Did the SCOTUS Tax Ruling Nullify ‘Physical Presence’ as a Nexus Standard?

The recent SCOTUS tax ruling may have effectively removed “physical presence” for e-commerce retailers as a nexus standard for collecting and remitting sales and use taxes. This may potentially eliminate one of the most important protections on out-of-state businesses regarding interstate commerce of the past half century.

This is not a legal commentary on the SCOTUS tax ruling, but it may be one of legal remorse where taxation is concerned.

In one of his last acts as a U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Justice Anthony Kennedy undid the clock 51 years in South Dakota v. Wayfair, (opens as a PDF) and authored a 5-4 decision that may have effectively removed “physical presence”  for e-commerce retailers as a nexus standard for collecting and remitting sales and use taxes. This may potentially eliminate one of the most important protections on out-of-state businesses regarding interstate commerce of the past half century.

Why the uncertainty about the SCOTUS tax ruling? Because the court remanded the decision to South Dakota, where the lower court may make further modifications.

What of Taxation Without Representation?

We fought and won a Revolution on taxation without representation, but such tyranny may not seem to count for much where e-commerce is concerned. The National Bellas Hess (1967) and Quill (1992) decisions set and reaffirmed the “physical presence” test that blocked tax collection-and-remittance duties of out-of-state catalog and mail order companies, and their e-commerce offspring. Suddenly, this may no longer provide adequate protection.

The American Catalog Mailers Association identifies many open questions left in this decision’s wake,. Yes, it may have to fall to Congress and a new federal law to sort this all out.

Some tax-hungry states have called this “leveling the playing field.” Hardly. Name me a Main Street retailer who collects and remits taxes for thousands of state and local tax jurisdictions where there is no presence. Yet out-of-state companies, many of them small startups, may have to do just that. And we know how tempting it is to throw tax burdens on outsiders – knowing there are next-to-zero ramifications for doing so. Tyranny.

E-commerce firms today happily collect and remit taxes for jurisdictions where they have a physical presence. They receive a multitude of government services, and they have elected voice through direct representation in those governments. Every e-commerce firm in every state currently collects such taxes from in-state residents. So now we are really going to abandon this wise rationale for distributing tax collection burdens?

Other out-of-state businesses may make a business decision to collect and remit such taxes in states where they are not located. They may anticipate business growth or supply chain relationships that may extend to those other states. Yet, that is a decision as a business – not one mandated by a far-away government or a group of justices bending with the wind.

Interstate Commerce: Ladies and Gentlemen, Watch Your Wallets

As consumers, yes, we are currently responsible for self-reporting our out-of-state purchases, subject to sales taxes, and paying these taxes ourselves where we reside. We are supposed to do this through our state income tax form filing each year. (Interestingly, nearly 90% of business-to-business transactions are compliant, ACMA reported.)

So get ready to open your wallets, because if you haven’t been paying those taxes yourselves now – an e-commerce (and catalog) company may be forced to play state and local tax collector far beyond Hometown, USA. For those businesses in e-commerce, please stay tuned: The focus may turn to the legislative sector and lobbying for relief. In the meantime, it might be prudent to start researching tax collection software, while also devising creative and new non-nexus theories, because taxation without representation doesn’t appear to be one of them anymore.

Postal Rates and Internet Sales Tax Present Perfect Storm of Marketing Woes

This week I’m turning the blog over to some old friends at the ACMA. For anyone who uses direct mail, there’s a good chance postage will be going up dramatically soon. Whether you’re aware of that or not, this week’s post will bring you up to speed on the issues and how you can get involved in protecting your postage rates.

Note: This week I’m turning the blog over to some old friends at the American Catalog Mailers Association (ACMA). For anyone who uses direct mail, there’s a good chance postage will be going up dramatically soon. Whether you’re aware of that or not, this week ACMA’s Hamilton Davison and Paul Miller (former editor of our sister magazine “Catalog Success”) will bring you up to speed on the issues and how you can get involved in protecting your postal rates.

