Use Postcard Mailers to Ease Fears

It is probably redundant to say that there has been no sector of the American economy or person unaffected by the events of Sept. 11 or the bio-terrorism that has happened since.

Certainly, the direct marketing community, specifically direct mail, is facing its greatest challenge as it grapples with the anthrax-riddled envelopes that have shown up in mailrooms.

It is surprising that Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” would take the occasion of this anthrax scare to blast direct mail marketing. In his regular weekly commentary of Oct. 21, Rooney chose to selectively knock the very system of communication and commerce that has kept this country together since the beginning of the republic. Just when you thought that a media operation such as CBS would understand the importance of direct mail, one of its most important spokesmen chose to further enhance the success of terrorists.

Given the recent deaths and near misses of U.S. Postal Service workers in the Washington area, more sensitivity to the postal system and the commerce that it supports is in order.

The direct marketing community and its creative elements would be able to overcome the misguided statements of Rooney, but the challenge will be in the many mailrooms of corporate America.

Masked, latex-gloved mailroom clerks are now determining what campaigns of the direct marketing community will reach the various offices and executives of their businesses. Direct marketing 101 has always taught that the list, the product, the price, the offer and the creative package were the essential elements of success in direct mail. Now we have to contend with the psyche of a clerk and, frankly, the events of the day to see whether our efforts are successful. What can we do?

In the long run things probably will settle back to a pre-Sept. 11 atmosphere, but when that will be, no one can judge. For those of us who toil in the day-to-day trenches of direct mail, common sense will have to guide us because there is no history from which to learn.

It may be that response rates and all versions of direct mail packages will weather the immediate storm of concern. I hope so. However, catalogs, large-envelope mailings, No. 10 packages and ultrapersonal designed pieces will all be suspect under the hysterics of the Rooneys and the well-meaning vigilance of untrained mailroom personnel.

It seems that white powder (which carried the anthrax bacteria) cannot be spread on a self-mailer or postcard-type device, and, therefore, that seems to be the safest method to use in the short term. Many direct marketers will immediately say that they cannot tell their stories, make their offers or state their cases on such a device. I agree.

Let's now draw a page from our friends of the dot-com era. While many of them did not succeed in closing sales, they did learn that traditional direct marketing via postcard mailers drew traffic to their Web sites.

It was not just a few dot-coms that used this channel. The postcard mailer proved to be one of the most successful traffic builders during the heyday of what I call the first wave of Web marketing (the second has not yet appeared). The problem for the users of the time was that their sites were not set up to handle a direct marketing offer, and therefore they failed. They basically had “brochureware” on their sites and too many alternative avenues of convenience to visitors, and they then lost the sales.

The self-mailer/postcard will probably pass muster in mailrooms. The message should be simple: “Go to our Web site.” It should be a basic “hand raiser,” but it will get the job done. The task and opportunity will be the building of a true e-commerce Web site.

It is unfortunate that it has taken events such as the ones discussed here to make us all take a new look at Web sites. In the long run we will benefit from the offers and flexibilities that online work can provide by the blending of traditional direct mailing with the new world of e-commerce. Direct marketing once again will transform itself into the state-of-the-art marketing community of this new era.

None of the above should discount the importance and the obvious and elevated role of e-mail marketing, but like in any other period, direct marketing has had several channels. Obviously, e-mail has a major role to play in our new world, but to forsake the necessary and profitable channel of direct mail, especially business-to-business direct mail, would be a grave error and a huge concession to the bad guys.

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