Should PetSmart's Fail go to the Dead Letter Office?

When I received this self-mailer from PetSmart on September 21, I planned to post it as a quick Fail for Timing.  The coupon redemption period from a consumer standpoint is only 12 days.  The address panel includes a request for in-home delivery 8/30-9/1, which suggests that the Fail might belong to the USPS for slow delivery.  The holiday mailing season has yet to start, so why would mail arrive this slowly?

Addressed to Jazz c/o Marc Davis

Then I noticed that it was addressed not to me, but to Jazz, my dead dog.  Jazz was truly man's best friend.  He thought that every stranger was a friend he hadn't met.  I met more than a few nice people with him along.  Jazz barked only at mylar balloons and enjoyed playing with squeaky toys.  He passed away about 18 months ago at a fair age of 14.
Great festive creative
When I received a similar mailer about a year ago, I called PetPerks to inform them that my dog died.  The customer service person was sympathetic when he said he would remove Jazz from their files.  And yet, I received another birthday card 12 months later.

I adopted a different dog several months ago through a PetSmart adoption program.  Buddy is a perky, friendly dog and enjoys coming to the office with me.  I updated my PetPerks file in July so they know about Buddy, including his birth date and how I discovered him at a PetSmart.  We'll see if I get a birthday card in May for my living dog to go along with this one for my dead dog.

In addition to ensuring that records are properly updated, perhaps PetSmart should consider setting an age when the pet should not receive direct communications, or perhaps send an occasional e-mail to cusotmers requesting that information about their pets be updated on their PetPerks profile.

  1. Be sure your customer list is up to date.  
  2. Consider when it is time to purge old data and focus on current data.


Don't trade with this Fail

A lack of personalization suggests a lack of interest in your customer.  In a face-to-face sales environment, a good salesperson knows the customer's name before trying to sell a product.  The same premise applies to direct marketing.  Effective direct mail almost always starts with "Dear Marc Davis." or at least "Dear" followed by the first name of the customer.

In snail mail, the right personalization can mean the difference between effective mail and junk mail.  With e-mail, the same premise applies except that the common term is spam.

This e-mail from Online Trading Academy easily merits a Creative Fail for bad personalization.  Leading an e-mail with "Dear [INSERT FIRST NAME]" is worse than no personalization at all.  Would you trust these people with your investment dollars if they cannot figure out how to call you by name?


Sudhoff Properties: A real estate agent should know the address

This real estate agent from Sudhoff Properties sent an e-mail with a header of “Address Change”.  However, there is no message text – not even an explanation of what changed.  Was it the e-mail address or new address?  Would you trust this person to sell your home?  Not with a Fail for Creative.

Lesson: When sending an e-mail to your customers, be sure to have not only a relevant header but also a relevant message.


Late Furniture

This self-mailer from Bassett Furniture arrived  Tuesday, September 7.  Easy Fail for Timing.  The sale ended the day prior to the mail's arrival.

The mailer includes a request for arrival between 8/30 & 9/1, so either the mail was sent late or the USPS was delivering slowly. 

On the other hand, it was targeted well, as it was sent to a prior customer.


Don't bet on this Fail

My neighbor received a self-mailer from Resorts.  It appears they are giving away a laptop complete with a Windows 7 “Operation” System.  Fail for Creative.

Lesson: Using spell-check software is not enough.  Proofread your documents for grammar, jargon, and context.


HSBC & AAA: If it's that Important, be clear about it

These days, it appears like every piece of mail is "IMPORTANT".  The operative question is 'Important to Whom?'  For example, this letter from HSBC bank claims to have important account information ...
... however all it contained were Privacy and Accessibility notices, in small print, without an explanatory cover letter.  

I suppose this was important to HSBC's Compliance group and perhaps a handful of consumers.

AAA recently sent this letter with an envelope teaser noting 'IMPORTANT INFORMATION' about my membership.

The back of the envelope had two return addresses, one in Texas and one in California.

The content of the letter was about an address change, and the need to verify information.
The letter's tone was formal and explanatory.  It included three addresses: Texas, California, and now Delaware -- being sent to someone in Virgina.  At this point, one may wonder 'To where do I return the form?'  The letter mentions returning the form, but not who should receive it.

There is a return-reply envelope.  The return address is similar but not the same as the one in California -- the PO Box number is different.

This is a Fail for CreativeEven with the reply envelope, some people will still send the form to one of the three addresses on the letter. 

The letter should have only one return address and it should be consumer-relevant.  It should be the sole correspondence address and match the one that appears on the return envelope.  Otherwise, the consumer will be confused and the various offices will have to figure out what to do with mail that went to the wrong place.  That results in a waste of consumer time and AAA organization's time.

Lessons: Label your package "Important" only if it is important to the recipient.  Be sure you clearly communicate your call to action and only one location for response and correspondence.


2 weeks to redeem a prize is a Fail

This contest fulfillment package was recently mailed by Young America on behalf of Hershey's.  It was mailed in a nondescript, plain white envelope.

The recipient won a minor prize in a contest - a free Reese's product.  This was communicated on a plain, white piece of paper.  The package does not need to be fancy because, hey, it's a prize.

