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New Study: 18-34 Year-Olds Prefer Direct Mail Over Email

I can’t remember the last time I got a personal letter. Even my birthday and anniversary cards are likely to come via email these days. But my daughter got a postcard yesterday from her soon-to-be First Grade teacher telling her how excited she was to meet her when school starts in a few days. Not only was it totally unexpected, but the look on my daughter’s face has already sent the teacher’s Brand Perception through the roof in our family.

My daughter is not alone in responding favorably to Direct Mail. According to the August, 2010 Consumer Channel Preference Study by Epsilon Targeting, 18-34 year-olds overwhelmingly prefer to receive information via postal mail compared to any other medium across a wide variety of categories, with one exception (Travel). (You can download the full study here. And thanks to the TM Tipline newsletter for tipping me off to the new study.)

As you can see from the following sample of products and services, the preference for direct mail over email is staggering. In no case is it less than 2 to 1, and in one case, direct mail beats email by nearly 6 to 1.

Product/Service Mail Email
Sensitive Health 43% 9%
Prescription 41% 11%
General Health 37% 11%
Personal Care 37% 10%
Food Product 36% 11%
Cleaning Product 34% 9%
Financial Services 40% 7%
Insurance 38% 8%
Travel 28% 13%

There’s more in the survey. For instance, when it comes to household products, Newspaper Inserts are in second place, preferred 2 to 3 times more than email. For health related products, information from friends, family and doctors is more desirable than email, although still not as desirable as direct mail. (Maybe that’s because direct mail can be more private and less confrontational than asking your best friend, lover or doctor about a medical need?)

The survey also assessed trust, and found, as expected, that for health care, medical professionals are most trusted. For everything else, friends and family are at the top. The next most trusted source is newspapers, followed by company websites. Social Media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are in the basement at 7-8%.

Source Trust
Doctor/Nurse 80%
Friends or Family 57%
Newspaper 26%
Company Websites 22%
Television 20%
Direct Mail Brochures or Flyers 18%
Radio 16%
Email 12%
Other Online Sites 11%
Cell Phone 9%
Blogs 8%
Facebook 8%
Online Forums 8%
YouTube 7%
Twitter 7%
Other Social Media 7%

So what are we to derive from this survey? Well, aside from the premise that more people prefer and trust dead tree communications (direct mail, newspapers) over electronic ones, I think the big lesson here is that you can’t put all of your communications in one basket. At its best, direct mail only reached a 43% preference. That means that 57% of potential customers want to be communicated with through a different medium.

As the Director of Integrated Marketing at Tanen Directed Advertising, a channel-neutral direct marketing agency, this is good news to me. It supports what I’ve always believed: combined arms tactics beat single tactic strategies every time.

It also means you can never stop testing. What works today may not work tomorrow. Just a few years ago, email was outperforming direct mail. Adults 18-34 may prefer direct mail now, but what will that cohort prefer when it’s made up of today’s tweens and teens? Will people who’ve never even read a newspaper trust one?

Media channels may rise and fall in popularity and effectiveness, but I think it’s safe to say that in the rapidly changing world of advertising, there are no silver bullets, no perfect answers. A multi-channel strategy gives you the best chance of success. More importantly, communications across each channel often reinforce each other, creating synergies you can’t get with a single communication.

Even some of the most successful “social media” campaigns in recent memory have been multi-channel. As Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media has said,  “If your customers are there, you need to be there too… You need to listen… see how they behave and act similarly.” He was talking about social media, but I say his insight applies to all forms of marketing and advertising.

People live multi-channel lives. They want some information one way, and other information a different way, sometimes at the same time. So can someone please explain to me why there are still some advertisers who operate with a one-channel-fits-all mindset?

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Business direct marketing Directed Advertising Online Advertising

I’m Being Stalked on the Internet

Did you ever have the feeling that you’re being followed?

I do. In fact I’m being stalked this very minute.

You know what I’m talking about:  you’re wandering around the internet, minding your own business, when suddenly, you see a banner ad you could swear you’ve seen before. But you think it’s just your imagination, and go on with your life.

And then there’s that banner ad again, and now you’re on the lookout. The advertiser has penetrated your banner blindness. You make a mental note to notice this particular ad again if it shows up, and go back to your life.

Soon enough you see the banner again… and again… and again.

What’s going on?

Well, in case you didn’t know, it’s a form of Behavioral Advertising called Retargeting, and it’s just one of the ways that advertisers get you to buy their products. It’s actually a pretty successful tactic, and one that our clients have used to great advantage.