A Perfect Storm Headed Our Way

By Hamilton Davison & Paul Miller

Had enough snow-sleet-rain-wind-fire this past winter? Spring and summer could see even far worse storms in Washington, DC, that will affect all remote sellers — catalogers, publishers and e-commerce companies — for decades. Unless a strong industry push back is made, the resulting consequences will undermine your company’s profitability and add new complexity for both you and your customers.

These two major industry issues should have everyone’s attention:

  1. A potentially significant change (not for the better) in how future postal rates are to be set;
  2. The ramifications of a forthcoming Supreme Court ruling on the future of remote/internet sales taxes that could overturn over 50 years of precedent businesses nationwide have relied upon.

Our industry must mobilize to take action to respond to these industry-wide threats! The time to do so is right now. Inattention will be costly. Without a concerted, coordinated response, the outcome for both will be dire.

In each matter, it will remain with Congress to provide a solution. Moving bills through Congress is a challenge even in the best of times, but at this point in our political history, with charges and counter charges, with facts and fiction being obscured, even more effort is necessary. There are 535 different members of the federal legislature. Members of Congress respond best to the people that vote for them. So we need immediate constituent pressure on every member of Congress to let them know an important sector of the economy in their home jurisdiction is at risk.

ACMA is calling on every company with interests in remote selling, including all industry suppliers and other service providers, trade media to get engaged and help mitigate these very real threats facing our industry today. Whether with ACMA or some other trade group, history shows that professional associations are the best means to coordinate an industry response. Moreover, whether you are an AMCA member or not, ACMA will help you get connected to Congress. It is that important!

Let’s now examine these issues, explore where and how we go from here, and what must be done.

Postal Rates Going Up

A big change is in store for the postal rates-making process that may well lead to enormous rate hikes very soon. Here is how it happened:

  • The Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act, passed in 2006, called for postal rate increases to be capped annually at the consumer price index rate.
  • The system has worked well for most types of mailers since; postage rises only with inflationary pressure, something widely available and understood.
  • But the law called for the USPS’s oversight body (the Postal Regulatory Commission – PRC) to conduct a comprehensive review of the rate-setting system after 10 years.
  • Released this past December, the PRC review determined the price cap system hasn’t quite worked out as well as originally hoped. Medium- and long-term financial stability is allegedly not being achieved. In fact, the PRC proposed a significant change in which catalog postage rates will increase approximately 7% for Marketing Mail Flats and 5% for Carrier Route each year over the next five years. All mail will face significant increases.
  • The following five years, the PRC may elect to continue above-CPI increases or return to a CPI-capped maximum.
  • Assuming a level 2% CPI rate, this amounts to a cumulative 40% increase over the first five years (28% for carrier route) and upwards of 56% over the next decade (42% for carrier route). If inflation rises above 2% annually, total postage increases will be even higher.

The estimated percentage increases listed above primarily apply to mailers of catalogs and periodicals, because portions of these parts the postal system are considered to be “underwater.” Based on questionable data, some claim the Postal Service loses money in delivering such mail. But without question, the reported costs for flat shaped mail have risen rapidly since the purchase of the colossal Flats Sequencing System and now represents an existential threat to catalog and periodical mailers.

The PRC’s December review was termed a “proposal” and requested suggestions for alternatives. More than 100 commenters stepped up; the ACMA submitted four comments — one on its own, and three other joint comments with other industry groups. No time frame for a decision has been released, but the case is expected to be litigated.

Internet Sales Tax

Meanwhile, on April 17 the Supreme Court of the U.S. (SCOTUS) will deliberate for an overturn of its 1992 decision in Quill v. North Dakota, which held that businesses lacking a substantial nexus (or physical presence) in a state cannot be forced to adhere to their sales tax collection and remittance requirements. The case involves South Dakota’s 2017 suit against three online retailers: Wayfair, Newegg and Overstock.

Slow Down to Go Faster, Marketers

Sometimes you have to slow down to go faster. Those wise words of wisdom don’t just apply to business strategy, they are highly applicable to marketing.

Sometimes you have to slow down to go faster.

Those wise words of wisdom don’t just apply to business strategy, they are highly applicable to marketing.

