Showing posts sorted by relevance for query call to action. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query call to action. Sort by date Show all posts


Amica, Allstate, Wal-Mart: Bad timing on car insurance mail

I received at home mailers for auto insurance last Friday, May 23, from three different insurers. This is a Fail for Timing, albeit an accidental one. What is not accidental is that the mail arrived close to a holiday weekend. Consumers are far less likely to read mail related to low-interest categories on the business day prior to or just after a major holiday. They are more focused on, well, the holiday – traveling, hosting, or just taking a couple days off from the rat race. This is not exactly a typical time to think about saving on your car insurance.

 The three packages I received vary in their approach. Amica uses a conventional solo mail letter, with an easy-to-read Johnson Box that appears through the envelope, an official-looking savings card that reinforces a call to action, a sidebar that summarizes the benefit, smooth flow, and good use of boldface subheads and underlines. The call to action is reinforced several times, with a message of exclusivity in the closing and signator. Finally, the letter includes a postscript that reinforces the call to action and benefit. And, just to top things off, a buckslip is included that communicates popularity along with a reinforcement of benefit and call to action. Richard Benson would be proud.


Vanguard: Transition time is when?

This email from Vanguard merits a minor Fail for Creative.

It appears that Vanguard is moving its investment platform from one system to another, and needs customers to take action to support the move. The email explains to the customer that a “3-step transition” is required, and doing so would take a “few minutes.” It includes four FAQs, but that’s all. The Call to Action is to “Transition Now” by clicking a button, which leads customers to the typical login page.


Vanguard email to customers 

This email was sent to consumers. While one can assume consumers who use Vanguard for investments has some savvy, because they avoid the high fees of other investment companies, that does not mean they are familiar or comfortable with technical terms like “transition.” The opening, in all-caps — “YOUR ACCOUNT NEEDS TO BE TRANSITIONED” — has a tonality of forcefulness that is generally not in the Vanguard communications style. To the uninformed, the fact that the account where one’s retirement savings is managed needs to be “TRANSITIONED” is scary.

There is some explanation regarding the rationale for the move, but why not position this transition as an upgrade from the onset? Sell the benefits upfront.

Furthermore, the request to the customer lacks any immediacy. The Call to Action should include a respond-by date. Internally, perhaps a decision was made not to include a date in the communication now because the IT folks have a year-long implementation plan. But even a soft request to take action by a specific date would help a customer decide to take action. Otherwise, the customer might ignore this or prioritize this task somewhere between, say, replacing the baking soda in the refrigerator and watching the last season of House of Cards.

Below is my attempt to rewrite the main message in a communications style I more typically see from Vanguard. It includes an upfront communication of customer benefit and a timely (but soft) call to action, but avoids using industry jargon and scary words.
Dear [Customer Name],
We have upgraded our platform for customers like you to make and follow your investments. This new, flexible platform will allow us to save money and make continuous service improvements, which will benefit you as we can lower our costs to serve you and improve your online experience.
Please help us move your account to the upgraded investment platform by completing 3 easy steps. It’s quick and easy—taking less than 5 minutes of your time. Just log into your account using the button below to get started.
If you could complete these 3 steps by February 28, 2019, that will help us help you. Thank you for your consideration and your time.
It would also be useful to label the FAQs below the Call to Action simply, “Frequently Asked Questions” and consider offering a separate page on the Vanguard site with additional FAQs. Doing so would boost customer confidence while reducing the expense of calls to their customer service center.

  1. Avoid industry jargon in customer communications.
  2. Any request for a customer to take action should include a date.

10/29/2018 Cool mail, but lacking strong call to action

When I moved to New York City, I joke that I learned that as a New Yorker, I was obligated to greet people by saying either “How you doing?”, or “Up yours!” I typically prefer the former. I also learned how much convenience plays into how a New Yorker chooses where to do business – where to get a haircut, where to shop, etc. In some parts of the city, there are three TDBanks within 10 blocks because, well, that’s convenient. Who wants to cross a pair of busy intersections just to get $20 from an ATM?  Not a New Yorker.

So, even though most New Yorkers live within a mile of brick-and-mortar stores that have everything they need, they are still likely to purchase dry goods online. It goes back to convenience. After all, having a box arrive at your doorstep with your laundry detergent is easier than having to lug that weight home from the supermarket.