The way it works is pretty simple, really. If you visit a website and then leave before making a purchase (or any other type of conversion), programming code on that website allows ad networks to tag you so that wherever you go throughout that ad network, they can reach out to you over and over and serve you ads. Retargeting doesn’t just have to target people who visited a site. You can retarget based on search engine results, or even if somebody merely saw your ad on a site within the ad network.

The reason it works is that advertisers have learned that frequency is a critical part of the formula for making a sale. The more times people are exposed to a message, the more likely it is that some of them will buy. And if someone has already come to your website, or searched for you, they have already expressed some interest, so it stands to reason that they might be more easily converted than a total stranger. Even if they’ve just seen your ad on some other website, retargeting to them is a way to ratchet up the frequency. You can even change the messaging so that the target sees different, even sequential messages, attempting to push them closer and closer to a conversion.

Now I don’t usually notice when I’m being retargeted. In fact, while I’m sure it’s happened more than once, the only two of these interactive stalkers I’ve ever really noticed are Trump University and The Trump retargeting went on for quite some time, but I can guess why:  Trump University was my client, and I kept visiting the website without buying anything, and I guess I kept retriggering the retargeting. (They must have really thought I was playing hard to get.)

But it’s different with I was doing research on social media success stories, and is an example of a company that used social media to decrease the cost of customer support and increase sales. They’re so good, they won the 2009 Groundswell Award for B2C Supporting. (Their online community members spend an average of 66% more on credit reports and products after joining the community. And thanks to the community, customer service inquiries declined by 1%, compared to the previous year when they increased 23%!)

I know the day I first went to from my work computer:  Tuesday, July 20th. I’d been there from my home computer the day before, but that was it. I didn’t go there because I wanted to buy anything. I went there for research, found what I needed, and left, happy and satisfied.

A few days later I started seeing banner ads from like this one: banner ad that's been following me for 3 weeks!

And I’ve been seeing them ever since. In fact, this morning, I saw these:

Are you following me? ads on

Now I’m not one of those people who has a problem with behavioral advertising, as long as it’s done ethically, which for the most part it is. I know there’s been a schism about it since the Wall St. Journal article the other weekend (and there’s an excellent post about it, and the reactions among the advertising community, here on Scott Rosenberg’s Wordyard blog).

If Behavioral Targeting has one weakness, though, it’s that it’s difficult to really know why someone comes to your website without actually asking them. If I go to a website that sells baby clothes, or even a dozen websites, did I go there because I am having a baby, or buying a gift for a friend who had a baby, or some other reason entirely. Intention makes all the difference here, and behavior can be misleading.

No, my problem has to do with the actual execution of the retargeting advertising campaign is running.

The way advertisers make sure that they don’t show the same person the same ad too many times is called Frequency Capping. There tends to be a sweet spot in terms of frequency: 3 times is probably too few, and 10 times is often a victim of diminishing returns. By then, if they’re not going to buy, they probably never will.  (BTW, if you had to guess, without testing into it, you could do worse than a frequency of 7. But you didn’t hear that from me.)

I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure I’ve seen these ads at least a dozen times over the last 3 weeks. Now maybe has tested it, and they’ve learned that their sweet spot is 13. Maybe they’ve learned that people keep saying no until the 13th time they see the ad, and then they magically click on it and buy a credit report.

But somehow I doubt it.

So can someone from or their ad agency please explain to me why I’m still being stalked by their ads, and how long this unhealthy relationship is going to drag on? Because no matter how many times they ask, or how nicely they put it, no matter how much money it costs them to keep retargeting me with their ads, my answer is still going to be the same: I like, but I just want to be friends.

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Business direct marketing Directed Advertising Marketing

Trying to give credit where credit is due…

Sometimes, in the afternoon, between cups of coffee, when my eyes droop and I drift off, I daydream of a world where the roads are paved with golden bricks and I know exactly which advertising channel to credit for a sale or a site visit. Did the billboard with a URL lead to the sale, or the tweet with the short link, or the hyperlinked news story (press release) on the newspaper website, or the ad in the magazine, or the postcard, or the TV commercial telling you to “Text ‘Ruby Slippers’ to 526727”, or the natural search listing or the paid search ad or the dozens of mentions in the dozens of blogs or the lions and tigers and bears, oh my…

And then I wake up and remember that as the Director of Integrated Marketing at a direct marketing focused agency, (albeit in Connecticut, not Kansas) it’s my job to attempt to give credit where credit is due, and I smile because yesterday, thanks to Google, my job got easier.

