Direct Mail That Worked on Me

I admit that I am very interested in direct mail. So I like to look to my mail box both at work and at home to see what others are mailing. As a seasoned direct mailer, I am critical of what I receive. Every year there seem to be fewer and fewer pieces that really stand out to me

I admit that I am very interested in direct mail. So I like to look to my mail box both at work and at home to see what others are mailing. As a seasoned direct mailer, I am critical of what I receive. Every year there seem to be fewer and fewer pieces that really stand out to me. Since that is the case, I thought it would be a good idea to share a couple of examples of direct mail I received that I really liked. You can do this too, what is in your mail box, what works on you? Keep samples at your office of good direct mail so that you can emulate what they are doing.

The first example is actually pretty old. I received it in the early 2000’s. However, I have kept part of it all these years because it was a great idea.

Mail Piece No. 1:

  • 6 x 9 envelope.
  • In the envelope was a letter and a strange shaped object.

It was made of card stock paper, but I was not sure what it was. I, of course, did not read the letter first—I wanted to know what that thing was. As soon as I lifted it out of the envelope, it popped out of my hand and landed on the desk in the form of a box. It startled me and I jumped! (Probably not a good idea to send to seniors) Each of the four sides of the box had different messaging in bold. On top it read “think outside the box,” another panel read “fulfillment is more than packaging,” the third “easy orders mean easy money” and finally, the last panel said “your increased success is one phone call away.”

I did read the letter, because by then I was curious about what they were selling! It was fulfillment software with inventory and store front controls. I did end up buying the software, and is has worked great.

This pop-up type of mailing can be very versatile. The best part about it is that it is unexpected and breeds curiosity. They can be created in many different shapes, so get creative and pop up your ROI. Now for the second mail piece that caught my eye.

Mail Piece No. 2:

  • 6 x 10 mailer with a three panel roll fold, fugitive glued closed.

The first thing I noticed was that it was not tabbed. (I prefer the look of fugitive glue.) As I flipped it over, I noticed that it was personalized. They included my name in the tagline. When I opened the mailer, I realized it was fully personalized. My name was again on the inside note. The best part was it had coupons for things that I buy. They knew what I was interested in, and only offered me coupons for those items.

Did I use them? Of course I did! The true advantage to personalization is that the mailer appeals directly to the needs or wants of the recipient. This becomes a valuable piece of mail to them.

If there are only two things you take away from reading today I hope that they are:

  1. Direct mail needs to stand out.
  2. Direct mail needs to be relevant to the recipient.

If you create direct mail campaigns that address these two concepts, your ROI will show it. Direct mail can also be a great way to introduce your organization to new prospects who are not familiar with you. Direct mail is not viewed as intrusive and can be held onto for a period of time without the issue of being forgotten. It does still require you to vet your lists to mail to only prospects who are interested in what you are offering. When purchasing a list of prospects, this can be done with demographics, psychographics and so much more.

The Mailboxes of My Memory

In my life, I’ve had a lot of mailboxes. My current box (New York, N.Y.) is part of an apartment building cluster box—and one that proudly holds about four to five days’ worth of mail, including magazines and catalogs. I can run off for a day or two and the incoming mail safely, securely collects there without my having to fill out a “hold mail” card at the local Murray Hill post office

It’s the height of summer in New York City—seems like we shrugged off the chills—and my mind has turned to lemonade, fresh berries, the beach at Fire Island and my upcoming class reunion in Ogallala, Nebraska.

Getting nostalgic is something I think I have a knack for … Funny, even as I experience present moments presently, I sometimes find myself wondering how I will think about each memory years down the road. Pretty convoluted—experiencing “now,” and thinking ahead about thinking back, all at the same time. The weekend of my class reunion, I literally will be reliving a time a few decades ago, except this go-around on my terms.

In my life, I’ve had a lot of mailboxes. My current box (New York, NY) is part of an apartment building cluster box—and one that proudly holds about four to five days’ worth of mail, including magazines and catalogs. I can run off for a day or two and the incoming mail safely, securely collects there without my having to fill out a “hold mail” card at the local Murray Hill post office. Before we remodeled our building’s lobby, I had a tinier cluster box—installed in the 1960s—that could barely hold a day’s mail. The mail carrier sometimes would just come up the elevator and leave my mail on the mat by my door. He was probably not following protocol, but I bet he was just as happy as I was when we installed the larger boxes.

Before New York City, and a few prior addresses ago, I lived in Newtown, CT, with my family during my college years. There we first had a standard USPS mailbox with an up-and-down flag, the kind you still find at Sears. Mom was an avid direct shopper. Her L.L. Bean and Lands End deliveries were stuffed in the mailbox and sometimes dangled out over the open lid. (The QVC purchases came by UPS and were left by the garage door.)

After a series of snowfalls, when the town plow took out the mailbox for a second or third time, we had had it. A friend of my Mom’s engineered a piece of genius: a super-jumbo mailbox that set on a sliding rail that in wintertime could ride forward over the snowbank to easily meet the reach of the mail truck. We could slide the mailbox back from the road during snowstorms to keep it from getting whacked. It also held a lot of mail order packages.