Enter According to Wikipedia, the company was formed three years ago. Originally, the company had branded itself as the “biggest thing in shopping since shopping.” However, about two years ago, it was purchased outright by Walmart. Based on this CNN story and other articles found online, jet is being positioned as a site for higher-income urban millennials. Here in New York City, television advertising and subway billboard ads communicate the ability to purchase curated brands and city essentials in one place. That seems convenient. This ad, showing a New Yorker being gawked at by tourists, is locally-centric. The landing page is also themed around shopping while living in The Big Apple. On my first visit to their landing page, I am greeted with a serene, winter picture of the East River.'s NYC Landing page

Scrolling down, I find the opportunity to purchase kale and an iPad.
Below the fold on landing page

Which brings us to their self-mailer.
Address panel

It is the second one I have received in as many weeks. Creatively, it is on-brand and on-message. It uses the same tagline and reflects the same sales proposition around the ability to purchase brands relevant to New Yorkers who are, presumably, like myself. And, while I’m not a millennial and I don’t know what Walmart defines as high-income, this is not a Fail for Targeting because, based on my zip code, I live in an area populated with people who fit that target market. 
First fold-out panel with small call to action

The call to action is subtle. One has to unfold the self-mailer partially but not completely to find the call to action to shop at It’s not even to make a purchase – just to shop. It appears to me that this mailer is barely above branding piece, a supplement to the mass media advertising that conveys’s image and sales proposition. 
Next fold-out panel

Final fold-out panel. No call to action

Intuitively, I would think that if the purpose of this self-mailer were to bring traffic to the site and encourage near-term purchase activity, including of an incentive specific to the mailer would be useful -- even something minor but specific that might encourage immediacy. Maybe “$5 off your first purchase by 11/30/18” or “Free shipping on any size purchase with your first order in 2018.”  These would include a personalized promo code so it is not misused by people in the public domain and sales resulting from the mailing can be tracked.’s check-out process already includes an input field for promo codes, so the infrastructure is in place. And doing so would not jeopardize the aspiring high-end brand image – after all, even Tiffany and Lexus have promotional offers from time to time. This looks like a Fail for Offer.

Perhaps there was a conscious decision to not include an incentive with consideration of the target market. Maybe the expense for a self-mailer is categorized by Wal-mart as merely brandingThere is a school of thought in marketing that millennials are not interested in discounts (such as in this article). However, some marketers have arrived at the conclusion that finding the best deals impact millennials’ shopping decisions. One should also consider that some recipients of these self-mailers are not millennials and are watching their dollars.

Maybe Jet’s management is trying to be as unlike Walmart as feasible. That’s understandable given the investment in’s new brand positioning. Nevertheless, I would at the very least execute an A/B test of Incentive vs No Incentive and include a useful means of tracking customers against the mailing list. 

My question to marketing leaders regarding the success of these mail campaigns is the same as how I would greet them here in New York: “How you doing?”

1. Consider an incentive and a timely call to action to encourage immediacy of purchase activity, if that is your marketing goal.
2. Including a unique tracking code is an excellent means of tracking response. 
3. Not sure what works?  Test your hypothesis.


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.

  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.


PayPal: Selling Honey Requires a Key Ingredient

   This recent email from PayPal merits a couple Fails for Creative

PayPal Honey Offer. What is Honey?
PayPal Honey Offer. What is Honey? 

The email includes a Subject Line of "Get a $5 bonus for shopping smart with Honey." The headline reads "Give Honey a try. Spend $10, Get $5." Below that is a gif of a small box parachuting into a celebration, followed by a message reading, "When you add Honey to your browser for the first time, create an account, and spend $10 or more with PayPal, you'll get a $5 bonus. That's just the start of the savings. Honey members save over $126 annually." Below that are step-by-step instructions about how to install and use Honey, and a disclosure.

There is a clear Call to Action and an incentive for the customer to take action now. The email was sent on September 25 with an offer expiration date of October 4, so immediacy is encouraged. 

But, what is HoneyWhy would I add it to my browser? How do honey members save money, and compared to what? None of these questions are addressed in the email.

Based only on the email, one might guess that Honey is a rebate program or online savings account. In actuality, though, it is an online coupon provider. According to their home page, "Honey helps you find some of the best coupon codes on 30,000+ sites." That is Honey's value proposition, and it is missing from this email.

