Direct Mail: If You Can’t Track It, Don’t Do It

How effective is your direct mail marketing campaign? That’s the question you need to answer in order to make the most of your marketing. Focusing on what works best and spending your budget in the most effective way is key to direct mail. Before you launch any direct mail campaign, set a system in place that will allow you to track the results. Tracking your results means you can see what resonated best with your customers or prospects, what got the most interaction, and what led to the most sales, sign-ups, or other action. You then have the information you need to focus on the things that work, thereby preventing your business from losing money on the things that don’t. Another benefit is that you can test different types of messaging at one time.

How effective is your direct mail marketing campaign? That’s the question you need to answer in order to make the most of your marketing. Focusing on what works best and spending your budget in the most effective way is key to direct mail. Before you launch any direct mail campaign, set a system in place that will allow you to track the results. Tracking your results means you can see what resonated best with your customers or prospects, what got the most interaction, and what led to the most sales, sign-ups, or other action. You then have the information you need to focus on the things that work, thereby preventing your business from losing money on the things that don’t. Another benefit is that you can test different types of messaging at one time.

Here are seven tips on ways to track your direct mail:

  1. QR Codes: The landing page for each scan should be created specifically for each campaign. You can easily track who is hitting the landing pages and what they do from there.
  2. URL or PURL: As with scanning the QR Codes, you need a unique landing page for each campaign.
  3. Coupons: Make sure to create a code on the coupons that you can use to track responses as people redeem them.
  4. Donation Reply Cards: Create a code for each campaign, and imprint that code somewhere on the reply device so that if they return it with their check you can track which campaign it came from.
  5. Phone Call: Use a special phone number for each campaign or if that is not possible, ask for a code you imprinted on the piece as part of your order intake.
  6. Text Messages: Many people find that text messaging it the easiest way to respond. When you setup your campaign either create a special number for each one or require that as part of the text message they need to enter a code from the mail piece.
  7. Mail Piece: One of the easiest ways to track direct mail response is to require the recipient to bring the mailer with them in order to get a discount or some other special offer.

Creating effective direct mail is all about knowing what works and what does not. That knowledge can only be gained through tracking of your own campaigns. Trying to utilize general direct mail trends published by the DMA or others is not an effective method. What you don’t know in direct mail can hurt you. No matter what kind of marketing response method you’re using, ask yourself first how you will track it. Give your direct mail campaigns the best chance of success by putting a tracking system in place so you can compare and contrast their effectiveness and return on investment. You can work with your mail service provider to decide which methods work best for each campaign you do.

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.

What Can Variable Data Do for Your Direct Mail?

A direct mail piece is an effective way to reach out to your customers, putting your brand directly in their hands and engaging them with content that speaks directly to them. Variable Data Printing (VDP) allows you to increase the effectiveness of your direct mail marketing by making your printed pieces even more personal, and targeting specific segments of your customer base.

A direct mail piece is an effective way to reach out to your customers, putting your brand directly in their hands and engaging them with content that speaks directly to them. Variable Data Printing (VDP) allows you to increase the effectiveness of your direct mail marketing by making your printed pieces even more personal, and targeting specific segments of your customer base.

VDP gives your direct mail marketing new life, allowing you to carefully craft your printed pieces to speak directly to your customers. Your choice of fonts, colors, images, layout and text all affect how well your direct mail is received. A tailored piece that includes some personal details or information of specific interest will make your customers feel valued and is more likely to grab their attention.

Whether by segmenting your customers into groups and optimizing your printed pieces to appeal to each group, or by adding personalized data for each individual customer, VDP is a valuable business tool you can use to increase the return on investment from your printed campaigns.

Examples of How to Use Variable Data Printing
There are many ways you can use VDP. You could:

  • Vary your color choices, fonts and images to appeal to different demographics—for example, a college brochure might use different images for younger students and for mature students with a family.
  • Reflect demographic details such as age, profession and marital status—for example, a holiday cottage business might include information on family activities for some customers, and information on night life for others.
  • Include details such as special offers or contact details that are specific to a geographic location—for example a car dealership might include each customer’s local branch or the name of the salesman they usually deal with.
  • Use personalized QR codes or URLs for offers—for example, a grocery store chain might have their QR codes link to different offers for young single shoppers than for large families.

