3/01/2020

American Red Cross: No longer blind


A little over two months ago, I wrote about receiving a solicitation from the Red Cross in a blindenvelope right in the middle of the traditional giving season. Last week, I received a similar solicitation but with a corporate envelope.

Where the envelope in December had no hint of branding, this envelope is unmistakably from the American Red Cross. The teaser message reminds me that my donation helps the Red Cross respond to more than 60,000 disasters a year.

American Red Cross
Red Cross Solicitation:
Fully Branded Outer Envelope
The letter inside is exactly the same as the December letter. The only update is the mailing date.

Red Cross Charity Solicitation Letter
Donation Solicitation Letter front
multichannel engagement
Donation Solicitation Letter back
Request for email address circled

As a direct marketing professional, my gut tells me that the blind envelope was part of an A/B Test and this is the Control, but that is just a hunch. Perhaps the plan was for the holiday solicitation to be blind to differentiate it from the multitude of charity mailers that typically arrive in December. The mailbox is not as busy in February, the thinking would go, so now is time to show that logo again.

I wonder if it is also time for increased multichannel engagement. This is a direct mail letter requesting a mailed-back, completed response form. There is also an online donation option; however, the mention of that is in small type.

No one wants to mess with a successful Control package (if this is it); however, it may be time to consider that the internet is useful for many things, including donor engagement. Buried on the back of the form  below the input field for credit card information  is a request for email address. Instead, why not, on the front of the form, ask all donors for their email address to share stories of the Red Cross coming to the aid of disaster survivors? Rather than treating this solicitation as solo mail in a vacuum, include a link to the American Red Cross YouTube channel or the local Red Cross as a means of encouraging engagement?

Business Reply Envelope

Perhaps that could be their next A/B Test.



Lessons:

1.      Test your most successful direct mail packages. Let new presumptions challenge your assumptions.
2.      We live in an omnichannel world. Don’t use direct mail in a vacuum – integrate it with your other engagement channels.

2/18/2020

MGM Resorts: What Happens in Vegas Is Late for Valentine’s Day

In New York City, you know Valentine’s Day is coming when your favorite restaurant sends emails one to two weeks in advance touting their “Lover’s Duet Meal” or something similarly hokey. These meals usually involve a prix fixe menu at about 20% more than the usual price, with an implicit promise that you wrap up quickly so you can get on to the, um, next thing with your significant other and the restaurant can get on to their next paying couple.

“Reservations are a must,” they tout. “Book early!”  💋😘😍

Around February 10-12, the local grocery chains advertise chocolates and stuffed animals at a discount price. Places that wouldn’t have fresh flowers on any other day suddenly have red roses by the register. Even the neighborhood bodega somehow gets in on the act, placing red balloons for sale next to the lollipops or Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream.

Then February 14 rolls around. You’ve made your plans, bought your flowers, written a card with a silly message, torn up the card, and written a new card with a loving, memorable message. On the way home, you check your email.

“Love is in the air at MGM Resorts,” the subject line reads. The subhead: “Let us help make Valentine’s Day unforgettable with some delectable restaurant choices, spa specials and creative experiences.”


MGM Resorts Valentine's Day email
Sent afternoon of February 14

This is a Fail for Timing. The email was sent on February 14, 1:27 pm Pacific Time. (On the East Coast, that’s 4:27 pm.) By that time, it’s a bit late to plan an event in Las Vegas to reconnect over a couple’s massage or pet the captive dolphins at Mirage. And it would be nearly impossible to land a reservation at a Vegas Strip restaurant with dining options that are sure to impress. 

Valentine’s Day is a holiday where expensive splurges need to be advance planned. Ideally, an email of this type should be sent 1-2 weeks prior to the holiday with a follow-up reminder email sent 3-4 days after the first email. That offers at least an adequate amount of time to book a flight to Vegas and a helicopter excursion to the Grand Canyon. (Even then, though, you’ll need Vegas-level luck to get a dining reservation confirmed.)

