Direct Mail Done Right

Sharon Goldman

When it comes to direct mail, success can be measured in a variety of ways besides straight ROI — although raising response is, of course, the bottom line. For instance, did the piece grab attention? Did its design help it get past the gatekeepers? Or, was the mailing particularly cost-efficient? Did it help increase customer loyalty? These are the factors that came into play for the following three successful direct mail campaigns. A b-to-b campaign, a campaign touting an education nonprofit and a mailing strictly for high-end luxury auto enthusiasts may not initially seem to have much in common. But they are all efforts that effectively used direct mail in creative and thoughtful ways. ?

Cost-savings savvy?

As an education nonprofit that relies on federal and state funding to survive, the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) was looking to cut down on direct mail campaign costs, which — while mail remains an essential marketing channel for the organization — can be prohibitively expensive. ?

For a mailing promoting a conference that targeted 74,000 national board certified teachers, director of marketing Elizabeth Arritt had an idea of how to cut down on the number of mailers sent out: “We were already planning e-mails and mailings and I thought, why am I e-mailing all these people and then mailing something when I can tell exactly who opened the e-mail?”?

The NBPTS had about 61,000 of the targeted group’s e-mail addresses, so each one received an HTML preview e-mail for the conference twice during the span of one month. Arritt then tracked the addresses that opened the e-mail – about 11,000 – and removed those from the mailing, then targeted the mailing to states near the conference or where the organization had a strong presence, so only about 45,000 of the mailed pieces were sent out. ?

“It saves us anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 per mailing, between print and mailing costs,” says Arritt. This type of cost savings effort is becoming part of the organization’s standard marketing procedure now, she adds. “We haven’t bought any lists,” she says. “Instead, we’ve gotten information from those who follow us on Twitter and Facebook as well as sign-ups on the Web site.”?

Lead with loyalty?

To mark the debut of the new Porsche 911, Porsche Cars North America’s agency, Cramer-Krasselt Chicago, sent unique direct mail kits to a curated list of 10,000 Porsche enthusiasts, including current and former 911 owners. Each package included an exclusive, limited-edition Porsche badge that was personalized with a unique code, in some cases hand-selected for a specific recipient. ?

“Our drivers are as important in developing the brand over time as the brand itself,” says Michael Baer, group account director for Porsche at Cramer-Krasselt Chicago. “We always want to stay in contact with them, give them insider information and, when and where, it’s appropriate, reward them for their passionate loyalty to the brand.” ?

The effort was part of a large marketing push that included print and online ads as well as a microsite. But the response to the direct mail piece and badge was particularly positive, says Baer. Some recipients even took the time to write Porsche and personally thank them for the gift. ?

The creative challenge for the direct mail piece, he says, was the fact that the new Porsche 911 doesn’t look that much different than the prior generation — so the company had to work carefully to get to the sweet spot of Porsche insiders who have owned multiple Porsches through the years and explain the differences in the new model. “The outside looks unchanged, but on the inside it’s a completely new car,” he says. ?

Still, the main driver (no pun intended) for the direct mail piece was loyalty — offering top customers something they could put on their desk as a keepsake about their cars. “Anecdotally, we know it drove sales, but it wasn’t designed for that,” says Baer. “It was a reward for loyalty, longevity and interest with the brand. There was no ROI on this piece.” ?

Dimensional dynamo?

When it comes to dimensional direct mail for business-to-business companies, agency Mindspace knows its stuff. After all, it has completed more than 250 dimensional mail campaigns for enterprise software company Oracle. ?

“Especially when the piece goes to a C-suite executive, where it’s hard to get through the doorkeeper — that is, the receptionist — we find if it’s in a dimensional box that stands out it gets pushed through pretty quickly,” says Brent Shetler, principal and creative director at Mindspace. “We’ve seen 20% response rates with mailers when we either send it in a box that’s interesting or just by FedEx so that it has a sense of importance to it.” ?

Last summer, the agency created a direct mail campaign for Oracle distributor Avnet, which wanted to get its value-added reseller (VAR) clients — who sell Oracle products to end users — to sign up for a lead-generation campaign to sell Oracle’s new line of business intelligence products. Twenty-five VARs received a unique, Get Smart-themed spy kit piece which included a brochure and video PDF about the program, explaining everything the reseller needed to know to make a decision about participating in the campaign. ?

Mindspace hoped to sign up 10 of the VARs, but it actually got 16 — a more than 64% response rate. While it was a small target base, the subsequent lead generation campaign was sent out by the VARs to about 1,400 prospects and included a similar spy briefcase 3-D mailing driving recipients to a personalized landing page. The 3.5% response rate generated 50 leads for the VARs – offering potential sales of more than $5 million. “With price points for the solutions starting at around $100,000, you can justify significant spend [for a mailer],” says Shetler. l?