Planning a Variable Data Campaign
To make VDP work for you it’s important to invest time and effort in planning your campaign long before the first piece rolls off the press. To plan out your VDP, ask yourself:

  1. What Do I Want to Achieve?
    Is the point to sell a specific item or promotion, build customer loyalty, or learn new information about my customers? Have a clear idea of what you want.
  2. Who Am I Targeting?
    Think carefully about how you are going to segment your customer base. Do you want to use person-specific data such as their name and how long they’ve been doing business with your company, or are you going to group them by age, particular interests, or the amount they typically spend with you?
  3. What Do They Want?
    A good variable data campaign is one that speaks directly to the wants, needs and concerns of each customer.
  4. How Will I Measure Success?
    To know how well your variable data is working, you’ll need to track the response to your campaign. Think about whether your customers will scan a QR code, visit a link, like you on Facebook, or send you an order or feedback form—you can use all of these to measure how well your campaign is doing.
  5. Where Will I Get the Data?
    VDP is only as good as the data you put into it. Before starting your print run, check your data very carefully—a small mistake can make a bad first impression.

VDP means you can offer each of your customers a personalized and meaningful piece of direct mail that will appeal to them and make you stand out. Instead of just another letter, your business will become a valued correspondent, someone that your customers want to read and respond to, which means stronger customer relationships and better profits for you.

Stand Out With Texture

How can you get your direct mail to stand out in the mailbox? Have you considered using texture? Coatings do more than just protect the print from scratching damage in the mail. They can capture interest for your direct mail piece. With all the different types of coating available, you can now choose one that really emphasizes touch. By creating a unique textured feel, your response rate will increase. Think of all the different ways you can add texture to your piece to grab attention to it.

How can you get your direct mail to stand out in the mailbox? Have you considered using texture? Coatings do more than just protect the print from scratching damage in the mail. They can capture interest for your direct mail piece. With all the different types of coating available, you can now choose one that really emphasizes touch. By creating a unique textured feel, your response rate will increase. Think of all the different ways you can add texture to your piece to grab attention to it.

Some fun coatings for you to consider:

  • MiraFoil: Create metallic effects in a precise fashion.
  • Raised: Gives the embossed look without actual embossing.
  • Pearlescent: Gives an elegant shimmer look.
  • Sandpaper: Gives a rough sand paper like feel.
  • Soft touch: Creates a velvet texture for a nice soft feel.
  • Glitter: A large glitter flake that is available in a variety of colors.
  • Metal Flake: Fine metal flakes similar to car paint.
  • Thermochronic: Temperature activated, changes color when heated.
  • Photochromic: This coating is activated by sunlight to change color.
  • Glow in the dark: This is a high gloss coating that will glow in the dark.
  • Scratch off: Available in gold or silver provides a non-see thru coat

Now that you have selected your coating, imagine how creative you can get with your design. You want to have the feel of bricks? No problem. 3D raised steps? No problem. It’s like the old “Pat the Bunny” books: You can have so many textures at your fingertips to choose from. It is not advised to go crazy and put several on one mailer, but you can mix a couple to really get a pop. Show your recipients how your product or service feels; grab that sensory emotion to increase response.

The standard coatings are:

  • Varnish: This is basically like a colorless ink and can be applied in gloss, dull or satin forms as the piece is printed. This is not environmentally friendly.
  • Aqueous: A water based coating applied as the piece is printed. It protects better than varnish and is more environmentally friendly.
  • UV: This provides superior protection and comes in glossy or dull.
  • Laminates: This is best for protection from water as it seals in the paper. This is not usually needed for direct mail pieces.

With any of the above coatings, it is a good idea to check with your mail service provider to make sure they can inkjet over the coating. You do have a couple of choices if the coating is not inkjet compatible. You can knockout the mail panel when coating to leave it unfinished for inkjet. Or you can use and envelope/poly bag as a cover. Just one more thing to consider is that a paper envelope can be inkjeted, but a poly bag will require labels. Make sure to consider all your options and costs before proceeding.

Direct mail is about engagement, pulling the recipient into your marketing by creating interest in your mailer. The more interesting it is, the better response you are going to get. You will also find that when you create a direct mailer that people really enjoy, they show it to others. The more people who see your mailer, talk about it and share it, the better your response will be. Sensory input leaves a lasting impression on the recipient. If you want to add another layer of input, check out our blog post on adding scent to mailers. A good combination of texture and scent can knock your ROI out of the park!

