Special Report: Driving Innovation
Direct mail is marketing’s workhorse for a reason. It’s resolute and reliable, even in the face of challenge. According to the Direct Marketing Association’s (DMA) “2006 Response Rate Trends Report,” the medium produces the second highest response rates (behind catalogs) for marketers seeking to solicit direct-order sales or motivate customers to make a charitable contribution.
So how does one of the oldest marketing mediums stay effective and relevant despite intense competition? For this special report on production and paper, we asked some of the best and brightest minds in the direct mail business to share their opinions on the trends driving innovation in the field. Here’s what they told us:
The Postal Increase
The No. 1 topic on most mailers’ minds is the recent postal rate increase—a bit of déjà vu from years past. Mary Ann Kleinfelter, director of marketing at L-com, a distributor of connectivity products, says most mailers don’t want to reduce mail volumes. As such, the pressure is on to counteract increased postal expenses with reductions in other areas.
Some classes of mail have been more affected than others. “Rates are shifted in favor of letter-shaped mail,” Jerry Cerasale, DMA senior vice president of government affairs, explains. “Marketers should test, test, test differing formats to see what the response is.”
Kleinfelter says pairing postcards with special landing pages may be one way to deliver customized content while keeping costs down. “It’s hard to sell on a postcard, but now that we all have very good Web sites, getting people to go to the Web on a postcard is a doable thing,” she explains.
Realizing cost savings in other areas, such as paper or production, can also help ease mailers’ pain. Meredith Corporation Vice President of Creative Services Ellen de Lathouder shares one tip: “We traditionally had a notch on order cards—a die cut that suggests customers need to tear it out. Someone suggested just inking out where a notch would be ... And guess what? That works and saves us money on die cutting.”
Making Mail Pieces Work Harder
Another trend is to make existing mail materials work harder for the money. For example, when promoting seminars, workshops and other events by direct mail, Goodman Marketing Partners, a direct marketing agency based in San Rafael, Calif., often includes event “tickets.” This makes the invitation more personal and enables a “viral” effect.
“We include a ‘buddy’ ticket ... and say, ‘Feel free to invite a colleague,’” says Carolyn Goodman, the agency’s founder and president/managing partner. “We’ve measured results and seen a 40 percent lift in response ... [where] we’ve been able to generate a second person to show up without any additional effort.”
Goodman says order forms also are ideal candidates to perform double duty. “Recently, we added a call to action on an order form that said ‘have a representative call me and give a live demo.’ That had a great response.”
A Personal Look
As Quad Graphics’ vice president of sales for direct marketing, Eric Blohm has observed several outer envelope tactics that have increased response. One is ink jetting addresses onto closed-face envelopes instead of using an open window. Alternatively, some companies ink-jet the “to” and “from” addresses onto a label, and place that on the outer envelope. “It seems more personal, like somebody printed it out … at home and stuck it onto an envelope,” says Blohm. “We’ve actually had customers ask us to put the label on a bit crooked so it really looks hand-applied.”
Both techniques prevent the piece from looking mass-produced. “People don’t want their mail to look like a credit card solicitation,” Blohm explains. “It’s about trying to make it look personal—like it’s not one of a million pieces mailed.”
Good Things in Small Packages
There’s nothing better than getting a gift in the mail—and some savvy marketers are obliging. Blohm says catalogers and retailers, in particular, are finding success with gift cards designed to promote special sales or reactivate lapsed customers. The cards can be used in various formats, including self-mailers, catalogs and envelope packages.
When it comes to the types of cards available, the sky is the limit. “There are … plastic cards that we ink-jet a specific barcode on to track purchases,” he explains. “Others have a generic code that matches up to a particular mailing. Some are just paper cards or cards that we put a polylaminate on.”
Previewing the Main Attraction
Making mailings transparent—literally—is another way to stand out from mailbox clutter. “We continue to see clear envelopes—an almost no envelope approach,” says Grant Johnson, chief executive officer of Wisconsin-based Johnson Direct. The technique allows recipients to immediately see through to the contents inside. Assuming the recipient finds the contents relevant, “it’s compelling and it makes you want to open it,” Johnson adds.
Goodman Marketing Partners’ client Autodesk, a provider of design software solutions, has taken a similar approach on several campaigns. The company used 83⁄4 ˝ x 111⁄2˝ envelopes with 7˝ x 91⁄2˝ poly windows on the back. Through the window, recipients could glimpse intriguing contents, such as models to build paper airplanes or paper buildings. (See complete case study on page 52.) Goodman says the envelope was critical to the campaign’s performance. “[It] really helped contribute to getting it opened and shared.”
Waste Not, Want Not
Consumers are beginning to embrace environmentalism. And the concept is popular with marketers—in theory. But many are put-off by seemingly high price tags associated with eco-friendly changes.
This doesn’t need to be the case, says Meta Brophy, director of publishing operations for Consumers Union. In recent years, Brophy has spearheaded a more environmentally friendly marketing approach at the nonprofit publishing house. In the process, she learned it’s not all about paper.
“Data makes print efficient or inefficient,” Brophy explains. This means improving data hygiene and reducing undeliverables are great ways to reduce your environmental footprint and expenses. Identifying efficiencies in trucking and delivery schemes is another.
Where paper is concerned, Brophy says recycled sheets are not the only “green” option. Marketers can reduce their environmental impact by testing out-of-mail components, making packages smaller and using alternate paper products. Consumers Union, for example, moved its lift notes to a ground-wood sheet instead of a virgin-offset sheet. “Ground woods consume far fewer resources in their manufacture and it’s a high-yield lighter basis weight so we don’t use as much,” Brophy says.
The company also switched to a corn-based film for window envelopes and experimented with a biodegradable poly on a recent campaign.
The key is building time into schedules for research and testing, and plenty of cooperation between marketing, production and other colleagues. “Study the whole picture and ... look everywhere for opportunities to make environmentally preferable choices,” Brophy advises.
Making Materials Easy to Use
As consumers are increasingly pulled in a dozen different directions, some experts recommend making mail easier to read to increase its effectiveness. The “USA Today look”—i.e., using a chart or graph to demonstrate key points in letters, brochures or other communications—is a popular technique, says Barry Bogle, vice president of imaged products for Quebecor World Direct.
Johnson calls order forms an almost universally overlooked place to boost response. One way to test the theory is to ask someone in your target audience to complete your company’s order form. Johnson advises: “See how easy it is for them to fill out. Do they have any questions? Where do they get stuck? Then make it simpler based on that test.”
In addition, Kleinfelter cautions marketers about order-form typefaces. “Some people have made typefaces smaller so they can cut back on pagination,” she says. “The average age of the population is getting older ... so typefaces need to be larger.
Going Against the Grain
Finally, sometimes it pays to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing, asserts Johnson. “I like to go against the grain and do a test that’s different because it’s going to stand out ... If the messaging is relevant, it will work.”
This can mean using counterintuitive techniques—for example, choosing jumbo envelope packages when competitors are mailing letter-rate formats or testing longer letters when experts advise keeping things short and sweet.
Whatever marketers choose, however, the ultimate key to success is one that never goes out of style: rigorous testing. “Just because something saves money in postage, doesn’t mean it’s the best decision,” advises Kleinfelter. “You really have to test the stuff and do the math.”
Amy Syracuse is a London-based freelance writer. She last wrote about Actelion Pharmaceuticals’ loyalty marketing tactics in the April 2007 issue of Target Marketing.