That was my favorite mailbox—but it also was a favorite of yellow jackets during springs and summers. Each year I had to spray it with insect killer to eradicate a growing hive. (Aside, we always hear about letter carriers and dog bites—but how many bee stings do letter carriers endure?) I also remember the hearty hostas perennials that would grow so fervently around the base of the mailbox—and to this day, hostas are my go-to ground cover in any area beset by sand and road salt leftovers from the winter.

In Ogallala, NE, we actually had a “city style” single-residence black mailbox with a top lid and two parallel curling hooks underneath for flyers and my Boys Life magazine (my first piece of regular mail, that I can recall), attached to the house by the front door. I had my first pen pal then, too—a school principal I corresponded with from Melfort, Saskatchewan. Nothing unusual in this mailbox setup—until my big sister (well, allegedly, one of her friends) was found to be hiding a stash of 70’s illicit paraphernalia inside a corner of it. Talk about special delivery! I wonder if she shared any of it with the postman.

Then I go back to childhood—in Williamstown, MA. There we had a roadside mailbox, where one of my daily chores was to check for mail (we didn’t always get mail) and to put outgoing letters in the box with the flag up. It was the 1960s. I remember Mr. ZIP ads on television, his likeness on the sides of the mail truck, and the occasional special letters written to me from Grandma and Grandpa that always were addressed (until age 12) as “Master Chester Goodale Dalzell II”—no mistaking that for a note sent to my Dad (also named Chet).

As a kid, I hated firecrackers, and one day Stewy, a guy next door, lit a cherry bomb that exploded inside the mailbox when I was just a few feet from it. The mailbox endured, but my fear of fireworks only grew exponentially. (I love fireworks today, after therapy.)

I’ll never forget that noise—but I also will always love another noise, actually a sequence of noises, that I fear is going away soon … the sound of the mail truck driving up to the box, the squeak open of the hinge of the mailbox lid, the flag being dropped when an outgoing letter is picked up, and the squeak shut of the lid just as the truck drove off. No matter where in house I was standing, and no matter what I was doing, I could hear it. Those noises triggered in me a sliver of daily excitement—”what’s inside today’s mail?” and I would run out to check the mailbox, sometimes fast enough to wave at the postman as he continued with his appointed rounds.

Do you have a mailbox memory you want to share? How about “posting” one here?

The World Needs More Glennas

I’ve worn glasses since the seventh grade. And I celebrated a new level of euphoria when I purchased my first pair of contact lenses as a senior in college. But the fact remains, when I take out my contacts at night, I still need to wear glasses. So imagine how I suddenly got a pit in my stomach when I went to put on my glasses while spending the night in a NY hotel room, only to discover they were not in my suitcase

I’ve worn glasses since the seventh grade. And I celebrated a new level of euphoria when I purchased my first pair of contact lenses as a senior in college.

But the fact remains, when I take out my contacts at night, I still need to wear glasses—to see the TV, to make sure it’s the dog I’m letting in before I retire, and to ensure my kids are actually brushing their teeth from my not-so-secret vantage point down the hallway.

So imagine how I suddenly got a pit in my stomach when I went to put on my glasses while spending the night in a NY hotel room, only to discover they were not in my suitcase – or in my purse. I emptied the entire contents of both, and after squinting carefully at every single item, I reached the frightening conclusion that I had left them somewhere in my travels.

Between this moment and the last time I saw them, I had driven in a rental car, sat in an airport, flown on a plane, taken a train, taken a bus and walked 12 blocks in Manhattan. My glasses could have fallen out of my bag anywhere!

I started the task of retracing my steps, already convinced I would need to fork over a few hundred bucks for a new pair.

Since I had spent the weekend at my alma mater in Canada, I called the hotel in Ottawa and left a message for the head of housekeeping. After several phone calls back and forth and a thorough dissection of my previous room, the woman reported that my glasses were not found.

My next call was to the car rental company at the Ottawa airport, and luckily, the phone was answered by Glenna. She was pleasant enough, and promised to look in the “lost and found” and asked if I would please hold. About 15 minutes later she came back on the line and reported she had my glasses in her hand! While they were not in the lost and found, she had gone back into my rental vehicle and found them under the passenger seat.

“Will you be able to swing by and pick them up this week?” Glenna inquired.

“Um … no … I have no plans to return to Ottawa anytime soon.” I responded, “Any chance you could Fed Ex them to me in San Francisco?”

Glenna pondered that question for a few seconds, and hesitated, only fleetingly, before asking how that might work.

I explained that if she could give me her email address, I’d be happy to email her all the delivery details including my Fed Ex number, and that all she’d need to do would be package them up, fill out the form, and drop the box in a Fed Ex box. She agreed and gave me her email address.

It turns out that sending an international shipment of a pair of glasses is NOT that easy!

