Transcontinental unlocks direct mail success

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In an attempt to open the U.S. catalog market, Canadian printer Transcontinental mailed a lockbox to catalog executives as part of a campaign that yielded a 74 percent response rate.

Transcontinental, Montreal, aims to position itself as a thought leader in the U.S. catalog industry, and one way it hopes to accomplish this is with an annual survey of catalogers. A dimensional mail campaign was built around the survey both last year and this year in order to produce at least 100 responses, the minimum Transcontinental needed to publish a credible survey.

"We said to our ad agency, 'Give us something that has some impact that will give us at least a 50 percent return rate,'" said Anne Douville, vice president of strategic marketing at Transcontinental Printing.

The first year, one walkie-talkie was mailed to business-to-business and business-to-consumer catalog vice presidents of marketing and executives. Transcontinental mailed a second walkie-talkie to anyone who filled out the survey. That campaign generated the 50 percent return rate Transcontinental sought, and this year the company looked to top those results.

So in mid-March, Transcontinental mailed a locked, high-end metallic lockbox to 200 catalogers, 70 percent of whom were prospects. The names were supplied by the company's sales representatives.

The lockbox had a luggage tag that invited recipients to go to a dedicated Web site and complete a 15-question survey. Once finished, respondents were given the combination to open the box, which contained a USB pen.

The previous year, Transcontinental also mailed some surveys alone in an envelope. That strategy drew a 1 percent response.

"This was really an original and impactful way to position ourselves as a company that considers the audience as intelligent and wants to entertain them," Ms. Douville said of the lockbox campaign.

By letting recipients know that Transcontinental is eager to hear their opinion, the dimensional mail piece acts as more of a relating tool than a sales piece, she said. It went a long way in creating a first impression of Transcontinental as a thought leader.

Transcontinental collected e-mail addresses from respondents who expressed interest in learning the results of the survey, about half of the pool, and followed up with them once the results became available.

The results also are included in a monthly e-newsletter from Transcontinental that began in September called Transcontinental Insight. Each month, the newsletter highlights one result from the survey and gives readers more detailed information to help them address the issue. For example, catalogers cited postal issues as a top concern, so Transcontinental dedicated one newsletter to postal optimization. The newsletter has nearly 1,500 subscribers.

Within the first week of the lockbox campaign, Transcontinental beat its target of 100 responses and eventually experienced a 74 percent response rate.

Based on the success of this campaign, Transcontinental repeated the concept this summer in its book group in the United States and its data management group in Canada. The data management questionnaires took a more aggressive sales approach, with questions such as "Would you like a sales representative to call you?" and "Who is your current data management company?" Yet that campaign still saw a 50 percent to 60 percent return rate.

In October, the U.S. catalog group repeated the campaign to about 50 new prospects supplied by sales representatives. This time, no survey was included, but the luggage tag directed recipients to call their sales rep to get the combination to the lockbox. Half of the recipients responded and expressed interest in a meeting or set up a meeting, Ms. Douville said.

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