8/26/2021

Hard Rock Casino: Guns N' Rose ?!?

The Hard Rock Hotel Casino recently sent this email about upcoming entertainment that included a band called "Guns N' Rose".

Hard Rock Hotel & Casino email for Guns N' Roses
Email from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City

This is a Fail for Creative, but no worries -- the band is going to make up for this faux pas by playing their new song "Sweet Children of Ours."

Lesson: 
Be sure to thoroughly proofread your communications, including the email Subject Line.

 

8/14/2021

Freshly: Referral Offer Freshens Up

 A couple months ago I wrote about a referral offer from Freshly that merited a Fail for Creative. Last week, the company sent me a similar offer and, from a creative and user experience standpoint, it is an improvement. 

Freshly Referral Offer
Freshly email

This email is personalized, addressing me by name. Although it positions the referral offer as something I had "earned" (which feels a bit gimmicky), the email does recognize both my purchase history and enthusiasm for the product. 

Rather than the previous mailing -- which provided a code to share but without adequate instructions about how to use it -- this email offers a simple link with a Call to Action to "Send a Free Box." That seems easy, and needs no special codes. 

The landing page includes a 3-step, easy-to-understand process for the customer to follow to give a friend a free week of Freshly. 

Freshly Freebie Box Landing Page
Referral offer landing page

The input fields are clear. The email message and subject lines include stock language with an opportunity to personalize. That's almost as flexible as switching next week's meal from the Cauliflower Shell Beef Bolognese to the Indian-Spiced Chickpea Curry Bowl.

One element included in the May email that is lacking here, however, is an expiration date. Instead, the email body copy mentions "... and will expire unless you share it soon ...", while the disclosure reads, "Freshly reserves the right to modify, replace, or cancel offer(s) at any time" -- a statement that lacks a sense of immediacy. This is not a Fail for Creative but is an improvement opportunity. Even if this referral offer is intended to be evergreen, I would include a soft expiration date using language such as "... so send a Freebie Box in the next 7 days and give the gift of better meals made easy!"

Referral offer Thank You page

Lessons:
  1. Referral programs are a useful approach to allowing your customers to be your advocates.
  2. When you want your customers to do something, take all the traction out of the process.
  3. If your offer does not have a expiration date, at least suggest a timeframe for the customer to take action.

7/25/2021

Sorry, I’m late to ask for your vote

In New York City, our primary election for local offices took place on June 22, with early voting taking place June 12 through June 20.

Stringer should have been ready and in the mail before Day One

I received eight oversized postcards from political candidates between June 23 and July 6. A couple of them are shown here. 

This postcard arrived on 6 days after the election, e.g. it is trash

These are Fails for Timing. I want to say, "Sorry, New York City does not offer late voting."

Lesson:

When producing mail for a political candidate, mail early and mail often.

7/16/2021

Mr. Cooper Renovates His Mail

Last year, I wrote about a direct mail letter from Mr. Cooper offering a home mortgage. It was a Fail for Creative for several reasons. This letter avoids those mistakes and, in fact, applies some smart direct mail marketing tactics.

Mr. Cooper Mortgage Offer
Mr. Cooper
Invitation to Apply letter



The Johnson Box describes the sales proposition and includes a clear Call to Action. Below it, the headline "Buying a Home Soon? Here Are 3 Reasons to Prequalify with Mr. Cooper" supports the Johnson Box and teases a reason to take action. The body copy supports the headlines by communicating those three reasons to take action. 

The letter goes on to make reference to Mr. Cooper Real Estate Rewards and offers a brief statement that explains the benefit. It closes with a Call to Action to "Call today to prequalify," with an attempt to overcome inertia by explaining that it is fast, simple and totally free.

After the close, there is a modern twist on the classic P.S. with yet another Call to Action. It reiterates the action requested of the reader -- prequalify for a mortgage -- and how to do it -- call a phone number or visit a specific website. 

In the consumer financial industry, this type of letter is an "Invitation to Apply" for credit, while the letter I reviewed last year is considered an "Presentation of a Prequalified Offer." The later requires many disclosures such as a big box on the bottom of the front page with opt-out language. the result is that it is easier for an Invitation to Apply letter to appear clean. Still, that doesn't excuse the mistakes in Mr. Cooper's letter from last year.