The other Fail is less important, but worth mentioning.  According to the disclosure and the detailed Terms & Conditions found on Honey's site, only 40,000 customers are eligible for the award. Once that limit is reached -- even if before offer the expiration date -- the reward will no longer be available. This type of restriction is fairly common in direct-to-consumer marketing. I've included number-of-customer limitations in several campaigns to ensure the product is not oversold or to cap potential incentive liability. When I did, I would use this clause to my advantage by communicating it in the body of the email. PayPal could do this by including above the Call to Action a message along the lines of...

Be one of the 40,000 people to get your $5 bonus by October 4th. Bonus must be used by October 31st.* 

or ... 

This exclusive bonus offer is limited to the first 40,000 people to take action by October 4th. Bonus must be used by October 31st.* 

This type of messaging approach not only makes the in-house lawyers happy by clearly communicating an offer restriction; it also communicates scarcity, which is a known factor to drive immediate action and increase response -- and that makes your manager happy.

  1. It is not enough to have a call to action and encourage immediacy in your direct-to-consumer emails. They should always include a value proposition.

  2. If your offer is limited to a specific number of customers, do not bury that restriction -- use it to your sales advantage.


A letter from the Central Bureaucracy!

In the animated series Futurama, there is a funny bit where a bureaucrat receives a letter from the Central Bureaucracy reading, “Attention, Hermes Conrad. You are about to receive a letter from the Central Bureaucracy." Three seconds later, a second letter arrives. The bureaucrat is shocked and exclaims, “Oh, my God! It's from the Central Bureaucracy!”
Hundreds of millions of Americans received a letter this past week from the American central bureaucracy informing them that they will soon receive a letter from the central bureaucracy. It’s Census time.

The letter explains that we will soon receive a Census form in the mail. It requests that we should promptly complete the form when it arrives so our community gets money from the government. (I was taught by my political science teacher in grade school that the purpose of the Census was to ensure that my state received the correct allocation of representatives in Congress. However, for the moment, let’s set aside the political discussion and consider this as a solo direct mail solicitation.)

The call to action is to complete a Census form. The reason to take action is to receive government money for programs I and my neighbors need. The reason to take action now is… well, we can’t take action now. Immediacy is lost. From a marketing standpoint, that makes this a Fail.

Presumably, the purpose of the advance letter is to improve the response rate of the upcoming Census mailing. However, someone who would not open the Census mailing envelope to come would also not open the envelope for this advance mailing. In other words, the advance letter is not worth the cost. If an advance mailing is necessary, use a postcard. It has a greater likelihood of being read by potential non-responders.

If a solo envelope mailing is really necessary, consider adding a bit of spot color to make the piece visually appealing, e.g. not look like it arrived from a central bureaucracy. Color the Census 2010 logo in blue or even knock-out white over black if production cost is a concern.

The personal feel of the letter being signed by the director is positive, as is the closing postscript repeated in several languages prominent to the area. Given the information on the landing page, though, the call to action in the postscript should read, “Go to for more information” rather than, “...for help completing the form when it arrives.” As of March 11, it is unclear on the Census landing page where to find help to complete the form. (However, it is clear where to find Dora the Explorer.) Thus, a second Fail. Perhaps the link will gain more prominence when the forms actually mail – if the Census team has made a plan to do so.

Lesson: If your call to action does not involve an immediate response, consider whether the vehicle will be cost-effective. When you mention a Web page in your direct mail, be sure that the landing page directly and seamlessly aligns with the stated reason for the recipient to go online.

