Brooks Brothers' Bizarre Blue-Serge Letter
An effort guaranteed NOT to generate salesVol. 5, Issue No. 21 | October 27, 2009 By Denny Hatch
IN THE NEWSBrooks Brothers,
The arrival of a new season at Brooks Brothers is always accompanied by new wardrobe elements designed to offer incomparable style, quality and value. This fall is no exception and provides us the opportunity to reintroduce many of our longstanding classics while incorporating new additions into our collection.
—Diane M. Hamilton, president and chief operating officer
—Brian Dean, vice president, direct
[To see the complete letter, click on the thumbnail illustration at the end of today’s edition.]
I grew up wearing blue serge.
In the autumns of my youngest years, my parents would drive me to Best & Co. in Garden City, Long Island, and outfit me in blue serge for church and birthday parties—short blue serge pants with matching Eton jacket (no lapels), white shirt with big Eton collar and red tie. In the spring, same kind of thing, but summer weight.
When it came time to get my first pair of long pants, I was driven to Brooks Brothers on Madison Ave. in New York City, where I have been doing business since 1942.
It was a big deal when I got my first pair of blue serge long pants. My mother cried.
When I started going to dances, I would get tuxedos at Brooks Brothers and white dinner jackets for summer.
When cash was tight because of Andover bills in 1949-1953 ($1,400 tuition, room and board), we sometimes shopped at Rogers Peet on E. 42nd St.
Both Best & Co. and Rogers Peet are kaput. Brooks Brothers is a survivor.
But it won’t survive much longer if it continues to spend vast sums of money sending out blue-serge letters.
The Blue-Serge Letter From the President and VP Direct
These days, I buy from Brooks Brothers in Philadelphia once in a while—maybe a very lightweight summer jacket and an occasional sweater set for my wife, Peggy, at Christmas.
Early this month, the folks at Brooks Brothers wanted to alert me that their “Web site has been redesigned to be more engaging and informative.” It continues:
A central component is improved navigation and more convenient placement of our most sought-after items and resources. BrooksBrothers.com now offers expanded product information with alternate views and more comprehensive merchandise descriptions.
The one-page letter went on for three more paragraphs about the wonderful new Web site. “We hope that you will take the opportunity to visit the updated BrooksBrothers.com,” they write in the final paragraph, “and subscribe to the timely e-mail communication of our special events.”
That line was one of two calls to action.
The second call to action:
P.S. Please feel free to update your catalog preferences at any time by contacting us at 800.274.1815.
Call any time? I go to bed early, but my bet is that if I called at 2 a.m. on a Sunday morning, an operator would not be standing by. If operators are standing by 24/7, for pity’s sake, say so! It shows the customer and prospect that you really, really care.
The word “you” or “your” appeared just six times in the letter.
By contrast, the words “we,” “us” and “our” were used 20 times.
No offer was made—no discount certificate, no promise that if I bought three ties I'd receive the fourth tie free to celebrate the new Web site redesign, no early fall sale—zip, nada, zilch.
I was given no reason to respond. As a result, President and COO Diane M. Hamilton and VP, Direct, Brian Dean had no clue as to whether the letter was ever delivered to anybody or whether anybody read it.
Why do I call it the Brooks Brothers blue-serge letter?
Because the writers were peeing in blue serge; it made them feel warm all over and nobody noticed.
55-Word Book Reviews
Note: In the May 8, 2007, edition of this e-zine, "The Book Business: An Industry of Whiners," I proposed an online (for-profit) book service, QuickieBookReviews.com, that features short reviews (55 words) and one to four stars—just like movie reviews. You're invited to submit 55-word reviews of any really good book that readers would enjoy.
**** "Harry Truman's Excellent Adventures: The true story of a Great American Road Trip" by Matthew Algeo. Shortly after leaving the White House, Harry and Bess Truman drove themselves from Independence, Miss., to Washington, D.C.; Philly; and New York, staying in motels, eating in diners, mingling with everyday Americans. Algeo recreated the trip and brings the Trumans and America in the 50s deliciously alive. A delightful excursion into simpler times. I loved it! Chicago Review Press, 256 pp, ISBN-13: 978-1556527777, $24.95. —DH 10-19-09
**** "Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations" by Georgina Howell. The extraordinary saga of arguably the most important woman of the 20th century—a wealthy British linguist, insatiable traveler of the Arabian deserts, diplomat with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Middle East, and major player in the creation of Iraq along with Churchill and T.E. Lawrence. A tragedy she's not alive now when really needed! Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 512 pp, ISBN-13: 978-0374531355, $15 paperback. —DH 10-19-09
**** "A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon" by Neil Sheehan. High drama for the soul of the U.S. Air Force and the survival of the free world—the battle between guided missile pioneer Bennie Schriever and Gen. Curtis LeMay, who loved his B-52 bombers. The history, the technology, the triumphs and the failures that ultimately brought the fearsome Russian bear to its knees—peacefully. Random House, 512 pp, ISBN-13: 978-0679422846, $32, hardcover. —DH 10-24-09.
Takeaways to Consider
- Send a letter with no offer and you’ll get no response—guaranteed.
- That's known in the world of marketing as a “waste of money.”
- “It’s the offer, stupid! If you do not get the results you need or response is flagging, check the offer first.”
—Seattle guru Bob Hacker
- “If you want to dramatically increase your response, dramatically improve your offer.”
—Swedish direct mail guru Axel Andersson
- “Success in direct mail is 40% lists, 40% offer and 20% everything else.”
—Ed Mayer, dean of direct marketing educators
- Before sending out a blue-serge letter, think the letter “P”: only the Printer and the Post Office make money.
- “The tone of a good direct mail letter is as direct and personal as the writer’s skill can make it. Even though it may go to millions of people, it never orates to a crowd but rather murmurs into a single ear. It’s a message from one letter writer to one letter reader.”
—Harry Walsh, freelancer
- The Brooks Brothers blue-serge letter was signed by two people, the COO and VP, direct. When two people sign a letter, it ceases to be personal. This is prose by a copywriter that was signed off on by a minicommittee of two. It's impossible to make an emotional connection with a committee, so the letter is an oxymoron signed by marketing morons.
- “The most important word in direct mail copy (aside from ‘free’ of course) is not ‘you’—as many of the textbooks would have it—but ‘I.’ What makes a letter seem ‘personal’ is not seeing your own name printed dozens of times across the page, or even being battered to death with a never ending attack of ‘you’s.’ It is, rather, the sense that one gets of being in the presence of the writer ... that a real person sat down and wrote you a real letter.”
—Richard Armstrong, freelancer, author of “God Doesn’t Shoot Craps: A Divine Comedy”
- If operators are standing by 24/7, for pity’s sake, say so! It shows the customer and prospect that you really, really care.
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