From the May 18, 2009 Issue of DMNews

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In the YouTube era, Campaigns Still Rely on Old-School Direct Mail

By Adrian G. Uribarri

It has threatened to bring down newspaper empires and make books obsolete. And it has changed politics forever, with e-mail, blogs and viral video.

Yet there’s one thing the Internet hasn’t quite changed: direct mail.

In Illinois politics, it seems, dead trees still bring life to campaigns.

“Although we utilize the technology of the 21st century, people still receive mail at their house every day,” says Patrick Hughes, a Republican candidate for Barack Obama’s former U.S. Senate seat. “People go to their mailbox and pick up their mail.”

Earlier this month, Hughes sent out 175,000 mailers to Republican households in Illinois, drawing contrasts between himself and GOP front runner Mark Kirk.

Hughes had already been making his case online, with e-mails, videos and a Web site.

But campaign experts say while virtual media offer new ways to communicate with voters, other factors have helped direct mail maintain its primacy. In Chicago, consultants and printers who deal in ZIP codes say business is just fine, thank you.

“There are certain things that you can do with direct mail that you just can’t with digital,” says Terry Walsh, partner at Chicago’s Strategy Group. “Digital will probably eat into what campaigns have historically done with direct mail, but I suspect it’s not going to be as much as you think.”

Walsh’s firm handled direct mail for Obama’s presidential primary campaign and later mapped out the mail strategy for nine states in the general election.

He describes the firm’s role as a consultant rather than a printer, a key distinction now that desktop-publishing and design tools are available at the click of a button.

“The bar to entry to actually produce political direct mail is very, very low,” Walsh says. “What we get paid to do is to think about message development and delivery.”

He explains that new media have given campaigns alternative, often more efficient methods to convey their messages, but that there is still no better way than mail to reach certain audiences.

“One of the big things going on right now in electoral politics is the degree to which people vote by absentee ballot,” Walsh says. “Those are classic mail targets.”

As another example, he pointed to a time-honored campaign tactic: sending voters a reminder of where, when and how to vote, shortly before an election day. Typically, such mailers include a last pitch for a candidate, as well as details of what to bring to the polling place and information on how to get a ride for voters who can’t arrive alone.

Even in a campaign such as Obama’s, widely considered on the cutting edge in its use of digital communications and fund raising, direct mail had a place, Walsh says.

That’s a relief for Stanley Jasiuwienas, who runs Mid-City Printing Services on the Northwest side. Jasiuwienas says an explosion in television campaigning hurt the 31-year-old print shop about a decade ago.

It used to be that only presidential candidates, and perhaps the wealthier candidates in U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, ran advertisements on the airwaves.

“Now, even some inane campaigns, like those for a judgeship, present TV commercials,” Jasiuwienas says. “Naturally, there is less money that can be invested in print media.”

Jasiuwienas estimates that Mid-City prints about a third of the political mail that it did in the 1990s. During election years, he says, the campaign mailers that used to be about half of his business have dropped to about a quarter of total output.

“It was a nice piece of gravy,” he says.

Yet Jasiuwienas, like Walsh, is not as concerned with competition from online campaigning. He estimated that over the past five years, starting around the time Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s campaign marked a new high in digital politics, direct-mail printing has held steady.

Some candidates used to print appeal letters that are now more likely to land in e-mail inboxes, he says, but is online campaigning eating his direct-mail lunch the way TV did?

“Quite frankly,” he says, “no.”

One reason for that is the cost of broadcast versus online campaigning, says Bill O’Reilly, a direct-mail political strategist in New York City.

“Broadcast is gonna kill you in a state like New York or Illinois,” O’Reilly says. “Digital media’s not that expensive.”

While many campaigns make huge sacrifices to go on the air, including cutting direct mail, going online usually does not rule out such expenses.

In campaigns with seemingly unlimited resources for broadcast and online campaigning, the old mailer holds its own.

O’Reilly used the example of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the multibillionaire who had financial access to every bit of the campaigning toolbox.

Adding to a flood of TV ads and online messages, Bloomberg’s campaign also stuffed voters’ mailboxes with direct mail.

“There’s a campaign that could do every new trick in the book, but still chose to do mail,” O’Reilly says.

He credits the persistence of direct mail with its predictability.

While useful, he says, e-mail is less reliable because so many people quickly delete messages after reading no further than the subject line. Someone can throw out a piece of mail, he says, but only after holding it and analyzing it at least briefly.

“It’s been measured over the decades. It’s reliable, almost formulaic,” O’Reilly says. “You know you can drive turnout with mail.”

