I’m beginning to think that a marketing or statistics degree would have really helped the last 3 1/2 years I’ve been trying to unravel the mystery that is direct mail for real estate investors. In any case, at least my Letters degree taught me how to think critically and connect seemingly unrelated ideas and concepts. And that’s helped a lot.
For almost two years I’ve tried to figure out the great marketing question most real estate investors try to answer: Yellow Letters or Professional Letters or Postcards? And I still have no answer. But I’m beginning to wonder whether I need to.
First, I’ll lay out what I know. It’s all about gathering information and data, so I’ll give that, even if it’s not as quantifiable as it should be. Last year I closed on 5 houses, all from a single campaign (meaning that I contacted the same lists over and over). They received one yellow letter and the subsequent letters (sent every 4-6 weeks) were white, professional letters.
So since I saw a rhythm developing, I thought I’d up my marketing but also outsource it since I’m a stay-at-home-mom to three munchkins and also don’t want to eat, sleep and breathe REI. So at the beginning of this year I shifted my marketing. I signed up with Postcardmania (a fantastic company), and switched from professional letters to postcards. I added a brand new list to my campaign (both to increase leads and provide a “control” group for my marketing experiment with the postcards).
The results were terrible. Really, truly pathetic. I even SOSed a friend who is a successful investor about my postcard woes and apparently I’m not the only one. I had less than 1% response rate and no deals (so far). The failure could have been for reasons other than my knee-jerk theory that postcards just don’t work. I have to consider that, because well, it’s worked for others. But at the very least, the problem of sorting out why postcards didn’t work for me (design? list?) seems too big for me to focus on for now.
After 6 months of postcards with no deals and scanty leads, I began re-thinking and researching like crazy (usually in forums – the best way, in my opinion, to really find out what works with REI marketing).
And I’m slowly coming to another conclusion all together.
If we know that some people have great success with postcards (and they do), others with professional letters (yep) and many, many others with yellow letters (resounding yes), then maybe the type of mailer isn’t as important as I thought.
I noticed that successful investors tend to mention over and over NOT the types of mailers they send out, but the types of leads they target, or their commitment to follow ups and/or drip campaigns. Not everyone focused on both, but the successful ones focused on one or the other, and usually thought it was much more important than the type of direct mail they sent.
Last year I found success in sending a drip campaign of professional white letters to absentee owners over the course of a year. I don’t think the success came in how targeted my leads were (they weren’t), but in how many times I “touched” them. The house I bought last January took 5 letters before they called me! 5!
Perhaps what I should have focused on was getting high quality, targeted and motivated leads AND/OR continuing the drip campaign I was already having success with.
Now, I’m not sure how the postcards play into this, honestly, since I did a drip campaign and kept the same lists and added another similar list. Which brings me to the next idea that I’m beginning to think is important: do only what works for you and chase that alone.
I don’t know why postcards aren’t working for me. I could probably find out. But I need to do what already works to find success. Really, all of us are groping in the dark to find out what works. And when we stumble on something that works for us, we need to stop, clear our heads of other distracting and tempting paths, and focus only on that.
I thought I was doing that with postcards. It’s taken me 8 months to see that I’ve lost nearly all of my momentum, and I should have not let it lose any at all. So I’ll need to go back, start sending professional letters again, re-gain my momentum, and only once that ball is rolling could I consider stepping aside and really looking into figuring out what went wrong with postcards.
There’s a phrase I came across in a Bible class I took in college: the “day of small things”. It describes what it took for the Israelites to rebuild their city. Our broken nature might naturally gravitate toward big bursts of effort, or seeking excitement and distraction, but to build anything substantial, it takes “not despising the day of small things”. We must put one foot in front another, again and again, every single day. Faithfulness has fruit, apparently.
Staying focused is so hard for me, but it takes focus to be consistent, and it takes consistency to build momentum. I’ve felt that my success with REI has been a boom and bust cycle since I started in 2009 (not just felt – it’s in my marketing and deal statistics!). And I believe that’s from a tendency to become distracted with perfecting my marketing (or business model, or this or that) rather than focusing only on building the momentum of the particular strategy I have already discovered works for me.
What are your thoughts on types of direct mail pieces? Do any of my ideas resonate with you? Do they agree or contradict your experience? I’d love to hear about it.