Yesterday Google announced the beta testing of their AdWords Search Funnels. Currently, the last search ad clicked on gets credit for a conversion. But the fact is that many people perform more than one search before they finally click on an ad and then convert, sometimes over the course of days and even weeks. But with Search Funnels, Google can tell you which keywords contributed to the conversion, and which didn’t, for up to 30 days. It will show you how many clicks and impressions happened before the conversion, as well as time lag from first to last. I’m not part of the beta test, but when Google rolls out the product I’ll have a much better sense of which parts of my search campaigns are helping, and which aren’t. Who knows how many keywords I’ve paused erroneously, actually hurting my conversions, when I should have given them credit for an “assist.”

Google’s Search Funnels will help you go beyond the last click, but Microsoft’s Engagement Mapping is even more transformational. At a panel I attended at this year’s AdTechNY, Microsoft discussed their initiative to get beyond simply crediting the last click in order to help advertisers more properly attribute the impact of all advertising, not just search, on a conversion.  Engagement Mapping was developed by the Microsoft Advertising Institute, whose recent research showed that “searchers clicking on a result are 56 percent more likely to convert if they have been exposed to online display ads.”

I remember when DoubleClick (now owned by Google) first released “View Thru Conversion” statistics that showed that the impact of banner ads persisted well beyond their first impression, and that many people who didn’t click the ads converted later. DoubleClick could only do that because their ad serving technology and tracking mechanisms gave them a vast data pool to look at, and it breathed new life into online display advertising.

It’s important to know which advertising efforts should get the credit for the sale, because without it how can you truly determine ROI?

Think about it this way. A friend tells you about a movie. You read an interview with the director in Entertainment Weekly. You see the preview in a movie theater. And on a video rental. And online. You fan the movie on Facebook. Another friend tells you about the movie. Someone sends you a promotional clip from YouTube. And then your significant other says, “What movie do you want to go see tonight?” and you go to Google or Bing or Yahoo and type in NYC Movie Times and there’s the movie you heard about and then you check out real quick to make sure it’s not a dog and then go to Fandango and buy your tickets.

Who would you credit with influencing your choice? In the world of “last click gets the credit” the winner is a rotten tomato.

True direct marketers don’t know, they test. We try to base our decisions on data. We have so much more data than ever before, and the more we learn, the easier it becomes to fill in the gaps and make better assumptions. Better assumptions lead to more successful tests which lead to better results.

Sometimes, like with Search Funnels, the new data teaches us that we didn’t know what we thought we knew, or what we thought the data was telling us. And sometimes, when we look behind the curtain, the wizards dispensing that data turn out not to be wizards after all.

So can someone please explain to me why some people seem more eager to trust a wicked witch who promises them an unrealistic certainty over a good witch who only promises to do her best?

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Business direct marketing Marketing Misleadership Relationship Marketing Social Media

Lands’ End’s Big Warm Up: The best viral video I’ve ever missed

Lands’ End’s Big Warm Up: The best viral video I’ve ever missed

I saw a video the other day that was so good it brought tears to my eyes, which was, after all, its intention. It was so good that it powered Lands’ End customers to bring 33,267 “gently used coats” to Lands’ End shops at Sears to donate to the homeless. (If you haven’t seen it, you can see it here.)

It’s a good video. It’s powerful. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and makes you want to do something good for someone.

All of which is going to make me look even more curmudgeonly than normal, because I am not here to praise Lands’ End.

I think they screwed up.

I didn’t see the video until  Dec. 1, which was one day too late to actually join the Big Warm Up and donate a coat.

And that really bothered me. Because I have a gently used coat I would have gladly donated. And because I was actually in a mall with a Sears the last weekend of the promotion. And because I love good cause related marketing. I love it so much I actually co-wrote a book about it.

I wondered, how could I have missed out on this? I’m a good Lands’ End customer. I have 3-4 pairs of their pants and half a dozen of their shirts. More than that, I’m a fan. I blogged about them back in July and how they helped build direct response retail with their “Guaranteed. Period.” (R) guaranty.

So I went to my inbox (luckily, I try and keep my inbox at a lean, mean 300-400 emails) and sure enough, there it was. And it had company. Lots of company. The Lands’ End email barrage had started on Nov. 9th, and by the time it let up on November 20th I’d gotten 16 emails in 12 days.

But only 3 of those 16 emails were about the Big Warm Up. The rest were about clothes… and canvas.

