Targeting is the cornerstone of any successful direct mail
campaign, and never more so than in a business-to-business environment.
According to research by Hewlett-Packard, the average manager has a
backlog of around 12 hours’ work, so it’s little wonder that agencies
attempting to grab the attention of busy marketers, or suppliers hoping
to influence agency decision-makers, face an up-hill struggle in their
So we asked a selection of client marketers and agency heads to comment
on the quality, volume and value of a typical week of direct mail in the
office. The results show what a demanding audience they can be.
Getting your message to cut through the deluge of direct mail that
swamps most people’s desks can be a costly and time-consuming exercise,
but it pays, insists Channel 4 head of agency sales, Matt Shreeve.
In July, Channel 4 sent 50 media buyers a hamper costing around pounds
160 each to celebrate its right to broad-cast live coverage of the test
series between England and New Zealand. Each hamper, sourced by
Swordfish, contained an indoor cricket set, a cricket guide and an
official Channel 4 cricket magazine.
’Our customers are smart. We know that simply bombarding them with dull
statistics quickly loses their attention. But enthusiasm is infectious,’
says Shreeve. ’The response from agencies has been marvellous. The
demand for airtime around cricket coverage has been way over our
But not every firm can afford to make such a splash - or needs to,
argues Cathy Newman, brand consultant at The Brandnaming Company. Last
month, it sent a pair of garden secateurs to the finance director and
marketing director at 50 of the UK’s largest companies.
At a cost of pounds 4 each, the mailing was designed to draw attention
to the company’s BrandCover service for trademark protection, and
carried the strapline ’Do your brands have room to flourish?’
Newman is confident that the initiative will generate a good response,
having picked up plenty of business after a closely targeted mailing
last year. ’We sent out about 30 letters to current clients from another
division and ended up getting a project from each worth around pounds
But for every piece of direct mail that does elicit a response, there is
plenty which travels swiftly from hand to bin with no more than a
fleeting glance. Research by FFwd Precision Marketing found that the
main criticism from clients about mailings from prospective DM agencies
was the lack of relevance to their business.
The use of case studies as a means of illustrating an agency’s
capability often fails to address the business needs of the company
’Prospective clients want to feel that agencies have the ability to
handle their business; what they don’t need to know are the specifics of
campaigns run for other clients - they want to know what you can do for
them,’ says research manager Tamsin Addison.
In fact, Addison maintains that most clients question the value of any
mailing, however relevant, carefully targeted and well executed. ’Client
companies believe that agencies waste time and money on expensive
brochures and promotional material. Word of mouth and recommendation are
the key to winning new business.’
Comments like this suggest that only a handful of business-to-business
mailings really work.
Head of marketing, Packard Bell
The last thing you expect to see when wading through your mail on a
Monday morning is a used cricket box. Believe me, it’s not a welcome
sight - especially when you know it’s used only because you fear you
might have spotted a stray curly hair within.
This delight arrived with me courtesy of a radio station to promote its
World Cup coverage. An unpleasant item to send to anyone I would
imagine, but one wonders if they considered how a woman might feel on
receiving something like this. So troubled was I by this sight that I
decided to leave the rest of the direct mail items to one side.
More direct marketing delights await me on return to the office after a
morning full of meetings. This time it adds up to three items, plus a
couple left over from yesterday’s mail. The quality and ’taste’ factor
are slightly higher and one of the items really catches my eye -
lavender body massage oil. Great, except I don’t like lavender, and it
just serves to remind me I have no one in my life right now to do the
Much of the success of direct marketing lies with the timing. Something
can hit your desk at just the right time and you follow it up, whereas a
week earlier it might have ended up going straight into the bin. In
fact, I was so impressed by a very clever and witty mailing piece
wishing me ’Happy Easter’ earlier this year that we have since been in
touch with the design agency involved.
On average, I get between eight and ten pieces of direct mail each week,
but the ’pieces’ keep getting bigger and more obtrusive. I know it can’t
be easy for companies coming up with ideas to make their items stand out
from the crowd. However, making an impact is one thing and sending a
dirty old piece of footwear through the post is something else
Today I received an old, used man-sized boot through the post, with the
slogan ’Is it time to give your old agency the boot?’. I think not, plus
it took ages to get the mud out of the carpet.
Second-hand keyboard this morning. To the ’UK’s number one supplier of
PCs to the home’ - I think I have enough already. My tip would be ’keep
it simple’ and try to not go off the scale with the ’yuck’ factor. Also
buried in this morning’s Pandora’s Box of direct mail was a fish-hook,
complete with a note bearing the phrase ’Now we’ve got you hooked ...’.
Nice try, but I don’t think so.
It’s been a tough week and while the short piece of string (to do with
brand awareness?) wasn’t too bad, I just can’t face the other couple of
suspicious-looking packages that are currently sitting on my desk. Maybe
I should get my assistant to ’screen’ my mail in future.
Head of advertising and publicity, London Transport
OK, so millennium fever is mounting with only a few months left on the
clock, but is this sufficient reason to jump the bandwagon and aimlessly
brand all your merchandise with a large ’M’? The millennium is a great
marketing hook, but as with all hooks it must be relevant, which is
definitely not what came across in the Marshall Cavendish mailing.
