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Rebranding Direct Mail Success

All hail one of the most telling measures of marketing triumph: ROI .

Deliver readers need no reminder that direct response mail is the original measurable form of advertising. Direct mail doesn’t require inferring success from gains in awareness, recall and name recognition — nor does it offer that luxury. People either respond, or they don’t. Should results disappoint, there is no place to hide. All the more reason to celebrate, even brag about, our stunning wins.

And brag we should — in press releases, our own direct mail, blogs and other forms of self-promotion. It’s a great way to share what we learn, attract new clients and grow the industry. (In moments of unguarded candor, we might also admit to enjoying just a smidge of ego gratification.) Yet how we express our successes can undermine or enhance the brand perception of direct mail.

A time-honored practice is to express direct mail results in terms of percent-of-recipients-who-respond. It’s not unusual for practitioners to say, “Our direct mail pulled a response of [whatever number] percent.” This usually elicits a gasp of wonder, oft followed by an uninformed comment along the lines of, “That’s great. I mean, I always heard that 3 percent” — or some other number — “is considered really good.”

It can be tempting to affirm the number cited so as not to ruin a rare moment of basking in unabated admiration. Yet there may be some benefit in setting the record straight instead.

A response is “good” only if it returns a profit. If you need a 3.25 percent response to break even, then 3 percent isn’t so good. But if you break even with a response of just 0.01 percent, you could throw a party celebrating a 0.02 percent response.

Setting that particular record straight is no mere nod to pedantry. If you give standard-status to an arbitrary number, you risk priming employers and clients to be disappointed, profitability aside, with anything less than that number. The last thing a direct mail pro needs is for a profitable program to be deemed “weak” because it fell short of some folkloric milestone.

So rather than expressing results in terms of percent-who-respond, show them in terms of Return On Investment (ROI). Suppose that a mailing of 200,000 pieces costing $90,000 brings in 5,000 responses that account for $100,000 in revenue. Consider how much more relevant, informative and compelling it is to say “the campaign earned an 11-percent net profit” than to say “it pulled a one-quarter percent response.”

Trumpeting direct mail success is a good thing. But trumpeting that success in terms of ROI helps demonstrate the real power of direct mail — which, we submit, is an even better thing.

Demo Graphics

Arab Americans

Arab Americans offer a rich tapestry of cultural differences, including a variety of languages, religions, countries of origins, life experiences and time in this country.

“It can be extremely hard to reach them due to the complex nature of their lifestyles,” explains Pinky Chakraborty, co-founder of MediaMorphosis, a multicultural marketing agency in New York City. “The years they have lived in this country do not necessarily determine their level of acculturation, so their level of interest in television and news related to their country of origin can vary tremendously.”

Two keys to successfully marketing to Arab Americans — know your audience and use direct mail. “Clients have found direct mail to be the most effective tool in reaching them,” says Chakraborty. “Use of the Arabic language and a call-out of countries can get immediate recognition from recipients.” However, Chakraborty notes, not everyone of Arabic descent speaks the language, so use it only when needed.

3.5 million: Estimated number of Americans who trace their roots to an Arab country.1

60% of working Arab Americans are executives, professionals, or office and sales staff2

Religious Affiliations of Arab Americans:1

35% Catholic

24% Muslim

18% Orthodox

10% Protestant

13% Other

63% of Arab Americans were born in the United States2

New York City, the first stop for millions of immigrants for more than a century, has the largest Arab population among U.S. cities: 69,985. The Detroit suburb of Dearborn, where many Arabs first settled to work in the automobile industry, is next at 29,181.3

Arab Americans generally have a strong commitment to family and economic and educational achievement, with 85% having a high school diploma or higher and more than 40% earning a bachelor’s degree or higher.2

82% are U.S. citizens2

Early Arab immigrants came from countries with large Christian populations. Newer arrivals come from heavily Muslim countries such as Iraq and Yemen.3

Almost half of the Arab Americans in the United States live in five states: California, New York, Michigan, New Jersey and Florida.3

1 The Arab American Institute (


3 MediaMorphosis,

P.O.V. One Question, Three Experts

“What other marketing channels do you mix with direct mail, and why?”


Daniel Ocner

Director, Strategic Planning & Development, MediaMorphosis

The most effective channels to mix with direct mail are DRTV and e-mail marketing. Direct mail is ideal for allowing customers to feel comfortable with an offer. However, starting with a DRTV campaign can increase awareness and lead to targeted prospects investing more time in reading the mailing. It also can spur individuals who didn’t respond immediately to go back and review it. On the other hand, e-mail marketing can give an effective heads-up to watch for a mail offer, as well as to remind customers to respond before an expiration date.


Aimée Dodson

Comptroller, New American Mortgage

We start with relationships nurtured by the excellent work of our sales team and fortify them with ongoing direct mail campaigns. We use social media as well as QuantumDigital’s automated mailing program to schedule a different mail piece each month. We can choose what mortgage product and message to feature and the exact audience for which that product is relevant. These extremely targeted efforts, combined with effective, personal follow-up, equal success for us. In 2011, we mailed 320,000 pieces, which resulted in a 480-percent return on investment.


