Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tricked by the Envelope: A Lesson in Ethical Marketing

By Jennifer Spitzer

As marketers, we’re bound by many laws and regulations that help protect consumers. You can’t call someone registered on the Do Not Call list unless they’re an existing customer. If you send an email to promote your service and you don’t have permission to send that email, you’re in violation of the CAN-SPAM Act. And what you advertise about your product needs to be true. Remember those comic book ads for X-ray vision eye glasses? Imagine how many people would own a pair if they really delivered on the promise.

Even with the laws we have in place, marketers have plenty of gray area to play in, which is why the Direct Marketing Association (DMA, www.dmaresponsibility.org) advocates self regulation among marketers. In its Guidelines for Ethical Business Practice, the DMA clearly outlines principles to help marketers make responsible decisions about how they communicate to clients and prospects.

In the mail today, I received an EXTREMELY IMPORTANT, RUSH TO ADDRESSEE via Priority Express Mail envelope. The sender was not identified anywhere on the envelope and there was no hint of the content. This is serious. This is official and by the looks of the “posting number” and the various check boxes on the address panel indicating rush processing, Priority 1 and “dated material enclosed”, there’s something really important in this envelope. I tear into it with urgency.

Inside this oversized, official-looking Priority Express envelope is a single sheet of paper, “We will Match or Beat Your Current Mortgage Offer!”

I feel like I have been tricked into opening this… how embarrassing. Okay, Quicken Loans, you got me.

Using this tactic to get a consumer’s attention is perfectly legal but in my opinion, falls within the gray area of self-regulation. Ethical guidelines state that envelope copy on any direct mail effort must be honest and “Offers that are likely to be mistaken for bills, invoices, or notices from public utilities or governmental agencies should not be used.”

I forgive you Quicken Loans for tricking me into opening your envelope. For your next campaign, consider identifying yourself. Work on your mail list so that you’re targeting consumers with the highest propensity to become a customer. Develop your creative, message and offer so that it’s relevant and compelling. Be a responsible marketer and you’ll see results.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

QR Codes: What's in the Box?

By Jennifer Spitzer

Quick Response Codes, a.k.a. QR Codes, are those funky looking boxes you're starting to see on things like direct mail promotions, restaurant menus, product packaging and magazine ads. They're not mainstream yet, so unless you're an early adopter of technology, you're probably scratching your head about why consumers should even care about these bizarre looking barcodes. Consumers aren't the only ones baffled. Most marketers still haven't figured out how to integrate the little two-dimensional code into their mix.

Here's the skinny on how these high speed codes were developed. Denso-Wave, a Toyota subsidiary, developed the code in 1994. In a world where technology can be obsolete within a few months, to say this was developed before its time is an understatement. Denso-Wave owns the patent rights on QR codes but they've chosen not to exercise them, which means the use of these codes is absolutely free.

It won't be long before we see these codes everywhere. Here's a brief list of ways marketers will use the codes to promote their products and services.

1. You're running a promotion, exclusive to your Facebook page so you can increase the number of consumers who Like you. The QR code on all of your printed material, including in-store signage and POS materials, instantly takes the consumer to your Facebook page.

2. You're doing a product launch and you want prospects to have quick, easy access to specific information and offers on your website.

3. You're at a friend's house and they're letting you try out their newest widget. You love it and want one. Scan the QR code on the box and it takes you directly to the website where you can buy it.

My personal favorite helps me in my attempt to constantly multi-task. I'm driving in my car with my trusty iPhone within reach. I'm sitting at a red light and a van pulls up next to me, advertising the precise service I've been looking for. I grab my iPhone, hit my QR app, point it at the van and voila, I've captured the website just as the light turns green. It's a good thing. Afterall, who can possibly type while driving?

Try it! First you will need to download a QR Reader application to your smart phone. Then, go to http://qrcode.kaywa.com/, key in your business's web address and your free QR Code will appear.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Households Surrounding Existing Customers Are Easy Pickin'

By Jennifer Spitzer

I think everyone would agree that once you’ve sold your services to a homeowner, other households in that neighborhood immediately become prime prospects. Afterall, they’re going to see how good of a job you did at their neighbor’s house and they're going to want the same for their home. What I’ve learned by working with small business owners over the years is that agreeing on the the strategy for converting these households to customers is the hard part. Not long ago, I had a conversation with a service-based franchise owner that went something like this.

