Belling The Cat and Why Direct Mail Still Matters in an Online Age


BellingTheCatThe great storyteller Aesop told a tale about an enterprising group of mice who set out to solve a business problem. These mice had been troubled by a particular cat living in “their” house that kept them from their goals of eating cheese and gnawing on the furniture. Because the cat was stealthy, the mice couldn’t hear her coming. After much deliberation, one of the younger mice (who was much more technologically inclined than the others) put forth a rather grand , but simple solution.

All the mice had to do, he explained, was to attach a bell to the cat so that when she started to move—they would hear her and have time to escape.

It was a wonderful idea: innovative and cost-effective. The mice spent a lot of time discussing what kind of bell to use and what color collar would be appropriate. All the mice were excited. They began making plans for where they could store all the extra cheese they’d be able to stow away once they didn’t have to worry about the cat. They even made plans for expanding their operations to the house next door. The mice thought this new technology was great—until one old, wise mouse spoke up.

“Who,” he croaked, “is going to bell the cat?”

That, of course, was when the mice realized the flaw in their plan. Having a bell on the cat was a great idea. But somehow they had to get the bell on the cat. That, as it turned out, wasn’t quite so easy.

What does that have to do with direct mail in an online age?

Businesses have been hearing for years that everything is moving online. Companies have been told that it’s more cost-effective to market online. They’ve been told that there is virtually no limit to the amount of content they can post online. They’ve heard that they can be much more effective and reach many more people with their website—even if they’re a small operation.

As it turns out, that’s pretty much the case. But there’s a small problem: How are companies supposed to get people to their websites? Getting potential customers to your website is a little bit like belling the cat. How do you make it happen?

Having a well-designed website may be an absolute business necessity, but the Internet is a pretty big place. Your customers may be on the Internet, but getting them to your specific site can be a pretty big challenge. There are tools out there that can help. Optimizing your site with the right keywords helps. Using the right metatags can help pull people in.  There are times when pay-per-click (PPC) can be a help.

Sometimes, however, you just need something a little more direct. That’s where direct mail comes in. Direct mail can help you reach your specific audience and drive them to your specific website.

One reason direct mail is effective in this endeavor is that while it’s pretty easy to ignore (or trash) an unsolicited email, people are less likely to throw away a card or letter that addresses their needs. They may not respond right away, but they are more likely to hang onto a card or flier that offers them help. It can sit on a desk or a countertop for days (or even weeks) as a reminder that help is only a click away.

Consumers may not use “snail mail” response devices with the same frequency that they used to, but a physical reminder sitting on their desk can still be a powerful tool for getting them to respond. And while direct mail may not be cheap anymore, it can break through to your customers in a way that other methods can’t.

Has business moved to the Web? You bet! But getting potential customers to your specific website can be as difficult as belling a cat. Using direct mail effectively can help you make that happen!

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