Direct Mail Design: Color

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since these can all be real challenges, we will take on each section in depth in separate posts to give you a better understanding and some ideas, as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece. Now let’s look at Section 2: Color.

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since these can all be real challenges, we will take on each section in depth in separate posts to give you a better understanding and some ideas, as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece.

Section 2: Color
Color, imagery and texture can greatly enhance the mail piece experience. Sometimes picking colors and images can be a challenge as well. How do you know what colors to choose? How should you pick the right images?

Here are eight colors and some of the meanings behind them:

  1. Red: Commands attention, alerts us, creates sense of urgency, risk, danger and aggressiveness.
  2. Yellow: Sunshine hue, spiritual color, represents warning, happiness, warmth, bright shades can be irritable to the eye in large quantities, often used to highlight or draw attention.
  3. Green: Money, nature, environmental concerns, freedom, healing and tranquility, is calming, refreshing, easy on the eyes.
  4. Blue: Suggests fiscal responsibility, inspires confidence, darker shades are authoritative, dark and bright shades represent trust, security, dignity, paler shades imply freshness and cleanliness.
  5. Orange: Warmth, instills sense of fun and excitement, implies health, cheer, makes product seem more affordable.
  6. White: Associated with innocence, purity, peace and contentment, considered clean and sterile, cool and refreshing, can have a calming, stabilizing influence.
  7. Black: Ultimate power color, suggests strength, authority, boldness, seriousness, stability and elegance, distinguished and classic, too much can be ominous.
  8. Brown: Associated with nature and the earth, associated with warmth and coziness, suggests richness, politeness, helpfulness and effectiveness, solid, credible.

Now that you have a basic idea of what the colors can mean, sit down and decide which colors and combinations are going to add impact to your layout. We discussed the layout in section one, feel free to review that again by clicking here.

After picking your colors, you need to decide on your images. Carefully consider your message as you approach design. The images you choose should not conflict with your message or your brand. Make sure to show the images to people outside the organization to see if they make the same associations you do.

Here are five things to consider when selecting images:

  1. Do not use images of just the product. Include people and real settings for a more realistic and connected approach.
  2. Match the emotional tone of the design to the emotion conveyed in the image.
  3. Images should not conflict with your color scheme.
  4. Select images that convey your message so that you can use less text.
  5. Include your logo. You need to always reaffirm the brand by using the logo.

So by making color and image choices that complement each other you are on your way to a great mail piece. When conflicts arise between different elements in the design of direct mail it can be a confusing message for the recipient. This ultimately means you mail is going in the trash and you wasted your money. Clear and concise elements that work together to for your message are key to getting the increase in your ROI.

Direct Mail Design: Layout

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since this can be a real challenge, we will take on each section in depth to give you a better understanding and some ideas as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece. To start, let’s talk about the layout.

Designing for direct mail can be broken up into three segments: layout, color/images and copy. Since these can all be real challenges, we will take on each section in depth in separate posts to give you a better understanding and some ideas, as well as tips to get you started on the path to a great direct mail piece.

Section One: Layout
So you need to design your next direct mail campaign and are having trouble with ideas. Sometimes the best ideas in direct mail design have already been used.

The first thing you can do is look at the mail that comes to your home or business (or check out some mailpieces at WhosMailingWhat.com). Are there examples that stand out to you? There is no shame in taking a direct mail piece that you received and making it your own. Of course, sometimes the opposite is true and you get inspired by a really horrible piece.