The first email in the campaign, on Nov. 11, was actually the second Lands’ End email I received that day. It had the subject line, “Save 25% on a new coat & warm a heart!” Being that I’m not currently in the market for a coat, I didn’t notice that this was actually the announcement of a cause related marketing campaign at

In fact, that grand announcement was considerably quieter than the “Introducing Land’s End Canvas” email I’d gotten earlier the same day with a link to a video titled “What Will You Make of It” about the exciting, Ken Burns-ish history of Lands’ End Canvas.

The Lands’ End email tsunami continued. 4 days (and 5 emails) later I got an email with the subject line “What will you make of it?”

This was intriguing, so I opened it. It lead to an interactive site where I could “explore a unique interactive experience — then make and share my own canvas.” Wow. Canvas again.

So when I got the 15th email in 12 days, this one with the subject line, “Join us in making a difference,” I just assumed it was another email about the glories of canvas and ignored it. After all, it had the word “make” in subject line. What else could it have been?

This is a classic case that highlights the dangers of mailing too frequently. Your customers get so overwhelmed they tune out.

30,000 coats donated to the needy is a good thing by any standard, right? So do you think Lands’ End was happy with the results?

I’m not sure I would have been. Here’s why:

Way back in 2002 when Sears bought them, the NY Times reported that Lands’ End had a customer file of 30 million households. Now, not all of those households has email, and that number could be considerably smaller — or larger — by now.

30,000 coats is certainly a lot of warmth, but in terms of results, 30,000 is only 1/10th of a percent of 30 million.

On a more granular level, the email campaign was ignored by at least one ideal target: me,  a repeat customer, who makes buying decisions based on cause-related marketing and corporate philanthropy, who had a coat to donate, and who is clearly on their email list. And if they missed an easy target like me, how many others did they miss, too?

Maybe if the subject line of the first email in the campaign had led with the cause rather than a discount, I might have noticed it.

Maybe if they’d used some of their fancy personalization in the subject line instead of just in their video I might have noticed.

Maybe if they hadn’t bored me to death with their celebration of canvas and trained me to ignore their messages, I might have noticed their worthy campaign to spread the warmth.

But one thing is definite: if they hadn’t sent me 16 emails in 12 days I would have actually read the really important one.  (I’ve asked around, and I’m not the only one who missed this needle in the haystack of Lands’ End emails… or who regretted missing the opportunity to join the Big Warm Up.)

Good cause related marketing is a win-win for everyone. In this case, more coats donated to help the homeless would most likely equate to more coats sold.

This was an important campaign. So can someone please explain to me why Lands’ End quietly buried it under a pile of canvas instead of shouting it from the highest mountaintops?

And while you’re at it, can you direct me to the nearest Goodwill Donation Center? I have a coat I want to donate.

Business direct marketing Media PR and News Value for Value

Tough love from Google and the US Post Office

Two seemingly unrelated news items about the US Post Office and Google caught my attention today.

The first was an article in DM News that said that the US Post Office is intending to penalize mailers who don’t

“meet US Postal Service standards for updating mailing lists, according to Jeff Platt, director of solutions marketing for US mailing at Pitney. Those updates must be applied 95 days before the mailing. As of January 4, 2010, mailers that do not do so will be subject to additional postage of 7 cents per assessed piece.”

Previously, the USPS gave discounts to people who made their mail more efficient. Now they’re getting out the big stick and making people pay for their inefficiency rather than rewarding their efficiency.

And the second was the news that Google is changing their policy about free news content and their “First Click Free” policy. That policy says that if you find content on Google News and click on it, say, an article from the Wall St. Journal, you get to read that article for free. Click on the next article on the site and the Journal lets you know that any additional articles is only available for subscribers, and they’re happy to let you subscribe.

Google is amending their policy to allow publishers who charge for their content to “limit the number of accesses under the First Click Free policy to five free accesses per user each day.”

According to Google, “While we’re happy to see that a number of publishers are already using First Click Free, we’ve found that some who might try it are worried about people abusing the spirit of First Click Free to access almost all of their content.”

I say bravo USPS and Google.

Let’s start with the Post Office. When it comes to the USPS, like most other direct mailers I know I’ve railed against the ever-increasing fees and the amazingly complex discount and fee structure for business mailers. (If you want to wade through the 44 page PDF of the Jan 4, 2010 rates, here it is.)

As the director of integrated marketing at a channel-neutral direct marketing agency, I’m an equal opportunity employer of whatever works: direct mail, email, FedEx, twitter, text, search… you get the point. But if the post office went away, my job would get infinitely tougher.

This time, though, when the USPS institutes a fee that penalizes mailers who don’t engage in smart practices in order to help defray costs and stay afloat, I’m all for it.

