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A Clear and Present Stranger

Mark Benson |

CHICAGO — You flip a switch and the lights go on. I don’t need to know how that works, I’m just glad it does. You press a button and cool air starts pouring out of your air conditioner. I don’t need to know how that works, I'm just glad it does. You put a five-dollar bill into a coin changer and the machine recognizes it and gives back five dollars in quarters. I don’t need to know how that works, I’m just glad it does. You write a column about how to do marketing/advertising for a laundry or drycleaner and your e-mail inbox fills up in less than a day. I don’t need to know how e-mail works, but the immediacy of “cause and effect” is clear and present. Marketing, it seems, is a bit of a stranger in our world.My editor asked me if I could write about marketing in the coin laundry industry, saying it was a bit of a rough spot that could use some smoothing. So I said, “Sure, I’ll get around to a column on marketing. After a couple of months writing about other subjects, I finally got around to it. Apparently, I shouldn’t have put it off. E-mails poured in, asking for everything from sample marketing materials to media advice and even requests to meet in person for a personal marketing “how to” session.FIRST THINGS FIRSTEvery business situation, marketing position, neighborhood and balance sheet is different, so it is really difficult to give sweeping advice about marketing that will satisfy everyone. (Cop out alert!) Right about now, you may be thinking, “Great, no more insight for us.”And you’d be half right. I may not have the proper level of detailed insight for you personally, but I do have insight for everyone. It doesn’t do you any good for me to give you each a fish, it makes more sense for me to try to teach each of you to cast and reel in the customers.I’m going to walk you through the process, from start to finish, of our most successful marketing venture. And what I’m hoping will stand out is just how much we lean on simplicity in the creation of these materials.We’re talking about Occam’s razor, or for you Latin fans out there, lex parsimoniae, which simply states that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is likely the right one. This concept is used most often in the scientific community. But it does apply to what we’re doing here.Why did I tell you that? Well, when you apply simplicity to marketing techniques and see a boom in your business, you’re not going to want to tell your impressed boss or employees, “How did I do that? Oh, it was quite simple.” No! Don’t miss an opportunity to wax poetic on them. Being able to quote something like that is the businessman’s equivalent of an end zone dance.Now that we’ve covered the end, let’s go to the beginning of our successful postcard mailing, which we first performed months ago and repeat on a regular basis.POSTCARD PLANStep 1, the message: The message is what you’re trying to convey. In this case, we wanted to convey how annoying laundry can be, yet how easy it is if you leave it to us. Allow yourself to brainstorm on this, but not too much. Remember, keep it simple.Step 2, format: Simple words, phrases, images. Ah, images; this is where this idea took shape. Passing through the front counter, I see stacks of drop-off laundry in overflowing bags. This is what makes people throw in the towel (literally and figuratively) and bring their clothes to us. So I took a picture of an overflowing laundry bag and that became the whole front side of the postcard.Flip over to the back and finish the picture with the words: “Laundry overflowing? Leave it to us.” Writing ad copy is a great skill to have and it takes real pros to come up with great campaigns. This isn’t marketing a new arthritis drug to senior citizens on five different continents via radio, TV, newspaper and mailers, however. This is advertising laundry service to your neighbors. You can do this yourself.Choosing a postcard helped keep it simple, too, for everyone involved in the chain. The smaller format means less to design and fewer words to write, less paper used in printing, more fit in a box for delivery to the mailing service or post office and it’s easier for your future customers to hold and read rather than throw out, like they might with a big, long-winded flier.I worked for years as a Page 1 editor/designer at newspapers across the country. A big part of my job was headline writing, and that’s all this is. What is your headline? I won several awards as a headline writer, but I didn’t win a single one because I was more well-spoken, because I did more research or because I had a greater vocabulary or knowledge of the topic or wit. I won awards by being simple.Here’s an example. There was a story about restrictions on lawn watering in one of Chicago’s suburbs. Consider these two headlines: “Amendment 12 passes board on 4-3 vote” and “Water bill skates through city board.” What do these headlines tell you? If you said, “Well, they don’t tell me if I can water my lawn,” then pat yourself on the back. “Go ahead, water your lawn on the weekends.” That headline tells the readers what they need to know.Step 3, production: Think you’ll save some cash labeling all those mailers yourself? You will if you don’t include the cost of time and labor. What would be simpler? Well, you do laundry for a living, but I bet there’s someone out there who does mailings for a living. Find a mailing company and pay them to take this off your hands. Most deal in postal carrier routes, so you can blanket entire areas this way.Start with a couple of routes and wait a few weeks for the response. If business picks up, call the mail service back and tell them to send the exact same piece to another route. While the first mailing will take time to plan, design and write, the second, third and fourth mailers will take nothing more than one phone call. “Hey, remember that mailer you did for me? I’m going to have the printer send you 2,000 more, send those to routes B and C.” And you’re done.SATISFACTORY RESULTSNow, that won’t answer all of your questions, so I encourage you to bring specific ones my way. But always try to think about simplification when deciding to advertise or market, and not just simplicity in message but also in format and production.Without going into exact numbers, I can tell you that the rate of return on our mailer is within reasonable parameters. Our business has increased and, if it hasn’t already, will pay for the mailer in whole. And if we do a good job washing their clothes, folding them and getting them back to the customers in a timely manner, then we’ll have these new customers for years to come. (Or, I could have had my employees spend hours addressing and stamping thousands of postcards to save a couple of bucks, but in the meantime they would have fallen behind on the wash and possibly lost customers trying to get new ones.)At this point, you’re probably saying, “Boy, Mark, that was really well said. How did you manage to eloquently advise hundreds of different businesses all at the same time?”And to you, I say, “How did I do that? I simply refuse to believe in a Kobayashi Maru.”Need to look that one up? I thought so.Send your comments and customer stories to bensonmark@yahoo.com. 

About the author

Mark Benson

World's Largest Laundromat

Manager

Mark Benson, manager of the World's Largest Laundromat in Berwyn, Ill., would like to hear any comments you have about the column, as well as any tales you have about the people who patronize your store.

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