A Difference You Can Feel
For all its benefits, the main challenge of direct marketing is the potential customer's inability to touch, smell or taste the actual product. Copywriters and designers weave words and images to evoke these senses ... to create word pictures paired with photos to draw on prospects' experiences to lead them to more clearly imagine the product that could be delivered to their door.
But in the end, nothing represents the product quite like the product itself. Sampling is a promotional activity conducted more by packaged-goods manufacturers than direct marketing companies, because it's an
expensive undertaking. Either you need to budget for an extra campaign in your marketing plan or research a way to add a sample to one of your scheduled mailings. The latter requires altering your regular production process to accommodate the inclusion of a sample, which can add significant cost to your campaign.
For multichannel marketer L.L.Bean, it might be worth the investment. The Maine-based direct marketer dropped two 168-page holiday gift catalogs that were identical in almost every way save for a die-cut circle on the front cover
of one of the efforts that allowed a fabric sample to peek through from page three (301LLBEAN1103H, 301LLBEAN1103G). The product enjoying this star treatment was L.L.Bean's Freeport Chamois cloth shirt for men and women, which was displayed on models of both genders as well as off-model to provide the full array of color selections.
Since L.L.Bean wasn't talking about its special effort, I asked Kathy Johnston, creative services manager for catalog consultancy J. Schmid & Associates and a catalog production expert, to venture a few theories about what it took to make this sample-bearing catalog.
Remembering a prior attempt to attach a product sample to a catalog page for one of her clients, Johnston noted that the sample's bulk can pose a real problem; it interferes with the bindery process, requiring the samples to be affixed by handnot something you could do on rollout quantities.
But a flat product samplelike a fabric swatchcan be affixed to a form
before the catalog is assembled on the bindery equipment, she explains. Since this is a normal production process, any quantity of catalogs can be created this way without spending your entire budget on production costs.
The only other major production consideration is that the fabric swatches be on some type of paper backing that helps the affixing machine grab the individual samples. Johnston likens this L.L.Bean fabric sample to a kind of fuzzy dot whack.
Just because you can do something, however, doesn't mean you should ... or at least not for just any audience.
This kind of promotion still involves extra cost that must be offset by increased revenue. Gina Valentino, vice president and general manager at J. Schmid & Associates, explains that it's wise to test ideas to your housefile first to see how they perform, then roll out winners to prospects.
In this instance, the key codes on the two catalogs L.L.Bean mailed suggest that it sent the catalog with the fabric sample to a customer, while the regular holiday catalog was targeted to a prospect.
While she couldn't be sure, Valentino thought it likely that L.L.Bean found its customer segment for this test by analyzing purchasing habits. For example, it might have isolated shirt buyers who have bought flannel, canvas and/or chambray shirts, but not the top-seller Chamois shirt. By providing a fabric sample to show the difference between the Chamois cloth and the regular flannel, L.L.Bean might get a current buyer to consider a wider variety of merchandisea much easier proposition than convincing a prospect to make a first purchase.