Message & Media: What I Learned From P.O. Box 1857
Opening envelopes and unzipping direct mail snap packs provides cross-channel marketers with the chance to lurk-and-learn from their direct mail marketing colleagues. I speak from experience.
Lurking, learning and confirming is what I've been doing for more than a year as I saved a stack of mail pieces I received from P.O. Box 1857 in Alpharetta, Ga. Sometimes I received two or three pieces a month from this address. You probably did, too, if you're an AT&T customer. P.O. Box 1857 is the home address for AT&T Customer Care. Here's what I learned:
Takeaway No. 1: Direct mail (still) works. Or at least it's working for companies like AT&T that use it to cross-sell services to their customers. As with insurance buyers, telephone and digital service customers have an attractive lifetime value because of their "automatic" monthly renewal. In other words, it's likely you can mail to them cost-effectively, because it's not a one-time sale. It's similar to a continuity program.
And while email is less expensive to send than direct mail, it's not always an option. Or appropriate. For example, AT&T doesn't have my email address. But the telecom does have my postal address. So AT&T is using it, repeatedly. If direct mail isn't already in your 2014 marketing plan, consider testing it whenever it's appropriate.
Takeaway No. 2: Repetition counts. One-shot mailings—traditional mail and email—are a shot in the dark. If you're going to use direct mail or email to cross-sell and upgrade customers, you need to commit to testing a series. One touch is rarely enough. Here's why:
In the case of AT&T (my land line and long distance provider), the company is asking me to switch my wireless, high speed Internet and TV from other providers. This is not an impulse decision. It requires research, planning and timing of contracts. So I'm most likely to consider switching when I, 1) have a problem with an existing provider, 2) experience a significant rate increase, or 3) have a contract about to end. While all three of these decision-influencers are out of AT&T's control, AT&T has learned it needs to keep its message in front of me until the time is right. By sending me repeated mailings, AT&T is more likely to be in my mailbox when I'm ready to switch.
Takeaway No. 3: Bundling is big. Bundling has become the offer-of-choice for marketers of everything from fast food and insurance to automobiles, credit cards, hair care products, even air travel. Catalogers have long used bundling as a tool for selling low-cost, low-margin products they otherwise couldn't afford to promote by mail.
Now, AT&T and other and telephone/digital service marketers, such as Time Warner, are bundling services with package pricing to lock in customer loyalty and profits. All of the mailings I received from P.O. Box 1857 offered bundles except one. How are you profiting from this bundling bonanza?
Takeaway No. 4: Your personal opinion is "a sample of one." That's all. Testing, tracking and measuring results tell you the true story of what works and what doesn't. And while I fully understand this as a direct marketer, I still have opinions. So I admit, the 6x9 mailing I received repeatedly from P.O. Box 1857 perplexed me. I didn't like it and thought the pinstriped outer envelope with its invitation-like piece inside was odd. The cover panel of the folded invitation had one word on it, "Hi!," and inside was a short note that began, "Thank you for your business." It then offered me a free account review. In my opinion, the package was too hokey to work.
Shame on me. Based on what I learned by doing a search in the Who's Mailing What! direct mail and email database, this mail piece was—and may still be—a control. I should have known this, because I received it five times. The big takeaway is a reminder: While we're all entitled to our opinions, we shouldn't let opinion get in the way of testing to learn what our customers prefer.
Takeaway No. 5: Change is good. Especially when you're sending frequent messages to the same audience. Rotate offers and formats to increase open and response rates.
During the months I collected AT&T mail pieces, I received one standard #10 outer envelope. Others varied in size from 6x9 to slightly smaller than a #10, along with two booklet envelopes with catalogs inside. All were repeated at least once. While most outer envelopes were white, others were pinstriped, blue and brown. Some were closed-faced, while others had one or two windows. Even the type of fonts used for addressing varied from appearing handwritten to sans serif. Change is engaging.
Takeaway No. 6: Urgency encourages action. Based on what I received, reply-by dates must work for AT&T. Ten mailings included the phrase "reply by," followed by a date. Two included the teaser "TIME-SENSITIVE INFORMATION ENCLOSED." And one used the phrase: "Hurry, Offer Ends Soon:" with a specific date. Limited-time offers with specific dates for response create urgency and encourage fence-sitters to get off the fence in direct mail, email and on the Web.
Takeaway No. 7: Call. Click. Visit. Every mailing I received offered three response options—call an 800 number, visit att.com or visit a local AT&T store. Every phone number and URL was different, to aid in source coding and tracking. The only thing missing was a coupon to take into the store. Because there was no option to respond by mail, I assume AT&T has tested and tracked customer preferences for responding, and mail is no longer one of them. This is important information to have, and it will most likely continue to change as new channels emerge.
As you can see, it pays to keep an eye on the mail you receive. Remember, the more times you see a mailing repeated, the more likely it's a winner. And we all like to learn from winners.