We live in an age of extreme digital addiction, consumers glued to digital devices every waking hour. As a result, marketers rush to buy up all of the digital channels they can to be present and steal mindshare from all of the other brands tweeting, posting, sharing and hoping to get attention, engagement and sales. Yet, the simple truth is that most brands can’t really tell if its working, if they are getting sales and they don’t really know if consumers are really focused on their messages, even when data analytics say they were.

The secret is quite clear: to create meaningful engagement with customers in ways that build brands for the moment, as fleeting as it is today, and brands for the long-term despite technological changes, brands must slow down in order to go faster. Faster toward securing meaningful, purposeful engagement that results in what matters most to brands, now, in the past and in the future – lifetime value.

As old-fashioned as it may seem, print is one of the best ways to do this. And one of the oldest forms of print at its best is the catalog. In 1845, Tiffany and Company put out the first mail order catalog in North America, which they called the “Blue Book.” Shortly after the most commonly known catalogs like Sears and JCPenney took hold and the American catalog industry took off. Yet with online stores taking off and minimizing the cost to entry the retail world, print started to die off. Fewer ads in magazines, fewer catalogs and eventually, for companies that dropped their catalogs, that  meant fewer sales. A lot fewer.

Here’s just one example:

In 2000, Lands’ End cut back on sending catalogs to consumers. The result was a mere drop in sales of $100 million.  When the company conducted a survey among its customers to see what happened, they discovered that 76 percent of their online customers reviewed their printed catalog before going online. (Research by Kurt Salmon)

Xerox has helped add even more life to catalogs by using its variable data printing machines to create personalized catalogs.  Like personalized direct mail which enables customers to see their names and transaction history in a letter written “just for them,” customers can now see their names and other personalized information references in a multipage catalog.

According to Shelley Sweeney, a VP/General Manager at Xerox, brands are seeing big increases in results.

Catalogs are re-surging, not just because they can be personalized, but because they appeal to some key psychological drivers that digital just can’t. We humans are tactile people. We seem to trust more, believe more, like more and act more when we can reach out and touch something or someone. When we hold a magazine in our hands, carry it in our bags, and feel it with our finger tips, we feel connected. And when those catalogs present stories about the products, about the people who use the products, about the lifestyle qualities, values and causes associated with those brands and products, we feel connected with brands with a veracity that is hard to get from the fleeting digital screen with all of its moving parts, pop up distractions and links to click.

Patagonia’s catalog is a great example. This epic catalog features products alongside stories from its ambassadors and customers, sharing their personal stories in ways that inspire passion and evoke bonds with the brand telling the story. They use world-class photography to showcase the lifestyle of those who love their brand. And people love the art, story and products in the catalogs to the point that it not only creates product sales, but another life of its own. You can now purchase a book called “Unexpected,” which features some of the best catalog photographs from over the years.

The Patagonia catalog is not a quick read. It’s not a fast project and it’s not about fast and furious sales. It’s about slowing down for a moment, to read, to touch, to ponder the life you want to live and can live with brands that provide you tips, ideas, inspiration, and connection with themselves and with others just like you.

Its just like Dmitri Siegel, executive creative director and vice president of e-commerce for Patagonia, says, according to a recent New York Times article.

“Catalogs are a way we’re speaking to our closest friends and people who know the brand really well.”

Catalogs, now commonly called “magalogs,” are critical tools that build connections like few other channels can. Some things just never go out of style and this form of communication is not heading that way fast. In fact, while catalogs might seem to some like taking a step backward, they are truly becoming one of the fastest steps forward. And all by slowing down to regroup on what we humans like most: tangible, credible communications about things that matter to me.

My New Favorite Calendar … Or Is That a Catalog?

When I started planning my writing for 2017, I knew I could count on a print calendar I got in the mail to help me visualize.

When I started planning my writing for 2017, I knew I could count on a print calendar I got in the mail to help me visualize my work. The only question I had to answer was: which one?

Let me explain.

I like the app on my phone, but there’s something about physically filling out a calendar with to-do items that really works for me.

