Direct Mail Adds Dimension to Marketing


Digital printing, digital communications, and data analysis have transformed direct mail marketing. Digital printing has empowered marketing teams to send communications in short and personalized, or very long and more general, runs. Email, texts, and social media have significantly pruned the overall volume of mail, altering its impact. And data analysis tools have sharpened the aim of targeted mailings.

“We get less mail these days than we used to, so the opportunity to make an impact through personalized print marketing is huge,” asserts Trish Witkowski, a mail engagement expert and chief folding fanatic at Witkowski also points to a strong desire among direct mail marketers to stand out from competitors. This drive is getting the creative juices flowing as marketers add new dimensions to traditional direct mail marketing approaches. CSG Invotas, veteran catalog retailer JCPenney, and Juice Homes have done just that—building revenue as a result.

New Dimension #1: Jarring

When it comes to direct mail marketing, CSG Invotas, the B2B cybersecurity division of CSG International, is all about deception. If that sounds brash and jarring, it darn well should.

The company’s “Lie, Cheat, Deceive” marketing campaign, which features a startling three-dimensional and eight-legged direct mail piece, is designed to command the attention of CIOs and information security executives. These IT officers are well-aware of the procession of major cybersecurity incidents plaguing companies of all sizes, and they’re feeling pressure from their CEOs and boards to strengthen their organization’s cyber-defenses. They’ve also grown accustomed to a drumbeat of cybersecurity marketing pitches that are heavy on technical specifications, functionality, and tech-speak.

“The cyber security market is jam-packed with competitors using the same meaningless jargon and empty claims,” notes Gary Meyers, CEO of BlackWing Creative, the B2B marketing agency that helped CSG Invotas develop a campaign that aimed to rise above the chatter. “We wanted to cut through that white noise.”

The simple campaign message—Hackers don’t fight fair; why should you—was a tough sell in a B2B segment whose marketing communications favor conservative approaches and literal messages. “Initially, we were concerned about the brashness of the campaign, but decided to push ourselves and commit to a message that would stand out and be relevant to the market,” says CSG Invotas Chief Strategist Jessica Gulik.

The company launched the campaign at the annual RSA Conference, one of the world’s largest information security gatherings. In addition to a stunning booth environment, the campaign included multiple forms of digital advertising, collateral, signage, and an event T-shirt that became the talk of the tradeshow floor among attendees. Central to it all was a memorable direct mail piece: a small box with a picture of fly above a caption that reads, “This is a hacker.” The inside lid of the box features the text, “This is CSG Invotas,” above a very real-looking, three-dimensional black widow. The color scheme—black and red, which BlackWing used because it screams danger—and stark graphics were crucial, according to Meyers. More important, the message reflects a key characteristic of CSG Invotas’ solution, which lets organizations shift and change their network security appearance (deceit), so that hackers who believe they are attacking the actual network are really only attacking a representation of it.

The decision to be bold was a wise one. The risk of investing in a brash message has paid off “tremendously,” says Gulik, who declined to share specifics.

New Dimension #2: Integrated

The news that JCPenney is rebooting its good,
old-fashioned catalog to compete against Amazon has been reverberating through the direct marketing world. It’s a surprising story that’s also off the mark in ways that obscure some new and important facets of the catalog’s role as a valuable piece of direct mail and a component of JCPenney’s omnichannel strategy.

“To be clear, JCPenney is not returning to its ‘big book’ catalog business,” notes a JCPenney media relations senior manager. Those traditional catalogs were big indeed: 800 to 1,000 pages long. These catalogs, which JCPenney published from 1963 through the end of 2009, functioned as a separate shopping channel, one that was managed by a separate division at JCPenney with its own marketing and merchandising teams.