3/05/2015 Online Company, Offline Fail

I originally flagged these two postcards I recently received on the same day from because two of them arrived at the same address on the same day — one for someone who, to my knowledge, has never lived at the address. That would make it an easy Fail for List and an example of the importance of doing a list dedup; after all, if you are willing to address your mail to “Current Resident,” there is nothing to be gained from sending two pieces of mail to the same residence.
For me
Not for me 
Inspecting the postcards further, this appears to be example of how an online business fails in its use of offline media in other ways:
  • There is not a specific Call to Action. It appears the objective of the postcard is to motivate people to visit However, the message about the website is that it is “your Fast, Local Tire Source.” The call to action should be specific, i.e., “Shop Tires Online at”, with supporting features and benefits messaging.
  • The URL is lost in the copy. It is the same weight as the rest of the copy, without a “www” preceding it, making it easy to get lost. It should have some distinction — at minimum an underline, different color, or italics. Having a “www” in front makes it clear that it is a website. Granted, the concept of having to explain that something is on the World Wide Web is a bit passé, but, perhaps, that is why there is a “www” in front of the same piece’s mention of Which leads to …
  • There are multiple possible actions from the communication. If a customer visits the General Tire website, they receive general information about the brand, but not about So why have multiple URLs on the same communication? Here’s my speculation: General Tire was willing to co-fund the postcard to promote their brand. That’s fine, but the postcard suggests that sells only General Tires. It would have been better for — and the potential customer — for the postcard to explain that “ sells General Tires and other fine brands” or have a similar headline-level message. 
  • Benefitmessages are missing. The features messaged here are specific to the tire, the ability to install the same or next day, and that it is a “Faster, Local Tire Source.” (How is a company with a foreign-seeming toll-free phone number local?) The benefits that could be messaged but are not are Peace of Mind, Ease of Use, Joy, and so on. For example, “Install the same or next day” could be “Relax. Visit today and enjoy your new tires tomorrow.”
  • There is no method of tracking success. Customers go through a sales funnel: Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Desire, Action. The business behind could easily learn how many customers move from Awareness (receiving the postcard) to Interest (visiting their website) by using a personalized URL that tracks who visited the website — or, at the very least, a vanity landing page specific to the mailing to count site visits. Once online, both methods can be used, along with Google Analytics, to see how many people complete the sale process — and how. 
    Postcard front - heavy on GT
  • The phone number is not mentioned as toll-free. While most people know that “800”, “888”, and “877” are toll-free phone numbers, many consumers do not yet recognize that “866”, “855” and “844” are also toll-free. Some people might counter this by explaining that most people use mobile phones with unlimited voice usage or pay regardless of the phone number; however, there are still people that call from landline phones. For those who prefer to call from home rather than visit the website, this piece should help get them from Awareness to Interest by reminding them that the call is free.

These are Fails for Creative and reminders to spend your marketing dollars wisely.

  1. When mailing to homes by address, dedup your list by address.
  2. Have a clear call to action that stands out.
  3. Include only one call to action and one URL on a communication.
  4. Communicate benefits.
  5. Establish and utilize a results tracking method.
  6. If your phone number is toll-free, message it as such.


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.)


Wright Veterinary: Typo Leads to Very Early Reminders

I received this postcard on January 15 from the veterinarian for my dog, Buddy. The vet sends these courtesy postcards if I have missed my dog’s immunization dates, reminding me to keep my dog vaccinated.

Although one would like to believe that the neighborhood vet who cares about each four-legged and two-legged friend individually is a from a mom-and-pop shop, it is nonetheless a business complete with business processes, a database, and a lettershop. The reminder postcard I received for my vet in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, had been mailed from such a lettershop in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. 

The postcard reminded me about treatments due in December 2016 -- 11 months from now. This merits a Fail for List. As I understand from a phone call to the WrightVeterinary Medical Center, one of the employees had incorrectly entered the month and year of due vaccinations for the mailing list. This typo had resulted in many reminder postcards being sent in error -- and many pet owners calling in to verify they had received the postcard in error.

Wright Veterinary Reminder CardThe message is attempting to be a bit cute -- referring to the pet and suggesting the owner bring the pet in for immunizations, but the message was a bit confusing. However, I wouldn’t call the message a Fail for Creative. Still, there are some typos as well as multiple instances of confusion between singular and plural nouns, so the copy could be cleaned up a bit. Here is an attempt to streamline the content while maintaining the same message.

We missed seeing your pet for at least one important vaccination.

Maintaining your pet’s immunity to diseases is a vital part of its total health care program. So, we wanted to remind you of the vaccinations and dates due for each pet. They are listed on this postcard.

Please be sure to order preventative medications and make an appointment for preventative treatments now, because further delay could be harmful to your pet. Call us at Wright Veterinary Medical Center today at 610-865-2611, because a healthy pet is a happy pet.

I would also suggest writing a cleaner call to action. Just ask the pet owner to call in to discuss how to ensure the pet can get its required vaccinations. By having one call to action and maintaining a consultative tone, a pet owner can call with adequate peace of mind.

