Direct Mail Creative




This is the first in a series of posts reviewing good direct mail creative. Every month (or so) I plan to review a piece of direct mail that finds it way into my mailbox or to my desk from a friendly colleague. I am of course looking for more than pretty pictures. I look to see if it’s targeted, stands out in some way (creative, interactive…), uses images and copy well, has a call to action … as some of the essential attributes that make for good DM. And if you see something good or better, please send it along with your thoughts. Thanks.

Casey’s Restaurant Classics

I should begin by saying Casey’s was a client of mine in 2012 – I played no role in it’s design. If you like a good patty on a bun with all the fixings you will have noticed that the big burger chains all use direct mail to entice us into their restaurants (and do so with double digit response rates). Some of the mid range sit down restaurants have followed suite but not all of them. So it was a pleasant surprise to see a nice dm piece from Casey’s.  

The two panel piece is well designed for what appears to be the company’s first foray into DM. Overall it has a clean design that catches your eye and is easy to digest (intended pun). Large, appetizing product shots of 3 menu items (5 total shots 2 are repeats) on white plates/bowls against a white background are used to drive all focus on these select dinners. Unlike some in the food space, we are not overwhelmed with photos and copy – there is plenty of white space so nothing gets hidden. Copy is short and to the point as they try to leverage the appeal of old classics (i.e. back ribs) to highlight new classics (Kung Pao BBQ Ribs Stir Fry).

The call to action features an offer with two $10 off mini cards (minimum purchase of $19.99 not including taxes; good for 5 weeks). So the discount can almost reach 50% which is great value for the consumer. And the cards are cards – not tear away coupons. I am always a fan of making a piece more interactive – if you can afford a card over a coupon, go with the card. And if you don’t think you can afford it for your whole run, test to see if the lift covers the additional cost.

It ends with the back panel in Casey’s red and reminds us that to get great deals, follow them on Facebook. How often do you see Facebook call outs with no explanation of what you get there – I need more than just Follow us on Facebook? Casey’s got it right by telling me what I can expect if I do.

Inside fold

Inside fold



Are Social And Direct Good Friends?



There isn’t a lot of research on how direct mail and social media work together. So I am happy to see an infographic based on some work from Market Reach – an arm of UK’s Royal Mail (equivalent to our Canada Post or USPS).

There are 3 main points highlighted, many of which I have come across in where direct mail is compared to other media – mass or email for example. The net takeaway here is that direct mail still works AND it works very well with social media.

1. Social Network Users Respond To Direct Mail

Fully 45% of social network users have done ‘something’ as a result of a direct mail piece. Whereas direct marketers hang their hat on the channel’s measurability, it’s also the con of DM’s existence (because you can measure it, you only take credit for that observable outcome). Mass marketers on the other hand, will often point to their work as the driver of (any!) sales lift even though it can be hard to accurately measure a mass campaign’s sales impact. This research shows that response rate is only one part of the direct mail results story. Specifically:

  • 45% did something
  • 7%  asked for something
  • 31% bought something

2. Direct Mail Is An Effective Way to Reach Someone Who Uses Social Networks

One of direct mail’s core strengths has always been reach. For all intents and purposes, in the industrialized world, direct mail can reach virtually every citizen in a country given there is a mailing address for almost every home, farm and business. No other channel can do that. TV used to come close but those days are long gone. Newspaper and magazine readership declines year after year and of course anything online is specialized and fragmented.   

What’s of note with this second point is the finding that almost 1 in 3 (29%) of consumers who have used social media in the past year are likely to be heavy users of direct mail more than they are of other channels. Omnichannel marketers can say I told you so.

 3. Attitude Towards Direct Mail – It’s Good!

Perhaps surprisingly to some, 49% percent of social network users still prefer getting paper bills and 81% like getting special offers or coupons in the mail. So paper and sending something of interest through the mail even to ‘social-ites’ is alive and well.

At Canada Post we have found similar results when we ask Canadians what channel they prefer to receive advertising from companies – direct mail is still #1.



