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The Bucks Start Here Part II

January 1, 2006

13 Min Read
The Bucks Start Here Part II

Each month since January, we've concentrated on doing the background work for classic self-storage marketing. Now that's done, let's hit the throttle, pull back on the stick and take off. We're itching to tell our story, and media is our flight into the marketplace.


Media is a summary term that includes every way to make contact with prospects. It ranges from sales people to advertising to direct mail to fliers, etc. The choice is determined by the nature of the target audience, the message and cost.

I first need to comment on one aspect common to virtually all media use--fulfillment. That's the process of responding to whatever request the prospect makes as a result of your media. It could be a telephone call, it could be a request for a brochure. As always, we need to be mindful of the prospect's expectations. The effectiveness of your effort now passes to the quality of response--that's a function both of the speed and certainty that the response correctly connects with the ad. Be certain that when you mount a program, your fulfillment process is in place and ready to go.

In my book on self-storage marketing, I detailed the various types of media out there with an appraisal on each for self-storage usefulness. My objective there is to equip the reader to evaluate marketing options and feel comfortable operating in a marketing world. In this article, we will move directly to the choices that have application for the self-storage industry. But first, let me provide some general comments about the types of media.

Non-Personal Media

There are two general classes of media--general (or mass) and directed. The choice is determined by whether the target audience is structured or not, plus cost/benefit ratios. General media is used to reach unstructured targets; directed media is used with structured audiences. The difference? Buyers spread randomly and anonymously throughout the subject population are unstructured. Example: retail food supermarkets. Everyone within the travel-range of the location is in the target audience, and the potential business volume is huge.

Is that true of self-storage? Some of our segments are unstructured (residential moves, personal goods, excess storage etc.), but we can get killed when cost and volume enter the mix. That is, potential tenants with the above self-storage needs do fall into the general-media target category. However, we must then consider their income value to the facility plus the size of the community. Why? Circulation size or listenership in the community, not the size of the facility, determines the mass-media ad rate. A 400-unit facility in a big city won't work, whereas the same size facility in a small city could.

What's structured? Continuing with the supermarket analogy, think about wholesale food distributors or restaurants. Just check the Yellow Pages or use a SIC-code sort and we have these segments aced. Or how about professional organizations, such as attorneys, medical practitioners, banks, etc.? Any problem in determining where or who they are? No, we know who they are. Any need to use general media to reach these? No.

We're going to survey the various kinds of media that can be useful to self-storage. The ones discussed are a minority of those available, but qualify because of the combination of tenant profiles and cost effectiveness for this industry.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Most self-storage operations will find that directed media is most suited to their needs and pocketbook. For directed media to be effective, the facility needs excellent, specific, compelling information on how a prospect will benefit. That's why I keep hounding you to identify segments and find out how they specifically benefit. Without that knowledge, one cannot effectively use directed media.

The self-storage operator has a dilemma: General media is probably not economical at the outset; directed media requires information he may well have never gathered. So, many may have nowhere to go. I urge self-storage operators to cozy up to their important segments--that takes good knowledge about how they operate and benefit from self-storage.

Office Managers

In the current situation, much of the role of the office manager is clerical support for the facility. Much of his duties relate to record keeping, collecting rents, signing new tenants, cleaning, repairing, etc. The manager provides assurance that someone cares about the satisfaction of tenants, and their on-site presence offers some degree of security warranty. As vital as these things are, they don't rise to the level of being true sales personnel. This means that the primary selling job has to be done using other types of media. The manager will support the marketing/sales effort and participate in the final stages of the process.


Publicity is information about your organization that is published free by a publication because the editor believes it has news value for the readership or listernership of the media involved. For your local publications, you have an excellent chance of taking advantage of this mode of communication. If what you are doing is new or unique (newsworthy), you have a good chance of success. Business activities are of interest to the public.


