AT&T repeats it's Fail ... and gets worse

Fail: CreativeList 

This piece from AT&T arrived in my mailbox 2 days ago. It is similar to another AT&T mailer I evaluated in October. Albeit 3 months apart, AT&T considers it a remail -- it references the prior communication in the post-it note Johnson Box.  Personally, I doubt the typical recipient remembers an offer letter from that long ago.

In addition to meriting the same Fails for burying the call to action and response, lack of focus on benefits, selling multiple services in one letter, using a landing page that leads with an offer different from the one in the letter, this letter gets Fail for

• Lack of personalization. The post-it note on the upper left is signed from ‘Kelly’, my AT&T Service Rep, but the letter is signed by the impersonal monolithic “AT&T Customer Service”.  The October letter was signed by someone important in the organization.  At the very least, Kelly's signature should be included.

• Not having any P.S. at all. In lieu of one of the most tried and true successful direct mail letter techniques is an in-language reference.

Both letters merit an additional Fail for the in-language reference, because I provided my preferences to AT&T, so “Kelly” should know my preferred language is English and leverage it's own in-house data.  (As I write this, the in-language link does not even work.)

Learnings: Personalize a personal communication. Use the customer-provided language indicator in your own database. Be sure all URLs are fully functional before mailing a letter.


Put a contract out on this local junk mail

Fail: Creative, Timing 

An article in today’s Wall Street Journal describes how small businesses Firms Hold Fast to Snail Mail Marketing. Many businesses jumped into the online world and recognized that it was not the most efficient use of their marketing dollar. “The idea is to send something that’s more appealing than “junk” mail and potentially more noticeable than an email message, says Eric Anderson, a professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. That allows business owners ‘to offer a personal touch the larger firms may not be able to have,’ he says.” In other words, if you are a small business, look and act like a small business.

Which leads into one reason why this solo mail package I received from a local contractor merits a Fail. Rather than a small business, the appearance of the letter suggests a formality of a corporation. Some copy is written in a manner suggesting that the customer is a barrier, i.e. boldfacing the limited times for estimates. Other issues:
  • My name is incorrect. A file ID number appears rather than “Marc”.
  • Too much boldface makes it difficult for the reader to get the basic points. Some of the boldface copy, such as services performed, is too small to read.
  • Signature is not real.
  • Letter tone is bureaucratic, not promotional.
  • Unclear how to respond. The call to action is buried in body copy. There are two phone numbers at the top of the letter in minuscule type, making the customer have to work to figure out how to get an estimate. There is an e-mail address, however it appears they only want phone calls.
  • Overuse of passive verbs.
  • Inside the envelope is a long list of homes he worked on.  However the list is not mentioned in the letter and says simply "References". 
  • No P.S. People often look at the P.S. before the rest of the letter.
What Mr. Briggs should do is humanize his communication, sound friendly, and clearly communicate services and benefits in the letter. Here is a mock-up of the same basic messages, using successful direct mail methods.

Normally, a Johnson Box would help the letter.  However in this case, it would make the letter feel less personal.  And there is not a special offer to call out.  Mr. Briggs could further humanize the letter with a picture of him and his crew or family in the letter (or at least on his web site), perhaps where the Johnson Box would normally appear.  He could also spruce up the letterhead so it does not look like something from a law firm. 

Mr. Briggs could include an offer that would stand out -- perhaps a low-value gift card with the estimate, a guarantee of completion time, discount if work if ordered within 30 days, or even an iPod shuffle when payment is received.

The outer envelope return address could simply be his name rather than the business name and the formal “INC”.  Keep in mind that homeowners are hiring his people, not a corporation.

The second Fail is for timing ... the letter arrived too close to New Years.  Promotional mail that arrives too close to a holiday is read less often because people returning from vacation are focusing on the most vital mail, such as bills.  The mail would be read more if it arrived Jan 5 or later.

Learnings: If your small business sends a mass mailing, don’t let it look like junk mail. Be unique.  Do not overuse boldface. Keep the tone friendly, active, and persuasive. If you have an insert, call it out in your base letter.  Make your call to action easy to find and repeat it.  Include a P.S. whenever practical.  Do not mail into a holiday weekend.