Suzie Brown

Executive Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Valassis

Digital is becoming bigger for us, as deals and savings are now a part of consumers’ regular shopping experience, and we expect digital deals will continue to evolve. They are gaining attention in the media and among consumers as interest in deal seeking increases. Just as consumers are exploring new ways to get a deal, marketers also are testing various methods to attract today’s shopper. There will continue to be a blend of traditional and new media as consumers seek value how, when and where they want. There is room for everyone in the media mix, depending on marketers’ objectives.

U.S. Postal Service Marketing Insights | Outside the Box

Surprise Superhero

Innovations are making mail a platform for delivering experiences.

Have you looked in your mailbox lately? If you have, then you no doubt have noticed there’s an incredible amount of innovation going on. Your mail likely includes pieces that have mobile barcodes or audio chips or even the smell of fresh-cut grass.

I’m fascinated by all of this innovation in a channel that many feel is “old school” or stagnant. Clearly there’s a revolution afoot, even if it doesn’t get much press.

Mail is undergoing a metamorphosis, evolving from a channel used to deliver tactile messages to a platform that delivers experiences into people’s homes.

Consider, for example, a catalog with mobile barcodes that let you view and order the product instantly. Or, mail from an auto company that lets you “test drive” a new vehicle through augmented reality.

These innovations are changing the way we interact with brands and products. Of course, as smart marketers, we need to ask: Does it work? Is it worth the time, effort and resources to add these types of innovations to the mail?

Let me tell you about a recent test we did here at the U.S. Postal Service. We sent businesses three mail pieces that were identical in text and offer. But we offered up different response mechanisms: One used a QR Code, one a SnapTag (another form of mobile barcode) and one had a digital watermark — which allows you to scan an image and go online. We then compared those responses against our typical baseline for this type of mail.

The results were impressive: The delta (think of it as the rate of change from the typical response for each piece) doubled for the mail using a QR Code and increased 60 percent for the SnapTag. The digital watermark response was lower than the baseline, but that was probably because this technology is so new that many aren’t as familiar with how it works.

This is exciting news for businesses because it demonstrates that adding digital innovations like these increases engagement and response. But it also points out that marketers must help consumers understand the value of these technologies in order for them to reach their full potential.

Mail is already effective at generating response among consumers — but these technologies have the possibility of making it even more powerful.

Try it yourself: Download the Digimarc Discover app at iTunes or Google Play and scan the image above to read more on how these technologies work.

Gary Reblin is vice president of domestic products for the U.S. Postal Service.

Pushing the Envelope

Going Coconuts

An offbeat mailer produces a huge ROI for noted marketing franchise.

By Mindy Charski

The coconut may be good for the body, but, as AlphaGraphics in the Cultural District has discovered, the tropical delight can be pretty healthy for a marketing campaign, too. In April 2011, as part of an elaborate self-promotional campaign, the Pittsburgh franchise mailed coconuts to an assortment of local high-level marketing executives. “There’s a wow factor,” says Tracy Schneider, the company’s design and marketing manager. “It’s kind of hard to ignore a coconut. It really demonstrated the lengths that we go to get a message out.”

The underlying message was as straightforward as the campaign was quirky: AlphaGraphics isn’t just a printer — it’s also a creative marketing partner. AlphaGraphics wanted to show how mail can play a robust role in an integrated campaign; the company also wanted to build awareness of its expanded offerings and mailing services.

The inspiration for the multitouch effort originated from a simple question asked by a staffer — “Did you know you can mail a coconut?” That set the firm’s creative engines to churning. The theme that eventually emerged, “Use Your Coconut,” was intended to be interpreted both literally and figuratively by its audience. The campaign was aimed at 200 high-value decision makers. Prospects were identified according to their companies’ sales, whether they were current customers and by the amount of mailing services they used.

For the first phase, the marketers sent each person a coconut that was wrapped in nylon netting. Included was a personalized hangtag with the mailing information, factoids about the power of direct mail and a personalized URL. Two weeks later, AlphaGraphics followed up with a large, translucent envelope containing a brochure about mail trends. Those who didn’t respond to phase one were again encouraged to visit their personalized website where they could be entered to win a “second-chance” gift certificate. Recipients who had filled out the phase-one survey also received a personalized letter of thanks.

Finally, about two weeks later, anyone who had responded to the first or second phases was mailed a coconut-themed invitation to an executive marketing workshop hosted by AlphaGraphics.

The campaign proved fruitful, with 41 percent of recipients completing the online survey after receiving the coconut. The first and second phases combined achieved a 46-percent response rate — more than double AlphaGraphics’s initial goal — and 41 targets attended the workshop. “If we can’t be successful with a campaign for ourselves, how are we going to be successful for our customers?” Schneider asks. “But we are risk takers here, and it worked out to our benefit. People are still talking about it.”

The Essentials:

Company: AlphaGraphics in the Cultural District (Pittsburgh, Pa.)

Agency: In-house Target Audience: 200 local, high-value prospects and current clients.