Between what I get from various charities, and the extras that spill onto my desk from Who’s Mailing What!, I had a lot of calendars to choose from. As in dozens of them.

I stacked them on the few surfaces I didn’t already have covered with baskets of mail, or catalogs. And most of them eventually wound up in our company’s lunch room, in the hopes they’d find a good home.

Many of them do exactly what they should do. Whether it’s promoting an insurance agency, or a non-profit, they keep your brand top of mind as they become part of your customer’s daily routine.

They use great images and present content that may be relevant to your customers’ lives.

cornellornithologyThe calendar from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology shows a wide variety of birds and includes tips each month on how to get closer to them and be a part of conservation efforts. June, for example, is about observing specific birds in city environments.

A lot of the nonprofit ones are like that, talking about their mission, and the role played by their donors in achieving great things.

But my favorite calendar is also a catalog. And I’ve never seen anything like it.

upg-calendar_01It’s from the Unemployed Philosophers Guild, a New York-based retailer of humorous “smart” t-shirts, mugs, soaps, and candles.

And, oh yeah, magnetic finger puppets of famous figures like Charles Darwin, Schrodinger’s Cat, and Davy Crockett!

upg-calendar_02A lot of these things are showcased on the opening spread.

Then the months of the calendar start flying by. Each month has a big special theme for the top leaf. For example, the famous and some not-so-famous muses from Greek mythology. Or  “Recently Discovered” constellations. It’s quirky and fun!

The merchandise shows up on various days, like famous birthdays, mixed in with offbeat historical dates.

Another monthly tactic that reminds you to order: a “BIG DEAL” response code exclusively for catalog/calendar shoppers.

I’ve already thought of people I know who will get a kick out of some of these items.

The lessons here?

With 12 months to keep your brand in front of your customers or donors, be sure to provide regular calls to action.

Make special offers.

And give them content, even in very small does, that they can’t easily get anywhere else.

5 Direct Mail Tips from Gardening Catalogs

This Monday was what some psychologists call “Blue Monday,” so I looked at some gardening catalogs. I jotted down some thoughts on what works well in them, marketing-wise. Even if you have the exact opposite of a green thumb, there are some practices worth considering.

This Monday was what some psychologists call “Blue Monday” but I was in pretty good spirits, thinking about spring, and looking at some catalogs.

Gardening catalogs, to be exact.

Last year, we planted a few tomatoes and that was it. No beans, no basil, no butterfly bushes … nothing.

This year’s going to be a different story.

We don’t have much space to work with, but enough for a few rows of this and that, and if we’re really lucky, save us a few trips to the farmer’s market.

I love the satisfaction that comes with each stage of the process, from turning over the ground, all the way up to harvesting a crop of … something.

So, time to plan, and out came the catalogs, some from home, and some from Who’s Mailing What!

I jotted down some thoughts on what works well in them, marketing-wise. Even if you have the exact opposite of a green thumb, there are some practices worth considering.

1. Use Lots of Color
catcover_01This should be a no-brainer, right? Plants are living things, so show them in all of the rich color print can deliver. This catalog from Tomato Growers Supply Co. is a great example, especially with its front cover. The size of the image on the pages inside can vary, and bigger isn’t always better.

2. Be Authentic
catorigin_01You want to build trust with your customers. But how? Tell a story. Talk about the history behind your brand. Baker Creeks Heirloom Seeds discusses the mission of its Good Seed Catalog, and ties to it a future without GMOs or corporate control of food.

3. Master the Details
catguide_01There are so many things the customer has to consider when ordering seeds or plants from a catalog. You want to provide enough facts for them to feel confident, but not overwhelmed. Wildseed Farms shows an image, some background and cultivation information, and pricing. Each listing also includes a seedling photo, and even indicates if it helps pollinators like birds or butterflies.

4. Compare Yourself to Others
catcompare_01Plants and seeds are available in so many places, both online and in brick-and-mortar stores. So, what differentiates your products from theirs, besides price, or reputation? Territorial Seed Co. devotes an entire page to explain what makes its live plants so special.