If you happen to come across any other work on these two areas working together – direct mail and social media – please pass it along. Thanks.

The 3 Steps To Good Direct Marketing

 Art & Science of Direct

It doesn’t take calculus to figure out how to do direct marketing, but when it comes to deciding where to put your emphasis between the 3 levers of direct, knowing how to prioritze your effort can make a big difference in the success of your campaign. Think of it as part of the science in the ‘art and science’ of direct marketing.

The three pillars of successful direct marketing are…




… and they are often presented in this order as a ranking of priority with list being the most important. Here is what I was taught years ago and still use today with clients to explain weighting between pillars:

Campaign Success = List (40%) + Offer (30%) + Creative (30%)

I agree with this weighting for marketing to your customer list. But for prospecting I feel it’s more 60% for list and 20% each for offer and creative. Think about it from this perspective: If you have beautiful creative and a great offer like “Six Months FREE” at a senior’s residence, what good is it if your list is to millennials or to seniors who can’t afford your residence?


Prospecting – Getting New Customers

When trying to acquire new customers, you will typically be working with a list broker to source an external list. Regardless of how many lists they have, you want a list of records (people) that resemble your existing customers. You want to target people who look like your current customer base in as many ways as possible. If you are a women’s clothing retailer you would be interested in a list of people who have made women’s fashion purchases in the past or who buy women’s fashion magazines or who signed up for an online women’s fashion newsletter, etc. Other information such as demographic attributes like age, income, family status and location are also helpful.

Loyalty – Speaking to Existing Customers

Whether your aim is to activate, cross sell or up sell, retain or recapture customers you have a customer record so you don’t need to go outside to get contact information (you can however use external information to add to and strengthen the quality of your database but let’s save that for another day). You have your a house list from purchase data or from customers who gave you their information directly. But list still matters. For the goal you seek to address (i.e. cross sell), you still need to look at who within your database will give you the best return. If you are trying to sell an existing customer a product upgrade, there are factors that will make some customers more likely to respond. You could analyze customers who have already upgraded and see what item(s) they bought before the upgrade purchase (i.e. if you find that 18% of customers who bought product A later bought product D, reach out to people who have product A and no D). The point is that even within your house file, your ‘list’ does not mean any customer in your database.

Step 2. What Is Your Hook?…The Offer

Does an offer have to be a discount? No, but too often marketers think it must. We’ve trained ourselves (and perhaps too many customers for some businesses) to think that unless you have a sale or a dollar off coupon you won’t get traffic through the door. Not so. An offer is defined in Webster’s this way:

To present for acceptance or rejection

It does not say money anywhere, but you do have to have something of value. And we all know that value includes more than a discount or something for free (although this can be the most powerful offer for your audience). The important note here is to know your audience. The goal of your offer is to find the gem(s) that motivate your target to respond…to act – call you, go online, sign up for your email, enter your contest or go into your store and buy.

Step 3.  Make Your Message Stand Out…Creative

Even though creative is behind list that does not mean it’s not important. Creative can be the one element where you can be different from your competitors. They can buy the same prospect list and offer 10% off just like you did. Creative is your chance to stand out in my inbox or mailbox and have me look at your message over your competitors. And certainly on the direct mail side, with marketing budgets being what they are nowadays (spread across more channels), expenditures on creative have declined over the years. Marketers today often invest creative funds in new media over direct. But that’s like running the 100 metre dash and slowing down before the finish line – it puts your effort over the first 90 metres (getting list and offer right) at risk because you didn’t run through the line. So don’t short shift your campaign and go with sub optimal creative.

A final word of caution on creative: Don’t design your creative to win over the hearts and minds of awards judges and not your customer’s wallets. Heed the advice of the master of direct marketing David Ogilvy when he reminds us all that we are paid to ring the cash register, not put trophies up on the wall.