Here are eight questions to ask yourself as you are contemplating design layout:

  1. What pieces do you like best? What about co-workers and family?
    This base will provide you with enough information and perspectives to start.
  2. Does a certain design function better than another?
    Practicality and mail ability are both big factors here. Making sure ahead of time what will work for the post office and what won’t is a real time and money saver.
  3. How were images or color used to draw your attention?
    Note each one and how you feel or interpret what they are trying to convey. Does it compliment the message or detract from it and why?
  4. What language was used to get you curious?
    Analyzing the word structure and your reaction to it is a great way to identify what your word choices should be.
  5. Was the offer compelling?
    Sometimes the offer may be compelling, but if it is not what you are interested or already have it, you will not buy it. Targeting your messaging to the correct audience is key.
  6. Were the important points and call to action organized and clear?
    This is very important, you can really learn what to do and not to do by looking at the offer you receive.
  7. What types of response mechanisms were available?
    The more the better. Include as many as you can and make sure some of them are mobile. People are using tablets and phones for most of their search and buying needs. Plus, you will benefit from instant gratification. They want it now!
  8. How can you make this piece better?
    Make a list of all the things you would change and why. Have others do the same and compare notes. You will gain insight into how your piece should look.

When designing your mail piece, are you taking all of these factors into consideration? Have you looked at your piece through the eyes of your recipient? Remember there needs to be a very strong “what’s in it for me?” for your prospects/customers.

Have someone outside of your organization look at your layout to make sure the message you are trying to convey is coming through. Direct mail is very visual and tactile; you need to capitalize on that.

Empower Your Direct Mail With Mobile

Direct mail marketing has been around for a long time; it’s sometimes thought of as the “old goat” of marketing. Over the years there have been many changes in the way we use direct mail for marketing. Slapping a resident label on a card and mailing to everyone in your city does not cut it anymore

Direct mail marketing has been around for a long time; it’s sometimes thought of as the “old goat” of marketing. Over the years there have been many changes in the way we use direct mail for marketing. Slapping a resident label on a card and mailing to everyone in your city does not cut it anymore.

Some of the best practices that have been in use for a while now are listed below. By using some or all of these, you can help keep your direct mail more cost effective and easily increase your ROI.

  • Targeted mail lists: There are so many ways you can really define your best prospects.
  • Mail tracking: Know when your mail delivered so that you can follow up.
  • Creative designs: Stand out in the mail box.
  • A/B testing: Really track results on what messaging and formats get the best response.

Since many people now spend more time on their mobile devices, you can use your direct mail to catch people on the go. In this day and age, we can empower our direct mail with technology to drive an even greater response.

When your direct mail has the latest technology, you let the recipient into the driver’s seat of your marketing. You allow them to pick and choose the information they are interested in at that moment. You can incorporate mobile marketing into your direct mail by using some or all of the following, as easy gateways to online information via recipient’s cell phones.

  • QR Codes: Directs them to a landing page with an offer, a way to buy or more information.
  • Augmented Reality: Use your imagination to create a powerful experience.
  • NFC: Near Field Communication can be used to drive mobile devices where ever you want to with a tap or touch between the phone and an embedded chip.
  • PURL: Unique and personalized landing page created especially for each recipient.

By adding these instant response methods, you increase the opportunity to catch someone in the moment as a hot lead, if not a sale. After all direct mail influences 76 percent of internet users to buy a product or service online (Exact Target), so you need to make sure that you are driving that online engagement. Creating the mobile optimized landing pages for recipients to gather more information, make a purchase or share ideas with others is a must with each direct mail campaign you do.

Thirty-four percent of consumers search online for more information about a product or service when receiving direct mail from a brand they are interested in (Direct Marketing Association). Don’t you want to be the one controlling the information they see, rather than Google? When you create the landing pages and supply all the information, your competitors are not there to distract from your message, you are in control. Some helpful tips to keep in mind when creating the landing pages are below.

  • Use the same design theme as the direct mail piece for a consistent look.
  • Ask for minimal information in order for them to download or signup for something, basically name and email address.
  • Allow them to make a purchase from the mobile landing page.
  • Make the call to action simple.
  • All the messaging on the landing pages need to follow the lead of the direct mail piece. If you switch gears on the landing page, it will be confusing to the customer/prospect.

By empowering your direct mail with choices and ways to gather information, you are empowering your customer/prospect to make a quick and easy decision on your call to action. This means your direct mail will need to have a clear call to action with more than one way to respond. It is vital that you incorporate mobile response devises now, because mobile users are growing rapidly and along with them mobile purchases. Your direct marketing company can help you to create the landing pages and the QR Codes, Augmented Reality, PURL’s or NFC. Incorporating the mobile response devices does not have to be labor intensive for you.

Is There a Generation Gap Among Direct Mail Responders?