The easiest, most effective, and cheapest media is a good word from former tenants. This is a natural choice for us since we all pump out about 50 percent or more of our unit-count every year. That's a lot of people. The problem is getting them to do it. Step one is outstanding service. That word is not "satisfactory," it's "outstanding." But that isn't enough. The tenant receiving that level of service must then be reminded or prompted by us that we expect them to tell their friends and acquaintances. There is much that can be done without seeming presumptuous or pushy. The key is the exemplary, perhaps novel, service experienced by tenants that make their experience a conversation piece.

Yellow Pages

This general media choice is a necessary evil. I know everyone uses it, but it is quite expensive and only gets you into the game. It doesn't really sell units, it only gets the prospect to call you. That call is when the real selling starts.

The tenant's look at the Yellow Pages begins after he has decided he wants self-storage. And when the reader does so, there are all your rivals. But, you must be there to be in the hunt. Usually the prospect is only going to make a couple of shopping calls. To be one of those calls, there must be a "grabber" in your ad. The most common is location, but ad size is also a consideration. The latter affects the ad cost, which gobbles up promotion dollars at the expense of other approaches that could be more useful.

The Internet

This is an up-and-coming media that deserves your attention. It is inexpensive and versatile. It is a burgeoning out for the unhappy cost of Yellow Pages. A Web page offers instantaneous fulfillment with almost no chance of providing outdated or incorrect information, and you can use a smaller Yellow Pages ad, using it to provoke contact with your Web page. Once you have a Web "hit," you have the tenant's undivided attention and can deliver your message to your heart's content. It rivals the phone in effectiveness since it permits pictures and extended copy, and the reader can print out your story (location, costs, etc.). Further, it can be interactive through e-mail, permitting the viewer to contact you directly.

This media also carries a silent plus: It's the "in" thing to do and suggests forward-thinking management.

Exactly how this medium will develop is anyone's guess, but it bears watching. With its cost so low, you can experiment with it as it develops without breaking the bank. The main drawback is the possibly low faction of prospects in your area who now have access to the Internet; however, that is changing fast.

Selective Print Media

This mainly includes trade publications and in-house newsletters. They are published by local clubs and/or organizations, business/trade associations or individuals. The most useful ones are published local to your area.

Recipients avidly read such publications. Also, since any advertising revenues received are income to the association, there is a degree of appreciation by the membership involved. It is often possible to insert ads and articles in these publications that function for you as infomercials. The cost is quite low.

Direct Mail

Direct mail can be the workhorse for self-storage--if facilities will gain enough understanding about how their units are generating tenant value to compose good material. Where you have an interesting segment and don't have decent, selective, print media available, direct mail is a choice.

However, direct mail is often done poorly. It looks so easy: Compose a snappy message, fold it up, address and mail it. But let's take a closer look. The primary benefit of direct mail is the ability to get very selective and specific in identifying the target market and delivering a message. You can direct it toward a specific person. Unlike general media, here you know who is going to be reading the piece.

To some extent that advantage imposes some obligations that we may not be able to meet. The recipient sees his name, title, business name, etc., on the envelope and expects there to be something within coupled to those elements. Often what is actually inside is a generalized appeal that is not really direct at all. It's called "direct mail" for a reason. It should be personal to the recipient--make it so. When it is, the effect and the results are outstanding.

Let's assume that we have the message right and now are anxious to get on with the program. The first assignment for the direct-mail piece is to get it in front of the decision-maker. If that doesn't happen, nothing else matters. You need some strategy. Getting that person to read it relates to the construction and design. "It looks impressive, therefore I should take this thing seriously." Remember our sales steps? First, attention; next, interest.

At this stage, there is a big difference between a residential campaign and one directed to a business decision-maker.


Here the simple approach we described has a chance. The main reason is that once it gets to the residence, the chances are very good that it will get seen by a decision-maker, Mr. or Ms. Doe. Now, progress rests with the ability of the piece to instill interest and go on to get a response. However, there is little specificity involved so far and, thus, little to go on when trying to make a solid appeal.

