The Complexities of Simplification

Remember when you were a kid and you learned how to fold a single sheet of paper into a little device that would allow you to tell fortunes? I was reminded of that device recently when my controller walked in carrying the latest direct mail package she received from FedEx. Being a good voyeur of marketing content, she brought it to my attention because she had inadvertently ripped one of the contents inside—and flung it down on my desk declaring it was “stupid”

Remember when you were a kid and you learned how to fold a single sheet of paper into a little device that would allow you to tell fortunes?

It seems it’s called an Origami Fortune Teller and over 1.3 million people have watched the instructional video on YouTube (side note: wish I’d thought to create that video when I didn’t have anything else to do).

I was reminded of that device recently when my controller walked in carrying the latest direct mail package she received from FedEx. The 6″ x 9″ envelope carried a simple teaser line: “My FedEx REWARDS.”

Being a good voyeur of marketing content, she brought it to my attention because she had inadvertently ripped one of the contents inside—and flung it down on my desk declaring it was “stupid.”

It turns out the envelope contained two items: a single-sided “card” and a multi-fold, multi-glued insert that was … well … stupid. This particular insert added no value to the communication other than it was one more item in the envelope.

Whoever designed it probably needed to watch the Origami Fortune Teller video to get some better ideas on how to design something like this because, with its multi-fold/unfold option, it simply wasn’t intuitive—thus the ripped piece that was now lying on my desk.

The insert didn’t add one additional piece of information—not one nugget of “surprise!”—and, in fact, the message inside (that it was easy to earn more great rewards and experiences) was counterintuitive to the experience we were having with the insert.

I think this is a great example of creative gone awry. I’m fairly sure the marketing strategy behind this direct mail package was to inform customers that there was a new FedEx Rewards program. And, the support messaging was:

  • To acknowledge that our company had reached a certain status level.
  • To inform us that we would earn five points on every $1 spent.
  • To excite us that we could redeem points from a robust rewards catalog.

All of that information was on the single-sided “card” that was easily scannable—so why the addition of the extra piece? Why spend the money creating, designing, printing, scoring, cutting, gluing, assembling a device that added no value?

Shall we blame it on the bored production manager who wanted to produce something more exciting than a card in an envelope? Or perhaps the art director who wanted to include a new format in the portfolio? Or the marketing manager who had a bigger budget to spend and it was “use it or lose it” time at the end of the quarter?

Is anyone in marketing at FedEx measuring the effectiveness of this package? Is it being tested against a package that doesn’t contain the insert? Or against a postcard? Or a simple letter in an envelope? If I was making a bet, I’d bet that the response rate AND the cost-per-responder on the package with the insert will be the biggest loser.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m all for innovative, fun, intelligently designed interactive marketing materials that achieve the desired the marketing objective. But when you have a simple message to communicate, keep the communication simple. Oh, and think about giving the mock up to a couple of people not related to the project to see if they can open it/interact with it without tearing it to shreds.

Packaging: A Conspiracy Among Dentists?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox. I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

Regardless of what I buy lately, getting inside the package to the actual product is like breaking into Fort Knox.

I recently purchased a pair of carbon fiber trekking poles from Costco. They were encased in the plastic sturdy enough to survive wind, hail, sleet, snow and a 500-pound gorilla. But since I had no plans to take the poles with me while still inside the packaging, what was the point?

It honestly took me about five minutes to get to the actual poles because it required heavy-duty shears (buried inside our gardening shed), and all of my strength just to cut through the plastic shell. I nearly damaged the poles (not to mention my fingernails) while trying to pry the clam shell pieces a part. Who designs this stuff? And more importantly, why?

These same plastic clamshells are used to encase all sorts of products, equally protected from the hazards of the modern world. I was in an airport a while ago, wasting time between flights by browsing products at the smart phone accessories counter, and every single item was hanging in one of these plastic prisons.

It would be logical to assume that the plastic protects the product from being damaged during shipment, but did that industrial designer ever give one moment’s consideration to the consumer and how they’re going to access the product post-purchase? Who among us travels with scissors or knives (especially in an airport)? And that’s when my conspiracy theory started.

Have you ever gone “old school” and purchased a music CD? Forget trying to listen to the CD in your car on the way home, as there is simply no way to rip open the package—period. The plastic wrap is on so tight there’s nothing to use as leverage to start the “cutting” process.

I’ve tried using my car key, a small screwdriver designed for sunglasses screws, a pen, a sharp stick and, of course, the final resort—my teeth (sorry Dr. Pelfini!). And even then, I’ve repeatedly broken/damaged the CD case while trying to get it open, so it can’t be re-used for storage.

I’ve used my teeth to try and rip open small packages of nuts on the airplane (those little “slits” are a joke for fingers), and am often rewarded with the bag slicing open, but my 10 precious peanuts are scattered across the laps of my seat mates.

I know I’m not alone in this practice: I’ve watched a guy rip off the paper that encases a straw with his teeth and then spit out the torn off end, and a Mom open the plastic bag covering a toy from a fast-food joint with her teeth while her toddler had a melt down.

But it was a recent jar of peanut butter that stopped me cold. After unscrewing the lid, the paper covering that came between me and my craving didn’t have one obvious way to peel it off other than stabbing at it with a sharp knife. While I was lucky enough to be in my own kitchen at the time, I thought about all those kids out there trying to make their first sandwiches, weeping in frustration.

Since packaging is one of the “Five P’s of Marketing,” I’d like to suggest to marketers everywhere that they re-examine their current packaging from a consumer point of view. If opening your product requires knives, scissors and the strength of 10-men, you may want to take a step back and rethink your packaging options.