Confessions of an Advertising Man, David Ogilvy, 2011

Drive More Sales With Your Catalog in 2013

catalogs1At this past year’s DMA, one of the best seminar’s I attended was a Catalogue Marketing Seminar lead by Lois Brayfield. Ms Brayfield is the President of J Schmid, a catalogue design and marketing agency in the US ( She has 20 years of studying direct marketing and catalogue experience working with many of the country’s leading direct marketers, including Hallmark, American Express, HoneyBaked Ham, Sprint, Better Homes & Gardens, Sears ( Canada ) and Mark & Spencer (UK).

Your first question might be are catalogues even relevant anymore? Isn’t everyone going to digital nowadays? Ms Brayfield’s first slide answered that question with this research statement:

Multiple studies prove the value of a catalogue and it continues to be the most effective acquisition and retention tool for many brands                                 (Forester, McKinsey & Company, DMA).

Now whereas catalogues are still big business in the US , they are used to a lesser extent in Canada . But I think as you read through these notes, you will see tips you could use in your retail flyers if you aren’t in the catalogue business.

Her work in this space has lead her to the conclusion that cataloguers must do 3 things right in order to be successful. She says this list is required to engage prospects and customers in order to sell your product in today’s ultra competitive market. “If you can engage your customers meaningfully, you are significantly more likely to convert”.

1. Engage Customers – give them a reason to act

2. Call to Action – start thinking digitally too

3. Do Something Different – stand out, be memorable

1. Engaging Customers

You must begin by knowing your customers & what they care about. Most companies will have this information ready. If not, then you need to conduct research and everyone in marketing/sales needs to be current on what their list is and how responses are trending.

In marketing and sales we often hear that we need to talk about benefits not just features. Ms Brayfield suggests we push further and reach for higher order benefits. In today’s ever changing retail environment, product differentiation is slim and when it does truly exist, it can be copied quickly. Given we often buy for emotional reasons, stretching beyond standard benefits is the sweet spot. What is a higher order benefit? It is the emotional takeaway for customers – the intangible benefit they receive from transacting with you. Customers today are asking, “What’s in it for me?” but we’ve been missing the point. We’ve been telling them WHAT we’re selling, but they want to know WHY they should buy. And the Why is the most important of these questions – it must be well developed and protected. For example Targets higher order benefit is ‘affordable style’.

To truly engage someone you need to create some level of excitement. Satisfied customers do not always translate into increased profits (Frederich Reicheld, The Ultimate Question 2.0). We need a stronger connection beyond ‘satisfied’. Today the aim should be to surprise and delight, to captivate and engage customers. Ms Brayfield suggests borrowing the ICEE principles Tony Hsieh uses to engage his customers at Zappos:

• Interesting

• Compelling

• Entertaining

• Education

2. Call to Action – Digital

Too often this basic requirement is forgotten or not executed well. Many offers today are simply the cost of entry and so do not stand out – i.e. Free delivery. You need to get customers to take some action after reading your catalogue: anything from an actual purchase to a step towards that outcome such as ‘like us on facebook’, ‘go to this url’, ‘watch this video’, ‘call us at 1-800’…If you are asking someone to do one of these intermediary steps, be specific as to what value they will get for their effort – give them a reason. Don’t just say ‘follow-us on facebook’ but rather ‘follow-us on facebook to…get a sneak peak on our new model…discover your design style…enter our sweepstakes…

We see a lot of QR codes today but most are a waste of time – they take you to the company’s home page. Why waste a customer’s time scanning the code only to disappoint them with something they can do on their own? Instead give them something unique not offered on your website. A fun video on the product…a contest…vote…an offer. Again best practice dictates you tell people what they are going to get by scanning through the QR code. If you have good content or a good offer, people will act.

With the digital call to action, simplicity wins says Ms Brayfiled. People are busier than ever and when customers interact with you digitally, they want to do so quickly and easily (I think being ‘online’ ignites the ADD in us all).

3. Do Something Different

In general, catalogues are too safe according to Ms Brayfield. “You will not succeed in this extra sensory environment” with safe creative. “We have forgotten that we need to stand out – the brain notices what is different”.

Certainly this is easier said than done, but she did challenge us to break some taboos. And not just for the fun of being ‘creative’. Your difference needs to be tied to what’s important to your customers. The four places to stand out are: covers, images, copy and themes.

