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Dialing for Dollars

by Keith Thirgood

I advise my clients, my peers, and anyone else who would hold still for a minute on the perils of using broadcast fax for their marketing. Others have told me how wonderful it is. How very few people object to receiving these messages. How the response rate is so high compared to other forms of direct marketing. I began to feel like a voice in the wilderness. So I decided to test for myself, the response to a direct fax solicitation.

First let me clairify what sort of businesses I have been advising. I talk mainly to small professional organizations: management consultants, engineers, environmental consultants, time managers, etc. I’m not talking about office suppliers, restaurants, retail stores, etc. Just businesses who need to maintain a professional image.

Rather than handing the effort off to a broadcast fax provider, I did it myself. That way, I could see just how many faxes got through, how many complaints were lodged, and I could follow up with some recipients to gauge their reactions.

It was decided my partner’s popular workshop sessions would make a good test subject. Names were selected from the AIC membership roster and from people who had inquired about independent consulting. Feeling this was a good target for a workshop on marketing, I put together the marketing materials to be used.

To make it a fair test, I used materials which had successfully drawn a 2-3 percent response rate from direct mail and from pick-ups at trade shows. The material was altered to better suit faxing and sent out on high resolution.

After spending considerable time editing and cleaning up the fax list, and testing the quality of the fax on a local businesses fax, we began.

The first problem encountered was how long the process tied up my computer. It took over ten hours to complete the 300 names on the list. An even bigger problem was the number of failed transmissions. Out of 300 recently gathered numbers, 86 were either wrong numbers or their faxes would not complete the transmission for one reason or another. An almost 30% failure rate, would not be acceptable in a direct mail list.

We then waited for the replies to pour in, as promised by the advocates of fax marketing. And pour in they did. Nine responses the first day. Unfortunately, these were all requests to be removed from the faxing list. And when I say requests, I’m putting it politely. These responses were vehement, angry and in some cases threatening. I was shocked at the anger my fax aroused in these people. (And I thought I was grumpy when I got this stuff.)

After a week, there was only one request for more information on the session, but no orders. Had I mailed the same information as a targeted mail piece, to the same audience, I would have expected at least six positive responses, if not more.

My conclusion: for businesses who want to maintain a professional image, fax marketing may be cheap, but it’s not cost effective, and your reputation is on the line. Most of those unhappy recipients are going to complain to others. And there will have been many others who just threw out your material in anger. You work hard building a positive image in the market. It seems a shame to throw it all away for the sake of a “cheap”, expedient bit of marketing.

By all means, use faxes to keep clients informed and to communicate with prospects who have given you permission to fax. A good use of faxing would be to distribute a regular newsletter to clients and prospects who give you permission to. Just don’t assume everyone else is going to be thrilled because you’re so clever, saving money by marketing on their backs.

Keith is Creative Director of Capstone Communications Group, a marketing and design firm. He can be reached at (905) 472-2330 or e-mail him at .

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