Here is an example of a Valentine's Day email I received, well timed a week prior to the holiday.

Dee's Restaurant, Queens, NY
Local restaurant email
smartly sent February 7

Lesson:
Consumers make holiday plans prior to the holiday. Time your marketing communications accordingly.

2/04/2020

Spectrum Cable & Discover Bank: Know Thy Customer

Preparing an acquisitions direct mail acquisitions campaign mailing list takes time -- sometimes, a lot of it. Typically, a preliminary list needs to be pulled from an external database, checked against one (or several) internal databases, and sent to a lettershop. Depending on the state of your business’s files and how antiquated your systems are, this process can easily take a month. After receiving your mailing list, the lettershop typically needs three to five business days to personalize your mailing, prepare it for mailing per postal service guidelines, and get it in the mail. Once a large-scale Standard Rate mailing is in the mail, it can take the USPS about a week to deliver it.

That’s about six weeks to execute an acquisitions direct mail campaign -- not including creatively developing and printing the mail, which can hopefully be a concurrent step. Nor does it include planning the mailing, determining costs, getting cost approval from management (or, if you run the business, ensuring you have the money to spend), training people at the inbound call center and customer service to react to customer responses, preparing the website for online responses, and setting up the business’s internal procedures to process sales to new customers. Whew! 

While you are soliciting new customers, you might take efforts to make existing customers more profitable. This means differentiating your prospective customers from your existing customers. Understanding who your own customers are, from your own internal database, is something I call “Small Data.” This is where Spectrum and Discover merit a Fail for Targeting.

In December, I was already a Spectrum customer for high-speed internet when I received a self-mailer offering a cable TV package. That was a valid attempt at upsell. However, on the same day, I received a nearly identical-looking self-mailer offering a high-speed internet and cable TV bundle. The upsell mailer was addressed to me, while the acquisitions mailer was addressed to “Current Resident” with a salutation of “Dear Neighbor.”

Given that I received both self-mailers on the same day, I presume they both had been mailed from the same lettershop with separate mailing list files released to the lettershop on the same day. Spectrum could have (during their weeks of preparing the mailing lists) deduped actual customers from the prospect file; however, they obviously did not. Perhaps this was a timing issue -- but I’d signed up for Spectrum Cable in early October. Even a company as large as Spectrum should be able to run a customer check given that much lead time.

Spectrum Cable Self-Mailers
Address Panels


Spectrum self-mailers envelope back

Upsell roll-out panel & letter

Acquisitions roll-out panel & letter
Also in December, I received a pair of solo mail packages with similar offers -- one designed for upsell and one for acquisitions. 
Spectrum Solo Mail
Outer Envelopes

Spectrum Cable Front of Upsell Letter

Spectrum Cable Back of Upsell Letter
Upsell Letter

These two packages demonstrate non-optimized list hygiene.    

With Spectrum, there could have been an internal issue related to timing of removing new customers from prospect lists; however, the same can’t be said for Discover Online Savings Bank. I recently received a self-mailer addressed to me, inviting me to open a new online savings account. Nice creative, but I opened the type of account with Discover Bank in 2018.

Discover Online Savings Bank
Discover Bank
Address panel
Discover Online Savings Bank
Back panel
Discover Online Savings Bank

Discover Online Savings Bank
Inside panels
A business needs to value its customers by not confusing them with prospective customers. Or to paraphrase Hamlet, “To thine own customer be true.”

Lesson: 
Remove customers from your prospect mailing lists on a timely basis.


12/18/2019

American Red Cross: Is a Blind Envelope Prudent?

You are one of the largest charities in the United States, with over $3 billion in annual expenses. According to Charity Navigator, only one other charity is followed more. When there is a natural disaster, you are there. Your logo is considered one of the most recognizable, one of the best in the world. So why are you hiding your logo?