Me: “Tell me about your radius strategy. What happens when you’re installing a new system in a neighborhood where you don’t have any customers?”

Owner: “My guys flyer the entire neighborhood. We have a preprinted card and they put one in every mailbox.”

Me: “That’s good. Then what happens.”

Owner: “That’s it. We move on to the next neighborhood.”

I think if you were to talk about this type of marketing with six different business owners, you’d get six different answers. A common theme within the conversations I’ve had has been the focus on timing. Some are of the mindset that immediate communication with surrounding households is the key while others think it’s best to wait a few weeks.

From a marketing perspective, I wouldn’t debate the timing issue because I’m of the mindset that it’s one of the most important aspects of every strategy. The big question is – what is the timing? When is the exact timeframe for when the households in that neighborhood are going to say “That’s it! I want my house to look as good as the one across the street.”

About a year ago, I had a low-voltage landscape lighting system installed. It took 8 months before all of my neighbors got one. Some of my neighbors had a system installed immediately and others waited several months. My point here is this: if you flyer a neighborhood one time immediately after providing some sort of service to a homeowner, you’re less likely to get the business when others finally decide to buy. They won’t know who you are. Of the six homes surrounding mine, I’m the only one who bought from the vendor who sold my system to me. My neighbors bought the same product... from a competitor.

What this means is business owners should incorporate frequency into the marketing plan. Put your flyers or door hangers out there when you finish work in a customer's neighborhood. Then mail to surrounding households. Then mail again in a month. Then call your customer and ask for referrals. Send someone to the neighborhood with flyers a few months after the original work was done. Repeat. Do everything you can to consistently stay in front of those prospects.

Birds of a feather flock together. That means households surrounding your existing customers have a higher propensity to buy from you than someone who’s a “general prospect”. Be consistent and persistent with your efforts and when those consumers are ready, they’ll think of you first.

Friday, April 23, 2010

6 Key Components to Successful Direct Mail

by Jennifer Spitzer

Earlier this week I spoke to a prospective client about developing a targeted direct mail campaign to an audience proven to be in the market for the items they sell. Regardless of the years of research and actual response analysis data available to back up the strategy, the marketing director said, “We tried that kind of program once and it didn’t work so we’re not doing it again.”

If your business utilizes direct mail and you’re testing a “no-brainer” strategy but it isn’t working, you’ve probably made a critical mistake in your execution. To me, there are six key components of every direct mail program and you need all of them working together to have a successful campaign.

DATA. I’ve always thought that data is the most important component of any campaign. Every successful strategy starts with good data. You can have beautiful creative and a fantastic offer but if you put it in front of the wrong audience, it’s going to fail.

TIMING. In a recent study by Q Interactive, 88% of the 1,800 women they surveyed said they wished brands they trusted would send more tailored offers. When presented with a targeted ad, their response was “Cool! How did they know I wanted this?”

The timing of when you target someone is more important now than ever before. Consumers don’t have time to spend on things that are not relevant to the needs they have right now. The challenge we all have as marketers is to figure out the precise timing for when our prospects will be ready to buy our product and then hit them with a great offer right at that moment.

OFFER. It’s okay if you don’t know what offer is going to work... that's what testing is for. Just make sure it's compelling.

CREATIVE. Copywriters are going to hate me for saying this, but I am convinced that no one reads advertising copy anymore. That doesn’t mean you can have sloppy copy… I’m just saying I think copy isn't its own category. Creatively, when someone sees your direct mail piece, they should be able to figure out what you’re trying to sell and what the offer is – immediately. No one is going to take the time to read through all of your beautiful copy to figure out what you’re trying to offer.

ANALYSIS. This is where most businesses fall down. If you’re not measuring your programs, how do you know whether or not they’re really working? Every single campaign you do must have a plan for measurement in place before you even execute it. Without skillful analysis, you’re doomed to repeat mistakes and you miss out on opportunities to refine your campaign.

