An Appeal to Financial Smarties
Imagine a prospect's surprise when, upon opening her mailbox, she finds a gleaming, plastic tube7-1/2" long and 2" in diameterthat teases her with a cryptic message against a lime-green background:
What to call people who consolidate their student loans before June 30:
This dimensional effort belongs to Vista Financial Inc. (VFI), a Livermore, Calif.-based provider of loan consolidation services to borrowers of federally backed student loans. On July 1, the interest rates on federally guaranteed, variable-rate student loans were slated to go up by nearly 2 percentage points. Seeing the need for consolidation services, VFI wanted to get out a mailing that was attention-grabbing, and it needed to do it fast. According to Lori Buxton, marketing manager at VFI, the loan provider worked with Grey Matter Group, a full-service marketing communications company, to come up with the unique design and concept.
In coming up with the concept, the team began brainstorming dimensional mail possibilities because, as Buxton attests, "dimensional mailers have a far greater chance of getting opened than standard flat mailers or envelopes." The tube seemed the way to go, emulating the shape of the infamous Smarties candy roll, says Buxton. On the table with the plastic tube was a cardboard option, which was three times bigger. The plastic won out thanks to its "smaller diameter and more modern appearance," she says.
Production of this unique carrier began when the tubes were created by bending and sealing sheets of clear plastic. The long, plastic cylinders then were cut into individual tubes, stuffed with the letters and capped on either end. In all, 250,000 tubes were produced and shipped to VFI's fulfillment center. Commercial Printing of Grand Rapids, Mich., handled all the printing, including ensuring the addresses on the outside of the tubes were identical to those on the letters inside the tubes.
Once production was complete, special care had to be taken in mailing the oversized pieces. VFI needed to know what the USPS would do if the tubes didn't fit in mailboxes or if the boxes were overstuffed and wouldn't hold an additional larger piece of mail. Says Buxton, "The final tube size was checked in advance to make sure it would fit in P.O. Boxes." And while the tube received in the Who's Mailing What! Archive in late June was, for all intents and purposes, perfect, not all the mailings made it unscathed. Recounts Buxton, "There were some cases of the caps popping off the ends of the tubes. As near as we can tell, there could have been some slight variance in the diameter of the tubes, causing a slightly loose fit." Also, she says, heat and longer travel times could have been factors in non-delivery of a few pieces.
In addition to higher production costs and extra precautions in delivery, dimensional mail pieces also have higher postage costs. According to Buxton, postage was "by far the largest portion of the budget." To save money, VFI sent the effort Third Class, which while less expensive, has an unpredictable delivery time. This impacted response from Western states that likely didn't receive the effort until the end of the month.
So, was it really worth it? Of course these mailings were opened. And I'm betting they were met with remarks of glee as the candy and clever teaser came together in the recipient's hand. But how has response been? Around 1 percent, says Buxton, who says it's about average for VFI campaigns. "I think this campaign would have had a much higher response if it had been mailed earlier--not up against a tight deadline," she says. However, she's quick to add, "Many comments came in by phone indicat[ing recipients]
selected us from all the competitors because of that mailing."
All things considered, will VFI test this effort again? "I like the campaign," says Buxton. "We might do something similar again, but not when there's a deadline like there was this time."