Glenna contacted Fed Ex, and they sent her a form to fill out, including something called the “Drop Ball” test. It seems Fed Ex needs to have proof of impact resistance, “within the meaning of 21 cfr 801.410″—whatever that means. However, it didn’t seem to deter Glenna!

She dutifully completed the forms, completed the Drop Ball test, and emailed me the tracking information.

Today, a Fed Ex box arrived from Glenna. Inside was a Fed Ex envelope (smart girl—she used it as “bubble wrap” to protect my glasses). But she went one step further. Inside the envelope was another box (turns out it was a Kleenex box), wrapped with a ton of paper and taped up tightly. And inside the Kleenex box was my (very expensive) pair of glasses.

Glenna had done everything she could think of to protect them and make sure they arrived without a scratch.

How does this all relate to marketing?

Brands spend millions of dollars trying to acquire and retain customers. But if you have a bad brand experience, you tend to bad-mouth the brand and never do business with them again. And in a world of crappy customer service, with workers who often just don’t seem to care, Glenna stands out as someone who will always go that extra mile.

So thank you Glenna—and thank you Budget Rent-A-Car for hiring Glenna. It goes without saying that I’m now a loyal Budget user for life!

HULU.COM: An Intriguing Advertising Opportunity

Hulu is a fascinating Web site. Not only can its content be riveting to the viewer, but also represents a highly efficient medium for advertisers, enabling them to close the loop and measure actual ROI.

When I read that Hulu is drawing huge audiences, I went to the Web site and clicked on a movie—”Abel Raises Cain.” It is a 82-minute documentary about professional hoaxer Alan Abel, who was famous in the late 1950s for dreaming up and publicizing the “Society of Indecency to Naked Animals” with the mission of clothing naked animals. Over the years he has duped the media and made talk show hosts look like chumps and generally made a hilarious nuisance of himself with a slew of nutsy-fagen schemes, many of which are chronicled in this film.

This unique Web site offers full-length television shows and motion pictures; viewers remain on the site for a long time, sometimes a couple of hours—a boon for advertisers.

I sat through the entire film, which was presented with “limited commercial interruptions.” The TV-type commercial advertisements ranged in length from 10 to 30 seconds. Among the advertisers:
“Angels and Demons” (upcoming Tom Hanks film)
Nestea Green Tea
Honda Insight
Healthful Cat Food, Purina
Sprint Now Network
Swiffer Cleaner
Coldwell Banker

Returning to “Abel Raising Cain” on another day, I found additional advertisers:
American Chemistry Council
BMW Z4 Roadster
Toyota Prius
Panasonic Viera
Plan B Levenorgestra
Citi

At the end of this blog is a screenshot snapped during the BMW commercial. As you will see, the moving picture area takes up about half the computer screen, leaving a blank area above. At upper left is the film title, running time and the number of stars by reviewers. At upper right is a small response box that shows the car, the BMW logo and the headline:
The all-new Z4 Roadster
An Expression of Joy.

In light gray mousetype are two words: “Explore now”—the hyperlink to more information.

Once the commercial is finished and the film resumes, this little box remains on screen until the next commercial interruption. Then the next commercial’s response box stays on the screen. For the advertiser, this represents his presence onscreen for far longer than the 10-30 seconds allotted in the commercial.

Further, Hulu combines the razzle-dazzle of action-packed TV commercials with the advantage of direct marketing. The prospect clicks on the box, the advertiser has a record of the response to that commercial and that venue. This closes the loop: ad — response to ad — further info requested — and (hopefully) sale. The advertiser can do the arithmetic, measure the sales and determine whether the ad more than paid for itself or whether it was a financial loser.

This is far more valuable than running an ad on old-fashioned TV and hoping that people (1) have not left the room for a potty break and (2) will remember the thing when they are at the car dealer or supermarket.

What a direct marketer would do differently:
1. The response box at upper right is tiny compared to everything else going on. If Hulu wants happy advertisers, it should at least double its size, so that it is immediately obvious what to do.

2. The advertisers must make a terrific offer—something Free, for example—so the movie watcher is impelled to leave the film and go for the freebie. Or download a $500 certificate. With the tiny box and mousetype, these advertisers seem almost ashamed to ask you interrupt your movie to see what they have to offer. “Learn more” or “Explore now” in teeny-tiny light gray mousetype is not a compelling call to action.

3. My sense is that Hulu may be a tremendously efficient and relatively low-cost medium for testing TV commercials. Run an A-B split where one viewer gets the A commercial and the next viewer gets B and so on. The commercial that wins—gets the most responses—becomes control and is rolled out on TV, in movie theaters and anywhere else … until it is displaced by new commercial that tests better on Hulu.

With the Hulu model, razzle-dazzle TV-type commercials are combined with an immediate direct response mechanism. Trouble is that it is obvious the advertisers are allowing the general agencies that created the great commercials to handle the direct marketing element, which they know nothing about.

Old rule: never use a general agency for direct marketing.

But do spend some time at Hulu and think through how you might use it—either for sales or for testing.