(a) Cover: Here are the five goals your cover should seek to accomplish:

•Grab attention
•Tell me who you are
•Present an offer
•Get the reader inside
•Sell – yes sell even on the cover!!!

Your cover is the best way to test offers so try to find ways to do so. I know in my own work with cataloguers, testing is not used as much as it was 5-10 years ago. Budgets are tight so often the focus is on cost as opposed to ROI improvement that testing can lead to. Patagonia and Pigalog were two of her cover favourites.

(b) Images: We all know people look at picture first so your images – products and supporting imagery – are of paramount importance. Lotus Touch changed their imagery to sell the higher order benefit of the product as opposed to just selling the product and sales took off. JL Powell and again Patagonia also do an excellent job using arresting images in their work.

(c) Copy: Copy is the poor cousin in the creative family. Good copy is MORE than just well written product descriptions. It should mean making your benefits intangible…solving a customer problem…creating credibility and trust … and connecting at an emotional level.

Be a storyteller or a problem solver and you can more easily enable the higher order benefit your product addresses. Even the product description itself can be better than ‘a red bathing suit’ – it can become ‘get your hourglass figure’ (i.e. cyberswim).

Eye flow studies conducted by Chuck Tannen (Profit Strategies for Cataloguers) found this pattern watching people read a catalogue page:

•Attention getting graphic or copy
•Product headline and body copy

So copy is fourth (or 2nd) on the list but it’s on the list. Therefore it’s important.

(d) Themes – Themes are catalogue spreads that tell us a collective story. Instead of only having product categories, themes allow you to present products in other groupings. Ms Brayfield reported that themed sections typically outperform other spreads in her experience. It is an opportunity to weave storytelling within your catalogue.

And finally she finished off her discussion with suggestions of best of breed cataloguers who are good practitioners of these principles. Here are 10 of the best to keep an eye on in 2013:



Land’s End

Duluth Trading (Used a boxer vs brief contest to make it men’s underwear sexy!)

Legal Seafoods

Lotus Touch (Great product copy writing)

JL Powell


Awe (Clear, uncluttered product shots that stand out)

Pigalog (If these guys can make industrial leak and spill solvents fun, you can make your product line more interesting too)

To contact Louis Brayfield you can do so at 913-236-8988 or

10 Tips to Market to ‘Seniors’

Happy now but don’t call them Seniors

A few weeks ago my boss asked me to attend the 2012 Direct Marketing Association (DMA) annual conference in Las Vegas. I haven’t been to Vegas in over 20 years…my wife and I could go early for some fun…I could bring my bike to ride a bit in the mountains … tough decision. 

When all the fun and games ended and the conference began, I attended a number of seminars. As is often the case at these shows, the seminars themselves were hit and miss. Two of my favourite were Catalogue Marketing (future blog post) and 50+ Marketing Laws.

The session was lead by Kurt Medina who is the president of Medina Associates and is a Direct Marketing consultant in the US specializing in the 50+ market. He used his experience across a wide variety of clients both not for profit and for profit including some Fortune 100 companies. Not only did he know his stuff, he was quite funny and made the time spent worthwhile. I work with a number of business that market to people over 50 (in particular the not for profit vertical) and I thought this would be of interest to them.

Mr Medina started off by telling us how big this market is becoming (just think of the image on the Pig and the Python book) and that they have a disproportionate amount of discretionary income (house paid off, kids gone…). He split the 50+ marketing into three groups:

  • Pre-Retirees/Boomers                         50-63
  • Active Seniors                                      64-74
  • Seniors                                                 75+

1. Boomers (50-63)

Not much new here really – they’ve had their way throughout their lifetime and that expectation will continue into their latter years. They work long hours and they are busy. They trust themselves (NOT marketers or institutions) and they expect to look after themselves.

To reach this group you need to ensure you ackowledge they are special and offer them something unique to them – insider tips, VIP access. They want customization not mass.  And because they are independent, offer answers to their questions right up front.