If I am going to write about my dog, I can’t help myself but include a picture of Buddy. He is such a cute, friendly dog!

  1. What goes out on your mailing list is based on what you put in as your list criteria, so be sure your mailing list accurately reflects your intentions.
  2. Keep your call to action clean and simple whenever possible.


Wells Fargo: Benefits & Call to Action

Brochure Front
A couple of weeks ago, I shared lessons related to Wells Fargo’s in-store brochure for their Propel 365 card.  One month later, the retail branch is presenting a new brochure for another product. This one is for their other AMEX offering — the Wells Fargo Propel World American Express Card.  

Unfortunately, this brochure has the same Fail for Creative as the Propel 365 card brochure — it describes the features of accruing points but gives no benefit statement about the value of points. When you’re playing a video game, earning points is important as a goal in itself. However, with a rewards program, the points themselves are not the goal. Instead, the goal is to get what the points can bring — such as a trip to visit Grandma, fun electronics, or extra cash for the holidays.

The Wells Fargo Propel World American Express Card brochure does mention their front-end benefits, such as hotel upgrades, airline fee reimbursement, and concierge service. This would support the headline message of “Upgrade your travel experience.” The cover photos suggest aspiration, with the moving ghostlike Wells Fargo Wagon graphic on the credit card and a happy couple on a gondola, presumably in Venice.

The brochure also has a disconnect in the call to action. While the cover directs customers to talk with a banker to apply for the card, the inside of the brochure directs customers to visit a website or call a phone number for more information. You can sell only one thing at a time — and that also applies to motivating a customer to action. Having two distinct messages in this manner dilutes interest.

  1. Marketing communications should communicate a benefit. Points are not a benefit — they are a vehicle of earnings toward a benefit.
  2. Keep your call to action consistent, and reinforce it whenever possible.


MoMA: Failed Mail, But Is It Art?

I moved to New York City last July. Last week, I received the below solicitation for membership from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The Outer Envelope Teaser reads, “Welcome to the Neighborhood!” Inside is an offer of discounted membership “… available only for our new neighbors.” However, I moved to New York City last July.

Museum of Modern Art Solicitation
Inviting Outer Envelope
"Welcome to the Neighborhood!"

I can only speculate why I received a solicitation with this type of messaging after living here nearly a year. Did MoMA purchase a hot movers list that wasn’t so…hot? Did the mailer obtain my information several months ago but didn’t use it until now (e.g. a Fail for Timing)? If either of these is true, that is poor targeting (e.g., a Fail for List). Did MoMA know I moved more than 10 months ago but chose to position their solicitation as being for new residents? If so, that appears to me to be a Fail for Creative, because the messaging is not relevant.

Museum of Modern Art New York City
Front of letter

Museum of Modern Art New York City
Back of letter includes many membership level options

Aside from that point, creative execution is quite good. The package includes many of the elements known to support optimizing response:
  • Outer Envelope. The outer envelope clearly identifiers the sender. It is stamped, which suggests a personal correspondence. The teaser “Welcome to the Neighborhood!” is in an inviting color.
  • Letter. In lieu of a typical Johnson Box, the letter tastefully displays what a new member might expect to enjoy at the MoMA. Displaying the organization name and return address on the side (as well as choosing a font that visually matches the MoMA brand identity) is inviting. The interior highlight colors match the outer envelope teaser. The copy describes the overall benefits of membership and is inviting. The letter is personally signed by a relevant individual, and it closes with a postscript that reinforces the offer. 
  • Buckslip. The buckslip insert clearly and simply reinforces basic membership benefits and includes a call to action.
    Museum of Modern Art Solicitation

    Museum of Modern Art Solicitation
    Buckslip insert
  • Personalized Response Form. The Membership Acceptance Statement already has the prospective member’s name and address. The form includes mention of to whom to make out a check and includes an option to pay the membership fee using a major credit card. 
  • Business Reply Envelope. The reply envelope is postage-paid, meaning the recipient won’t need to spend effort finding an envelope or a stamp. The FIM Bar and barcode will ensure smooth and fast response delivery.