Lessons:
  1. Have a clear Call to Action and offer. Communicate it multiple times to encourage action.
  2. Proofread your communications for language and grammar. 

6/09/2021

Charity Mail Deluge

When COVID hit last spring, I thanked God that I was fortunate enough to stay healthy and safe when so many people here in NYC were infected. I wanted to give back but, like many others too frightened to help in person, I chose to donate money. I donated to several charities, including some I had not given to before. That was April, 2020.

Then, starting in October, 2020, this happened:

102 Charity Solicitations
102 mail fundraising solicitations
October - December 2020

I received 102 mailed fundraising solicitations from charities to which I had never donated. Most of them were related to feeding people -- in Africa, South America, and Manhattan. Others were for: environmental causes; providing medical care to people in faraway lands; building houses; preventing people from being born with disabilities; helping people born with physical disabilities, orphans, wounded veterans, Native American children, Native American senior citizens, "inner city children" who can't afford a Catholic education, and one that appeared to have something to do with housing recovering drug addicts in hotels.

Many of the classic direct mail fundraising techniques are included: blind envelopes, pictures of children near death; envelope teasers reading "URGENT NEED NOW", "EMERGENCY APPEAL" or simply "PLEASE"; envelopes a layperson might think had been hand-addressed and stamped; tear-jerking letters; promises that my donation would be matched by a mysterious benefactor; business reply envelopes; blessings by nuns; Christmas cards; a decade's supply of return address labels; pens; baby socks; and so on. If you have created or supported direct mail fundraising solicitations, you know these packages.

It appears to me that one or more of the charities that received money from me in spring 2020 chose to make some more money by including my name on a rentable mailing list. I was included on a Hot List of new donors or a timely "COVID Giving List" of sorts.

There is a part of me that feels negative about this experience. I could go into a rant about how the federal government subsidizes charities with lower postage rates, or how many of these organizations are charities in name only because they pour more money into soliciting donations than they do actually supporting their supposed cause. But, hey, that's the nature of the medium.

(Personally, I'm a bit disappointed at myself. I typically research charities, preferring to contribute to those that have low administrative costs and can demonstrate how they are effectively using the money given to them. I didn't fully vet the three that potentially had actualized additional funds from my proactive donation. That's my personal lesson today.)

I looked back at my donation history and narrowed down the list of charities that broke my heart to three. I won't name them here, but I know who they are and I know I will never donate to them again. That type of charity merits a type of Fail for List.

Direct response marketing guru Joan Throckmorton taught me something I wish I had recalled last year: When doing business with a new organization, consider using a fake middle initial. When you see that middle initial show up elsewhere, you know where it came from. So, that's my direct marketing lesson today.

OK, that and including baby socks in your fundraising solicitation is pretty crass.


Lesson:

If you want to see how information about your personal activity is shared and sold, use a fake middle initial. You have 25 of them to work with, so go at it.

6/03/2021

Dunkin': Everything is Direct Marketing, including my name

How do we define "Direct Marketing?" Let's look at the definition from Investopia:

Direct marketing consists of any marketing that relies on direct communication or distribution to individual consumers, rather than through a third party such as mass media. Mail, email, social media, and texting campaigns are among the delivery systems used. It is called direct marketing because it generally eliminates the middleman, such as advertising media.

Put it simply, direct marketing is any direct customer communication. In that context, my communication with Dunkin Donuts Customer Service merits a Fail for Creative

Last month, I noticed that, for the first time since COVID hit over a year ago, my favorite Dunkin' was open at 5:00 am. The next morning, I tried to advance-order a cup of joe; however, according to the app, the location did not open until 6:00 am. I spoke with the manager, who explained he had been trying for a week with "headquarters" to get the app updated with the correct hours.   

I wrote an email to customerservice@dunkinbrands.com:

Hi,

I am a DD loyalty club member: [redacted]
 
My favorite DD is [redacted]
 
I walk my dog at 5:30 am each day.  This location is open; however, I cannot place a mobile order because according to your app, it does not open until 6:00 am.  
 