O’Reilly says digital campaigning will continue to grow, and to the benefit of candidates, but that its rise will not necessarily accompany the decline of direct mail.

“Maybe in a couple of generations it will go away, but not now,” he says.

“What you’re seeing is that more tools are being added to the arsenal, more arrows in the quiver. But the standbys are still there.”

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More Direct Agencies add Creative Capabilities

Pamela Oldham
April 02, 2010

Direct marketing firms have long considered themselves leaders in using data and analytics to understand their customers. However, many have recently bolstered their creative practices by hiring or promoting staffers to top executive-level creative positions.

“It’s not enough just to have this great information,” said David Williams, CEO of Merkle. “The way to monetize that information is to have a bigger impact on a consumer and to change [customer] behavior in a positive way. So, what we were finding is that to make the linkages of intelligence to media creation, we needed a strong executive presence.”

Merkle recently hired Mark Weninger as its first chief creative officer. Before joining the agency, Weninger was managing partner and chief creative officer of the Minneapolis office of OgilvyOne Worldwide. Previously he served as executive creative director at Wunderman/Young & Rubicam, New York. His portfolio shows off work for British Airways, General Electric, FedEx and Starwood Hotels.

For some direct shops, the concept of bolstering their creative services isn’t new. Many agencies – large and small – have included creative services as part of their offerings for years. However, more agencies are placing a higher value on recruiting and retaining top creative executives than they had in the past.

Jerry Bernhart, principal and owner of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, said he was surprised the demand for creatives at direct agencies didn’t happen sooner.

“I think it’s smart what they doing. Today, it’s all about creating customer experience,” he said. He added that at times last year, recruiting creative professionals dominated his schedule. He expects that to continue.

In recent months, companies known primarily for database marketing either recruited or elevated top creative staff members who had built their reputations at world class creative and brand agencies.

Holliston, MA-based Wilde Agency named Nancy Harhut its new chief creative officer in January. She arrived with more than 20 years of experience and had honed her senior creative management skills at Hill Holliday, Mullen and Bronner (now Digitas).

In March, Todd Dexter was promoted to VP of US creative at Carlson Marketing. He joined Carlson in 2006 after building his portfolio at Campbell Mithun Advertising and Martin/Williams.

“I’ve seen in recent years an increasing blurring of the lines — an accelerated convergence of marketing concepts, methods and technologies in addressing complex customer challenges,” said Merkle’s Weninger. “The traditionally separate domains of agencies, consultancies and [service providers] have grown closer together, and these kinds of companies now find themselves vying fiercely for the same client engagements.”

Not all agency executives are convinced the trend is a positive one for the direct industry. Michael Darviche, CMO of Acxiom, said that integrating traditional ad agency and direct or digital service provider specialties is a bad idea. He said his company will reinforce its data, technology and other areas of target marketing instead.

“My feeling is that the service providers are excellent in areas that are just as important – audience management, data and analytics,” he said. “This drives personalization, secure processing, privacy, protection, and overall, being a partner to the client.”

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Something to Chew On

By Mindy Charski

Marketing to marketers is not, as you might imagine, always easy. But enterprise marketing software company Neolane ( has done well reaching other marketers since learning that chewing gum helps its message stick.

In advance of last fall’s pro baseball championship, Neolane sent out about 500 baseball-themed mailers to other marketers, touting the benefits of the company’s marketing automation capabilities. “Our real objective was [creating] another touchpoint to be able to create a dialogue, starting with a personal phone call as follow-up,” says Kristin Hambelton, senior director of marketing at Neolane, which caters to corporate marketers in high-tech, retail, entertainment and travel.

Given that its audience is both time-pressed and inundated with any number of other offers, the company decided that a colorful dimensional package with concise messaging was the ideal approach. “I think people are intrigued about opening something,” says Hambelton. “It’s this whole childhood mentality of ‘Oh, I got a little present. I want to open it.’”

The mailer, which Massachusetts-based Neolane created in-house with help from a freelance designer, arrived in a white box with a label that read, “Is your cross-channel marketing ready for the big leagues?” Inside were a pack of bubble gum and four postcards nestled in blue or orange crinkle-cut paper shreds — Neolane’s signature colors.

One card, measuring about 6.5 by 4 inches, featured a personalized greeting and overview from Hambelton along with a link to an online demonstration of the cross-channel marketing software. The other, slightly larger cards contained mini case studies that explained how major corporations have benefited from the software. The cards and a sticker on the gum package included a URL with more detailed versions of the case studies.

Of the 500 mailers sent, Hambelton says, 58 people clicked through to the software demo and 69 to the case studies. Since prospects were already in Neolane’s database, the firm used its own software to track them after the visits and had sales associates call them as the baseball championship series was unfolding. “This achieved our goals in terms of people visiting the Web site [and led to] two accounts moving further along the sales cycle,” she says.