Museum of Modern Art Solicitation
Standard Business Reply Envelope
Prepaid postage allows for easy return & fast delivery

This solicitation may also deserve a Fail for Offer, because there are too many and they are confusing. The front of the letter lists four membership options, while the back of the letter lists nine – with costs ranging from $70 to a whopping $6,000. If the people being solicited are new to the neighborhood, they are likely not ready to put down more than a couple hundred dollars on membership at a museum. They may also not be willing to take the time to understand the difference between the $70 “Global” membership listed on the back and the $70 “Individual” membership listed on the front. This forces the consumer to make a decision within a decision – to first make a decision whether to be a member and then to make a secondary decision regarding the type of member to be. Forcing the secondary decision risks prospective member frustration, which leads to delayed or no action on the primary decision.

It would be worthwhile to communicate only two to four entry-level options for new members, then take action to upsell them later when they call to join – or upon their first enjoyable visit to the museum.

In addition to caring for the Fails, there are a few minor optimizations I would consider with this type of solicitation:

  • Open the letter with the recipient’s name. Perhaps there wasn’t space with this design; but, if you are going to take the effort of having a personal-style letter solicitation, open with “Dear Marc Davis” – or, if the list source data allows, “Dear Marc.” 
  • Explain some elements a bit better. When communicating museum features and benefits, consider the fact that the intended recipient is new to New York City. For example, the back of the letter and the buckslip mention free admission to “MoMA PS1.” A new neighbor might confuse that with something related to a SonyPlayStation
  • Reinforce the promo code. To get the discount, the new member has to enter a promo code mentioned in the body of the letter. Someone simply scanning the letter, however, would be hard pressed to find it. It should be listed in the Acceptance Statement in #1 under “Four easy ways to join” and it could be reinforced in the postscript. 
  • Create a matching landing page. The current call to action mentions, which appears to be the standard page for new member enrollment. Unfortunately, that page has even more options than the letter – creating even more potential for confusing prospective members – and the page also doesn’t reference the new member discount. This means the recipient of the letter couldn’t use it to get the targeted discount. A matching landing page can have an inviting URL (i.e.,, visually match the solicitation, and show only simplified, relevant membership levels at the offered price without forcing the new member to enter a promo code. In addition, quantifying page visits can support gauging overall prospective membership interest resulting from the solicitation. 
  • Avoid the zip+4 on the outer envelope return address. This bit of technical accuracy doesn’t help optimize mailing the package and detracts from the light, personal feeling of the solicitation. 
One needs creative skills to design the right type of communication for the target audience to mail at the best time. But is it art? Well, maybe – but the actions of measuring, testing, learning, and optimizing mean it is also math.

Maybe, one day, MoMA will have an exhibit featuring creative elements of successful direct mail, perhaps next to a Swatch Jellyfish watch or Macintosh classic desktop computer

  1. When choosing to communicate to prospective customers around life events, make sure your list source is accurate – and mail on a timely basis.
  2. When soliciting new customers to your program, offer few and simple options.

(Edited to correct hyperlinks.)


Truvia: Postcard could be sweeter

I recently received this postcard introducing me to Truvia, a zero-calorie sweetener. 

Truvia Sweet Complete
Postcard front

Visually, this postcard makes Truvia seem like a compelling alternative to sugar. The picture on the front suggests this is something I could use when baking a cake, making a smoothie, or sweetening coffee. Plus, as a potential customer, the postcard offers me the opportunity to try out one of their products for free. 

Free is a great price for a new product. It is a proven way to get a potential new customer to go outside of their comfort zone, to try something new, and to experiment a bit. It's such a common sales practice that drug dealers reputedly offer the first hit of crack cocaine for free. Customers get addicted, and they pay for more drugs. A sugar-alternative zero-calorie sweetener shouldn't be treated like crack cocaine but, hey, the makers of Truvia certainly want me to be hooked. 

Truvia Sweet Complete Free Offer
Postcard address side

The address side of the postcard includes supporting copy: a well-written product explanation, a benefit statement, an explanation of how to use the product, and a coupon for a free 16-ounce bag. I'd say that's sweet (pun intended). 

The Call to Action is simply "Find it at your local ShopRite." Therein lies the rub (or, should we go with the pun, the 'topping'). From where I live in Queens, the nearest ShopRite is typically a 25 minute drive in traffic -- under 10 miles as the crow flies, but that crow doesn't have to worry about Big Apple traffic. So, no disrespect to ShopRite, but I won't shop there when there are 3 supermarkets and a Target within walking distance. 

