Saturday, September 4, 2010

Marketing for Translators: Is Snail Mail Dead?

A search for books on “direct mail marketing” on Amazon turns up only a single item dating after 2007. A glance at some small business marketing books using the preview feature reveals that the subject, while not totally absent from recent publications, is usually reduced to a single chapter and increasingly treated as a historical curiosity that is progressively being phased out like the fax machine. In view of this, reading Robert Bly’s Lead Generation, published 12 years ago, can feel a little like firing up the DeLorean to take a spin with Doc. After all, the book predates social media and the Web 2.0. In an inversion of the current status quo, direct mail techniques occupy the bulk of the book and e-mail marketing is relegated to a single chapter (“the Internet… is revolutionizing the way computer users communicate”). Moreover, the chapter on techniques to reel in prospective customers via e-mail reads eerily like a recipe for cooking up a little spam and wasting a few instants of your fellow human beings’ finite time on Earth: “Telling a story in your e-mail instantly engages the reader and creates the perception that the message is from someone you know rather than an unsolicited advertisement,” (p. 216). Hmmmm.... You can just picture scammers diligently taking notes.

OK, that was a simpler time, before Monicagate and anti-spam laws. My question is whether the apparent abandonment of direct mail as a topic by the publishing industry is closing a potentially useful marketing avenue for freelance professionals and small businesses. I wonder whether e-mail and Internet marketing is hogging all of the attention because of its obviously lower cost per impression. My two cents is that this book is still worth reading by the 21st century freelancer. For instance, one of the most original tips in Judy and Dagmar Jenner’s Entrepreneurial Linguist is to write a press release about your business to drum up some press coverage. An intriguing recommendation that is, however, only lightly sketched out. A book such as Bly’s provides a wealth of detail from a copywriter’s viewpoint about how to produce and distribute eye-catching press releases. Prior to reading this book, I thought that the Jenners’ idea, while original, was just not right for me. But now I am starting to think that there might actually be a few contexts in which I could give the technique a try.

Therefore, yes, a book like this has aged, but I would not rush to relegate it to the dustbin. A new medium does not make old ones obsolete but rather enriches the way we communicate. Similarly, I wonder whether our instinctive rejection of “snail mail” as "sooo nineties" blinds us to a potentially rich avenue for getting the word out there. Indeed, I would not be surprised if snail mail and other traditional media offered a higher “cost per impression” but also a higher response rate and (perhaps) a higher lead quality. Of course, I can’t actually prove this hunch. But at the very least I would not dismiss a book like this out of hand, since it contains a nugget or two of useful know-how.

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