Blind Outer Envelope
Red Cross Solicitation:
Front of Outer Envelope

That’s what I’m asking myself after receiving this charity solicitation from the American Red Cross. Every other charity solicitation I have received this holiday season included a message on the envelope -- what is known in industry jargon as a teaser. However, this Red Cross solicitation not only did not include a teaser, the envelope was completely blind. There is no indication that this is from the Red Cross, not even a return address.
Back of Outer Envelope
Is this a Fail for Creative? I don’t know. Intuitively, I think so. But I can’t be a focus group of one because I'm so enthusiastic about direct mail marketing, I open and read everything I receive (besides, the concept of being a focus group of one is dangerous). 

There are several schools of thought on whether teasers make sense. Some POVs from people with non-profit direct mail experience include this blog post suggesting that, because most teasers are simply not very good, a non-profit is better off without one. A similar POV from Mary Chalane suggests that, if a non-profit uses a teaser, it needs to be worthwhile. 
Donation Solicitation Letter front

Donation Solicitation Letter back
I agree with these opinions conceptually -- a bad teaser is worse than no teaser -- but couldn’t Red Cross creatively develop a good teaser? If not, shouldn’t Red Cross at least include its well-known, appreciated logo in the outer envelope return address area? 


BRE
Front of Business Reply Envelope
includes branding in color


Back of Business Reply Envelope

Perhaps Red Cross A/B tested the blind envelope against one with a teaser. Perhaps it tested against several teasers and an envelope displaying only their logo, and the blind envelope kept winning. If the test took place in the summer, perhaps it should try testing against a holiday-themed envelope in December when consumers’ hearts and checkbooks are more likely to be open.

My creative intuition could be right, or it could be wrong. The only way to know for sure is to test. Happy holidays.


Lessons:

  1. Know your strength of your brand.
  2. Maintain a Control package, but test against it at times relevant to your audience.

10/25/2019

Fiddler on the Roof: Don’t Fall – Dedup Your List


Selling tickets for an off-Broadway show is challenging. That’s why someone in charge of marketing and advertising a show often uses a mix of communication channels — television advertising, spot radio, ticket outlets like TKTS and TodayTix, and handing out flyers around Times Square.
Plus, direct mail. Why the multi-channel mix? One word: Tradition!
Self-Mailer front
Which brings me to this Fail for Targeting. A neighbor received two identical self-mailers for the new off-Broadway Yiddish production of Fiddler on the Roof on the same day. One self-mailer included her full name, including middle name, while the other included only her first and last name. However, both self-mailers have the same last name, apartment number, street address, and complete zip+4.
Inside panels
In the past, when the recipient had purchased Broadway tickets, she typically used her full name. Sometimes, however, she used only her first and last name. That’s probably why she received these two mailers—the marketing people for Fiddler on the Roof had rented different lists of people who are likely to purchase show tickets, merged them, and targeted them for a bulk mailing. The mistake here is in list hygiene — specifically, making sure your mailing list is clean but not duplicative.
Address side
Perhaps the mailing list manager had made a decision to allow for multiple people in the same home to receive the same mailer. Typically, that’s a cost-inefficient approach; however, the manager may have assumed that, if one person in the home turns out to be uninterested in the show, the other person might be. Even if that were the case, though, the first and last names on these mailers were identical. That indicates that both names are of the same person.
2 self-mailers to the same name & address
Executing a successful direct mail campaign as part of an omnichannel marketing mix involves understanding the dynamics of the channel. It is a balance of Targeting, Offer, Creative, and Timing. Having the right balance isn’t easy — but, then again, neither is being a Fiddler on the Roof.


Lesson: Practice proper list hygiene by removing duplicate names from your mailing and limiting your targeting to one mailer per address.

10/15/2019

Vanguard: Beefing Up Security, Beefing Up Customer Emails

Earlier this year, I wrote about an email from Vanguard to customers that included a few Creative Fails. It described some type of transition. This email is an improvement. It applies some best practices to motivate the reader to take action to motivate the reader to take action to set up 2FA, also known as two-factor authentication.


2-factor authentication
Vanguard Security Update email

The email opens in an emphatic tone. It speaks like a communication from Vanguard; that is, the tone fits their their brand identity of taking a stand for investors and treating them fairly.