The coupon appears to be good for a candy bar.
This prize fulfillment package merits a Fail for Timing because it was received on August 18.  That gave the recipient only 2 weeks to claim the prize.  That is not an adequate response window.  If a prize winner is slow to read the mail, that person may be upset if he/she misses the window to use the coupon.  The coupon could have easily been marked to expire 9/30/10 or, even better, 12/31/10.

Lesson: Even for a totally free item, there should be adequate time for the consumer to take action in response to your mail.


Geico: Only a 15 minute list update could save Geico from a Fail

This direct mail package from Geico might be creatively complete.  From a promotional standpoint, it goes all out.  

The outer envelope includes an inviting benefit teaser on the front as well as a promotional teaser on the back. It leverages the fact that the recipient moved to a new location, and implies a financial benefit to the new zip code as well as a peak at a hundred dollar bill.

The front of the letter leverages Geico branding.  It includes not one but two Johnson Boxes as well as a side bar that clearly communicates savings benefits and call to action.
In the package, there are no fewer than seven calls to action to get an insurance quote.  Most of them talk to ease of the transaction, with copy points such as "a few minutes to do"; "trained professionals are there for you 24/7"; and "All you have to do is answer some simple questions ...".  Forget 15 minutes?  This is fast & easy!

The letter communicates savings benefits as well as a positive customer experience.  It includes a testimonial on the back, a sincere, signed close, and the all-important P.S. that reinforces benefits messaging and call to action.

Finally, the bottom of the letter included an immediate benefit for opening the envelope -- return address stickers with the Geico geeko. (I'm showing only one row because the stickers are so cool that I plan to use them.)
This package utilizes many direct mail best practices: envelope teaser, promotional copy, Johnson Box, side box, a feeling of sincerity, a signature, multiple calls to action, immediate benefits, strong benefit messages, focused P.S., and alignment with messaging from other communication channels.

So why the Fail?  For Timing.  Typically, consumers have 30 days to choose a new auto insurer after they move, however, I received the letter 3½ months after moving to a new zip code.  Geico could improve its success by updating the hot movers list it uses and mailing more frequently.

Although not worthy of a Fail, the testimonial on the back is a bit off the mark.  It represents a customer who chose Geico before she moved, while the package is addressed and messaged to potential customers who are in their new home.

Lesson: When you are targeting recent movers, be sure to reach them when they recently moved. 


Triple Fails from Moving Companies

A follow-up from some prior posts.  In late June, I wrote how Thomas Transfer and Storage mailed a moving offer to my post-move address.  Since then, they not only sent a remail of the exact same creative package, they sent a 2nd remail of that package to my new address. Each of the three packages arrived about 10 days apart.

That means Thomas Transfer earns a Fail for Creative as well as List and Timing.  I covered in prior posts that when remailing the same offer, the creative should be modified for additional effectiveness.  If the customer does not open the first envelope, why would he open a second envelope that looks exactly the same?

In the meantime, Texas Home Movers continues its Fail with lack of communication and inappropriate communication.  After making 10 attempts to reach the company to inquire about my damaged a missing goods, filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, filing a dispute through Visa, and sending a certified letter to the owner, I received an e-mail reading:
This is not exactly a Customer Service letter, but at least it is personal.  On Friday, I received a call from Anita threatening to take legal action against me for filing a dispute with Visa and the BBB.  Today, the web site appears to be down.  Not a good sign.  Perhaps the entire company is a Fail.


Remember to recall your collateral

Here is an example of a Fail from Safeway for Creative and Timing.  A chronology:
  • 4/16/10: Safeway reopens its store in Waterfront Station, Washington DC. Many senior executives show up for the store opening.
  • 4/18/10: I visit the Safeway and apply for their Safeway Club Card.  The brochure mentions benefits such as reduced prices on items and the ability to earn United Airlines frequent flyer miles.
  • 6/18/10: I receive the letter below dated June 11 and postmarked June 14.

It took Safeway two months to get around to informing me that I would not earn United Airlines miles for my purchases because the program was discontinued in February.  This means that despite the high level of publicity for the new store opening, Safeway did not bother to update their club enrollment brochures - even though the program had ended six weeks before I applied for their club card. 

The letter does not express any remorse or regret that a program was offered to me that had already expired.  (Are they suggesting that it's my fault I included my United Airlines frequent flyer number?)  Furthermore, the letter closes by stating that Safeway will process my application.  This means that after two months, the company had yet to take action.

The letter copy itself could be improved:
  • Cut the passive verbs, i.e. open with "We received ." rather than "We have received ."
  • Don't mention "information included" if there was no information included. The only thing in the envelope was the letter.
  • Personalize the experience.  Have a real person in customer service sign the letter, even if only a first name.
It's not just brochures that can become out of date -- direct mail and e-mail offers can also expire.   I recently received a packing slip that included a coupon for my next purchase that expired four months before the package shipped. 
Learnings: Do not use out of date brochures or other collateral.  If you make a mistake, apologize for it.  The tone of a customer service letter should be active and personal.  If you mention something is included with a letter, include it.

UPDATE 9/21/10
My Subway Club Card still has not been processed.  For the past two months, whenever I shopped at the store I would use their generic card rather than input my phone number.  I called their customer service department and was told that they their processing is backlogged.  Did my application not get processed because they sent me this letter?