Every so often, I like to take a break from doing my own marketing to see what works on me. I got a perfect chance to do this because we are selling the beach house, which has occasioned a flood of postcards from moving companies. I’m not quite sure what tipped them off — I haven’t filed a change of address yet, and I can’t imagine that these movers are roaming the neighborhood looking for "for sale" signs. My best guess is that they somehow monitor the multiple listing service and see a contract has been signed.

Anyway, I went to gather my mail out there and found that in a week I had accumulated 11 different pieces of direct mail related to my move. These solicitors all had the advantage that they were talking to a prepped target audience — I will have to move my furniture out — so I wasn’t just going to pitch the postcards the way I normally toss the "hey, subscribe to the newspaper" kind of stuff.

Instead, I spread all the pieces of mail out on the floor to see what caught my eye.

The first lesson, and maybe it’s an obvious one, is that I liked the ones that were different from each other. Since I had gotten 10 postcards and one letter, the letter seemed special to me. (That’s an advantage that it blew when I opened it to find only printed pages from the moving company’s Web site and a business card. Just one scribbled line: "Can I help you with your move? — Jeff," would have made all the difference, but it wasn’t there.)

With the 10 postcards, I noticed something that I previously didn’t think about much with my own real estate postcards, which is that they have to generate enough interest on one side for me to turn them over onto the other. The usual way to do this was by showing me a picture of a big truck, shot on a diagonal so it looked like it was powerful and going somewhere. Even though this seemed a little cliché by, say, the sixth postcard, it was still surprising when the seventh didn’t have that and just had lines of text. "Those won’t help me move," I thought. Toss. Lesson here: It’s more important to have an appropriate image than an original image.

I kind of liked the four-color postcards, possibly because from mailing them out myself I know what they cost. However, the black-and-white postcard that showed me a mover’s historical storage warehouse, with "the family name you know and trust" — I kept that one. To go with the whole local-trust thing, those movers had put their DOT numbers on their postcard. I have no idea what a DOT number is, and how it keeps the movers from breaking my lamps, but it felt very reassuring. Internal consistency with the details — that worked.

Most of the cards were addressed to me with computer-generated mailing labels, and once the sender had gone there, I found I didn’t care if they knew my name or not. "Home Owner," "Our Neighbor," "Rogers" (my last name), and "Homeowner Rogers or Current Occupant" (the most popular) all had equal weight with me. The pre-printed card from Allied, though, that "Rick" had filled out — well, he bothered to fill it out, though I imagine in the form of a secretary, because he has awfully girly handwriting. Still, I pictured a person asking for my business, so it was a "save." The personal touch: not necessary to me in a card (the way it absolutely was in the letter), but it was an advantage.

Finally — and I realize by making this point I’m going to unleash a little trend of "highlightered" postcards across America — highlighter totally worked on me. Two of the 10 had picked out benefits from their text — "free estimate" in both cases — and ran a yellow highlighter through it, and it caught my eye. I compared both of them, and picked the better one. Save.

Now of course, none of this direct mail is going to beat a personal recommendation. If my Realtor has someone she really loves, and I call them and they don’t grunt or babble, they’re in. But if she names two companies and says "well, I like ‘A’ or ‘B,’ " then you can bet the one with the better postcard is going to win. If she doesn’t recommend anyone, I’ll call the three best pieces of direct mail — the ones I saved — so those marketing dollars weren’t misspent either.

What about your postcards? Are you mailing to the right people, with an appropriate image and a consistent message? Do you bother to personalize them a little bit, or otherwise make an attempt to stand out from the pack? When you’re sending a message to your potential customers, do you ask for their business?

Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of "Diary of a Real Estate Rookie."


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