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A Direct Hit

With e-mail, some marketers have forgotten an important lesson: Dimensional (a.k.a. ‘lumpy’) mail is still one of the best ways to capture a prospect’s attention. Here’s how six companies are gaining buzz using the good ol’ postal service – and company promotional products.

In a neatly pressed dress shirt and silk tie, an executive comes racing past the rows of cubicles and ergonomically correct chairs, down the aisle on a brand-new Big Wheel tricycle. He laughs out loud as the plastic tassels attached to the handlebars fly freely through the climate-controlled office air. This was the scene in a recipient’s office, when a trucking company, aiming to sell its latest tractor-trailer model to fleet managers, looked to make an impression via an unusual direct-mail campaign. The message that came with the executive’s logoed toy was: “We want to make you a big wheel on the Interstates again.’

Why a Big Wheel? Because “commanding attention is so hard to do with the amount of saturation in the mail,’ says Michael King, group vice president, Grizzard Performance Group, a direct-mail marketing company in Atlanta.

That’s why King and many other marketing experts recommend including a standout promotional product to grab the recipient’s attention.

“Interesting, lumpy mail’ has gone a long way in spurring sign- ups for the participants of Maritz’s many incentive programs, says Paula Godar, director of performance strategy for the Fenton, MO-based incentive company. “People used to think you put up a Web site and that was it. Dimensional mailings drive people to sign up.’

Whatever marketers’ objectives, “direct mail is extremely effective still,’ says King. “People in an age of e-mail and instant delivery of messages may forget that.’

One of the factors that makes it efficient is direct mail’s ability to be measured. “In real estate it’s location, location, location. In direct response it’s test, test, test,’ recommends Jay Siff, founder of Moving Targets, a direct marketing company for small businesses looking to contact new residents, based in Perkasie, PA. “You have to test because you can’t assume what you or your mother likes is effective.’

By testing the response to an offer, marketers will know whether they got their money’s worth or not. In the case of the Big Wheel, it succeeded as a unique lead-generation vehicle amidst a convoy of clutter for a number of reasons. First off, the box was big enough that the people in the mailroom, the assistants and secretaries were afraid to throw it out, says King. But most important, targeted executives were a lot more amenable to answering the sales call “because they had already ridden it down the hall,’ says King. “They take the call when you say ?Hey, I’m the guy who sent you the Big Wheel.”

Of course, a plastic children’s toy isn’t going to work for most objectives. That’s why Successful Promotions contacted a broad swath of marketing experts to discuss their most effective direct-mail programs. From evergreen trees to exploding ticks, here are six recent, highly effective direct-mail campaigns:

#1 Case Study
A Shirt For Any Occasion
It’s not very often that you hear about one airline marketing to another, but Malaysia Airlines has something special to offer that its competitors do not: a first-rate Flight Crew Training Centre set amidst a luxurious tropical setting. Last year, the airline mailed out 150 packages to airline companies globally. Within the box was a typical pilot’s shirt. However when it was turned inside out it became a loud, batik-print leisure shirt.

A letter explained: “Twice a year, pilots come here for two simple reasons:’ to brush up on their training and soak up the sun. The promotional t shirt was “unexpected, involving, had an element of fun and a clear, simple message that was relevant to pilots and human resources managers,’ says Tan Kien Eng, president and executive creative director of Arc Malaysia, a division of Arc Worldwide, Chicago. Marketers often talk about the “importance of big ?campaignable’ ideas that cross channels, but sometimes a holistic idea only requires one channel,’ observes Sally O’Dowd, director of communica¬≠¬≠tions for Arc Worldwide. “Could we have built a Flash Web site too? Yes, but just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. One channel with a strong idea that’s clear to the recipient can be sufficient.’ Following the mailing, the Centre received 39 inquiries and 27 bookings per month over a six-month span. Overall, it achieved a 13% increase in occupancy compared to the year prior. The campaign also won two Gold Lion awards in the direct category at the 53rd Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival this year. Not bad for a couple dozen shirts.

#2 Case Study
Attention, Wealthy Males
Scotch whisky brand Chivas Regal has plenty of loyal fans, but not all are that interested in joining its Chivas Circle club, despite the fact it provides them with special offers and sweepstakes.

To make sure it was reaching its true loyalists, Chivas’ parent company, Pernod Ricard, hired agency RowenWarren to create the Chivas Circle “Last Chance’ Mailer last fall. The idea was to strengthen brand loyalty by reactivating members who have not responded to offers over several years. The brand had worked hard over the years to create a database of fans via its site, tasting events and special offers. But, “we wanted to clean up the database,’ says Larry Rowen, partner, RowenWarren, New York. “Some of the members hadn’t responded to an offer in five years.’

Chivas sent out an offer to hundreds of thousands of non-responders. Most were men ages 30-45 with high household incomes. If respondents filled out a survey, they would not only continue to be included in Chivas Circle mailings, they would also receive a Rabbit wine companion gift set valued at more than $40.”Often final-chance warnings aren’t very pretty and are threatening. We made it clear that this was a free, quality offer with no strings attached,’ says Rowen. The upscale corkscrew offer poured forth a double-digit response rate.

