5/18/2020

Norwegian Cruise Lines: Come Sail Away With Me!


This is a difficult time for everyone. A pandemic is killing tens of thousands of people in the United States, which is why many companies have pulled back on their marketing efforts. Printers and lettershops are having to furlough employees, while their salespeople are aggressively reaching out to find business and keep their web presses running. The USPS is running out of money due to reduced delivery and -- it could be argued -- legacy costs. 

In the short term, the USPS has issued many alerts about mail interruption, although they may be understating impacts. I recently heard an anecdote from a lettershop that had a large mailing dropping PFC postage that had to be privately trucked to some regional distribution centers and SCFs because the postal service wasn't able to get the mail on airplanes.


But life goes on -- and so does direct mail marketing. In the past 10 days, my family has received marketing mail from a few companies. We received a coupon mailer from CVS. That makes sense. The stores are open and people still need basic medical supplies and sundries. MetLife mailed me a solicitation for auto insurance. Because of the pandemic, we rarely drive anywhere but, OK, we still need to insure our car and save money. 

We received an LL Bean catalog. No surprise -- people still need to wear shoes and clothes. We also received a mailer from locally owned Mojo, offering a "Quarantine Menu" of Latin American-themed food and flavored adult beverages available for pick-up or delivery. That's a smart move. 

However, when I received this 20-page mini-catalog from Norwegian Cruise Lines, I thought, "Say, what!?!
Direct Mail May, 2020
Direct Mail, May, 2020
NCL Cruise Lines
Brochure Covers
Are consumers really thinking about going on a cruise after all the news about cruise ship passengers getting sick and dying from COVID-19, or that more than 70,000 cruise ship employees are still stuck at sea, some killing themselves. In this catalog, the only reference to the pandemic is peripheral. It reads: "Book Today with Norwegian's Peace of Mind And Change Plans As Needed. Learn more at NC.COM/PEACEOFMIND."

It has been more than eight weeks since all cruises were halted. That's plenty of time for NCL and its marketing agency to redo or cancel this mailing.

But does that qualify this mailing as a Fail for Timing? Maybe not. 

Direct Mail, May, 2020
Page in NCL Brochure

The NCL brochure includes pictures of places we'd like to be right now, rather than stuck at home constantly refreshing Instacart and Amazon Fresh to see if we can get a grocery delivery window. Although NCL is currently booking cruises through at least summer 2022, the brochure doesn’t mention dates. Perhaps that’s because some near-term cruise dates are likely to be canceled.


I'm reminded of this article from National Geographic. It describes how, during World War II, some companies advertised brands of products that were not available due to rationing and other wartime efforts. So, why advertise? Because they were looking to the future.
"Yet another reason companies ran ads for goods and services that the public couldn't buy or use was to be well positioned at war's end, when an Allied victory was expected to usher in a new era of prosperity.  
For many Americans, it was hard to imagine a thriving postwar economy after a decade-long depression and several years of obligatory wartime rationing. This gave companies all the more reason to assure consumers that a booming postwar economy was just over the horizon."

Direct Mail, May, 2020, Alaska
This looks like a very cool cruise!

NCL's brochure sells the ability to escape -- pulling strings at our collective aspiration for something better. So, maybe we can't go kayaking on a glacier lake in Alaska this summer. We can believe that we will kayak on that glacier lake someday, and an NCL cruise ship will take us there. 

Nonetheless, the self-mailer does merit a call-out Fail for Creative. The website URL was printed as NC.COM/PEACEOFMIND, when it should be NCL.COM/PEACEOFMIND. Perhaps, in the rush to add the mention, NCL overlooked proofreading.
Direct Mail, May, 2020, invalid URL
Invalid URL on back cover

Stay healthy, stay safe, and stay optimistic.

Lessons:
  1. You should not presume to discontinue direct marketing during a national crisis, but you should rethink it.
  2. Always proofread your marketing communications, including late-stage edits. Check and double-check all website URL's.