COMMITMENT TO DIRECT MAIL. No one ever talks about this, but it’s really important. I once had a client say to me, “I’ll mail 1,000 pieces one time and if it doesn’t work, I’m not going to continue.”

If you’re stepping up to bat for the first time, it’s not likely you’re going to hit a home run. Some of your programs aren’t going to perform the way you had hoped. Assuming the strategy is solid, be prepared to take what you learn from the campaign and refine it.

What about the client mentioned above? I ended up telling him he should invest the money somewhere else because it would be a waste to pursue a strategy in this manner.


Over the next few weeks I’m going to take each of the first five categories and provide some additional insight and case study information, as well as resources and some ideas you can use to make your next campaign more successful. Stay tuned!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Plan Properly and the 2011 Postal Increase Won't Be So Painful

By Jennifer Spitzer

This morning I’m reading an article in MailPro, the USPS’s newsletter for mailing professionals, about the postal service’s 10-year plan to avoid a cumulative $238 billion shortfall over the next decade. Some of the changes are already well-publicized, like the proposed adjustment of delivery days which will eliminate Saturday delivery. The USPS will also restructure retiree health benefit payments and work toward providing consumers more modernized access. Before you know it, you’ll be able to buy a cup of joe at Starbucks, eat a burger and mail a package – all while you’re shopping at Target.

As I’m reading, I see the second-to-last bullet point of the plan, “A modest exigent price increase will be proposed, effective in 2011.” Apparently my vocabulary is too limited for me to know exactly what this means, so I looked up the word “exigent”.

Ex-i-gent [ek-si-juhnt]- adjective. 1. Requiring immediate action or aid; urgent; pressing. 2. Requiring a great deal, or more than is reasonable.

To me, using “modest exigent” to describe an imminent postage increase is a contradiction of terms. To achieve an immediate increase for 2011, the USPS will have to propose new pricing to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) before the end of the year. I’m willing to bet what the USPS defines as a reasonable increase and what marketers are able to bear are two different things. So the question is will it truly be modest or are we looking at something a little more exigent?

It’s not all gloom-and-doom for businesses that use direct mail as a means of increasing business from new and existing customers. You just need to plan properly. Here are a few tips to help you prepare.

1. Once it’s announced, pay attention to when the increase is going to take effect and plan your mailings accordingly. If you’re planning a large mailing, mail before the increase and you’ll save a lot of money.

2. Challenge your marketing agency to review their delivery logistics. You may be eligible for additional postal discounts just by adjusting where you enter your mail.

3. Keep a clean database! Make sure you’re not wasting postage by mailing to addresses that have no chance of being delivered.

4. Finally, and most importantly… be targeted.

Now more than ever, your direct mail needs to move away from mass distribution and toward more targeted solutions. You’ll mail less, but enjoy a better return on your investment. Find consumers who want or need your product at the exact moment your message hits their mailbox and you’ll find that a modest exigent postal increase isn’t so painful after all.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Invest Time in Your Customer List and You'll Find Yourself a Goldmine

By Jennifer Spitzer

Regardless of the size of your business, you probably have a customer database. I use the term ‘database’ loosely though, because some of my clients have a professionally managed, relational database and others still use paper files and post-it notes to track their customers. If you fall in the category of “scrap paper customer management”, get it together and put that information in electronic format because this precious data will be a goldmine once you have it organized.

Here are ten triggers that make consumer spending more predictable, and each of these can be tracked, even in something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet.

1. A birthday. Offer your customer a special discount on her birthday. I love receiving my Victoria’s Secret gift card in the mail just before my birthday. They send it every year and I use it every time.

2. A moving household. Even a small business can afford to regularly run National Change of Address (NCOA) on their customer file. A move event triggers spending on furniture, home improvement, households accessories… the list goes on and on.

3. “Birds of a feather flock together." Neighborhoods generally share similar lifestyles and demographics. If you want new customers, take a look at where your existing customers are and go after neighboring households.

