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Bulky Is Better

You heard it here first: Flat is out; fat is in. Smart marketers are plumping up their direct mail pieces to make them more creative, more memorable and measurably more effective.

In today’s world of advertising overload it’s easy to overlook a company’s marketing messages. E-mail gets caught in spam filters; Internet ads are intercepted by banner-ad and pop-up blockers; even TV commercials get TiVo’d out. But there’s one almost surefire way to make sure your company’s advertising message is seen: lumpy mail.

Think of your own experiences – you open your mailbox to find a box mixed in with the bills, catalogs and credit-card offers. Do you toss it in the trash with the junk or open it just to see what could be inside? If you’re anything like me (and the rest of America), it’s the first thing you open.

But what is it about lumpy mail that makes it so engaging? Well, it all starts with simple human nature: We all love getting gifts. Add a little curiosity and no wonder the package gets opened. Right after “Ooh, a gift for me?” comes “I wonder what’s inside…” Or, as promotional consultant Ray Kisch says, “You get this little box in the mail and it sits on top of the stack of mail, and people are going to say, ‘Gee, who sent me this?’ So they open it up and, boom, you got ‘em.”

Ramping Up The Rates

But don’t just take our word for it – numerous studies over the years and countless successful bulky mail programs all say the same thing – when it comes to getting someone’s attention, there are few better ways to do it than sending them a curiously shaped package in the mail.

In addition, a recent study by the Direct Marketing Association found dimensional mail, aka lumpy mail, to be the best method of eliciting a response from recipients – a 5.49% rate compared with 2.73% for traditional, flat mail alone.

In order to make your next lumpy mail program a success, there are a few things you should consider:

Know Your Audience. Whether your business wants to solicit new customers or reinforce relationships with current ones, it’s important to craft the promotion appropriately. Look at your own client lists or work with your promotional consultant to develop new ones. Either way, knowing your audience is the first step in a successful targeted campaign.

It all starts with the list, explains promotional consultant Jeff Hall. The more familiar the recipients are with your business, the more likely they are to respond favorably to a lumpy mail piece. “The most important part is the list,” Hall says. “Whether our clients have a list or we use a company to procure a list, the end result is that they’re trying to target a specific audience. If it’s a very targeted list and a very targeted audience, that improves response rates because they know who’s sending it.”

Just Ask. Lumps alone don’t guarantee success. While they lend to the mystery of a piece and almost guarantee it’ll be opened, it’s the job of the info inside to keep recipients’ attention after their curiosity is satiated.

Once you determine who your marketing piece will go to, it’s time to decide exactly what it is you want to accomplish. Do you just want recipients to open your package and think, “Gee, that was nice of them. I wonder what’s on TV?” Of course not. You want them to call your company, go to your Web site, set up an appointment, etc. So, make sure you tell them that. Without a call to action, all your hard work is liable to be remembered as a nice gesture, nothing more. “You want to create some action steps. You want the recipient to take some kind of action whether they’re going to e-mail you back or they’re going to visit a special Web site,” Kisch says. “It gives you some way of measuring the effectiveness of your direct mail piece.”

Then again, in some cases, a blatant call to action can be a turnoff. Sometimes a delay in revealing your mailing’s purpose can work to your advantage. Consider sending out a series of mailings – each one revealing a little bit more about the campaign’s overall goals. Recurring mailings that focus on a central theme not only build curiosity and anticipation on the part of the recipient, but also can be used to reinforce your company’s identity through repeat exposure.

Present Perfect. As with any promotional campaign, a good presentation in lumpy mail goes a long way. While there’s nothing wrong with enclosing the materials in a standard mailer, a colorful box or other unique packaging helps create higher perceived value for the item inside. Or, simply adding your company colors or logo to a package can spark a note of recognition in loyal clients. “Anything you can do, such as lumpy mail or four-color-process, so you can grab somebody’s attention is really crucial to the success of a program. The perceived value of the items being sent and the more appropriate it is to the campaign, the more memorable it’s going to be,” Hall says.

Get Ready. If the campaign works as planned, what will the results be? Are you prepared for a significant jump in business? Can your staff handle the additional calls? Is your Web site set up to handle the extra traffic? Will your trade show booth have enough people to spend quality time with prospects who show up as a result of your mailing? There’s no point in convincing someone to give your company a chance only to drive them away with inadequate service or slow follow-up.

