A direct-mail campaign helps an Ohio firm increase client awareness of its surveying capabilities.

One of KS Associates' successful direct-mail pieces.

Surveyors are involved in many different aspects of the built environment. They serve a wide variety of clients, from residential and commercial developers, landowners and attorneys to architects, engineers and public agencies. Keeping in touch with a large number of clients and prospects on a regular basis can be a costly and time-consuming task. That’s why KS Associates, a civil engineering and surveying firm located in Elyria, Ohio, decided to embark upon a direct-mail initiative.

“We considered sending e-mails, but wanted to get something tangible in our clients’ hands,” explains Mark B. Skellenger, PE, vice president of KS Associates. “The direct mail actually augments all of our other marketing efforts--trade show networking, display advertising, e-mail communications, publicity, etc. This is just one more way to get our message across to our audience.”

According to Skellenger, the No. 1 goal of KS Associates’ direct-mail campaign is to “remain top of mind in the marketplace and be the first company people think of when they need surveying services.” He continues: “We wanted a way to communicate the value KS Associates brings to surveying projects, and to reinforce our brand and identity in the markets we serve.”

To meet this goal, KS Associates developed a series of six postcards to be mailed to more than 2,500 contacts over a 10-month time frame. “The contacts are in our existing database and include clients for whom we’ve provided surveying services in the past, new contacts that we meet via business development efforts and contacts who may not purchase surveying services but who may influence others or recommend KS,” Skellenger explains. ”Our list is ever-changing.”

Here, Skellenger and his team share with POB the inside track on what it takes to execute a successful direct-mail campaign, and provide tips on how other surveyors can develop their own direct-mail initiatives.

KS Associates’ six-piece direct-mail campaign won second place in the 2007 SMPS National Marketing Communications competition. This annual program, sponsored by the Society for Marketing Professional Services, recognizes stellar marketing initiatives of companies in the architecture, engineering, construction and related industries.

Executing a Successful Direct-mail Campaign

Identify the Audience. Evaluating a company’s audience means developing a list of current and prospective buyers. Once a list is finalized, the number of contacts will help to determine the medium (electronic versus print) and the overall design direction of the mail piece. “We decided to print six postcards at one time to reduce printing costs,” Skellenger says. “We also wanted to invest all of the work upfront to ensure that we would mail consistent-looking pieces according to a pre-determined schedule. Another cost-cutting measure was to eliminate an envelope and go with a self-mailer.”

Craft the Message. Once the delivery method is chosen, the message of the piece needs to be crafted. KS Associates’ approach was to focus on attributes that set the company apart from competitors rather than on specific technical abilities. “In client satisfaction surveys we discovered that some of our clients perceived surveying to be a commodity,” says Mark A. Yeager, PS, KS Associates’ survey group director. “We, therefore, positioned KS Associates as the value leader by communicating our differentiators, such as dependability, accuracy and responsiveness.”

To communicate the firm’s attributes, each postcard uses a metaphor that reflects the manner in which the company’s survey group services clients. One postcard, for example, depicts a dog jumping through a ring with the title, “Jumping through hoops for our clients.” The canine theme is carried throughout the card by using descriptors and words such as “hard-working” and “loyalty.” Another card carries the title “The degree of difference” and shows a thermometer registering 99 degrees Celsius--just one degree short of boiling. The corresponding text explains that even though KS Associates is just one degree different than other firms, it could mean the difference between a “lukewarm project or a smoking hot success.”

Use Client Quotes.To substantiate the claims KS Associates made about its services, each postcard contains a quote from a client. “It’s one thing if you make claims about your firm,” Yeager says. “It’s much more powerful and credible when your clients make those claims for you.”

Make It a Two-Way Communication Vehicle. Rather than simply sending a postcard as a one-way communication, KS Associates wanted to provide a way for clients to communicate back to the firm. They did this in two ways.

First, two of the six postcards includes a perforated postage-paid business-reply card offering free lunch-and-learn sessions. Topics include how to specify the right type of survey for a project, or what to look for when hiring a professional surveyor. “Although we receive few requests for these seminars, we like that the invitation provides an opportunity to convey the message that KS Associates is an expert in these areas,” Yeager says.

Each postcard also includes a call to action, directing clients to the KS Web site atwww.ksassociates.com. Each time a postcard is mailed, a project reflecting a specific attribute (accuracy, dependability, etc.) is swapped out on the survey group’s home page. The Web site further tells the KS story and substantiates the messages in the direct mailers.

The Results

KS Associates is more than satisfied with the results of its direct-mail campaign for several reasons. First, the program supports business development efforts for the survey group, aiding Yeager who has taken on a greater sales role as a result of the company’s growth. According to Yeager, “It is impossible for me alone to regularly reach out and touch a large number of people who procure our services. The direct-mail campaign helps keep our company name in front of decision makers, and makes my job of selling our services much easier. People recognize the KS name and are more willing to speak with me, especially those who may have never worked with us in the past.”

The company also tracks the number of hits to its Web site. According to Skellenger, each time a postcard is mailed, Web traffic spikes, revealing that people are visiting the survey group pages to learn more about the specific services highlighted in the postcards. “Our Web site traffic spikes about 20 percent on average every time we mail a card,” Skellenger says. “One client called and mentioned that he did not know KS was capable of surveying tunnels and he needed that service. He knows we can do that because he saw the photo of one of our surveyors in a tunnel on one of the cards.”

Skellenger further explains that the company’s survey group has received a significant amount of verbal feedback from its clients. “Our goal with the campaign is not necessarily to win direct sales as a result,” he says. “It is to increase awareness of our surveying services and position KS Associates as a professional, responsive company. The campaign also helps to support our business development professionals who are directly responsible for sales.”

Most importantly, clients are responding. KS Associates receives a steady stream of comments about its market visibility from clients and colleagues--either anecdotally or through formal programs such as client satisfaction surveys. One local architect noted to KS Associates that he placed the company on his project team because he sees the firm’s name every time he opens his mail.

“Even if the client does not pinpoint the campaign directly,” Skellenger says, “KS Associates knows this has been an effective tool in our marketing tool chest. Direct mail is helping us remain visible in an increasingly competitive marketplace.”