Hambelton says she wasn’t surprised that the mailer worked, as Neolane learned a while ago that audiences respond well to its baseball-themed packages — and the chewing gum in particular.

Of course, other recipients were just as impressed with the message and the overall dimensional package. “You just don’t see it a lot,” says Hambelton, “so I think it makes you stand out.”

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How Vampire Bats Offer Lessons In Loyalty

By Steve Cuno

By the time I finished college, I had worked for three major department store chains. Each claimed to have originated the policy “Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back.” They also alleged that naysayers shook their heads at the then-new policy, predicting that widespread public abuse was sure to bankrupt the store in no time. But — cue orchestra and choir — these courageous retail pioneers damned the torpedoes and moved ahead at full speed.

If the folklore is true, history vindicated the fearless pioneers. Today, a satisfaction guarantee is standard for nearly all mail-order marketers and most retail chains. Abuses happen, but resultant increased sales more than compensate. It seems that when stores trust customers, customers trust stores, become loyal and show it by purchasing more.

If the guarantee’s positive outcome surprised naysayers, one thing is clear: Naysayers in those days didn’t spend much time with vampire bats. If they had, they would have learned some valuable lessons about loyalty.

Nature’s rewards programs

As many animal lovers know, vampire bats often feed upon sleeping cattle or other blissfully unaware snoozers. (Incidentally, they don’t drain their victims Dracula-style; they make tiny puncture wounds and lap what seeps out.) They then regroup at headquarters, regurgitate their spoils and share equally. But even bats are subject to greed. Should a successful hunter hoard instead of share, the others notice. Next time that bat experiences a bad hunt, it is excluded from the sharing.

You and I might call the bat behavior a primitive version of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours; if you don’t scratch my back, I’ll be damned if I’ll scratch yours.” Evolutionary psychologists call it reciprocal altruism, which is shorter and sounds way more intellectual. The trait shows up in most creatures that live in social groups, from wolves to dolphins to chimpanzees. In all of these species, compliance to the “rules” leads to rewards, whereas flouting them can incur penalties. (Vampire bats go easy on miscreants. Chimp punishment sometimes entails biting off parts most creatures prefer to keep.)

Are consumers hard-wired for fairness?

Whatever you want to call this inborn code, it has important implications for marketers hoping to win loyalty from another social animal: humans. If a sense of fairness is innate in so-called lower creatures, then what about people? Is it possible that our own sense of justice runs deeper than what society instills?

Scientific studies of primitive and modern societies indicate that the answer is a strong “Yes!” An inner, tacit understanding of how we should relate to and treat one another appears to come as naturally to humans as talking with our hands.

If that’s true, then a positive response to a marketer who is willing to go out on a limb for customers may not be so surprising after all. Maybe it’s simply natural.

No wonder “satisfaction guaranteed” has become a must for successful direct mail marketing. When you scratch a shopper’s back, it’s natural for the shopper to scratch in return. When a high-end direct mail clothier gives you a no-hassle refund because your outfit “just didn’t look right” — even after you wore it — you’re more inclined to reward them with increased loyalty and purchases. When publishers let you examine the first volume of a continuity series with no obligation, include a gift to keep even if you decide not to purchase, and let you return any book you receive thereafter, you’re more likely to trust them with your credit card number. And when a catalog marketer rewards frequent buyers with free shipping, gifts and privileges, buyers are more likely to repeat behaviors that earn rewards.

Fostering mutual affection

Direct marketers who want to be around for the long haul do well to practice reciprocal altruism. Treating customers morally and ethically, giving them the benefit of the doubt and rewarding them is good business precisely because it resonates with evolved humanity.

The first marketers who placed trust in customers admittedly took a risk. After all, there are greedy people, just as there are greedy bats. What was to keep people from returning perfectly good products and simply claiming dissatisfaction? Or from claiming not to have received a product after the USPS indeed delivered it?

Happily, experience has shown trustworthiness to be an inherent trait in the majority of humans, most of the time.

It bodes well for direct marketing. And for humanity.

Steve Cuno heads the RESPONSE Agency in Salt Lake City. He is the author of the book Prove It Before You Promote It: How to Take the Guesswork Out of Marketing and is a popular convention speaker for the Direct Marketing Association, the American Marketing Association, the James Randi Educational Foundation and others. He can be reached at

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Demography Is Key to Survival

By Bruce Britt

An author and internationally respected demography expert, Kenneth W. Gronbach has spent years crunching numbers to determine how marketers can reach across generational divides to appeal to the broadest audience possible. But statistical calculations aside, Gronbach says, he finds the clearest proof of what works in a much more familiar place: his family’s mailbox.

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