#3 Case Study
Saturn Shoots For The Sky
Amidst a parking lot full of car competitors, Saturn wanted to steal the spotlight for itself with its new two-seat Sky roadster, which debuted earlier this year. Between April 2005 and March 2006, Saturn rolled out its Sky Dialogue and Early Registration Program. The goal: To create awareness and consideration for the new car and generate leads among Sky hand raisers. Carlson Marketing Group in Minneapolis worked with Saturn to create five mailings that would compel consumers to contemplate purchasing this new “halo’ vehicle as well as consider other Saturn brands. The first message included a Sky calendar that counted down the days until production of the vehicle began. Follow-up letters included vehicle highlights, pricing and other information.

Potential consumers were also compelled to visit Saturn retailers. If they did so they received a special package containing a USB memory stick. The storage device included a video welcome message from Saturn General Manager Jill Lajdziak along with photos, information and videos featuring the sports car.”It was one of their biggest launches of the year,’ says David Carmichael, creative director for Carlson Marketing Group’s Saturn account. “The mailing was designed to get people looking at the brand, and it’s doing the job. It’s getting a lot of people into the retailers.’

The out-of-this-world mailing generated 133,000 leads for Saturn and all 10,000 of the original vehicles sold out.

#4 Case Study
Sprucing Up The Mail
Rodger Roeser, vice president, Justice & Young Advertising and Public Relations, Cincinnati, was frustrated. As a rep whose job was to garner press attention for the Kids In Need Foundation, he was having a hard time getting noticed. “What we found was that as a nonprofit we were competing against 800,000 other nonprofits for some publicity,’ he says. “I felt like we’d tried every angle we could think of.’ He spent “damn near a year of pitching’ the organization, which provides free school supplies to teachers and students who need them, to journalists. But precious few considered writing about the worthwhile organization. That’s when he decided to try something completely different “out of desperation.’

Playing off of the word evergreen, which is a journalistic term for a story that can run anytime, he recently decided to mail out 500 saplings. Another nonprofit, the Arbor Day Foundation, provided the small blue spruces, which were sent out along with a list of evergreen story ideas. After all, “who is going to throw away a tree? You’d feel too guilty,’ he says. Roeser received responses from “five or six publications within a day or two of the mailing.’ And the Kids In Need Foundation soon appeared on CNN, Good Morning America and within the pages of the Washington Post.

#5 Case Study
Artists Are Into That Sort Of Thing
The American Institute of Graphic Arts caters to a tough crowd – the design community. Getting these creative types to pay attention is a challenge because “if there’s any audience that gets more garbage in the mail it’s this one,’ says Aaron Keller, founder of Capsule, Minneapolis, marketing and design firm.

So whenever AIGA contacts this group with invitations to its Design Camp, it goes out of its way to come up with something they’ve never seen before. And, each year AIGA and Capsule have risen to the challenge. Past mailings have included spicy Mexican hot cocoa, computer part bags, AstroTurf and metal, acid-cut business cards. But last year, it outdid itself by creating a flipbook. When flipping the pages, recipients were treated to illustrations of a tick exploding. The event is taking place at a location where there are a lot of ticks,’ explains Keller.

Flipbooks are enjoying some sort of mini-renaissance, as Tide and other brands have used them of late as well. “Items that engage the senses are always more successful,’ reasons Keller. “You want to interact and engage with the recipient so they remember what they got and actually keep it.’

The exploding tick edged out illustrations of two ticks getting romantic in a tent as it appears design camp is not unlike band camp (made popular in the American Pie movies). Unfortunately, “The client ruled the randy bugs out,’ says Keller.

#6 Case Study
Helping HR Relax
Human Resources professionals have a lot of stress to deal with as they try to manage the many needs of a company’s entire employee base. Staffing Solutions Enterprises, which has been a leader in staffing and workforce management for more than a quarter of a decade, understands this well. That’s why when they recently reached out to the 100 HR managers who had the authority, budget and desire to improve their staffing, they included wooden rolling massager. The message: “Discover stress-free staffing.’

“There are a lot of staffing companies. Despite the fact that Staffing Solutions has been around since 1974, they still have to get a foot in the door,’ says Robert M. Felber, president, Felber & Felber Marketing, Twinsburg, OH. “We wanted to internalize a difference between this company and others.’

As an added incentive to meet with a Staffing Solutions representative, HR managers were offered an opportunity to provide a chair massage for the office staff.”This made them the hero for a day,’ says Felber. “We arranged for a local masseuse in each area. It worked very well. They gained several entrees and the follow-up calls were more interactive than the ones that they made ?cold’ in the past.’

#7 Case Study
Fits Like A Glove
While King’s all-time favorite program was his Big Wheel effort, his most recent effort is also up there. A major telecom company was looking to reach out to the heads of blue-collar companies earlier this year.

Be it landscapers, construction workers or plumbing contractors, it wanted to appeal to the heads of companies in rural areas that had a field workforce. To get in their good graces, King sent prospects one durable, leather work glove. When the potential customer agreed to meet with the telecom company they received the other. The message: “Your phone plan should work as hard as you.’

“They came to us with the issue of breaking through the clutter,’ he says. “They wanted to find a way to get prospects to take sales calls.’ He notes that such costly multidimensional mailings often pay for themselves in a business-to-business environment because of the transaction size involved in many of the deals. It’s too early to tell if the gloves are delivering a punch, as they are currently being tested in small quantities against a traditional flat mailer. King will find out soon enough if the mailing was effective. But if it doesn’t work out, he’s got a whole mailbox full of ideas. Like the time he sent out plastic worms or the other time he sent out a boxful of helium balloons that rose to the ceiling with an invitation attached to the strings.

When it comes to all of these mailings, Felber wistfully adds that sometimes it pays to “think inside the box.’

by Kenneth Hein. Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2006.

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