How not to chuck your money away on campaigns that don’t work.

Do you have a recent canvassing leaflet nearby as you read this? Or can you remember it? What does it say? If it’s like any of the ones I’ve seen recently, it may say:

We have buyers waiting!

Thinking of moving?

We need your property to sell!

Is it working for you? And by working, let’s say, returning you more than half a percent response rate?

I know agents in London who continue to canvas in the tens of thousands each month to get a response rate of 0.1% and even less.  Can you afford to canvas on that basis?

Most canvassing is done on the basis that, if it wins you one instruction, you get your money back, and more.  But what if you don’t get any enquiries? I know agents who canvas up to 5,000 or even 10,000 leaflets a week, and get only a handful of enquiries each year.

And what if you’re trying to target landlords? It’s much more common to get a zero return, as most properties will be owner-occupied or let, and based on the balance of probability, landlords will be in the minority.

Imagine this:

You get home from work tonight to find this leaflet on your doormat:

This card fails on three counts:

Firstly, the answer to both questions is wither yes or no: it forces the recipient down a cul-de-sac, and your card straight into the recycle bin.

Secondly, you’ve just got back from work, so chances are, the office is closed now.  Even if you wanted to get in touch with Erika, you’d have to remember to save the card, take it to work the next day, and call when you had the chance. Too much like hard work, easier to pop it into the recycling instead.

Lastly, and most importantly, why should you call? What’s in it for you? Granted, we haven’t seen the reverse of the card; it could be chock-full of great reasons to make that call, but somehow I doubt it.

If I were advising this solicitor on their marketing campaigns, (an appealing prospect, now I come to think of it), I’d be telling them to use their canvassing to build relationships, not try to find the needle in a haystack that is someone thinking of using a divorce lawyer at that particular moment in time.

Think of it this way. The average UK marriage lasts 11 years, and I suspect that most unhappy spouses consider divorcing for at least a few months before taking the plunge to contact a solicitor. Let’s say that for a month, they are teetering towards making that call.  That means that the solicitor’s card has a 1/132, or 0.8% chance of arriving on that mat when that person needs it.   But what if the card arrived the month before, when they weren’t ready, or a month later, when they had already called another firm?  Pretty hit and miss, isn’t it?

Isn’t property canvassing the same?

Although the stats tell us that the average homeowner stays in their property for 23 years, we want the ones who move every 5-10 years.  Let’s say you pick a street where the most likely first time sellers live; perhaps it’s mainly flats.  We know that roughly 2/3 of flats are tenanted, so only a third of your leaflets will be received by someone you want. Then you’re looking for that magic month in 60 (5 years) where they may be thinking of booking a valuation.  So your possible audience is 0.5%. That’s why leaflets like this don’t work:

Canvassing is an art and a science. 

When Peter Butler from Out and About Marketing asked this question on LinkedIn:

it incited 48 comments from industry professionals.  These are the highlights:

“99.9% of leaflets talk about the firm, which isn’t interesting to the reader.”

“no doubt that a combination of traditional & on-line marketing will deliver the best results”

“When l dropped a leaflet in March we got 3 calls and one sale worth £1,500 from a spend of £300 not a bad from that and we had a call a month later from someone who kept the card.. 2 instructions one sale“

“Like anything else, done badly, it will be a waste of time. Key to success are relevance and targeting. Get these right and Roi will be exceptional, cost is in pennies with returns in £100’s, with the added bonus of reinforcing brand awareness.”

Let’s look at some of the ways you can increase the return you get from your canvassing efforts:

Remember what’s important:

1. Recipient

2. Message

3. Design

In that order.  There is no point in having a terrific call to action (something they need to do) and be beautifully designed, if your landlord leaflet lands in a student house.  However, a receptive recipient may respond (loving the alliteration) to a poorly designed postcard if the message strikes a chord for her personally.

Try: profiling all your previous respondents.  Age, sex, location, type of house, life stage, etc. Going into detail with interests, occupation, family status and more, will help you laser-target those potential clients and reach out to them in your next canvassing campaign.

Thinking longer term

Forget property; think people.  Focus on how you can get that one person to respond to something you send out, so you have their contact details. If you have selected the right streets for your campaign, you’ll know that 5% will probably move in the next year, and 15% are thinking about it. If you’re in touch with them when they decide to take the plunge, you’ll at least be in with a chance of an appointment.

Try: something completely different.  Make the call to action really easy, like a contest, or a survey: something that needs a response.

Integrative campaigns

Canvassing shouldn’t be a standalone activity. It needs support from all of your other marketing campaigns. Social media, newspaper advertising and your email campaign, should carry the same theme and message at that time, for the chance at the best return.

Try: ask your graphic designer to create a multi-channel campaign for you.  Pick three media and ask them to design the different formats you need.

Is canvassing worth doing?

Yes!  It remains for most agents the highest source of vendor and landlord enquiries after word of mouth. You just have to be clever about it.

Stop chucking your money away on leaflets that don’t work to people who don’t want them, and think about what it is that you are trying to achieve: a steady supply of long-term landlords, and great vendors with easy-to-sell properties.  Both possible, with creative thinking and innovative implementation.

If you’d like a chat with my team to find out more about how we work, just tell us a bit about your business using this link, and let’s talk:

Sam 🙂

What to read next: What’s Your Audience Worth?

What to do next: Do you get my Supertips? They’re jam-packed full of great tips and marketing strategies just like this one, and best still – they’re free! Get yours here ->

Speak to Sam: If you’d like to know how I think you could improve your marketing, just answer a few short questions here and I’ll tell you if and how you could be more effective

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8 thoughts on “Clever Canvassing

  1. Adrian 10 years ago

    A very interesting read, and thought provoking about strategies for marketing.

    1. Sam Ashdown 10 years ago

      Thanks Adrian! Thought-provoking is what I was aiming for, so glad I achieved it ;o)

  2. Rob 9 years ago

    The basics of the maths involved makes it obvious- I’ll be sure to pass this article along.
    Do you have any ideas on how to get to the landlords of the properties? Land registry searches are a bit time consuming and expensive!

  3. Riaz shah 9 years ago

    Trying to find landlords is really difficult there has to be an easier way of communicating with them. Anyone any advice

  4. Ashton @ BYM 9 years ago

    Great article, Sam! Thanks for posting.

    Here at, we understand the value of creating and sending out dazzling direct mail to your property customers and prospects.

    As well as offering newsletters, emails, SMS and surveys on our marketing platform, our direct mail feature allows you to easily create and send canvassing cards, leaflets, ‘sold in your road’ campaigns and more.

    We also give you access to our database containing over 36 million postal records. You can filter the data by variables such as age, location, household income and more to target your campaigns with pinpoint precision.

    Feel free to check out our website at or give us a call on 0344 800 84 24 to find out more.

    1. Sam Ashdown 9 years ago

      Thanks Ashton!

  5. Richard 7 years ago

    As one of the leading leaflet distribution companies for Nottingham, Derby and Leicester. We can only agree with this information shared here . 3 things that matter Design, Message and the Area you target

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