I confirmed this morning with the owner/manager that the location is open on weekdays at 5:00 am.
 
My request to you is to update the hours on the app so I can place the order ahead of time and grab the order quickly without having my dog wait too long for me.
 
Thank you,
 
Marc Davis

It was a friendly email with a minor request to improve my customer experience. 

Five days later, I received a reply:

Dear Mark,

Thank you for taking the time to contact.

I apologize that your store was closed when you placed your On-the-Go order! We can definitely assist with getting crediting [sic] this transaction for you. Can you please respond with the order number of the transaction that you wish to be credited for? If you have previously sent a screenshot of the order, please respond with the order number from the screenshot, it assists us in locating the transaction faster for you.

We are looking forward to serving you again soon.

Eliezer

Support Center Coordinator

Case #[redacted]

Huh, what?

Dunkin's reply had ignored pretty much everything I wrote. My issue wasn't about an unfilled order, and I wasn't requesting a credit. It was about updating a local store's hours on the app -- and they had ignored that, too. It was as if Eliezer had only scanned my email. 

And why did Eliezer misspell my name? I can understand misspelling 'Marc' if I had called Customer Service and provided my name, but they had it in my email. All it would have taken to spell my name correctly was copying & pasting it from the email.

Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame member Joan Throckmorton once taught me that a person's name is the most important word on a letter. She was right. I hate seeing it misspelled, yet that is what Dunkin' did. 

I bit my lip about that last part and responded:

I did not request nor do I see a need for a credit. 
My request is for your app to be updated so that I can place an order on your app for [redacted] when it opens at 5:00 am on weekdays.
Thank you,
Marc

The reply came the next day.

Hello Mark,

Thank you for taking the time to contact us about your experience at the Dunkin' restaurant in [redacted]. We are sorry that you had a bad experience and will alert the franchisee and our field operations team immediately to let them know what happened.

We want every restaurant experience to be a great one and would like to have this experience addressed for you as soon as possible. We take guest satisfaction seriously and hope you’ll give Dunkin' another chance.

Thanks again for taking time out of your day to let us know.

Eliezer 

Support Center Coordinator

Case #[redacted]

The reply increased my disappointment: Customer Service was blaming the store even through my unpleasant experience wasn't because of franchisee or from field operations; it was because of the corporate app and Eliezer.  

The store hours on the app were updated, but I had a bitter taste in my mouth that wasn't from coffee. I guess Dunkin' can bake the donuts, but cannot adequately read customer emails.

The Starbucks on my dog walking route is also open early. Despite memes like this, Starbucks has never misspelled my name. Just sayin', Dunkin'.

Lessons:

  1. Every customer interaction is marketing. Every direct customer communication is direct marketing.
  2. When your customers correspond with you, fully read the communication and reply appropriately.
  3. Always spell the names of your customers correctly.

5/09/2021

GetRiver.com & Colibri: Less is Less

This recent email for river by Colibri IO is a textbook Fail for Creative.

GetRiver.com sales email
Email with Call to Action to buy something now



Lesson: Include in your marketing emails elements missing here:

  1. Explanation of the product or service
  2. Explanation of what the reader is supposed to buy
  3. Offer expiration date -- specifically, when does the coupon code expire
  4. At least some information about the cost
  5. A live Facebook presence when including a link to a Facebook page
  6. Content on your Twitter page from less than three years ago when including a link to Twitter.

5/02/2021

Freshly: How Do I Share My Code?

This email from Freshly merits a Fail for Creative.

Freshly referral / share email
Freshly email to customers inviting them to share


Freshly is a meal subscription service. It offers reasonably healthy, pretty fresh refridgerated meals that can be prepared in the microwave in about three minutes. Personally, during the pandemic lockdown, it helped me have several quick, tasty lunches between Zoom meetings. They've offered a referral program since as long as I've been a customer (at least I think so -- during the lockdown, one business day sometimes faded into the next). 