2. Active Retirees (64-74)

In the US at least, this was a segment that had rising incomes during the most recent recession. The most exciting part of being a retiree according to Kurt is the possibility of new and expanding horizons with more independence, comfort and ease. Now that they are mostly retired, they are beginning to truly think about ‘me’ – what have I done…what haven’t I done…what can I now do.

3. Seniors (75+)

First off they don’t like being called senior so be wary of using that term in your messaging. Senior sounds too old even to this group. A neat statistic Kurt shared was how old we think ‘old’ is. The answer changes as you age. So if you’re 40 you might say 60+ is ‘old’ but when you’re 60 years of age 80 is the ‘new old’. 

Whereas Boomers are still rushing around, the 65+ groups have more time on their hands. So don’t rush them. Why wait! or Call now! may do more harm than good.

Now that we have an idea of the segments, what do we need to keep in mind when sending a direct campaign? Here are 5 things to remember:

  1. Use contrasting colours which are easier to see with aging eyes
  2. Don’t put copy over top of images that makes reading difficult
  3. You must have some single women in your images – not just happy couples. There are many widows in this group (and other single women) who want to see more representations of their lifestyle
    1. And when you do feature the happy couple, make sure the woman is age appropriate – avoid the mature gentleman and the much younger wife (you can however probably get away with that couple if you are targeting products for men only)
  4. Use icons – they are better remembered than verbal (i.e. the dotted line coupon for scissor cutting)
  5. Use closed envelopes with letter inside – people writing people = humanity

BONUS! And for DRTV, here are 5 more To Do’s:

  1. First 2-4 second of message, keep clean and make it message free
  2. Use graphics
  3. No fast cuts – makes it too hard to follow
  4. Feature your 1- 800 # three times at least on screen in 120 second spot
  5. Follow-up all responses by mail

For more information on Kurt and how can help your marketing to the 50+ segment, you can find him here:

The $1 Billion Sales Letter

bike_mailboxFor some time now, copy has been given short shift in creative. It’s the pictures art directors and awards judges prefer. Find an arresting image and you’re off to the races with your advertising creative. Headlines can have sex appeal but body copy, good luck. Even in movies, it’s the actors and directors who get the most credit – without a writer tjhough the movie doesn’t exisit.

What about a direct mail letter – when was the last time you got a great one that really moved you?

Students of this art form can buy ‘The Greatest Direct Mail Sales Letters Of All Time’ on Amazon for $370!, but I thought it would be fun to look at THE best one of all time. I have referred to this letter many times in my career when talking about how to set up ‘control’ versus ‘test’ cells in direct marketing. This grandadaddy is said to have generated more than $1 billion in revenue for The Wall Street Journal (, 2011). In March 1993 Target Magazine called it the most successful advertisement in the history of the world. Written and first mailed in 1975, to this day it has never been beaten.   

Here’s a short excerpt to give you a sense of what amazing copywriting looks like:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these two men returned to college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

What Made The Difference

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It n’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.

The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business.

And then the letter goes on to talk about how the WSJ can be as instrumental in your career. Beautiful writing.

Full letter:

If you think this lesson only applies to direct mail, think again. In the age of social marketing we are all writers – at least those who create content. The point here isn’t to write long but rather write well. One of the best places I have found with tons of great copywriting advice is or check out their fantastic podcast on iTunes (if you’re from the UK try James Daniel at

Long live the copywriter in us all.

The Foundation for Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital

AdPitch Blog

“The Foundation for Queen Silvia Children’s Hospital raises funds for toys, healing gardens and activities for the 500,000 children who stay at the hospital every year. Our objective was to contact previous and future donors by mail, asking for a small donation.

To illustrate the need for toys, we didn’t mail the letters directly. Instead, we gave them to the children in the hospital and asked them to play with them. After the detour, we sent them on to the right addresses.

As every letter had been a plaything for a few hours, it became a unique and physical reminder of the fact that children need to be children, even when they’re in the hospital.

Donations to the foundation increased by 320% compared to the year before, and the campaign resulted in hundreds of new donors.”

Nice, simple idea to help gain donors of toys for kids at the Queen…

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