The obscurely branded manual mailing that landed on my desk carried a
Millennium 2000 design which begged the question ’Why?’. I have re-read
the letter and pack several times in a vain attempt to ascertain its
relevance to the year 2000 and have still not made the connection. There
may well be valid logic behind the pack, but I can’t make the link.
To be fair, the products look good and the letter is OK, with a fairly
good lead on the headline - ’Our limitation is your imagination’. But
even these aren’t explored or explained, something that always makes me
wonder whether the headline and the copy have separate authors.
Admittedly, communicating with those who also work in the communication
business is difficult. Your audience is not only hypercritical, but all
too ready to hit the ’I wouldn’t have done it like that’ button. But
sometimes companies get it right and Communicator did just that.
The pack was colourful and intriguing so it stood out. But more than
that, the artwork, design, copy and messages all tied together nicely,
adding substantially to its prominence in my 12-inch-high-and-rising
in-tray. My pet hate is creative and copy which don’t feed off each
other, but this was not the case here. The pack included examples of the
agency’s work linking Robinsons and A Bug’s Life, and all the copy
followed through, playing on related words - ’squash’, ’bug’, etc.
Most importantly, they kept the copy short, so in one quick read I got
everything I needed to know. After all, that’s the point of the exercise
Still on the subject of knowing your audience and getting your message
across, here’s a word of warning to any companies out there planning to
mail me. Database companies and DM agencies often insist they really
understand targeting, and their direct mail shouts about getting it
right. However, one look at the addresses on many of the mailings I’ve
received shows they’ve clearly got it wrong, addressing and referring to
me as a man.
Okay, I know my name’s Charlie, and it’s an easy mistake, but while I
find it amusing rather than annoying, it does undermine their
SKIPTON BUILDING SOCIETY
Head of corporate communications, Skipton Building Society
I have often wondered whether direct mail is so called because it mostly
passes direct from the post pile into the grey plastic file we all keep
So what makes me stop and pay more than a cursory glance at a
Grabbing the reader’s attention is the most fundamental point and it is
interesting how companies are going to ever greater lengths to make
their mailings even more glossy, more colourful and more attractive. But
while the visual impact is one issue, the focus and accuracy of the
mailing is, to my mind, equally important.
Direct mail, or junk mail, is instinctively ignored by many people.
While I don’t subscribe to the junk theory myself, there is nothing more
frustrating than receiving a ’to whom it may concern’ mailing, or one
addressed to my predecessor of three years ago.
However, a quality piece of direct mail is usually hard to resist. You
know when you are prospecting for gold that there’s the possibility of
one large nugget, waiting to be discovered. So how have I been grabbed
in recent weeks?
’Media disc saves so much time - it’s like having an extra pair of hands
in the office’ - what an attractive proposition! The mailing explained
that media disc provides cost-effective solutions to the practical,
everyday issues faced by virtually all PR professionals.
The sales message was clear and the letter was perfectly targeted at
just the right time. Excellent sales support resulted in one more happy
customer being signed up.
Interbrand Newell and Sorrell’s Utopian Nights programme - addressed to
my predecessor and at no particular abode. Mmmmmm. Loyd Grossman is
expected to reveal his driving passion to revolutionise the role of
museums in modern society. He will be talking about his mission to bring
museums to the heart of a movement to change and improve the quality of
Fantastic, but how relevant will this be to the world of financial
services, I wonder?
Corporate Services Network with the offer of a free Waterford Crystal
golf prize table. Something free - now you’ve got me! Aimed at
organisations which buy corporate gifts, this promotion explains how I
can get products which are cheaper than UK retail prices. This is
appealing, especially with a tickbox reply with fax details for an
immediate response - one to pass on to my secretary.
Intrigue makes me look at a plain and lonely brochure which, when
opened, offers a copy of a vehicle advert which was placed in magazines
earlier this year. The slogan ’Creativity that makes a difference’ is
included on the reverse. Clever but confusing; no killing to be made
there for Osprey Advertising Agency.
Direct marketing is clearly a growing and innovative industry, with more
companies recognising the importance of targeted mailing campaigns.
However, unless the customer can easily perceive the benefits of
responding, the mailing will end up in the office bin, and another
golden nugget will remain unexposed.
Chairman, St Luke’s
I’m going to play the game properly. Here’s what I remember and think of
my direct mail.
It’s Wednesday. Last Monday I returned from two weeks in Sardinia (no
direct mail bar the one camped outside the au pair’s bedroom window), so
I had a nice fat stack to wade through.
You can spot them a mile away. Either A4 white envelopes with sticky
computer print-out labels, or the most bizarre of shapes and bright
Lots of office equipment brochures, some financial institutions offering
something or other and invitations to join clubs. Many pictures of
30-year-old suited executives shaking hands with each other. I think
they all wore glasses (boosts perceived IQ). The majority of this intake
falls under A4 white envelope. Message: Do your homework. Binned the
lot. No apologies.
