approach is really what breaks through more," said David Hughes, manager of database marketing for the Lake Success, N.Y.-based company.

Canon was prepared for the backlash against e-mail because it pays careful attention to how its customers want to be contacted and segments its database accordingly.

"A year ago or so, we were getting a majority of people saying e-mail was fine or preferred," Hughes said. "It's now less than half. One thing driving that is preference on their part, but another thing is the firewall and spam issues."

E-mail's popularity had grown over time, especially among Canon's technology customers, and the company responded by ramping up that mode of communication. However, the office equipment marketer also realized such preferences do not necessarily remain static.

About one-third of customers currently prefer traditional direct mail, another third prefer e-mail and the final third says either is fine, Hughes said.

Currently, open and read rates for direct mail trump those for e-mail, Hughes said. Aside from the spam and filtering problems plaguing e-mail, he noted that direct mail allows more room for creativity and effective marketing tactics. "You can't do in subject lines what you can do with imaging and direct mail packages," he said.

Response rates for direct mail are currently significantly higher, too. "It does vary," Hughes said. "It's almost always higher and many times up to five times higher." Variances can depend on the industry being targeted.

Canon polls its customers and prospects quarterly, conducts focus groups and has even done biofeedback. When it conducted interviews using biofeedback with about 30 customers, "there was a decided preference on the part of a majority of people for tangible in-your-hands information," Hughes said.

The biofeedback revealed other information as well. "I was blown away by some of the direction we got, which is [also] affecting the creative and the way we lay things out."

In focus groups, Canon regularly asks what types of content customers want to receive and the preferred medium. It also solicits that information in its direct mail newsletter.

Hughes said the preferences vary among the company's target groups. "Graphic designers really like seeing the pieces," Hughes said. "They may have preferences because of the way they interface with the [copier] product. Maybe it's just a subliminal thing."

The attention to communication preferences is especially important, Hughes said, because Canon is marketing products that have a long sales cycle.

"[Customers] may get messages from us six months to a year before the purchase, but what we're doing is building the brand and staying in touch with our customer," he said. "We don't view our customer communications in a typical ROI model. We talk about lifetime value and retention and share of customer."

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