This offer is a bit different. The email recipient, a current customer, is given a "share code" to send a Freshly Freebie to someone who can get a free week of meals. Nice; however, there is no explanation of how to share. The email lacks an explanation of what I or that special someone needs to do to use that share code and enjoy that free food. This lack of explanation puts traction in the customer process of sharing, which reduces the likelihood of customer action.

The offer was sent on April 29 and expires May 6. This means the offer expires only a week after sending. The offer window is appropriately sized for an emailed offer; however, because the expiration date is mentioned only in the disclosure, the attribute of immediacy in the Call to Action is lost. The expiration date should be communicated in body copy, e.g. "Your share code is valid only through May 6, 2021, so be sure to share your Freebie today!"

Lessons:

  1. Your Call to Action should clearly describe the steps required for the customer to take advantage of your offer.
  2. Do not bury your offer expiration date in your fine print. 


4/15/2021

Norton Lifelock: Renewal Email Reminds Me of Penn & Teller

Penn & Teller had a show than ran for eight seasons: “Penn & Teller: Bulls---!” According to Penn Jillette

If we said it was all scams we could also be in trouble, but 'bulls---,' oddly, is safe. So forgive all the 'bulls--- language', but we're trying to talk about the truth without spending the rest of our lives in court."

This leads to a recent email I received from Norton. IMHO, it goes beyond merely a Fail for Creative

Norton Antivirus Renewal Notice

The email offers the customer an opportunity to review their virus protection for $39.99, with an asterisk mentioning that this is the price for just the first year. That asterisk references a Disclosure rendering in 4.5-point font size:

I'll enlarge the fine print to a readable font size:

You are enrolling in an automatically renewing subscription that begins when your purchase is completed online (or otherwise, when your offline payment is received). Please download and install on each device, up to the specified number of devices, to get protection. Price shown is valid for the first term only. After that, your subscription will renew each year at the applicable annual renewal price here. You can cancel your subscription at my.norton.com or by contacting Member Services & Support. For more details, please visit the Refund Policy. Your subscription includes product, service and/or protection updates and new features as available during the subscription term, subject to acceptance of the License and Services Agreement. Features may be added, modified or removed during the subscription term.


So, to find out what the second-year price might be, I have to search through literal mouseprint to find the correct link to learn that the actual long-term price is currently expected to be* 50% greater than the advertised price.

Why isn’t Norton upfront about this in the email? Is it perhaps that Norton believes customers will not look for it now and just accept the higher price in a year?

I understand the subscription business model. Norton is offering me software as a service. So does Microsoft, but they don’t obfuscate the fact that I pay $70 a year to use Microsoft Office. Other companies offer introductory prices, but I rarely see the long-term subscription price this hidden.

An honest yet persuasive approach would be to explain the subscription option and offer $20 savings off the first year. The people at Norton know this -- they use this approach as landing pages from PPC ads.

When companies hide relevant information from customers, they might get sales but they’ll also earn distrust. If I can’t trust Norton to be forthcoming about its subscription price, can I trust it to protect my computer? That's why I believe Norton's approach to disclosing prices to customers like this is bulls---.

Lesson: Your relationship with your customers goes beyond one transaction. Honesty is the best policy for long-term customer retention.


* The header of the pricing landing page reads: "Our renewal prices for standalone and add-on subscriptions are listed below. They may change, but we will always send you a notification email prior to billing." In other words, the actual second year price in 12 months could be substantially greater than the price shown today. 

2/06/2021

SpotHunter: How to Hunt for Customers

Last week, I received this flyer:

SpotHunter flyer
SpotHunter flyer
1-sided. Copy appears at a bit of a slant

It arrived in a blind envelope addressed to the impersonal "Current Resident." It is obviously marketing mail. IMHO, it has all the makings of low-end j--- mail. (I'm not writing out the word because I avoid inappropriate 4-letter words on this blog.) The envelope appears impersonal, it has no return address, and it includes a spotty-looking postage permit stamp. 

SpotHunter Outer Envelope
Simple Blind Outer Envelope.
No return address.

I opened it because, well, I love direct mail marketing. But would a typical consumer open it? I don't think so. I noticed several of the same pieces -- addressed to "Current Resident" at other units in my building -- placed in a well-named trash receptacle located in the mailroom.

