Software Firm Learns to Appreciate Direct Mail

The results of a recent business-to-business direct mail effort targeting 911 call centers in the United States have converted CML Emergency Services Inc. from being a company with little interest in direct mail to one that expects to mail multiple campaigns next year.

CML, Ottawa, was looking for a way to drive awareness at the start of this year for a new software product, Patriot 2.0. It lets 911 call centers pinpoint the origins of calls made using Voice over Internet Protocol technology. Because VoIP relays calls through numerous transfer points, it can be difficult to trace a call without assistance.

CML started out 25 years ago manufacturing electronic devices for air traffic controllers. The Canadian company has evolved into a software producer for public safety answering points or 911 call centers.

Because the software was to be introduced at the National Emergency Number Association Show in June in Tampa, FL, a secondary objective of any marketing effort was to drive traffic to CML's booth at the show.

“I had to work really hard to convince the CEO to flip some budget over to a direct mail campaign with the understanding that we'll try it and see if it works,” said John K. Thompson, vice president of marketing and product management.

CML had little experience with direct mail. The CEO wasn't convinced it would work. But the two-phase campaign Thompson devised changed management's opinion quickly. The campaign, which took place in May, had a combined response rate of 7.27 percent and produced 630 raw leads for CML's sales force. These already have been turned into 19 sales appointments.

Phase one consisted of a 5 7/8-by-11-inch mail piece featuring a close-up shot of a Boy Scouts uniform and badge sash. Next to the uniform was the image of a merit badge with the initials VoIP. Adjacent to the badge was the phrase “Be Prepared.”

Along with being the Boy Scouts' motto, “Be Prepared” speaks to the fact that though the use of VoIP technology is still the exception among Americans, 911 call centers know its wider acceptance is coming and are concerned about how to deal with it, Thompson said.

The “Be Prepared” theme also reinforced the idea that “if you have questions, get the answers from the people who know,” said Lenn Grabiner, co-owner and creative director of Grabiner/Hall, the Los Angeles-based BTB marketing design and public relations firm that created the campaign. The theme “established CML more as an innovator” and a company that is tackling a challenging issue.

Inside the three-panel mailer was the address for a Web site,, where visitors could fill out a survey and get free access to a white paper on VoIP technology. Anyone who downloaded the paper was entered into a contest to win a global positioning system valued at $500.

A GPS was “appropriate because we're dealing with the ability to locate somebody,” which ties in with the functionality of CML's product, Grabiner said.

CML's booth number at the trade show was listed on the mail piece, which mentioned “new VoIP-based” products. No specific reference was made of Patriot 2.0.

This first piece mailed May 10 to 8,000 recipients consisting of names from a house file and prospects from a list of people who operate 911 call centers at the county and state levels. It had a response rate of 8.46 percent, which represents those who went to the site. And 57.6 percent of the respondents filled out the survey. This generated 390 raw leads.

The second piece was the same size and featured a weather satellite image on the front with the copy: “Forecast calls for 100% chance of VoIP.” Inside, a satellite image of a storm fills two panels, and the copy reads: “A Storm Is Coming. Be Prepared.”

The storm-themed mailer dropped May 31 to 8,721 names. It drew a 6.08 response rate, generated 240 raw leads and had a conversion rate of 48 percent.

“The predominant driver of our good response rate” was that people could download the white paper for free, Thompson said.

The tie-in with the paper had the added benefit of opening a dialogue with people who couldn't attend the trade show, Grabiner said. Also key to the campaign's success was that the mail pieces weren't trying to sell anything, he said.

The campaign cost $34,900. A sale for CML can mean a contract for up to $5 million, so “if we make one decent sale, we've recouped this cost many times over,” Thompson said.

Since the decision to proceed with the campaign was made, CML has gone through a change in its CEO. Based on the success of the effort to introduce Patriot 2.0, the new head of the company wants to use direct mail to drive awareness of the company's products and services, Thompson said. The strategy calls for CML to do a new campaign every six to eight weeks next year.

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