I was listening to a Direct Marketing Club of New York presentation recently by Covenant House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless kids in various cities. One of the challenges that the organization is facing is that its donor base is aging. The need to attract a new demographic among donors is apparent. However, its direct mail efforts haven’t been performing as well among younger prospects as it continues to do with its best donors—so the organization has turned to online channels in a bid to find these new, younger donors

I was listening to a Direct Marketing Club of New York presentation recently by Covenant House, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping homeless kids in various cities. One of the challenges that the organization is facing is that its donor base is aging. The need to attract a new demographic among donors is apparent.

However, its direct mail efforts haven’t been performing as well among younger prospects as it continues to do with its best donors—so the organization has turned to online channels in a bid to find these new, younger donors.

In 2012, Covenant House set up a series of petitions through Care2, an online community for social action. Taking on four subjects—child trafficking, emergency healthcare, aging out of foster care, and domestic violence—Covenant House asked consumers to sign petitions related to these various topics, some focused on Congressional action, for example.

With the names and online contact information of tens of thousands of signatories, Covenant House this year is taking on a three-part email series, each with specific creative relevant to the petition subject matter, to “nurture” the consumer toward becoming a donor—asking them to social share their petition support, watch and share a video related to the topic, and then, by the third email, respond to a call to action to become a donor. For those who take no further action by way of the three emails, telemarketing is used to reach and attempt to convert them to donors.

With positive early results, it looks as though Covenant House may find its way to a younger donor base successfully.

Covenant House has no plans to ditch its direct mail—even as it acquires new digital donors. That’s because its “omnichannel” donors (donors who give in more than one channel) are its most generous, giving significantly more than single-channel donors in either direct mail or digital alone. In addition, direct mail continues to be the “workhorse” for donor acquisition overall, and each channel has its own strategic use in such activities as reactivating former contributors, the organization reported.

But the younger=digital donor acquisition strategy identified here makes me wonder about direct mail’s future. Is Covenant House’s turn to digital because young adults don’t read their direct mail as closely as older Americans do—is there a “mail generation gap”? Does traditional fundraising creative in direct mail fail to resonate with younger people? Are digital natives simply online more often—and analog communication doesn’t register as forcefully?

Or, from the marketer’s perspective, is digital an easy, more affordable and more timely go-to for testing acquisition more efficiently?

Twenty years ago, before the commercial Internet, if a non-profit organization needed to attract a younger demographic, it simply tested a direct mail piece (or a TV ad, etc.) against the control within a targeted demographic segment—and adopted the new creative within the channel only when results proved themselves. That very same testing within mail could be just as effective today.

But why wait six weeks or more for a direct mail cycle to prove itself (or not)—when the availability of digital allows new formats, multivariate testing, and creative refinement and segmentation so readily and cheaply? Perhaps a generation gap does exist with direct mail—but also marketers are increasingly impatient: do not discount digital’s speed in testing, revising and engaging donors in real time, and how attractive these speedy attributes are to marketers and fundraisers looking to meet aggressive goals.

The only way to really know what works—and what doesn’t—is to test. Covenant House already knows its multichannel donors are worth more, so you can probably bet its digital donors will be getting a direct mail piece of one sort or another very soon.

Making a Green Claim: (Not) Waiting for the FTC Green Guides

Direct marketers and mailers making environmental claims have a number of resources available to them to help make such statements meaningful to consumers. The most important of those to U.S. marketers are the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides—officially titled “Guide for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims”—which were enacted in 1992, and updated in 1996 and 1998. In 2007, the FTC initiated a new effort to update the Green Guides once again—and here we are in 2012 still waiting for this next edition.

Direct marketers and mailers making environmental claims have a number of resources available to them to help make such statements meaningful to consumers. The most important of those to U.S. marketers are the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides—officially titled “Guide for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims”—which were enacted in 1992, and updated in 1996 and 1998. In 2007, the FTC initiated a new effort to update the Green Guides once again—and here we are in 2012 still waiting for this next edition.

The Green Guides, as currently written, give insight into use of such specific claims as biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, recycled content and ozone safe. While they are “guides,” they are enforceable. The FTC can and has brought forth cases where marketers’ claims did not measure up to the examples that pepper the Green Guides throughout.