5. Offer the Latest Tools
catapp_01Seed and gardening catalogs have been around for well over 150 years. But when it comes to working the soil, or getting ready to do so, time doesn’t stand still. Tools aren’t just implements like shovels, composters, and seeders. Industry giants like Burpee offer apps to assist to help gardeners. Other companies promote instructional videos on their websites, as well as social channels for further assistance.

Printing and postage costs continue to go up, and more gardeners choose online shopping to fulfill their gardening needs. But hopefully, printed catalogs will continue to evolve, and become more personalized and relevant to consumers.

The Christmas Marketing That Worked on Me, and Why

It was the weekend before Christmas, and all through the house, not a wallet had opened, we hadn’t even gone out. … So, some direct marketing shopping was in order, but from who? Here are a couple pieces of marketing that worked on me this holiday season.

It was the weekend before Christmas, and all through the house, not a wallet had opened, we hadn’t even gone out. …

So, some direct marketing shopping was in order, but from who?

Here are a couple pieces of marketing that worked on me this holiday season, and one bit of retargeting that caught the attention of my wife.

ThinkGeek

It probably won’t surprise you that I have some geeks in my life. So I’m on the ThinkGeek email list (along with at least one other TM editor, spot their Schrodinger’s Cat mug).

I wasn’t planning on ordering anything from ThinkGeek this year, but I had some unfilled gift boxes, and this email came.

"Snuggle up with 30% off your order and ThinkGeek's coziest threds"? Don't mind if I do!
“Snuggle up with 30% off your order and ThinkGeek’s coziest threds”? Don’t mind if I do.

Why it worked: There’s a Harry Potter fan on my list, and that person happens to have been looking for a comforter. So X-mas marked the spot in the top-right corner with the Harry Potter House Comforter. In addition, the percent-off offers across the top are aggressive and hooked me in. In fact, I added a second gift for the same person just to get to the next discount level.

A Christmas Faux Pas: ThinkGeek did a good job with everything here, and got my gift in the mail the day after I ordered it (a Sunday, no less). However, they also made a little bit of a rookie mistake: The day after I ordered it, I got an email with the quilt on sale for about 20 percent less.

I’m not too upset over it, since it’s Christmas and the buying experience has been very good so far. But there was a moment there where I felt like a rube. I’m not sure what the best way is to make sure you don’t mail new deals to recent buyers, but as the buyer here, I feel like that’s a good way to undermine your good first impression.

Fairytale Brownies

I don’t only know geeks. I also know some ramblers. I’ve got family in a few states across the U.S. who we send gifts to.

A Visit From Catalogs of Christmas Past

A few months ago, I found a stack of vintage catalogs in a drawer that were collected from back in the day, when Who’s Mailing What! was still a print newsletter.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year … when holiday catalogs begin to show up in my mailbox, and my desk at work.

I’ve loved catalogs since I was a kid, whether they were from Sears, Edmund Scientifics, or Banana Republic. Fortunately, today, neither print nor direct mail are dead. Far from it. So, at some point in the next few weeks I’ll be taking a look at what’s been mailed this year.

But a few months ago, I found a stack of vintage catalogs in a drawer that were collected from back in the day, when Who’s Mailing What! was still a print newsletter.

It got me in a seasonal mood. Or maybe just thinking about how much catalogs have changed over the years, and how much they’ve stayed the same.

Let’s go back in time to 1985. Ronald Reagan was the president, Back to the Future was one of the year’s top movies, and the World Wide Web was almost ten years away. And, appearing in homes across America were these holiday catalogs. Here are some thoughts I have about each of them.

Neiman Marcus
neimanm_01This luxury retailer’s Christmas catalog has had a reputation for outlandish gifts since 1960. A $2 million pair of his-and-her diamonds was one the highlights in the 1985 edition. Well, that and the section of gifts for $25 and under.

Calls to action are hard to find throughout the book. But then, relaxing and paging through it while filling out an order form was probably a good way to go.

This was a big book, measuring 9-1/2”x12” and 110 pages.

I also liked the cover, which featured a collage by artist and designer Ivan Chermayeff.