The second paragraph contains the call to action. It cites a shared responsibility. It explains what is being requested and why.

The third paragraph includes a time-specific call to action. The response window is four weeks -- a bit long in internet time, but fair considering the actions involved.


The fourth paragraph explains (in plain English) what the reader needs to do. Although the call to action is to do something after logging into the Vanguard web site, there is no hyperlink to the login. We may reflexively consider this an error, but it is actually an email security best practice that guards against phishing attacks. 

Finally, there is a polite close reinforcing the cooperative nature of the call to action. 

There are a couple potential minor improvement opportunities. I would consider adding a valediction, along the lines of "Sincerely, Vanguard Customer Service" or perhaps a couple FAQs. But these are based on my intuition and outside understanding of the target market. In the best possible world, if timing allows, an A/B test could be executed to see which edits would result in improved response.

Lessons:
  1. When communicating with customers, your communications style should be aligned with your brand.
  2. Requests to your customers should be date specific.
  3. A/B test every communication as feasible.






9/24/2019

Simplisafe: The Story Is About Apartments. The Mail Is Not.

Many companies have a story connected to their foundation — often explaining what inspired the CEO to create the company. And, no, the inspiration is not, "To make a boatload of money." At SimpliSafe, the story begins with a robbery:
After his friends were robbed, Chad Laurans discovered a serious problem in the home security industry. No one was protecting renters. Alarm systems needed a ton of hardwiring and came with pricey long-term contracts that couldn’t be canceled. So Chad built something new.
This story about Chad Laurans's inspiration is quoted from SimpliSafe's page focused on apartments, located here. The same page includes a sales message referencing apartment protection:
Now SimpliSafe is the fastest growing home security company in the nation. SimpliSafe won’t lock you in a long-term contract and 24/7 professional monitoring is only $14.99 a month. Protect your apartment—the smart way.
So it would appear that Mr. Laurans understands the needs of people who live in apartments for adequate security.  That brings us to a postcard mailed to apartment homes and what I believe is a Fail for Targeting and Creative.


SimpliSafe Solicitation - Sales Side
Lead Generation Postcard

I live in a co-op apartment building, which typically consists of units that resemble apartments. Although they are cooperatively owned (rather than rented out) by their residents, these are very similar to rental apartment units in that they are underserved by the legacy home security companies.

SimpliSafe Solicitation - Address Side
Lead Generation Postcard - Address Side


On their website, if one clicks on "Shop Now" either from the home page or the /fearless landing page mentioned on the postcard, the lead product is the most expensive one. Even the "Shop Now" link found on the apartment-focused page leads to several product bundles starting with The Haven for $489 that includes 14 pieces of security equipment including a freeze sensor.

Presuming this postcard is part of a national campaign, a version should have been created specifically for people living in apartments.* The apartment-versioned postcard could support Mr. Laurans’s story by mentioning the need for even small apartments to have physical protection. In addition to communicating a low monthly price, the postcard could focus its limited space to communicating safety, peace of mind, renters insurance discounts, and effortless set-up. The Call to Action would be to a visit a landing page that reinforces service benefits while leading with a product package best suited for apartments. This could be The FoundationThe Essentials, or a similar lower-priced package. After all, many renters don't need water or freeze sensors.

Apartment-centric page - mobile view

SimpliSafe may also want to consider the entire prospect user experience that results from using the postcard as a lead generation device. Above, for example is the Apartment-centric page as viewed on a Pixel 3a XL. Much of the type is too small to read on a mobile device. Other pages in the domain require a reader to scroll left and right — cumbersome on a laptop and an outright hassle on a mobile phone. Mobile use as a percentage of internet traffic continues to increase, even for people in their homes, and especially for young renters. SimpliSafe should consider creating mobile-friendly versions of their site or fully embrace responsive design.

If SimpliSafe's communications are optimized for target market relevancy, this company's story could have a happy ending. To paraphrase a SimpliSafe tagline, that would be "Direct Marketing. Done Right."

