Thursday, March 24, 2005

Direct mail doesn't have to be bad. Except that it usually is.

Seth Godin wrote about being interviewed by a magazine that caters to direct mail marketers. Let's just say being the interviewee sounded pretty tedious. The interviewer kept pestering him for advice on shortcuts to success and asking about what to do if there just wasn't anything interesting to say. His answers were, basically, that there are no shortcuts and that if you don't have an interesting story there's no direct mail piece that's going to solve your problems.

Which led me to wonder why so much direct mail is so persistently bad. The deception just kills me. The Scales of Justice art on the envelope with the Dated Material Enclosed statement. The Please Do Not Discard messages. It all seems to be some sort of attempt to make a credit card solicitation feel like news of an IRS audit. I know the direct mail types will have gobs of research to prove that all this chicanery is incredibly effective, but, intuitively, I'm just not buying it. I just can't believe it's still a good way for a marketer to spend money. If I actually do get freaked out by the Scales of Justice (I'm a new business owner and thus, live in constant fear that I've somehow run afoul of the IRS) and open the envelope, I'm so pissed to find out that it's another credit card solicitation I vow never to do business with the offending company.

That goes double for you, Capital One. Enough already. I've got a damn card.


Anonymous Gerah said...

I also get enough "DO NOT DISCARD" mailpieces and credit card solicitations to make me want to jab my eyeballs out, and I've even started phoning them to take me off their lists, BUT - I don't believe that ALL direct mail is bad.

I work for a print and mailing house, and they hired me to help businesses with their marketing strategies. Direct mail doesn't always have to be bad. When when gone about artistically and creatively, marketing via mail can actually be pretty interesting, and effective.

Then there's variable data printing - which is customizing each mail piece for it's recipient. It's not as boring as inserting "DEAN GEMMELL" into the NAME space in a letter from a credit card company. It can actually get really involved and dymamic, and you can swap text, layout, graphics, colors, etc., depending on what you know about the mail recipient.

When done well, it can be pretty cool, and even enjoyable to read.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Black Lab Five said...

My title on this entry is a bit misleading. I should have stopped at "Direct mail doesn't have to be bad." Fact is, we do use and believe in direct mail for our clients. And I believe that a good list and customized approaches demonstrate respect for consumers and their time. It's just that I encounter so many of these formulaic approaches. I'm sure marketers rely on them because someone has found a way to prove their effectiveness. I think they're a bad investment, especially when it comes to the long-term health of a brand.

11:05 AM  

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