In a recent Direct Marketing Association Compliance Series Webinar (February 14), DMA’s Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president of government affairs, said there is no indication that the Green Guides‘ updates—promised some time ago—will be published shortly, or what might be holding them up. If there are differences of opinions among government scientists about certain claims or terminology, or if FTC staff have unresolved policy questions related to potentially new Green Guides content, the truth is we really just don’t know. However, the current iteration of the Green Guides certainly does give us good direction, which I’ll enumerate here.

First, as with any marketing claim—green or not—each claim must be “truthful,” “clear” and “substantiated.” Many of my colleagues know that “go green—go digital” claims many banks, utilities and financial service companies print on monthly statements are a pet peeve of mine. While I have no issue with persuading customers to switch to electronic statements, for those customers who want to, I do have a big problem with couching the digital migration as an environmental choice. Chances are the brand has made no effort to document the net environmental benefits of doing so. Just supposing that an e-statement “saves trees” is not substantiated, or, if there is an attempt to do so, it is largely based on spurious associations with deforestation, something that is not happening in North America. While I’m not a lawyer, I would be very wary about making such claims statements on a brand’s envelopes because of the FTC’s substantiation expectation.

Second, when making a marketing claim—on a mail piece, on packaging, on a product—it must be clear what the claim pertains to, as in the mail piece itself, the packaging itself or the product itself. For example, making a “recyclable” claim might be seen as deceptive if the packaging is recyclable, but the product it protects is not. Thus, be very clear with labels as to what the claim applies.

Next, we need to ensure claims are not overstated. For example, growing the amount of recycled content “by 50 percent” would be seen as deceptive if the content were to nudge from 2 percent to 3 percent. Similarly, making a “biodegradable” claim is highly suspect when an item destined to today’s air-tight and water-tight landfills largely stays there inert—it’s only biodegradable when it’s a piece of litter exposed to sunlight and the elements, hardly the intended end of life. Stating some item is “eco-safe” would be seen to be deceptive if there is no proof, or if it refers to one attribute of a product or item, as opposed to the product or item overall.

The term “recycled content” is important to consider because the FTC does not count material in the manufacturing process that is normally reused, and thus never first discarded as waste. Only if the material is recovered from the waste stream and reused may it be considered “recycled.” There are “pre-consumer,” “post-industrial” and “post-consumer” forms of recycled content, but in all cases, these types of labeled recycled content must be recovered from waste. Thus, it’s common to see recycled-content papers with labels such as “made with 100-percent recovered fiber, with 20-percent post-consumer content.”

Finally, though not part of the Green Guides, the FTC in a staff opinion gave the Direct Marketing Association and direct marketers the go-ahead to enable “recyclable” and “recycle please” messages on catalogs and direct mail pieces. That distinction in 2006 was important. Prior to the opinion, that type of label was not permissible, because even though mail or catalogs technically were recyclable, less than two-thirds of the nation’s households had local access to recycling collection programs for this material. Thus, it would be seen as deceptive if local facilities were non-existent. Even the qualified “recyclable where local facilities exist” would be seen as deceptive without having the two-thirds threshold in place first. Thankfully, we’ve met that threshold and now can implement consumer education programs such as DMA’s “Recycle Please” logo initiative (launched in 2007).

While we’ve seen a draft for public comment of the next Green Guides, the final draft is—as of this date—yet to come. Therefore, it’s probably not wise to guess as to what will be in the next version, or what will be left out. (To visit the October 2010 draft, go here: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/energy/about_guides.shtml )

As a communicator, I also have at least one other “green claims” resource—an organization called TerraChoice, now part of Underwriters Laboratory, which actually consults (or has consulted) with the FTC and the Canadian Standards Association, as well as many Fortune 500 brands. Its Web site, www.sinsofgreenwashing.org, documents seven “sins” of environmental marketing claims, sins such as hidden tradeoffs and no proof. In its most recent 2010 report, only 5 percent of consumer product claims were found to be “sin free,” which truth-be-told was an improvement over 2009!

Between the current edition of the FTC Green Guides, TerraChoice, and the DMA’s own Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, direct marketers don’t have to wait around for the FTC to (finally) issue its next Green Guides rendition to make an honest, truthful environmental marketing claim. With Earth Day around the corner, just do some diligence to be sin-free and stop saying “Go Green, Go Digital”!

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