Postcards can be an effective marketing tool during tax season if targeted precisely to existing clients and used to build brand recognition.

A thread on the LinkedIn discussion group Tax Business Owners of America has recently explored the topic, beginning with a preparer whose two mailings of some 6,000 postcards netted 24 returns ("It did pay for itself," he noted). The data was used to focus on who responded and who didn't and to tighten list criteria and increase to six mailings.

Such experimentation is often typical of how preparers use postcards in marketing -- some of whom report limited success with postcards. More effective: word-of-mouth advertising, and flyers offering discounts and referral fees that are then distributed to "high-return customer contact professions" such as salons and barbershops.


Postcard tips

Charles McCabe of The Income Tax School in Glen Allen, Va., said that postcards are the best option for preparer direct-mail. "They're less expensive to produce and mail, and the message is immediately visible to the recipient. To be effective, the list [must] be targeted to taxpayers who are likely to consider using your tax service and the message must be attention-getting and compelling."

"Mass mailing -- and mass media in general -- is not cost-efficient in attracting taxpayers other than possibly 'fast refund' prospects," McCabe added. "Half of all taxpayers do their own returns and most of the other half already have a relationship with a tax preparer that they won't readily give up. Mailings should be targeted to self-preparer taxpayers who have had life-changing events such as a new job, marriage, divorce, death, etc., or who have relocated into the area and left their preparer behind."

Among other tips:

• The best mailings begin with lists. "The list is much more important than what is stated on the card," noted another preparer on the board. "The best way to use postcards is to send each of your current clients at least two ... with stamps on them, and ask [the clients] to put a short note on them and send them out to a couple of people they know who might be able to use your services. You will get a lot better return rate. Plus, you keep a supply on your desk, so that it reminds your clients and many times they will ask to send a couple for you."

• Send postcards to prior-year clients and referrals. Such clients, in one preparer's experience, returned calls to find out more about what was written on the postcard (such material can also include new process changes, a firm's specials or IRS news).

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