Buy This! No, get that! Maybe this and that -- if you can find them.

Fail: Creative

As a longtime customer of AT&T, it’s good to know that the company does not take my business for granted. This simple communication is respectful of that. It arrived in a plain window envelope, which is sure to get a high open rate among existing customers. After all, the recipient does not know if it is a bill, Change in Terms Notice, cross-sell, or perhaps a refund check. The body of the communication is simple and straightforward and avoids footnote overkill, saving the required fine print for disclosures. Nevertheless, the creative merits a Fail because:

• The call to action and response methods are buried in the body of the letter, making them hard to find.
• There is a description of features, but minimal focus on benefits of the bundled services.
• The close does not incite action or reinforce the call to action. Granted, this concept is designed as a soft up-sell, but the last paragraph or the P.S. could be used to remind the customer of the specific phone number or to visit the specific URL before the offer expiration date or at least “soon”.
• The P.S. does not tie to the body of the letter and has no call to action. Consumers who open mail typically read the P.S. first, before the body of the letter. But the P.S. does not mention the $67.99 telecom bundle – it mentions DIRECTV. A basic direct mail rule of thumb is that you cannot sell two things at once. Richard V Benson wrote this on page 2 of “Secrets of Direct Mail” more than 20 years ago, and he likely was not the first. But this letter tries to sell both a telecom bundle and a non-bundled TV service.

• The response channel is not aligned with the solicitation. The letter communicates a $67.99 per month package, but that is not the first thing found at the letter-specific URL. Also, there is no mention at all of DIRECTV on the landing page. (The phone number for DIRECTV service is in very small print on the back of the letter.)

Learnings: Make your call to action easy to find. Optimize use of your P.S. Do not sell more than one product or bundle in one letter. If you sell something in direct mail, ensure that your response channels are fully in sync with your solicitation to sell that product first before attempting to up-sell.

The letter also has an odd use of punctuation. For example, there are no periods at the end of the bulleted sentences, but there are periods separating the digits in the phone number 1.800.695.8242. This is the first I have seen this approach used in DM the United States -- and it is not used on any other communication from AT&T or even on the back of the letter. The en-dash is used a couple times to break a thought in a sentence, however there is no space before or after the dash. (However there is space around the dashes when listing call center availability times.)


It's been too long ...

Fail: List and Creative

DIRECTV sent me this letter opening with “Thank you for your interest in DIRECTV.” That ‘interest’ was a phone call to their sales center 7 months ago.

Other than the well intentioned but outdated opening, the creative package is generally appropriate for the product bundle. It is aligned with the messaging, branding, and color palette DIRECTV uses in other channels.  It also demonstrates effective use of a Johnson Box and an easy to find call to action.
Learning: When referencing a customer’s interest, use a fresh list and send the follow-up letter on a timely basis.

In Houston, It’s “Mail Early and Mail Often”

Fail: List
The election for mayor is heating up in Houston. We have 4 major candidates with no explicit party affiliation. To get their political message to voters, candidates often use direct mail. This piece from Peter Brown's campaigh demonstrates using mail as a part of an integrated direct marketing mix including a web site, facebook, YouTube, twitter, and SMS.

So why is this a Fail? Because I received the same piece twice on the same day, both addressed to me. One could joke that someone communicating “Making Government More Efficient” should starting by doing a dedupe of the contact list.

Learning: Dedupe your list so you don’t mail to the same voter twice.


Maybe they should mail to Imelda

Fail: List and Creative

Radio stations have variety of promotions to get people to listen to their station and use direct mail to reach out to existing and prospective listeners.  Nothing wrong with that.  But I received this self-mailer addressed to me.  The target person is male, and the offer is the opportunity to win a pair of shoes.  All the visuals are for women's shoes.

Learning: If your target market is just women, use typical gender identification to mail to females.  If you want men to tune in, include some Bostonians or Nike running shoes in the visuals.


Beauty is in the eye of the list holder

Fail: List

This self-mailer from Sally Beatuy was sent to someone who never used that name, to an address she moved away from a few years ago.

Learnings: Be sure your list is accurate.  Target only people who have recent activity or live at the current address on file.

Nutcracker - a dated show using a dated list

Fail: List
This mailer for a Nutcracker themed charity event was mailed to someone who last saw the show 6 years ago. It was mailed to an address she has not used in 4 years. 

The creative was extravagant and well designed, but it was sent to someone who is not interested and to an out of date address.

Learnings: Refresh the list.  Verify the address, or consider mailing only to people who had recent activity with your organization.


Why Does Mail Fail?

Whether part of a Customer Relationship Management approach or a solo direct mail solicitation, there are many factors that go into a successful direct marketing campaign: product, list, offer, creative, timing, brand, back-end support, fulfillment, and of course testing and more testing.  However all too often, mail fails -- or succeeds despite itself -- because marketers neglect the basic best practices:
  • List: Reach out to someone who would be interested in your product or service, at that person's address, using that person's accurate name. 
  • Offer: The offer includes your product and a potential action motivator. The motivator may be a free item, entry in a contest, discounted shipping, or discount if the customer responds in a short-time frame. Whatever the offer, it should be relevant or the targeted list and complement the product.
  • Creative: The layout, design, and copy should be appropriate for list, product, and offer. The design should get the message across in the least amount of time at the lowest cost within postal standards. 
  • Timing: Mail & e-mail should arrive at home at a time that is relevant to the customer.
These basic principals apply whether you are sending e-mail or physical mail.

Using real examples, I will show examples of mail & e-mail that neglected the basics.

If you have an example of failed mail or e-mail to share, please e-mail a scanned image to mailthatfailstoday@gmail.com. Be sure to remove or block any personal identifiable information.