Williams-Sonoma
williamssonoma_02I don’t like to cook, but I get how chefs of all abilities have drooled over the cookware and foods this company sells. This catalog is easy to read, lots of black type on white backgrounds on most of its 76 pages. It only measures 5-1/2”x8-1/2”, though.

Two other things I like:

  • The copy really sells benefits of much of the merchandise. In some cases, it even offers some preparation and serving suggestions.
  • There’s also content … recipes sprinkled throughout the catalog.

Lands’ End
landsendxmas_01A lot of what’s in this retailer’s catalog would still fit with what it sells today, even after the recent overhauls. Sweaters, anything plaid, pea coats … some things never go out of style.

Something I had not seen before was a removable center insert. It’s a short charming Christmas story called “The Impossible Snowsuit of Christmas Past,” by George V. Higgins.

Altman & Co.
baltmans_01Altman’s was a small New York-based department store chain that went out of business in 1990. One of its stores was in suburban Philadelphia, where I grew up. There’s not much good to say about this catalog. It wasn’t well-organized or indexed. But I did like the fold-out pages to quickly find gifts for under certain dollar amounts. And, I may have owned some of the clothing pictured above.

I know thirty-one years is a long time to hold on to a catalog. But I’m curious … marketers, did you shop with catalogs growing up? Which ones were your favorites? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

RIP, Victoria’s Secret Catalog … But Long Live Catalogs!

The news came out a few weeks ago: Victoria’s Secret – one of the most iconic catalogs of the last few decades – will be discontinued sometime this year.

The news came out a few weeks ago:  Victoria’s Secret – one of the most iconic catalogs of the last few decades – will be discontinued sometime this year.

VictSecretB_01Parent company L Brands cited high costs and a need to simplify its brand, but let’s face it, it’s also about the internet, especially mobile, and how it’s more and more the preferred channel for many customers.

That’s why this move isn’t that big a deal. One factor identified by the company was that testing revealed that eliminating the catalog mailings in a few areas had little to no effect on sales. As creative director Carol Worthington-Levy told me, “test-test-test.”

I’ve been thinking of other catalogs that show up on my desk every day at Who’s Mailing What! and how they differentiate themselves in the marketplace. What makes them special? Why do they stick with print?

Here are a few ideas about what works for catalogers today.

1. Photography & Paper
Patagonia_01Patagonia is an apparel and gear brand that has long relied on matching spectacular photography with the merchandise it sells in its catalogs. The paper even feels good, kind of satiny in my hands  – the same paper that makes those images looks so good. Patagonia even published a coffee table book, Unexpected, that featured photos from the catalog over the years.

2. Social Awareness
Penzey_03A lot of catalogs use content (more on that later), but not many express a viewpoint or advocate for a cause. Uline is one I can think of right away, with a new issue addressed every few months. Another one is Penzey’s, the spice catalog. In this example, it ran stories of people involved in Milwaukee’s public transit struggles around recipes and the ingredients they required.

3. Transparency
Lush_01Lush is a cosmetics retailer that at the front of the catalog announces its commitment to using responsible packaging, buying ethically, and opposing animal testing. Each product listing includes its ingredients.

4. Fun
Zoro_01
I’ve always liked catalogs selling products that are good for a little laugh, but this heavy card stock paper football game from Zoro, the tool supplier, really caught my eye. It’s more elaborate than what I ever did as a kid, and it has the company brand on it. Nicely done.

5. Curation
TravelsmithCurate_01You can sell clothing or other merchandise, so how about championing your expertise? Lots of style guides do this, laying out the trends for a new season, or maybe putting together a wardrobe. TravelSmith here talks about how its team starts a year in advance to select materials and styles for its apparel.

6. Content
Design_01I never miss an opportunity to look at how catalogers use content, and there are too many to easily name. And, I’ve already mentioned Patagonia and Penzey’s. Build.com is another catalog that’s much more like a magazine.

This is a great example from Design Within Reach, the furniture brand. A recent issue of the catalog featured a collection based on the work of George Nelson. Besides articles about the late designer, the stories behind individual items are told.