4. A specific product purchase. If someone buys a new bed, send an offer for the matching dresser.

5. Anniversary of the purchase. I have a beautiful outdoor lighting system installed in my front yard. It’s been over a year since the installation and the system needs some service. When you contact your customer to service a product, sell something new while you’re at it.

6. Arrival of a new baby. The expenditures and changes that occur in a household with a new baby are too long to list here. This is a great consumer group to target because spending occurs from both emotional (perceived) needs as well as actual necessity.

7. The start of a project. If your customer is building a new deck, she’s probably already looking for the items she’s going to put on that deck, like new furniture, a grill or other accessories.

8. An accomplishment. We all have customers who share personal information. Your customer’s accomplishment may not be an opportunity for you to sell something, but it’s certainly an appropriate time for you to stay top of mind with something as simple as a note of congratulations.

9. Age of your customer. Needs change as a person ages. As an example, now that my parents are retired, they’re travelling more.

10. The Wish List Trigger. The next time you talk to a customer, focus on listening to what she’s going to need from you down the road. Then, capture the information so that you can followup at the appropriate time. As an example, over the winter I had some curtains made for a bedroom window and I mentioned how nice it would be to have new covers for my deck furniture this summer. Fast forward six months… she just called to help me place the order so that my deck will be ready in time for the season.

Effective marketing, whether it be through direct mail, email, social networks or even a phone call, is all about timing. Robust customer data will help you identify ‘triggers’ that enable you to put the right offer in front of your customer at the exact time they’re ready to buy.

I would love to hear your success stories. Post a comment here or send me a note at: jennifer@targetmailmarketing.com.

Friday, March 5, 2010

USPS Eliminating Saturday Delivery Could Impact Response Rates

By Jennifer Spitzer

Even if you’re not in the direct marketing industry, by now you’ve probably heard that the USPS plans to submit a formal request to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) to reduce mail delivery from six to five days a week, eliminating Saturdays. I believe this change will eventually happen… after all, they’ve been hemorrhaging money for years so they have to do something, and they can’t keep cutting retiree benefits. But, keep in mind that it will take an act of Congress to make this happen so I encourage all of you to not hold your breath while we wait.

I had to laugh today as I read an article suggesting that marketers may see a reduction in postal costs as a result of this major change. Given that the elimination of Saturdays is expected to save about $2 billion annually and the USPS lost more than $3.8 billion* last year, I think we’ll be lucky if we can maintain both standard and first class rates through the end of 2011 before they request another increase from the PRC.

Companies that utilize direct mail to generate sales from both new and existing customers will need to adjust, and marketing agencies will need to help. If you use a mail specific or “in-home” postal endorsement date (which, by the way, the USPS is not required by law to honor), you will need to take that into consideration when you plan your mail date.

As a direct mail marketing agency, I’m not as concerned about adjusting to the change as I am in regard to the impact it may have on response rates for those who don’t adjust.

Each year the USPS conducts a consumer Household Diary Study (HDS), which surveys over 5,200 households each year. A portion of the study reports consumer attitude toward direct mail. (Go to www.usps.com/householddiary/welcome.htm to download a PDF of the most recent HDS report). In a nutshell, households with higher incomes receive more advertising mail than lower income homes and the more they receive, the less likely they are to look at everything.

Here’s what I think could happen as a result of the elimination of Saturday delivery. First, for marketers normally targeting Saturday as an in-home date, there will be a push to reach mailboxes earlier. Consumers may notice an increase in the amount of advertising mail they receive just prior to the weekend. Everything that isn’t delivered by Friday will wait until the beginning of the following week, thus loading up mailboxes on Monday and Tuesday.

If you’re in-home on the same day as everyone else, your mail piece is going to have to work harder to get attention and this could have a negative impact on response rates. Keep a close eye on this when Saturdays are eliminated and think about adjusting your mail schedule so you can be in-home on days when mail volume is light.

*In November 2009, the USPS filed its 2009 year-end financial results and reported a net loss of $3.8 billion. Several blogs I’ve read quote the loss as $2.8 billion. So, there’s a discrepancy floating around out there but hey, it’s just a billion.

Make sure your direct mail is targeted! Visit www.targetmailmarketing.com