Retargeting. Done right.
SimpliSafe Retargeting Ad - laptop view 


Lessons:
  1. When your product has multiple target markets, segment your list selection and messaging to appeal to those target markets.
  2. Maintain messaging consistency and product recommendations relevant to your target market segment all the way through an online sale.
  3. Consider how your content appears on mobile devices.

*It could be that SimpliSafe is segmenting rental-style apartments in their list selection, and I received a piece designed for single-family homes because I live in an owner-occupied unit. Nonetheless, the presence of an apartment number in my address should have been a flag for list scrubbing, segmentation, or at least understanding the nature of co-op apartments.

9/18/2019

Shutterfly: Why They Call It "Snail Mail"

There are several ways a company like Shutterfly can promote sales to prior customers.
  • If the company has an app, it can push a notification to the customer's smartphone. However, notifications can be blocked or can be missed among more urgent notifications.
  • The company can send an email. The benefits of this approach include very low cost to send and precisely manageable timing. The downside is that emails can fall into a spam filter or can be easily missed or ignored by the customer.
  • The company can send a letter or postcard. The benefit of this approach is that mail gets noticed. A properly created direct mail communication is interruptive without being obtrusive. In other words, it gets noticed.  The downside is that one cannot guarantee when their mail will arrive in the customer's mailbox.
That's the case with this Shutterfly Labor Day Sale postcard. It merits a Fail for Timing because I received it on September 12 -- the day after the sale ended.  

Shutterfly's postcard arrived late
Postcard Front

In an ideal world, the postcard should arrive in home on August 28, the day the sale starts. Some retailers believe sales communications should arrive 1-2 days prior to the sale so a consumer can plan to make a purchase during the sale period; however, I believe this POV comes from an outdated brick-and-mortar way of thinking. When sending a communication with a call to action to go online or use an app, it appears to me that the marketing communication should arrive at a time when a customer can immediately take action and benefit from the offer.

Shutterfly sale
Postcard Back

The postcard size is 6" x 9", which the USPS classifies as Marketing Mail. Postage charges to send a postcard of this size are the same as for letters. However, instead of spending the extra money to send it via First Class Mail, Shutterfly sent it by Standard Rate, formerly known as Bulk Rate. This is the least expensive (but slowest) delivery method available. The cost difference between Standard Rate and First Class Mail for this type of postcard is typically 12-15 cents, depending on addressee density and other factors.

Postage Indicia - Standard Rate Postcard


Unfortunately, it took the USPS two weeks to deliver from northern California to New York City. Perhaps the postcard was put into the mail in California just prior to the sale. If so, Shutterfly could benefit from dropshipping. This is a method where an independent company ships your mail by truck to a postal network distribution center close to the recipient's location. So, rather than putting the postcard in the mail in Redwood City for the USPS to send to a network distribution center in California, then to a network distribution center in Colorado, then to a network distribution center in Missouri, then to a network distribution center in — well, you get the idea — the dropshipper puts the mail in a truck and drives it directly to a sectional center facility near New York City to be sorted for the local postal carrier to bring to homes in the Big Apple

It is also possible that this postcard was, in fact, dropshipped and sat in a local sectional center facility for about two weeks. After all, the USPS is not accountable for standard rate mail delays.

Lessons:
  1. Your mail should arrive at a time that is relevant to the offer and consumer interest.
  2. Dropshipping has an incremental cost, but it improves timing and costs less than First Class Mail. If you are going to invest in direct mail, optimize your delivery.







9/11/2019

Upstep: 9/11 Sale is an un-American, Tasteless Fail

At 8:09 am on September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 77 pulled back from the gate at Dulles International Airport. In the next 86 minutes, the plane was hijacked and flown into the Pentagon, killing all 64 people on board along with 125 Pentagon personnel.

Exactly 18 years from that moment, custom orthotic insole maker Upstep launches a sale. It sends emails to people on their marketing list promoting a "Patriot Day Flash Sale", complete with American imagery.