The new catalog, which hits mailboxes this month (March), weighs in at a trim 120 pages; it features a design similar to related direct mail pieces. More important, it represents an important and highly integrated element of the retailer’s omnichannel strategy. “The core of our omnichannel strategy is a seamless connection between the store and the digital experience,” JCPenney Chief Customer Officer Mike Rodgers told his audience at the 2015 National Retail Federation’s Annual Convention & EXPO in January. JCPenney believes that its omnichannel strategy presents an $800 million sales opportunity. In large part, that’s because omnichannel customers spend three times as much as customers who only shop in physical stores.

JCPenney’s catalog is not only slimmer, it’s also much more targeted—no doubt thanks to some comprehensive data analysis: rather than featuring home and apparel merchandise as its old-school tomes did, the new-school catalog will only feature home-department items, and it will be distributed via a targeted mailing to customers who previously purchased home items.

Greg Ellis, a strategist in consulting firm Kurt Salmon’s Private Equity and Strategy Practice, notes that JCPenney’s catalog journey is not uncommon. According to Ellis, as digital channels have grown in importance, retailers have gone through three distinct phases in managing their catalog businesses:

1. Reducing broad or indiscriminate catalog mailings

2. Using data to test new catalog formats and targeted catalog mailing reductions and redirections

3. Facilitating consumers’ use of catalogs in combination  with other channels

The third evolutionary wave of catalogs that Ellis describes can apply broadly to direct mail marketing as it is used, reused, rebooted, expanded, and integrated into the type of omnichannel strategy that JCPenney’s Rodgers lays out.

New Dimension #3: Warmth

On first glance, Juice Homes’ three-by-five card with a rundown of an Austin, TX, neighborhood’s property sales metrics looks like a relatively standard two-dimensional piece of direct mail. A deeper look reveals other dimensions, including local real estate expertise and an understanding of the unique cultural and architectural characteristics of Crestview, one of the city’s hottest real estate pockets.

As important as those dimensions are to the mailer, there is another dimension that even the most effective direct mail pieces can generate only indirectly, asserts Realtor Jason Heffron, Juice Homes founder and co-owner. “The warmth of direct mail is limited,” says Heffron, a 2014 winner of Austin’s Platinum Top 50 Award and the Texas representative on the National Association of Realtors Professional Standards Committee.

He takes pains to make his property sales review cards as warm as possible. For example, Heffron enlisted a local design firm, Arts and Recreation, to create a neighborhood-appropriate layout (which makes use of app-esque icons) that resonates with Crestview’s professional residents, many of whom are architects, visual artists, and graphic designers.

“The idea is that even if you just glance at the design, the images and layout will speak to you,” Heffron notes. “People want to do business with people who have deep expertise and with people who get them—and, in my case, who get their homes.”

The direct mail card’s statistics—number of houses sold, average list and sale price, average days on market, and average home size, along with year-over-year comparisons—convey Juice Homes’ expertise and its Crestview-specific knowledge. The design addresses the “I understand you” dimension.

When Heffron earns a Crestview house listing or a new buyer, he finds out how the customer learned about him so he can track the return on his direct mail spend. That ROI in the past two years has been excellent: For every dollar he invests sending direct mail to the 700 residents in his Crestview “farm” (a real estate term for segment), he has generated $5 in commissions.

It helps that for-sale listings generated from direct mail can expand the farm: Each “For Sale” sign planted in a front yard contains a box of flyers with details about the house, and links to Juice Homes’ site and Facebook page. “This often results in additional listings with more signs and more flyers,” Heffron reports. “It can snowball.”

Despite Juice Homes’ direct mail success, Heffron plans to add another dimension to his property sales mailers later this year: more value for residents. He’s currently looking into partnerships with local businesses through which he might include offers for, say, 50% off a fruit smoothie, slice of pie, or mocha latte. “One of my direct mail goals this year is to provide more value to more people,” Heffron says. “Partnering on this type of coupon would give a neighborhood business value through additional marketing, and it would give the folks on my farm a discount at one of the shops they tend to visit regularly.”

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