The size of the recipient's home might be a qualifier, assuming smaller homes have little storage space. Apartments may, assuming that most apartments have inadequate storage and/or that many occupants of apartments are pining for their own home in the future and may need storage during a move. The less tuned the appeal, the less expectation you should have on response levels. Avoid addressing direct-mail pieces to "occupant."

Success depends on your ability to present benefits to each prospect. The more specific the better. When you find yourself writing copy that reads, "All metal, climate-controlled, good location, well-lighted, blah, blah, blah...," you know you've got a problem. You simply don't know enough about the circumstances of the recipient to make a good appeal.


Getting to the decision-maker with a business is another story. Here, there are some barriers designed and paid for by the decision-maker to prevent your message from getting in front of the right person. That barrier is called a secretary or receptionist, a person charged with protecting the boss's time from trivia. An important component of the barrier's job is how well he protects the boss from frivolous demands. So, to get to the boss you must first get through the barrier.

That barrier is formidable because this person has absolute control of the situation and will rarely be reprimanded for getting rid of anything as inconsequential as the usual direct-mail piece. Also, tossing it is safe because no one will ever know. Since referring it to the boss can result in criticism, the bias is to toss and avoid further risk--pretty daunting odds, which is why direct mail to businesses is tricky.

Mission Impossible?

Your assignment, Mr. Owner, should you choose to accept it, is to get your direct mail into that first category. That calls for a specific strategy that is aside from the message itself. First, be sure it is directed to an individual, not an institution. Allied with that is the selection of the right individual. Depending on the size of the business, there may be departments whose manager may better respond to your appeal than the top dog. You must make that determination and then make inquiry to get the proper name and title for each such person.

What to Expect

There are no characteristic response levels to direct mail. The general broadcast-type of approach we discussed under residential will usually be quite low. A guess would be 5 percent. There is little qualification involved and little is known about the target, except that he lives in a residence.

The business-program response should be much higher--assuming the research enables you to compose pieces that are particular to the target person. That means the amount of preparation will be considerably greater; however, the payoff is also greater in that stay periods are longer and payment reliability is much better, with pre-payments being quite frequent.

Hopefully, the above points out that a successful direct-mail campaign takes lots of preparation and careful attention to fulfill. One other thing: Even if the program does not produce a response, you have put each recipient on notice that you're in town. To have prepared a solid approach that recognizes the parameters of his business will not be forgotten by your prospect.

Whiz-Bang Marketing

The patent medicine quacks will sell their snake oil as good for whatever ails you. The marketing charlatans tell us that a new telephone technique will wipe out the competition and keep you full forever. Well, maybe. That kind of reminds me of all the pitches for losing weight: Deep down we all know that the only true way is to lose weight is control of diet plus exercise. That's a life-style change most overweight people would rather delay, if not avoid altogether. In come the miracle fads. You know it's too good to be true, but maybe this one time.... Our marketing message is similar.

By now you realize that moving away from offering commodities, recognizing segments--living by good marketing health habits--is a business life-style change. You now have a feel for how and why real marketing works and can judge if it has a place in your operation. If these articles provide nothing more, I've succeeded. Henceforth, I will be discussing selected market-oriented topics and, as always, I invite your questions. You can direct them to me or to Inside Self-Storage.

Missed some previous issues? Check the Web at www.hardnosed.com.

Harley Rolfe is a semi-retired marketing specialist whose career included executive-level marketing positions with General Electric and AT&T. He also owned lodging and office facilities for more than 20 years. Mr. Rolfe holds a bachelor's degree in economics from Wabash College and a master's degree in business administration from the University of Indiana. He can be reached at his home in Nampa, Idaho, at (208) 463-9039. Further information can also be found in Mr. Harley's book Hard-Nosed Marketing for Self-Storage.

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