Upstep appears to be un-American
Upstep's 9/11 Patriot Day Flash Sale email

To refer to this email solicitation as merely a Fail for Creative and Timing is an understatement. 9/11 is a tragedy, not an excuse for a sale. The "flash" of the each of two planes being flown into the Twin Towers is seared in my memory as well as those millions of other Americans. This is not a time for a sales promotion -- this is a day for prayer and remembering our lost family, friends and First Responders.

The email footer states that Upstep is based on Madison Avenue in New York City; however, I cannot phantom how anyone who lived in NYC on 9/11/01 or today would consider, develop or approve this type of marketing communication.

Lesson:
Do not leverage 9/11 for your sales promotion. Just ... don't.



7/21/2019

Recycling in NYC: Use Positive Motivation & Clarity

I live in a co-op apartment building in New York City. The building is managed by an outside company that cares for functions such as heating, cleaning common areas, and trash disposal.

Our building maintenance crew is spending a disproportionate amount of time caring for recycling – sorting out trash that should have been recycled, separating items in the recycling bin that should be disposed as trash, and preparing recyclable items to be picked up. This issue has led the building management company to send the below letter to co-op residents.

New York City Recycling Notice
Recycling Notice


Thinking about this from a viewpoint of consumer motivation and marketing, the letter merits a Fail for Creative for tone and clarity.

Below is a rewrite of the letter.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

Proper Trash Disposal and Recycling Helps Everyone – Including You


We recently noticed that some people in your cooperative building are not properly disposing of trash and recyclables. While most residents are taking the right steps, a few are not following procedures. This is illegal and can be costly. If the NYC Sanitation Department detects recyclables in the trash, the building can be fined up to $10,000 – a fine that would have to be passed on to residents through maintenance fees.

Here’s a reminder of what, as residents of [REDACTED], you need to do:
  • Sort and place all your recyclable items in the proper bins in the basement. It is your responsibility to sort items, so please do not leave unsorted bags of recyclables in the trash area.
  • Place non-recyclable items in the compactor chutes in your floor’s hallway or in the trash cans in the basement.
  • Do not put recyclable items in the regular trash cans.
  • Never put recyclable items in the compactor chutes.
  • When you have a large box or bulky item, take it to the recycling area in the basement, dismantle it, and be sure to flatten it out.
  • When you have an empty paint can or item that requires special handling, take it to the basement recycling area for proper disposal.

Please keep in mind these items that are recyclable:

  • Paper of all types, including newspapers, magazines, flyers, mail, and restaurant menus
  • Glass, including all bottles
  • Plastic, including all bottles and containers
  • Metal, including clothes hangers
  • Cardboard, including small store boxes as well as shipping boxes from Amazon, Blue Apron, and similar companies.

If you have any questions about recycling or trash disposal, please speak with [REDACTED], your building superintendent. Thank you for helping to keep our costs down, follow city regulations, and support recycling in New York City.

/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\/\

This rewrite captures the key messages of the original letter while applying some communication Best Practices.

  • Personalization. I included the name of the building and the name of the building's superintendent. (Ideally, I would include the name of the recipient. However, this type of letter is placed under every resident's door, making individual personalization impractical.)
  • Normative Messaging. In the opening paragraph, I mention that most residents are good people. They take the right steps. The implied message is to be good – like your neighbor.
  • Shared Responsibility. While the original letter mentions that the "building" could be fined $10,000, my rewrite reminds co-op residents that such a fine would personally impact them.
  • Clarity. My rewrite explains what can be recycled, and how, in carefully laid-out bullets rather than in brackets.
  • Positive Reinforcement. I thank residents not only for cooperation but also for helping to save money and support a good cause.
Consider these elements not only when selling something but also when explaining process, procedure, and product.


Lessons:
  1. When motivating consumer behavior, consider utilizing personalization, normative messaging, and a positive focus.
  2. When explaining recycling procedures, be clear about what can be recycled.