Choosing A Product

Now that you’ve determined who your mailing will go to and what you want it to accomplish, it’s time to think about what else you’re going to do to get their attention. The type of product you and your promotional consultant choose to include in your mailing is limited only by what you’d like to accomplish. If you simply want recipients to think of your company if they want to order takeout, get their car fixed or need emergency care, a simple magnet with your company name, logo, slogan and contact info might be enough to get the message across. Other basic items such as pens, pencils, highlighters, rulers, notepads, calendars, etc., are also solid choices that can give your mailing an interesting lump or two.

“We work with over 200 hospitals and health care systems around the country to do targeted campaigns to new residents moving into communities,” Hall says. “We want to help the hospital to really be the first one to welcome that resident to the community and we do all of that through magnet mailers. Depending on the budget, it may just be a one-piece postcard with the magnet attached. In other cases they actually put a business reply card on it, and make it like a two-fold card with the magnet attached. The card is a self-mailer back to the hospital that gives the recipients’ information and that they’re interested in pediatric information, cardiology information, health fairs, job openings – we can customize it to fit the hospital’s needs.”

However, if your plans are more involved, you might want to consider programs that draw even more attention and, consequently, more reactions. For example, a car dealership could send qualified prospects a keytag that has a high-perceived value, prompting them to come in and take a test drive. Or, send just part of an item – the rest to be given upon completion of a task – and watch response rates climb even more.

What About Cost?

One factor that makes some businesses hesitant about trying lumpy mail can be the cost involved. Adding an item to a routine mailing will obviously increase the cost of that mailing, while more elaborate dimensional packages can easily range from a dollar or two a piece on up. But any company that’s run a successful direct mail campaign will likely tell you that the results are well worth it. “It’s not for everybody because from a cost standpoint it’s more expensive. Once you add up the list and the envelope or the postcard and magnet or pen or whatever’s going inside, it’s dramatically more than just a standard direct mail campaign with just an envelope and letter. You can do them as inexpensively as 50-55 cents in volume up to the sky’s the limit depending upon what you want to put inside,” Hall says. “The flip side though is that your response rate is better, your ROI is much better – we’ve got a hospital that just finished a campaign and they’ve got a 5-to-1 return on their investment already within the first six months.”

Hall adds then when you consider the lifetime value of a client, the results are even more impressive. “A hospital looks at it very quickly and says, ‘Did I make my money back?’ If they keep the client, they’re making their money back many times over. In the case of a doctor, they may keep that client for life, maybe 10 years, 20 years, 30 years – so the value really is increased dramatically,” he says. “Even if you spend $5,000 or $10,000 on a whole campaign, how many clients do you need to pick up to pay for that? If you look at what you’re going to make over the lifetime of the client, not many. You really don’t need that 10% response rate, even to make your money back. If you’re getting that much, you’re making money hand-over-fist on the program.”

General Guidelines

Before finalizing any direct mail campaign, make sure you or your promotional consultant consider the following things:

Regulations. Check with the post office to see how rates, regulations and automatic sorting machinery will affect your mailing. Larger or more elaborate promotions might have to use UPS, FedEx or another carrier instead – check with them to see how box size, weight, etc., could affect your program.

Functionality. In addition to considering how your lumpy mail piece will be processed by the USPS or parcel carriers, consider how it will be received by the target audience. If you’re sending items to people’s homes, consider the average mailbox size and plan accordingly. The last thing you want is your recipients getting a notice that they have to make a trek to the post office or local FedEx station to pick up something they never asked for. There’s significantly more leeway when you’re sending to businesses that are used to dealing with packages on a daily basis.

Professionalism. Five years ago, it may have been cute to send a strange looking package with a hand-addressed label, but do that today and your package might not ever get to the intended recipient. People have become much more cautious about their mail, so make sure your piece clearly identifies your company in some way, or at least has a polished look to it.

Experimentation. If you’re not sure how your bulky mail will go over with recipients, try doing a test run. Instead of sending your item to 1,000 people, try sending it to 10 or 100 and see what happens. Send an item to your own company to see how it will make it through the mail system. It never hurts to test things out before instituting the full-scale plan.

Proof Positive

Perhaps the best testament to the success of lumpy mail programs is that many promotional consultants use them to advertise their own services. “One of the most effective mailings that we did was one that we did for ourselves,” Kisch explains. “It was a magnetic pen that we sent out to a bunch of hospitals and the response was phenomenal. In about six- to 12-weeks we probably had about $26,000- to $30,000-worth of new business. That was probably five or six years ago and we’re still selling to those clients.”

Reprinted with permission of Successful Promotions, copyright 2005

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