Somewhere along the line, after changing how lingerie is sold in several retail channels, the economic rationale for Victoria’s Secret’s continued existence as a printed catalog ended. But with so many exciting developments under way, like programmatic print, and augmented reality, the age of the catalog is far from over.

 

4 Delicious Ways to Leverage Recipes in Direct Mail

Direct mail can affect you in a lot of ways. It can make you happy, angry, inspired or sad … but can it make you hungry? It can when it includes food recipes. Here are some ideas, based on mail found in Who’s Mailing What!, on how to entice customers with food content.

Direct mail can affect you in a lot of ways. It can make you happy, angry, inspired or sad … but can it make you hungry? It can when it includes food recipes, even when one of them turns out to be for borscht.

A few weeks ago, Ashley Roberts of Printing Impressions (a sister brand of Target Marketing) asked me to appear in a video with her to profile a mailing that Agfa Graphics sent to its VIP file. The beautiful food photography of the calendar and its accompanying cookbook was enhanced by augmented reality. You can read and see all about it here.

It got me thinking about other companies that have used recipes as an important ingredient in their marketing mix. Here are some ideas, based on mail found in Who’s Mailing What!, on how to entice customers with food content.

1. Demonstrate Your Product
This is almost too obvious: if food is your product, it certainly can’t hurt to help to offer a demonstration of how it can be prepared or used in a meal. For instance, supermarkets or packaged goods marketers can tie a recipe to a food that’s part of a sales promotion, special offer, or coupon.

Penzeys Spices sells high-quality spices for the home chef, from cinnamon and lemon peel to extracts and chili peppers. It has a chain of brick-and-mortar stores, an e-commerce website, and a direct mail catalog, all of which rely on recipes.

Penzey_0001Here’s an example. This partial page from a Penzeys catalog describes saffron’s properties, the varieties that are available, and their pricing. The recipe that’s shown is so simple to follow that even I can master it.

When combined with numerous sidebar pieces and long-form articles in each issue of the catalog, this tactic bolsters the authenticity of Penzeys’ brand.

2. Reinforce Your Mission
Clever organizations have leveraged recipes for the right types of foods that are in keeping with their goals. Lots of health systems and hospitals mail newsletters and magazines that are chock-full of juicy content, like tips on exercise and disease prevention, as part of creating a more healthy lifestyle. To encourage healthier eating of one kind or another — low salt, low sugar, etc. — recipes are provided.

NtlOsteo_0001National Osteoporosis Foundation focuses on bone health and improving screening and other preventative measures in its fundraising campaigns. To supplement those efforts, and to support the group’s expertise, a recent appeal included two recipe cards and highlighted the calcium amount for each food.

3. Support Your Product
Recipes have long been used to tease printed products — like magazines, cookbooks, diet plans, and recipe cards — that focus on food. But what if the product isn’t print?

ComFoodN_0001Comcast, for example, partnered with the Food Network on a direct mail promotion for all of its entertainment and communications packages.

Images throughout the brochure show food in different holiday settings, as well as the channel’s programs and personalities.

And the next-to-last page? Two “tasty holiday recipes,” with pictures, for “Really Onion Dip” and “Butter-and-Jam Thumbprints.”  Yum.

4. Reward Your Customers
As the forward to the cookbook shown below notes, “food and travel are inextricably connected.” It was mailed to past customers who had traveled with Grand Circle, a tour operator. There’s no promotion for any upcoming trips, just a request for feedback on the cookbook itself.

GrandC_0001The book’s 48 pages are designed to “inspire a culinary journey at your table,” with recipes covering dishes from a variety of Mediterranean destinations. With its high-gloss coated stock and spiral binding, it’s the perfect thing to sit on a kitchen counter as the traveler cooks and dreams of their next trip with the company, and the food they’ll eat along the way.

The one big takeaway to using recipes in mail is that it’s really not all that different than cooking itself. It’s a tactic that should be carefully measured out in just the right amounts to achieve the desired outcome, and not overwhelm the senses, or the tastes, of the customer.