BTB Marketers Are Told to Smarten Up

ORLANDO, FL — Nancy Harhut didn't mince words as she began her session yesterday at the Direct Marketing to Business conference here.

“We have a problem today, and that problem is this: There's a lot of really bad direct marketing creative out there,” said Harhut, senior vice president and creative director at Mullen, Wenham, MA. “When I say 'bad,' I don't mean that it doesn't look pretty or it's not conceptual or it's not well-written, although sometimes that is the case.

“What I'm saying is it's not smart. If your direct marketing creative isn't smart, it's going to have a negative impact on your open rate, your read rate and your response rate.”

Every time a direct mail piece is sent out, Harhut said, “the odds are stacked against us.”

She then gave some daunting statistics to the packed room of about 75 attendees, including:

· The typical American receives 3,000 advertising impressions yearly. “And that's the typical American,” she said. “The ones that you and I and probably most people in our industry are going after receive even more because they're more sought-after people.”

· By 2004, Forrester predicts, there will be 18,000 magazine titles, 2,400 Internet radio stations and 20 million Internet sites.

· The Direct Marketing Association projects that direct mail volume nationwide will continue to grow 6.4 percent yearly.

· The typical executive gets 175 mail pieces weekly. “That's if you believe this rather conservative estimate,” she said. “Our estimates put that number at closer to 300 to 500 mail pieces per week. Fortunately for executives — and unfortunately for us — only about 10 percent of that mail ever makes it to the executive suite.”

As if the statistics were not enough, Harhut noted the gatekeepers that stand in the way of mail reaching its target.

“It wasn't that long ago that the Wall Street Journal ran an article indicating that certain Fortune 500 companies had actually instructed their mailrooms to dump Third-Class mail,” she said. “Add that to the fact that an estimated 9 to 15 percent of all Third-Class mail is either lost or dumped by the post office, and you can see how the deck is stacked against us.”

Plus, direct marketers are running out of tricks to get people to open packages.

“They are on to us,” she said. “They've seen our fake-check packages. They've seen our fake Federal Express packages. They've seen our fake invitations. The odds are not in our favor.”

What can be done? She mentioned “seven overlooked factors that can make or break mailings.” They are:

· Get the right list. “Forty percent of the success of your package depends on whom you mail it to,” she said. “So make sure you have the right target. Make sure your list is clean and updated. … You could have a $100 bill inside; people just aren't going to open what doesn't pertain to them.”

· Have a singular message because “people don't like to read.” They skim or scan.

· Talk in terms of customer benefits. “The only reason people will read what you sent them is to find out what's in it for them,” she said. “Tell them early and tell them often.”

· Know your target's main objection and how to overcome it.

· Create a game plan. Is it a single-shot mailing or part of a campaign? Will there be a teaser and then the main mailing? Are you mailing First-Class or bulk?

· Be aware of timing and budget.

· Know the competitive arena.

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