4/05/2020

Santander Bank: Creative Improvements, Lousy Timing


Last May, I wrote about a postcard I received from Santander Bank that merited a Fail forCreative because it promoted an incentive but lacked a conspicuous explanation of how to earn the incentive.

Santander Bank self-mailer
Santander Bank self-mailer
Cover panel
Santander Bank self-mailer
Address panel


Santander’s small roll-fold self-mailer that I received on April 2 here in New York City, however, includes elements lacking in last year’s postcard.

Santander Bank self-mailer
Offer Panels


This recent self-mailer includes a clear call to action. In fact, performing the desired action comes across as easy as 1, 2, 3.  The self-mailer includes a conspicuous explanation of what is required to enjoy the $300 incentive, with supplemental information in the disclosure. There is adequate space for benefits messaging, an easy-to-read Promotion Code, and the location of the nearest branch.

Santander Bank self-mailer
Promotion Code and Bank Branch Location


However, as I write this, the nearest branch listed on the postcard has been closed for two weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than two thousand people in New York City have succumbed to the virus. The Big Apple is in lockdown. Is this really when a consumer might consider switching the bank where their paycheck is deposited? Many consumers around here won’t even have a paycheck in a couple weeks; many others will be deceased.

So, this self-mailer is a Fail For Timing. At the very least, it can come across as callous. But should one blame Santander? It could be that the self-mailer was mailed before things got bad. When mailing Standard Rate, there is a lag time between maildrop and in-home date – sometimes a few business days, sometimes a few weeks. As we’ve seen, the world can change a lot in that short time.

Several years ago, I launched a direct mail campaign offering prospective customers around Philadelphia savings on their electricity supply costs. Unfortunately, Hurricane Sandy started up the East Coast after the maildrop. The mail reached the target market while the hurricane was disrupting power to many homes. Who knew?

Santander Bank self-mailer disclosure panel
Disclosures updated as of 2/29/20

The disclosure includes an as-of date of February 29, which suggests the self-mailer was printed in early March. If it was mailed prior to March 10, I would say"Who knew?" 

Or maybe the mail dropped closer to March 20, which means the bank knew about the pandemic hitting the United States but decided to mail anyway. If so, a decision should have been made to pull the mail rather than commit an unforced error because – even though the mail had been printed and personalized – the campaign could have been halted. Doing so would have meant postage money could be saved for a better timed mailing, and would have prevented bad optics.

Lessons:
  1. Your Call to Action should be conspicuous and easy to understand.
  2. Sometimes planned marketing efforts can be impacted by unforeseen events.
  3. There are occasions when you may need to pull mail at the last minute. Maintain the decision-making capability and flexibility to do so.



3/31/2020

Coronavirus Guidelines for America: Late and Hard to Read

I received a postcard with “PRESIDENT TRUMP’S CORONAVIRUS GUIDELINES FOR AMERICA.” It was dated March 16 and arrived in my New York City mailbox on March 28.

COVID-19
Coronavirus Guidelines
Mailed Standard Rate
Let’s look at this postcard from a direct mail marketing perspective. The primary objective of the postcard is to motivate people to take action to prevent getting the virus that causes COVID-19, while the secondary objective is to motivate readers to visit coronavirus.gov for more information. It merits a Fail for Creative for a few reasons.
  • White text on a black background is neither easy to print nor read, especially in italics at 9-point font size. 

COVID-10
If you can read the good hygiene tips, you don't need glasses.

  • The Call to Action to visit coronavirus.gov is visually lost.
    • On the address side, below a couple graphical icons, the website is suggested as a place to go for more information
    • On the copy side, it sits in the corner without a description of the site or a reason to visit it. It is in a good location relative to the layout of the postcard—and bold compared to most of the other content; however, the line starting “EVEN IF YOU ARE YOUNG,” with a blue background, is what draws a reader.

Perhaps the small postcard is trying to accomplish too much in too little space.

Lessons:
  1. If your copy is small, make sure you have proper color contrast.
  2. Make your call to action prominent.


[Edit: Removed commontary about postal rate used, as this was mailed EDDM.]

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.