ALF NUCIFORA Nowadays, every company has a fax machine. And the machines hum with constant activity. How did we ever live without them? But the fax machine can do more than exchange information, whether it be business correspondence, sales orders or advertising messages. Fax technology is now becoming an important marketing weapon to those companies that have been quick to realize its potential. And because of its reasonable cost, fax marketing is equally accessible to and affordable for the small business as it is for the Fortune 500 marketer. Fax works as a marketing tool because it helps deliver what many other communications vehicles don’t urgency directly into the buyer’s office or home. While regular incoming business correspondence can lie dormant in the “in” tray for days and sometimes weeks on end, the incoming fax still has a sense of immediacy about it. People want to read it because it might be important (why else was it sent by fax?). There are two primary fax marketing systems: fax-on-demand and fax broadcasting. Fax-on-demand is ideal for any application that demands quick response to high-volume requests for information. It allows callers to specify the information needed and receive it immediately. They get instant, easy access to important information, 24 hours a day, worldwide. Fax broadcasting allows a company to send timely information to as many locations as it chooses, all at once and with minimum hassle. Just push a button (or have somebody push a button for you) and you can send the latest data to everyone on your customer or prospect mailing list, instantly. In addition to improving productivity (i.e., freeing administrative staff from time-consuming tasks such as copying, assembling and mailing), fax marketing saves time (no more envelopes to address, stamps to lick or waiting for mail to be delivered). It helps build loyalty with existing customers and provides a competitive edge by allowing a company to deliver accurate information to its customers before competitors do. Radio stations are jumping on the bandwagon. Broadcasting fax and fax-on-demand enable radio stations to better communicate with listeners and to compete for advertising dollars. For example, one station faxes a monthly newsletter (“The Buzz”) to thousands of listeners who have requested it. The Buzz is filled with information about station events, general music trivia and coupons from advertisers. Broadcast Solutions Group, an affiliated company of Pivotal Communications, markets an interactive phone system to radio and TV stations that provides detailed information to listeners via fax. If callers want a hard copy of a concert calendar or the ski report, they can call from any telephone and request that the documents be delivered via fax. Page two of the fax might include restaurant coupons in the case of the concert calendar or coupons for ski tune-ups or equipment rental in the case of the ski report. Banks have also embraced fax technology in marketing loan services (especially mortgages to potential customers). According to Bank Technology News, a handful of banks, including First Tennessee Bank and Maryland National Bank, have begun implementing a fax-based mortgage approval system that locks in potential customers while they are still in the real estate agent’s office, giving banks access to qualified leads well ahead of the competition. At the same time, banks strengthen their relationships with brokers who are able to provide quick financing information to clients while they are still in the office, primed and ready to buy. Chambers of commerce are also using fax-on-demand to provide callers with information on hotels, events, etc. This provides an easy mechanism to keep information current without having to go to the printer every week as updates warrant. Some restaurants are also using fax-on-demand to make daily menus and directions available to convention hotels, convention and visitors bureaus and visitors centers. Most major office equipment manufacturers now provide a full range of fax technology that will enable multiple distribution of fax messages with pre-programmed push-button ease. However, for the small business that chooses not to invest in hardware, there are a number of companies that provide both fax-on-demand and fax broadcasting services at a reasonable cost. Atlanta’s Info Connection now provides a number of fax marketing services for clients such as the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the NCAA and more than 350 top university and college athletic departments. According to Mark McCollum, President and CEO of Pivotal Communications, the Info Connection parent, “many colleges that initially used Info Connection to respond to requests from media have expanded use of the system to respond to inquiries from fans and alumni about college athletics, alumni activities, reunions, fund raisers and continuing education.” According to Dennis la Bissoniere of the Big Ten Conference, Info Connection has provided $78,000 in annual savings and allowed the conference to respond to 61,000 requests for information in 1994. In fact, Info Connection can respond to hundreds of requests simultaneously and has handled up to 50,000 requests for information in a one-month period. Few marketing tools can compare to the accuracy, speed and cost-effectiveness of fax marketing. It has great reach simply because it is such a universal method of communication. The smart small business that wants to jump on its competition will take a serious look at fax marketing now. If there isn’t enough money to invest in equipment and technology, consider the benefits of an outside provider. Either way, fax marketing makes sense for the small business. Alf Nucifora is an Atlanta-based marketing consultant. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com or by fax at (770) 952-7834.