Mailroom Trash Receptacle
(Inappropriate 4-letter word blacked out)

Inside, there is an impersonal flyer for an app called SpotHunter. The headline reads "Have Trouble Finding Open Street-Parking? Let Us Help." In this context, the hyphen between "Street" and "Parking" is improperly placed. Plus, there's no period at the end of the headline's second sentence. These types of errors may appear minor; however, this type of errors often subconsciously distracts readers from the content and reduces confidence in the product itself. That is a minor Fail for Creative.

Overall, the flyer appears to clearly convey a message: Use this app to find parking and help other people find parking spots. 

Is this really going to work? I don't know. What I do know is that in most of New York City, open parking spots are hard to find and disappear quickly. New Yorkers get into fist fights over parking spots. Even if an app yells "There is an open parking spot 3 blocks away!", the spot may not be open when the driver arrives there two minutes later. And let's not forget that touching your mobile phone while driving is illegal in New York. So, if one cannot utilize the app while driving and a driver cannot expect that a spot appearing on the app is truly available, how useful is it? I guess the app needs scale to be useful; however, the more people that use the app to find parking, the more people are going to go after that precious parking spot a few blocks away.

Well, I can't try out the app -- for me, it is currently useless. It is available only on iPhones, and my phone uses the Android operating system. In fact, about half of the mobile phones in use today are using the Android operating system. So, upfront, half the people who received the mail cannot use the product. That's a Fail for Targeting.  

Given that it appears  everyone in my Queens building received the flyer, I assume SpotHunter carpet-bombed the neighborhood. That's another mistake, because many people in Queens do not have cars. They use mass transit to get around. According to NYCEDC, 62% of Queens residents have cars. In my neighborhood, that percentage is closer to 40%. So that means about half of the 40% people receiving the mail cannot use the product, e.g. 80% of the mail is truly j---,  furthering the Fail for Targeting.

If I were responsible for a marketing campaign for SpotHunter, I would first suggest not using direct mail. Consider perhaps a guerrilla marketing campaign such as placing flyers on cars parked in the neighborhood. Annoying, yes, but at least you are reaching people who have cars to park. A highly geotargeted online effort could also be a good use of limited spend. Some social media platforms allow you to target people who self-identify as having cars. Or consider targeting based on attributes likely to be associated with car use. Then segment down to the type of operating system being used. 

If I were required to utilize direct mail without targeting, I would:

  • Create a simple postcard that conveys the sales proposition. One side would include the headline benefit statement with a visual supporting message, while the address side would include supporting benefit statements and the call to action to Download the app for free.
  • Or, create a flat and geographically target homes with residents likely to benefit from the app using the USPS Every Door Direct Mail tool.
  • Drop mail as soon as the app is available for Android.

Lessons:

  1. Make sure your content is free of grammatical errors.
  2. If your app is available only on an iPhone, you are missing half the market.
  3. If your mail has a simple message, consider a postcard rather than a flyer in an envelope.
  4. If you are targeting geographically rather than individually, consider using the Every Door Direct Mail service from the US Postal Service. 

1/31/2021

Amazon Music Unlimited: Improving the Pitch

 This letter from Amazon Music Unlimited merits a Fail for Creative for a combination of mistakes and missed improvement opportunities. 


Some positive elements of the solo letter package:
  • The letter is addressed to an Amazon Prime customer in a closed-face envelope with simple Amazon branding. This approach ensures a high open rate because Amazon and the customer have an ongoing business relationship, meaning the Prime customer will open the letter to see what it is about.
  • The front of the letter is easily scannable. The Johnson Box clearly communicates that the Prime customer would benefit from 3 months of free … something.
  • The sparse use of copy and generous use of white space help call out the benefits of Amazon Music Unlimited.
  • The letter opens with a personal salutation, addressed to the Amazon Prime customer.
  • The Call toAction on the front of the letter is easy to find.
Amazon Music Unlimited Offer Letter
Front of Letter
using Amazon Music Letterhead



However, there are opportunities to improve on this approach.

The letterhead is from “Amazon Music,” which is already free with Amazon Prime. The Johnson Box could communicate that the offer is for 3 months of Amazon Music Unlimited for free.