Um. I remembered a little cardboard box. Inside was a catering pack of
one individual cream serving. ’Cream’ it said. ’Come and see the cream
of the new crop of creative talent’. I scanned the pigeon holes. Lots of
little boxes. Saturation bombing. Binned. (Sorry, but I did notice
Ah, I remember. How could I forget? The obligatory Big Buff IPA
Dutifully scanned and stored away. Honest, Rupert.
Er. Yes! The conferences. On everything. There was one about a creative
conference in Sheffield or Sunderland. It stands out because the nice Mr
Durden from PHD personalised it with a few bons mots. The rest
I loathe conferences. I don’t like being subjected to endless PowerPoint
presentations, while stuck in the same seat with only lime cordial and
boiled sweets to keep me going. Now they are big money-spinners there
are too many of them. Hence I instinctively question the value of them
However, Jonathan’s one (that’s how I describe it) deserved to be read,
and included John Hegarty among the speakers. It fluttered tentatively
in the balance of my mind. Unresolved it went into my locker, there to
form part of a multi-layered archaeological site which, when excavated
at Christmas, will provide a fine history of the things that didn’t
quite make it.
A couple of years ago two St Lukers opened each other’s direct mail for
a week to see if matters were improved by serendipity. No such luck. The
medium is the message, and the message is ’hold him tight while I force
him to hear what I’ve got to say. And this time
it’s ... biscuit-coloured carpets’.
It’s the printed-matter version of Yoko Ono’s 60s film Rape, in which
she persisted in forcing the innocent public to be projected through
In business you either add value or cost. Reading direct mail mostly
adds costs. Better to read properly all those CVs that drive you mad but
may be sent by the next Bill Gates. Business-to-business direct mail is
mostly uncreative, by which I mean it rarely delights and gives
Stop. Don’t Drayton Bird me to death. It’s a science that works. It just
doesn’t work for me, unless I’m at home and you are BT (I love their
leaflets and get all my info from them), Innovations magazine (top
loo-reading material) or my local church magazine (ace cartoons and
As I have come to learn, direct mail is a percentage game. Most direct
mailers I know get very excited by rates of return in single percentage
figures. The delight of this business lies in the small margins of its
success, not in the bigger picture of its overall impact.
But hey, I’m not as prejudiced as I sound. I suppose I can live with all
of you who want to sell to me in this way (and just occasionally there
is something I’d like to buy). Except for YOU. You know who you are -
you who have written to me for ten years as Mr Lan.
I hide in the net nowadays, anyway.
EURO RSCG DIRECT
Managing director, Euro RSCG Direct
Invited to comment on a typical week’s direct mail received at work, I
asked my staff to supply me with examples of mail they’d received. The
inevitable dross of poorly targeted, incorrectly addressed and
disastrously executed mailers arrived on my desk, along with the usual
seminar invitations on the essentials of direct marketing. Ploughing
through it I was astounded by the efficiency of some companies in
enticing business, and the apparent ineptitude of others.
One of the most striking pieces in my pile was a fulfilment pack from
James McNaughton Paper Group. The first thing that impressed me was the
sturdiness of the pack. The letter inside refers explicitly to the reply
card our production manager had returned - always a good idea to jog his
memory. A beautifully bound book provides paper samples with various
printing and perforation techniques. The most impressive feature,
however, is the functionality and durability of this, compared with so
many other outsized sample books that we receive.
Two other beautifully designed mailers were received by our creative
director and bound to catch attention. From Photonica and Corbis Images,
both are clear in what they’re promoting and offer web sites for
However, only Corbis offers the opportunity to request further
information in addition to asking some qualifying questions - let’s hope
it uses them.
The most innovative idea came in a tiny silver envelope which contained
a folding leaflet promoting ’One for the Road’ chauffeur service and
Z-Card’s PocketMedia concept. However, most of it simply lists sporting
events and good reliable restaurants. I’m always looking for a good
restaurant and inevitably regret driving. Hence I can assure you it will
always stay in my pocket, as well as being recommended to my account
I was initially attracted to a mailer from Kenco, thanks to the unusual
placing of a testimonial on the envelope, only then to be disappointed
by its content. I am managing director of a sizeable company and,
despite enjoying a good cup of coffee, I have little interest in the
specifications of a coffee machine. Extra time and money spent on
targeting would probably ensure better response.
Gift and incentive mailers are frequently well targeted, though seldom
effectively executed. An enticing box arrived with the teaser ’Here’s
where you can stick the millennium’. After a battle to get into the
excessively secure package I arrived at a china millennium tankard from
Churchill China. A scrappy leaflet invited me to ’Stick it here’ - the
millennium that is.
Frankly, why should its offer of personalised china be any more
appealing than any of the other millennium incentive offers I’ve
received? I’ve yet to find out.
Systema, on the other hand, went for the usual approach. A letter
informing me it has the solution with its innovative gifts and premium
On to the brochure. Hardly innovative and certainly not premium -
Looking at a week’s worth of mail, I can only say that I wish those
companies trying to get cash out of me made the same effort with their
targeting and creativity as the photographic libraries and paper
suppliers trying to win the hearts of my team.