So, would I give this call to action a Fail for Targeting? Not really. Presuming this was a national campaign, I can't fault the marketing manager for including someone located several miles from an eligible supermarket. It's pretty complex to design targeting criteria based on travel time to a supermarket chain.

However, I could give the call to action a Fail for Creative. The coupon is valid at any retail location that carries the product. It turns out that, according to the Where to Buy link on the Truvia web site, the advertised product is available at a nearby Foodtown. Rather than mentioning only ShopRite, the postcard should have mentioned their "Where to Buy" website, e.g. 

Visit for a store location near you
Use your free coupon at ShopRite,
or visit for other nearby locations

When a prospective customer can try your product for free with few hassles, that is like zero-calorie icing on the cake.

Make coupon redemption easy for your customer by offering relevant redemption options.


TurboTax: Tax Time Starts Very, Very Early

I received a solo letter package from TurboTax on September 30 – a time when Halloween candy is on the shelves at the supermarket. This appears to me to be very early. I have yet to think about what I’m getting my wife for the holidays much less filing my 2015 taxes, but I’m only a focus group of one. On an overall marketing basis, is this a Fail for Timing or is this a smart way for Intuit to get ahead of the volume of holiday catalogs in the mail to reach out to and insulate customers for repeat purchase history?  

Envelope Front
Envelope Back
Creatively, the solo mail package is clean. On the front envelope teaser, there is a clear call to action. The rear teaser has a reinforcement message with an implied savings offer. The inside letter communicates the TurboTax value proposition using several direct mail best practices: Johnson Box, bulleted clear call-outs of features and benefits, and a reinforced call to action. The accompanying brochure breaks down the products – differentiating them in a clear manner while reinforcing the overall and individual product propositions.

Em dashes are used in a few places in headline and body copy. These are often interruptive and can be a good replacement for a comma. But utilizing a triple-dash style with no space often gives the reader the feel of there being two sentences rather than a single broken sentence. Take this line adapted from the outer envelope rear teaser:
Get your biggest refund – guaranteed! 
The use of the shorter en dash with spaces before and after creates a better visual flow compared to:
Get your biggest refund—guaranteed! 
The latter may be closer to grammatical correctness, but this isn’t a college essay – it is a marketing communication. 

Letter front
It is odd that the first solicitation for the next tax year would be via snail mail, where there is a hard cost of printing and postage. Why not at least start with an email? Intuit has my email address, and it costs nearly nothing to send me a customized email noting my product choice from last year and offering an opportunity to get the same product this year.

The offer is nothing special. There is a vague “SAVE $10*” message in several places. The disclosure on the back of the brochure reads “* Savings and price comparison based on anticipated price increase 3/18/16.” That is not quite a compelling reason to make a purchase now, especially considering the fact that the money-back guarantee applies only within 60 days of purchase. If I make a purchase now, I will still be eating leftover Thanksgiving turkey when the guarantee expires. Not even Ned Flanders gets started on his taxes before the end of the yearThe lack of a bona fide customer value for immediate action merits this a Fail for Offer

Perhaps Intuit was trying to standardize the mailer and purchase process, but, in doing so, may have missed personalization opportunities. For example, I have used the Premier version of TurboTax every year for at least a decade. That would suggest that I have no interest in the Deluxe version this year, so about a quarter of the brochure’s content is irrelevant to me. Rather than explain a likely irrelevant lower tier product, perhaps the focus could have been on resale and upsale.
Back of letter

If you are going through the effort and expense to send a personalized solo mail package, consider having a personalized offer with personalized tracking such as a unique offer code or personalized URL, product recommendations based on prior purchases, and an offer that expires soon. This could allow the customer to not have to complete a long form when repurchasing your product online. Not only will this address the customer based on his/her purchase history and information, you have the opportunity to fully track customer interactions.


  1. Consider the Timing of your marketing communication relative to seasonal level of consumer interest as well as macro-marketing conditions.
  2. Direct mail may not be the best method to reach out to your existing customer base when there are lower-cost methods available.
  3. Consider how you use dashes in every sentence.
  4. Have an offer that compels immediate action.
  5. Use your database to personalize your marketing communications and customer interactions.
Brochure Cover

Brochure Back

Brochure interior
Brochure interior