The opening sentence is not grammatically correct. It opens with “As a valued Amazon Prime member, we have a special offer for you:” This is an incorrect use of a dangling modifier. The opening phrase “as a valued Amazon Prime member” describes “you,” the customer -- not “we,” the company. The independent clause that begins with “we” does not match the opening phrase, which lacks a subject. While typical customers reading the letter might not remember grammar rules taught in high school, they might subconsciously notice that the sentence feels clunky, which detracts attention from the message. Keeping the message intact, a better opening would be:

“As a valued Amazon Prime member, you are eligible for a special offer:”
or, perhaps,
“As a valued Amazon Prime member, you can enjoy this special offer:” 

The complete value proposition of the low price is hidden in the Disclosure on the back. I would be forthright and mention upfront that the cost is under $8 a month after the third month.

The letter mentions the feature of being “ad free” a couple times (with varying use of hyphens). This could be brought up a level by messaging the benefit, i.e. “Listen to music non-stop, without interruptions.”

While the letter opens with a personal salutation, the closing is from “Amazon Music Team.” A truly sincere closing would be from Bob Bowen, Worldwide Head of Music, or even Jeff Bezos.

The letter includes supporting messages on the back. The front of the letter could use a message referring to the back of the letter to learn more.

Amazon Music Unlimited Marketing Letter
Back of letter

On the back of the letter, the Call to Action appears twice; however, it is easily lost. In one location, it is almost as small as the Disclosure copy. It could be larger and positioned below the Disclosure without being distracting.

The front of the letter mentions “Limited time only.” It fails to mention how limited the offer is. The offer expiration date is buried in the Disclosure on the back. The problem with this approach is two-fold:

  1. The implied need for immediate action is lost, because the customer doesn’t know by when to take action. In other words, it’s easy for the customer to say, “I’ll take care of this later,” then forget about it.

  2. If the offer truly expires on the offer expiration date, and the customer attempts to sign up after the offer expires, the customer will be unhappy from the experience of missing out on the promotion. That dissatisfied customer would view Amazon less positively -- perhaps taking out their frustration by shopping less or even cancelling their Prime membership.

Simple Envelope


Below is a rewrite of the front of the letter, with a bit more focus on product benefits. If Amazon likes the rewrite, I am willing to accept a personally signed thank-you letter.

Dear <Customer Name>,

Would you like to enjoy access to millions of songs, anytime, without interruption? Then here is an offer for Amazon Prime members like you: 3 months of Amazon Music Unlimited for FREE.

Sign up today to get unlimited access to more than 70 million songs. Listen ad-free from your home or mobile phone anytime with offline listening and unlimited skips. With so many new releases and thousands of playlists and stations available, we are sure to have your favorite tunes ready for your delight. In fact, with Amazon Music Unlimited, you can even control your music hands-free with Alexa, included in the Amazon Music mobile app and Amazon Echo devices.

BENEFITS OF AMAZON MUSIC UNLIMITED

Ö        Unlimited anytime access to more than 70 million tunes

Ö        Listen to music non-stop, without interruptions

Ö        Enjoy music anywhere, online or offline

Ö        Skip as much as you like 

Ö        Hands-free listening with Alexa

I’m so sure you’ll like Amazon Music Unlimited, I’m offering it to you for FREE for 3 months. After that, your subscription will renew for only $7.99 a month. You can cancel anytime.

This is a limited time offer, so visit amazon.com/trynow to sign up today.

Sincerely, 

[signature]

Bob Bowen

Worldwide Head of Music

P.S. This offer is good only through <expiration date>, so be sure to review the information on the back of this letter and visit amazon.com/trynow to sign up for Amazon Music Unlimited today.

Lessons:
  1. Use correct grammar.
  2. Your benefits sell your product, so communicate them.
  3. Ensure that your Call to Action is easy to find.
  4. If your offer has an expiration date, don’t bury it.
  5. A personalized letter should be personally signed.
  6. When your brand covers multiple products in a customer relationship, an experience with one product can impact the entire relationship.
  7. Don’t just ignore the back of the letter -- you can use both sides of a page to make your sale.