Goal: To drive targets to a personalized website, build a list of respondents to invite to a marketing event and generate leads for mailing services.

DM Vehicle: A coconut weighing between one and two pounds that was sent in nylon netting and attached to a bi-fold hangtag that included the mailing information, factoids about direct mail and a personalized URL.

Response: 41% of recipients completed the online survey after receiving the coconut. The overall integrated campaign generated a 300% ROI and has helped the business grow more than 20 percent since its launch.

Love dimensional mailers? Then check out Issue 1 of Deliver for the tablet. You’ll find innovative dimensional mail pieces that you can interact with: Take a John Deere tractor for a spin, or discover how a baseball bat hit one out of the park. Search “deliver mag” in the iTunes Store or visit

Winning with Hair Style

Sibley Smart Copy Wins Second Deliver M.A.I.L. Award in a Photo Finish

By Jim McFarlin

An eye-catching, wildly successful direct mail campaign that comes in under budget and generates nearly $60,000 in revenue is a thing of beauty. And for veteran marketing strategist Barbara Sibley and the independent contractors who formed her production team, the joy forever will be knowing that their combined efforts on behalf of a Florida beauty salon chain have earned them Deliver magazine’s grand prize in our second annual Marketing Achievement in Innovation and Leadership (M.A.I.L.) Award.

“It’s huge,” enthuses Sibley, who operates her one-woman company Sibley Smart Copy out of her home office in Newtown, Conn., about her national M.A.I.L. recognition. “It validates the power of direct mail.” Sibley won the award for the mailer’s catchy blend of creativity, modernity and undeniable effectiveness in moving its targets to action.

The campaign — done for Florida-based iStudio Salons, a growing chain of salon “communities” — had three specific goals: introduce beauty professionals to the unique iStudio concept and its benefits; motivate the target audience to book an iStudio tour or visit its personalized URL; and generate a list of prospects for future targeting. Direct mail was selected as the primary vehicle to achieve these objectives — not that the client needed any arm-twisting.

“James Schregardus, one of the cofounders of iStudio, is a fearless marketer, and he loves direct mail,” Sibley says. “He found in his other business ventures that his strongest leads and conversions came from direct mail. So by the time he jumped into iStudio he was already a huge believer.”

The 923 photo mailers, budgeted at $4,000 for photo development, pre-production, printing, handwritten personalization, assembly and mailing, came in at a total cost of $3,738, ($4.05 per piece), generated a 4.7-percent phone and PURL response and, most important, resulted in four signed iStudio lease agreements totaling $59,280. What’s more, the visual nature of the mailer will translate well as iStudio looks to expand to Hispanic targets in Florida.

Sibley, who has led marketing initiatives for large corporate clients over a career spanning 18 years, says that she has remained committed to keeping mail in her marketing mix, despite the emergence of other channels: “So many of my contemporaries and colleagues in marketing are really focused on getting their digital efforts fine-tuned. I don’t want to downplay the importance of that because I’m doing it, too.” Still, she says, she continues to believe deeply in mail — a passion that contributed to her M.A.I.L. Award win.

The M.A.I.L. Award was conceived to celebrate the nation’s most innovative and powerful direct mail concepts as judged by a panel of marketing experts. Jason Mlicki, president of the Ohio-based firm Mlicki that captured the inaugural M.A.I.L. Award, served as one of this year’s judges, selecting three finalists out of entries submitted from across the country (see sidebar). As the grand prize winner, Sibley received an expense-paid trip to Orlando April 1 through April 4 to present the top direct mailer at the National Postal Forum.

In some ways, she was returning to the territory that had led to her M.A.I.L. Award triumph. Last year, Sibley Smart Copy was tasked by iStudio Salons to generate leads for a new location in the College Park section of Orlando. In the iStudio business plan, hair stylists, nail technicians, aestheticians and other beauty professionals lease private space in a building filled with individual suites, as opposed to the traditional model of renting a booth or chair from a salon owner and paying a percentage of their income to the proprietor.

iStudio had already achieved significant success in 2010 launching its flagship salon in Maitland, Fla., mailing a personalized tearsheet announcement that looked as if it had been ripped from a newspaper. Schregardus and Sibley added a second tactic to the campaign for the next iStudio Salons in Dr. Phillips, Fla. — a personalized “Smile Card” that invited prospects to take a tour and receive a $50 coffee shop card.

For the College Park, Fla., salon, Schregardus and Sibley asked how they could reach all of the prospects who hadn’t been touched.

So a third mailer — the M.A.I.L. winner — was devised: a packet of photos depicting the pitfalls of conventional salons and how iStudio can be the alternative. Sibley assembled a team of professionals with whom she had worked previously to accomplish the task. In the end, the mailer looked like an envelope of prints from a processor.

Sibley is busy working on the next mailing for iStudio Salons and her other clients. It’s a gratifying time for the marketer, who’s celebrating her fifth anniversary heading her own business. Says Sibley: “What this [award] does is validate my belief and my client’s belief that, if you really want to drive leads and conversions and eventually sales to a physical location, direct mail is still the best way to go.”

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