From Uh-Oh to Oh Yeah! Slip-ups Turned Successful
A successful direct mail campaign requires a careful balance of list, offer and creativeand the processes that secure each one of these components are rife with opportunities for miscommunication and good old-fashioned mistakes. Throw in multi-variable testing, and you've got a breeding ground for errors.
But not every mistake is an unqualified disaster. In compiling these examples for a more light-hearted look at the direct mail process, we found that marketers were equally appreciative of the lessons learned from mistakes that did not have a happy ending. In fact, copywriter Susan Fantle pointed out that the Rocky Mountain Direct Marketing Association's annual banquet has highlighted direct mail blooper stories as the feature presentation.
Direct mail is not exempt from Murphy's Law. But we've found a few stories that show Murphy is sometimes on your side.
Color Them Pink
Mailing: "Christmas with Martha Stewart Living."
Goal: Beat the control for the book series with a new test package featuring all new creative.
The Uh-Oh Moment: The package was supposed to be in a bright, Christmas red ... the outer design was simple, festive and featured Martha Stewart's signature, says Jennifer Brunnemer Slaton, director of promotion at Oxmoor House, which handles promotion for the Martha Stewart Living book and continuity product line. Instead, she remembers the sample that showed up on her desk as being a lot more pink than red. Prior to production, the Martha Stewart Living representatives had signed off on the creative approach. Now, the sample didn't match what they were shown.
While Brunnemer Slaton and staff were not too happy with the color error on pressand were positive the Martha Stewart Living camp would not like the result of this production dilemmathe mailing cycle did not leave time to schedule another press run. The small test would have to drop as is.
The Oh Yeah! Moment: The test mailing significantly lifted response over the prior control, and became control for several years until it was beaten. In fact, the results were such that the publisher didn't feel it necessary to produce the package in the originally desired red for a second test.
The Take-Away Lesson: Brunnemer Slaton shares this mistake-turned-
success story in one of Southern Progress Corporation's internal training sessions. In her session on the secrets of successful direct mail, Brunnemer Slaton uses this example to help her colleagues learn not to fear mistakes, but to evaluate them for the potential effect they might have on direct mail results. Some mistakes are simply tests you didn't think of first.
Read 'Em and Weep
Mailing: A two-color, small envelope package, including a letter and a small brochure, sent in the early 1980s for a regional homebuilder in Colorado.
Goal: Help sell units in a new condominium project to first-time home buyers. The mailing was sent to apartment dwellers offering them $2,000 worth of free furniture if they purchased a unit; it also offered an automatic entry into a sweepstakes if the prospect would visit the property.
The Uh-Oh Moment: According to Susan Fantlewho wrote the copy for the mailing (Dan Bulleit did the design)these were the days before electronic design, and the letter "S" fell off of an art board before the film was made. The brochure was printed with the word "weepstakes" on the cover. At first the client was understandably upset, but it was too late to stop, as the package had already been mailed.
The Oh Yeah! Moment: Their $18,000 expenditure, mailing to 100,000
prospects, generated $5 million in gross revenue and sold 79 units. There was a recession in Colorado at the time, and this response was extraordinary.
The Take-Away Lesson: "This once again proved that good offers to the right market can easily overcome imperfections in the design," Fantle says.
No Book, No Problem
Mailing: "Christmas with Mary Engelbreit."
Goal: Launch "Christmas with Mary Engelbreit," an annual crafts-and-recipe book series.
The Uh-Oh Moment: "No book," says the mailing's copywriter, Jay Van Wagenen. "Not even the faintest, foggiest hint of a book."
"Typically, a new book and its launch package are developing simultaneously," she explains. "The direct marketing creative team starts with a preliminary table of contents, a couple of dozen projects, an early cover designand things get firmed up as we go along. But in this case, personal events in the author's life had put the book so far off schedule, we had nothingno projects, no pictures, no cover, no clue."
All the creative team of Van Wagenen and designer Rebecca DePriest had was the artwork of the popular artist and designer Mary Engelbreit and the passionate enthusiasm she generates in her many fans. So that's what they built a package around: "the special relationship between Mary Engelbreit and you, our prospect."
The Oh Yeah! Moment: The team made its effort a numbered invitation for exclusivity and used Engelbreit's artwork to create a sheet of gift tag freemiums.
"The copy focuses on how special you are to be offered a sneak preview of the top-secret book the whole world is dying to get a glimpse of," says Van Wagenen. "Since we had nothing at all to say or show of the actual product, we needed only a two-page letter and a tiny brochure so the package would be economical."
Despite the absence of product information, the package became the control. Subsequently their client tested several packages in different formats, some very elaborate, none of which came close to their bare-bones control.
The Take-Away Lesson: "When you've got a strong relationship between a personality and a market, sometimes less is really more," says Van Wagenen.
The Doctor is in?
Mailing: A 6" x 9" outer envelope package with a letter, reply card and brochure from a national credit card issuer.
Goal: Get attention and drive response in an ongoing acquisition campaign.
The Uh-Oh Moment: An error in data processing resulted in every one of the 300,000 prospects being addressed as "Dr." When the error was discovered, the client was pretty unhappy, but the agency [Kern Direct] recommended waiting to take any action on the error until the results were in, says Susan Fantle, the mailing's copywriter.
The Oh Yeah! Moment: Not only did the card company not receive one single complaint or comment, the response on the mailing was 20 percent higher than usual. This tactic was not used again, says Fantle, because "it's not usually good direct marketing to look like you don't know your customers."
The Take-Away Lesson: Says Fantle, "If you do direct marketing, mistakes can happen. But unless the error clearly prevents prospects from responding, it's always wise to let the campaign run its course, and see the results before taking action."
Mailing: Envelope package for Polk Direct health newsletter.
Goal: Beat the control.
The Uh-Oh Moment: The copy platform used a teaser question approach to demonstrate what prospects didn't know about healthy living that the newsletter could provide. Of course, the outer envelope offered several questions, all under the dominant headline: "How Much Do You Know About Health and Fitness?"
According to Tom Meyer, who was creative director at Polk Direct in the 1980s, the copy was put through the usual editing processes, including the skills of a professional proofreader. But when the pieces were printed and mailed, the outer envelope headline read, "How Much Do You Know
About About Health and Fitness?"
The Oh Yeah! Moment: The effort tied with the control, and was deemed worthy of a re-mail. Again, the copy went through the usual editing rounds. But the two "abouts" were still in the copy when the job went on press! It was the pressman who noticed the error this time around, and he called Meyer to see if he wanted to correct it.
The Take-Away Lesson: Meyer attributes the repeated typo to not being able to see the forest for the trees. Often, he says, people pay attention to the small type or bad breaks, and move too quickly through the larger typeassuming that bigger means the errors will stand out more.