Hill Holliday Relationship Marketing's Nancy Harhut on Getting Your Mailing Into the Must-read Pile
Often success in the mailstream is defined by the major strategies in place, yet with fickle prospects in a fickle economy, success may increasingly be found in the details. Like the professional football teams that win the Super Bowl each year, it's the little things that don't show up in the stat column which make the difference between winning and losing.
For Nancy Harhut, senior vice president and managing director at Hill Holliday Relationship Marketing in Boston, losing is not an option for clients—such as Bank of America, Cognos, Dell, Novartis and Liberty Mutual—that feel the current economic strain. So she helped develop breakthrough marketing efforts that go beyond the offer and message, and that incorporate how people behave and why they make decisions.
Ethan Boldt: You say a great offer, message and list is not enough. What's missing?
Nancy Harhut: Those are required, certainly. But with the competition for people's attention at an all-time high, even marketing pieces that are well-targeted and well thought out still sometimes get ignored. That's why we also think about how and why people make decisions ... what our mental shortcuts are ... and what triggers prompt certain reflexive behaviors. And then we build these things into our creative as well.
EB: What is the prospect's "subconscious," and how important is it?
NH: Social scientists have done a lot of research into this and have documented certain "compliance triggers"—particular words, icons, phrases, etc., that prompt an automatic response from people. Given that we, as direct marketers, are in the business of motivating human behavior, this can be very important and useful to us. If, over the years, people have developed shorthand ways of making decisions, and have become conditioned to reflexively respond to particular stimuli, why wouldn't a direct marketer want to add that to his or her creative arsenal?
EB: How does "self-interest" factor in?
NH: I believe that consciously and subconsciously we all care most about ourselves. "What's in it for me?" has long been a guideline for developing effective direct response. That's why the word "you" is a high-read word in marketing communications. The same holds true for a person's name. In fact, there have been scientific experiments done that have shown that people are more likely to respond positively to a request if it comes from someone who shares their first name.
EB: You also say authority is important. Do too many mail pieces aim to be liked, rather than respected?
NH: The two aren't mutually exclusive. People do buy from people—and brands—that they like and respect. It's one of the reasons leveraging a company's brand in its direct marketing can lift response. In addition, when trying to make a buying decision, people also rely on authority as a decision-making shortcut. It's a way to feel secure about a purchase when we don't have the time to research every angle on our own.
Think Zagat's or PC Magazine's Editor's Choice Award. Those authorities have done the legwork for us, and so we use them as a proxy for our own investigation. Today, with the growth of social media, our definition of authorities has become even broader.
EB: Is feeling "obligated" another important emotion that leads to action?
NH: Social scientists have identified something they call the Principle of Reciprocity, which states that we as people try to respond in kind to what others have done for us. We as marketers can and do use this every time we offer a free trial, a free sample or a gift enclosed with our solicitation. There's a reason so many charity appeals include those address labels: They work! And the reason they work is the Principle of Reciprocity.
EB: Is piquing the prospect's curiosity another underplayed tactic?
NH: We know we have only seconds before someone changes the channel, turns the page, deletes the e-mail or tosses the envelope. As we think about what prompts curiosity though, we should think more broadly. Sometimes it's a clever, intriguing line or graphic, but other times it's something more subtle. A sticker placed askew on the outer envelope. A smudge just under the address. The way the corner card is treated.
EB: Is tactile mail also underplayed?
NH: There are so many wonderful things you can build into a mail piece today. It can really be designed to involve all the senses. And the sense of touch is key with a mail piece, because unlike digital or electronic media, mail is a channel that requires touch. And people like to touch things! I've seen wooden postcards, furry self-mailers, Tyvek outer envelopes—each with a corresponding case study that proves its worth. And don't forget that study after study has shown that interactivity lifts response—regardless of medium.
EB: Lastly, "we want what we cannot have." How does one wield this truism?
NH: As for wanting what we can't have, this can be a very powerful tool for direct marketers. Social scientists talk about the Principle of Scarcity. Simply put, we want more badly those things that we think we cannot have or that we soon won't be able to have. So, for example, advertising an opportunity as the last chance for the prospect can lift response. So, too, can limiting the number of products any one customer can buy.