Subtle Test Reaffirms Risks in BTB Mailings

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Connect Direct's final results from its latest business-to-business direct mail test for the Impresse Corp., Sunnyvale, CA, an e-commerce services portal aimed at printing professionals, pointed to exactly what the agency said it has learned time and again about targeting corporate prospects with direct mail: Stay away from what works in the consumer sector.

"Our job is to bring the formula to the table that has the best chance of succeeding for our clients," said Howard J. Sewell, president of Connect Direct, Redwood City, CA. "And in all our experience in business-to-business direct marketing, 95 times out of a hundred, the plan using the plain envelope beats the teaser copy version one every time." Sewell said promotional-looking direct mail may work when targeting consumers, but they spell "time waster" to the serious business professional.

"It's a risk to do this kind of thing," said Michalene Edwards, spokeswoman for Impresse, which has tried self-mailers and simple business envelope campaigns. "But with this campaign, there were two different audiences targeted at about the same time, yet one drew less than half of the response than the other."

Edwards said she then strategized on an even tighter focus with Connect Direct, taking the test a step further by creating a businesses-looking campaign aimed exclusively at graphic designers - but one with color and one without. The results were almost indiscernible.

"My feeling was that graphic designers are very visual, so we tried a test with color and one without. Yet we ended up with a 6 percent response on 30,000 pieces mailed across the board. That was great, but given the cost of printing the color on the envelope, which was four-color, I wouldn't do it again. It did a little better, but statistically not enough to warrant the expense.

"I'm glad we purposely didn't use an outer envelope teaser on that version, even though a lot of agencies swear by them."

Edwards said she now agrees with Sewell, that anything that deviates too much from a business look will get tossed. "For us is the fear that it may make the piece look like junk mail," she said.

At Connect Direct, Sewell said, "What we tell our clients is that the challenge is not about getting your direct mail piece noticed. It's getting it delivered to the person at the right desk who opens it.

"I put self mailers in the same bucket as consumer campaigns. If it doesn't look like business or have teaser copy, it will probably decrease response. I'm now convinced that the more a piece looks like junk mail, the more likely it's going to end up in the recycling bin."

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