A Great Match: Diamonds and Direct Mail

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Candy and flowers are easy. But jewelry … not so much. So I turned to direct mail for some ideas.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and you know how that goes. Candy and flowers — they’re easy. But jewelry … diamonds  … not so much. This year, I wanted to get something different for my beloved, so I turned to direct mail for some help. Along the way to finding something that she’ll really like, I also found some examples of good marketing practices.

The first brand name I thought of was Blue Nile, the world’s biggest online seller of diamonds. Back in 2000-2001, long before content marketing became a thing, these folks were actually doing it. Blue Nile mailed a 40-page booklet targeting clueless guys (ahem  … me) with advice on “how to carve a turkey,” “why you should buy a tux,” and yes, “how to buy a diamond.”

Blue N_01I pulled it from the files of Who’s Mailing What, and it was exactly as I remembered. Lots of copy, kind of cheeky, with nothing too technical, just a good starting explanation of the four C’s of diamond selection: cut, color, clarity, carat weight. No pricing that might scare off buyers even before they’ve had time to digest what they’ve learned. For some people, the easygoing tone, minimalist graphics, and simplified information are enough to begin looking around on a website, but I wanted more.

Next, I looked at a mailer from Mitchells, an independent family of retail stores out of Westport, Conn. that prides itself on exceptional customer service. Mailed in 2011, this guide to “Our Diamonds!” is a giant 10”x13” brochure printed on heavy soft gloss paper that shows off its wares in crisp black-and-white and 4-color photos.


One page includes a 3”x6” diagram of the “Anatomy of a Diamond.” It’s good information to show; you can almost imagine one of Mitchells’ salespersons carefully taking the time to personally explain the details to you in one of the stores. There’s no pricing for anything here either, but given the store’s upper income demographic, that’s another detail best left to the salespeople. The company’s expertise is highlighted throughout the brochure via quotes, photos and service descriptions.

With some background now in hand, I poked around the website for Diamond Nexus, a Wisconsin-based online retailer, before signing up for its email. The incentive — a chance to win a ring — was pretty persuasive.

Immediately, a pop-up address form was launched, asking “Would you like a FREE catalog?” I filled it out and four business days later, I got a polybagged copy of the company’s Winter 2015 direct mail catalog.


It measures 7-1/2”x10-1/2”, 60 pages, on heavy stock paper. Sharp color images of diamonds, rings, and jewelry are scattered throughout. And there’s pricing! But what really sets the catalog apart, and sparked my interest initially, is its focus on the company’s unique selling proposition (USP). All of its diamonds are manufactured, or “grown” in a lab, not mined. The ethical and environmental reasons for this business choice are explained over a few pages at the front of the book.

DN_02They’re followed by several pages of photos and highly-detailed charts describing how its diamonds are made, sized and certified, and how they differ from the mined diamonds of their competition. At the same time, a “No Regrets Guarantee” is offered to offset any worry that the customer may have about the purchase.

The great thing about the content provided in all of these direct mail packets is that it fit each of its audiences so well. Getting the customer to like and trust your brand — whether it’s with offbeat humor, terrific customer service or different ethical standards — can be an approach that stands out in a crowded field and creates lifetime customers.

12 Direct Mail Mandates

(Gary Hennerberg is away this week so we’re running a highly popular article of his, with a few updates, originally published in Direct Marketing IQ).

The bar continues to rise for creating successful direct mail. Today I share a dozen direct mail mandates on a diverse range of topics including crunching numbers, flow charts, mailing lists, and perhaps most importantly, a creative and copywriting process that I use and has resulted in direct mail campaigns with significant response increases over control packages.

These 12 mandates for success are based on my experience analyzing winning direct mail from B-to-C, B-to-B and nonprofit direct mail campaigns.

  1. Run the Numbers: Begin first with an assessment of the financial risk you’re willing to take. Whether you’re risk averse, or willing to gamble, ask yourself how much money you’re will to put on the line. Then calculate Allowable Marketing Costs, so you know how much you can spend, along with a Long-Term Value model. Do this whether you’re marketing to existing customers (who should return a profit to you) or prospecting for new customers (which will probably result in a loss). More on this topic on my Four-Part Series on Marketing Costs.
  2. Flow Chart Every Step: As you plan direct mail, be thoughtful about how you’ll follow-up with those who respond versus those who don’t respond. Whether you call it a flow chart, or work flow, this is essential for thorough customer follow-up marketing. Nurture marketing, often through marketing automation software, can be game-changing in engagement and conversion to sales. Once someone is in your sales funnel, let the software automate direct mail and email deployments.
  3. Mailing List Selection: An oft cited direct mail rule is that 40 percent of your success will come from your mailing list. This is a good rule-of-thumb whether you’re mailing a specific segment of your customer list, or if you’re using outside lists including models and response files. Make sure your mailing list selection is appropriate for your creative message (or more appropriately, make sure your creative message is geared for your audience).
  4. Test!: Test something, but resist “testing around the edges.” That is, don’t only test a new headline. Instead, test completely new story, positioning, offers and more. And make sure you have at least a basic understanding of statistical confidence intervals so you can validate if one direct mail package really outperformed the other when it’s rolled out to higher volumes.
  5. Identify the Persona: Begin with basic demographic data, but you must get into your prospective customers’ mindset using behavioral data. Get started by having a basic profile run of your existing customers (easily accessible from data vendors, and ordinarily quite affordable). Look for behaviors that you can cluster into several personas you can describe and name. For example, “Money Matters,” “Adrenalin Seekers,” or “Did I Matter?” Key: knowing the data is merely a start. You must analyze and interpret the information. Assign the persona into one of your identified types (I have pegged 12 different types over my years in the business, three of those are listed above). Once you know the persona, you’re ready to move into creative strategy.
  6. Stimulate Emotion: We possess advanced human brains. However, as in most animals, at its core, our amygdala — the primitive “lizard brain” — reacts instantly with fight or flight instincts. We are alerted to basic needs including anger, fear, and reproduction. The left amygdala retains both pleasant and unpleasant emotions. The right amygdala retains negative emotions, especially fear and sadness. It’s no wonder that negative works.
  7. Calm the Mind: After stimulating emotion, you must calm the mind. Assure your prospect there is a solution that addresses fear, uncertainty and doubt. Direct the reader to emotions that offer pleasure, reward, a pleasant memory, new learning and moderate the mood.
  8. Position/Reposition: Create new memory for your prospective customer or donor by giving your product or organization a distinctive positioning with your unique selling proposition (or unique value proposition). Differentiating you from your competitors is essential to creating new memory that can linger on for your product or service.
  9. Use Storytelling Techniques: Story is effective because it offers new perspective and solidifies the new memory holds for your prospect. New memory is embedded into the mind with a compelling story that’s well told. Magnetically pull your reader into your story, and encourage them to step into the storyline. Consider how you can use ancient storytelling methods.
  10. Interpret the Outcome: The left brain is logical, and mathematical calculations are processed here. This is where your prospect determines cost to value and influences how the individual will act. Introduce financial cost, and present a perceived return on investment. You must interpret the outcome of possessing your product and avert abandonment by your prospective customer when you translate features into benefits, use testimonials and a strong guarantee to overcome skepticism.
  11. Permission to Respond. The right brain is emotional. Return your prospect back to emotion by naturally leading them to say, “This is good, this is smart, I give myself permission to respond now.”
  12. Analyze Results. A basic step often overlooked is analyzing your results with hard numbers. Metrics can include response rates, conversion rates, cost per response or cost per order. Match how your direct mail program actually performed compared to your benchmarks established in point No. 1.