Which Costs More: Video or Direct Mail?

What are the economics of producing and distributing a direct marketing video? And, how does it line up with costs for direct mail? If you’re a traditional direct marketer who has lived and breathed marketing costs, then running the numbers should come naturally. For this discussion, we’ll use direct mail as the comparison because historically it’s the distribution channel of choice

What are the economics of producing and distributing a direct marketing video? And, how does it line up with costs for direct mail? If you’re a traditional direct marketer who has lived and breathed marketing costs, then running the numbers should come naturally. For this discussion, we’ll use direct mail as the comparison because historically it’s the distribution channel of choice for direct marketers.

We’ve created a “Video Budget Checklist” that helps you itemize cost comparisons of creative, production and distribution between video and direct mail. If you’d like a copy, email me using the link in the left column. It’s free for our readers.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it)

Direct mail can come in all sorts of configurations. Low-cost postcards. A simple package of a letter and flyer inside an envelope. Or more expensive with multiple enclosures such as a letter, fold-out four-color brochure, lift note, order form, reply envelope and outer envelope. Sometimes the outer envelope is a custom size or has an oversize window, or there are expensive die-cuts on cards or tip-on elements that are outside of typical print configuration.

The fixed costs to create each of these packages by employees, agencies or freelance creative teams are pretty broad, from several hundred dollars to well into the five-figures when using proven, top-flight direct response creative professionals.

A wide range of configurations can apply to video production, just as it can to direct mail.

You can pop out a 45-second video using your Webcam or flip-camera and post it on YouTube. You just have to ask yourself if the poorly lit, distracting background, muffled or echoey sound of that presentation exemplifies your organization. Alternatively, the video could be purely voice-over with words scrolling along on the screen. Or you can make it visually more alive with photography images or stock video footage. At a more costly level, you might shoot testimonials or interviews in a studio or shoot on location to demonstrate your product. Of course, length impacts cost (just as the number of components impacts cost in direct mail). There are a lot of variables that go into video production, just as there are for direct mail.

The point is this: Start with a budget you’re comfortable with, talk with writers (ideally writers experienced in both direct response print, online and video), develop a video script and storyboard, and work with a skilled video editor. Don’t just be wowed by special effects on someone’s demo reel. Dig in and learn what results were produced from some samples or case studies. You might just want voice-over with images on screen. (See our last blog post for an example of a 3-minute video and details of how we adapted it from a direct mail package.)

If your personality is a draw, you can record yourself on a small camera that can fit in a pocket with a lav microphone for under $200, total. Make sure you have good lighting and background. Or spring $500 or so and get a green screen and lights. That’s the equipment we use to shoot our video for this blog. Be aware, assembling the right equipment and editing software is the easy part. Knowing how to use it all to your best advantage comes from training and practice—or hiring a pro.

Distribution Costs
For direct mail, you have list costs if you’re renting names, data processing, printing, lettershop and postage. The cost can range widely. If you’re testing in small quantities, you’ll pay more per piece.

Knowing the volume of prospects or prior customers to mail, the marketer calculates how many responses are needed to make a specific profit (or break-even) objective. Translate that number into a required response rate to meet your objectives—your allowable marketing cost—and presto, you can use the test of reasonableness to see if the numbers pan out.

For video, your distribution cost is driving viewers to your landing page. You might email your customer file, or rent a list, and give the reader a compelling reason to click to your landing page to watch the video, possibly opt-in for more information, or attempt to convert to a buyer then. You will need to include the cost to set-up the landing page and related items.

We suggest you begin with a budget where your objective is to create a video for the amount of money it would cost to produce a moderate to elaborate direct mail package (although video production on the cheap is possible—and might work).

Then compare the cost to print and mail a direct mail package versus that of emailing (whether it’s to customers at a low cost to email, or rent an email list at a higher cost). And add in the cost for developing your landing page. Chances are your cost per contact will be less for email and the landing page, but as we all know, it all comes down to the cost per sale or lead so bring your focus back to this metric.

One example worth mentioning is that of the Dollar Shave Club. Perhaps you’ve read about it. A big success for a 1:34 video that reportedly cost $4,500 and after a few days generated over 12,000 orders. The video has now been viewed over 4.6 million times.

Bottom line: just as you’d run the numbers to see if it makes financial sense to use direct mail, you need to run the numbers for video, too. And you just might be surprised how favorable the numbers look to reach out and explore video.

P.S.: Just out: comScore has released its April 2012 online video rankings data with a few notable metrics:

  1. 181 million U.S. Internet users watched nearly 37 billion online content videos in April.
  2. 85.5 percent of U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
  3. The duration of the average online content video was 6.4 minutes.

How to Convert a Direct Mail Package to Online Video

Today we demonstrate how to convert a successful direct mail package into an online video. You’ll see how copy style translates and morphs from print to the spoken word, and how to integrate aspects of the original print design features in this video. Our criteria for this instructional video included these three

Today we demonstrate how to convert a successful direct mail package into an online video. You’ll see how copy style translates and morphs from print to the spoken word, and how to integrate aspects of the original print design features in this video. Our criteria for this instructional video included these three elements: A package we had originally written and designed, multiple enclosures (letter, sales sheet, lift note and order form) and a proven response generator.

When it was first tested, this direct mail package lifted response 35 percent over the control. On that strength, it became the new control and was mailed every month for three years, ultimately sent to over 21 million consumers.

This instructional video explains our process to convert this direct mail package to a short, but fully produced promotional video (under three minutes), scripting, voice-over persona, design elements, along with commentary about specific choices and plans we made while developing the video.

So while we’re light on words for you to read, you can digest this post in this in-depth video.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)