Running your mailing list against NCOA won’t catch every piece of undeliverable mail, but it does catch many of them. It saves the mailer the cost of wasted printing and postage, and turns missed opportunity into the chance of a sale. Undeliverable mail that could be avoided is a terrible waste that increases the cost of mail by adding extra work for the mail carrier and the post office, all to no good end.

Now let’s talk about Google and free news. Don’t get me wrong… I get most of my news from Google, for free. I love the WSJ, and I’ll miss getting their content.

But free sample content from the WSJ, or any other publisher for that matter, has never enticed me to subscribe to that publisher, if there were a fee attached. If I encounter a fee, I just move on to the next one for free.

I admit it. I’m a freeloader. And I’ve pretty sure I’ve read more than 5 articles from the Journal over the course of a day by accessing them via Google News.

The discussion about the death of journalism has morphed into a discussion about what news organizations are doing to stay alive, and in some cases, they’re exploring pulling back their free content into models that provide better value for their value. They’re fighting for their survival, and like the USPS, my world will be worse off without them.

There are many models that can be applied to online news that don’t involve the reader paying for their content. I proposed a few here in my blog back in June. From crowdfunding (read this great piece in the Columbia Journalism  Review about the NY Times’ first crowdfunded article) to advertising-supported mega blog news sites like the Huffington Post, most  “alternatives” to traditional news still involve some form of cost defrayal.

In this ever changing world in which we live, one thing is becoming fairly obvious:  if we don’t start paying for what we use, we’re going to lose it.

We’re in the midst of one of the most challenging business cycles of our lives. We’ve seen business after business shut their doors forever. Costs are rising, credit is harder to find, competition is global and the rate of change threatens to swamp old business models that can’t evolve.

And yet there are people who complain about UPS and USPS raising their prices to reflect increased costs, or , god-forbid, a news organization like the Wall St. Journal wanting to get compensated for reporting the news.

Can someone please explain to me how you can be expected to run a business without getting fairly paid for your products or your services?

While I wait for your answer, I’m going to go out and buy a copy of the Journal. Heck, I may even decide to pay for a subscription so I can read it online — the way it should be read.

Business direct marketing Misleadership

Delivery Confirmation Consternation

The other day my wife and daughter and I went for a walk. It had been raining on and off, and now the sun had broken through the clouds and we needed to get outside.

As we walked past one of the units in our garden apartment building, I noticed a USPS package in front of the door to Unit A.

Since I was expecting a package, I went up to check. We’ve only been living in this apartment for about a month, but in that time the Post Office had delivered Unit A’s mail to us in Unit C more than once, so I figured it was only a matter of time before the reverse happened.

The package was actually in the right place, Unit A, except for two minor details. First, Unit A was empty and had been for over a week since the tenants moved out. But more importantly, the package had a Delivery Confirmation label on it.

Now I don’t expect the U.S. Post Office to be mind readers. If someone moves without filing a Change of Address notification, I don’t expect them to peep into a window to find out that the residence is empty. (Although, in this case, since the blinds were up and the apartment was clearly vacant, it wouldn’t have been that hard to guess.)

But I do expect them to deliver on the specific features of a service someone paid extra money for. Here’s the U.S.P.S’s own definition of Delivery Confirmation, from their website:

Verify delivery with Delivery Confirmation.

Our low cost Delivery Confirmation service gives you the date, ZIP Code™ and time your article was delivered. If delivery was attempted you will get the date and time of attempted delivery. You can easily access this information with our Track & Confirm tool.

And from their Delivery Confirmation FAQ:

The customer will be provided the following information about items mailed with Delivery Confirmation:

  • If item was delivered:  the date and time of delivery
  • If delivery was attempted but not successful:  the date and time of the attempt

By what definition is leaving a box in the rain in front of an empty apartment a successful delivery?

I assume it wasn’t an attempted delivery, because that implies that the box wouldn’t have been left there. Although, technically, I guess it was an attempted delivery after all, but probably not in the way the sender was expecting.

As a direct marketer, I’ve had my share of unpleasant surprises from the Post Office. We once did a mailing in the Phoenix, AZ area where the variety of reasons for returned mail was so astounding and inconsistent that our regional rep could only laugh and offer some potential off-the-record explanations that could get them in trouble if I repeated them here. And we all remember the bad old days when Postal Carriers were getting busted for dumping catalogs or storing commercial mail in their lockers and garages.

But for me, this was over the line. I’m not going to get into comparisons with FedEx or UPS, because if you’re like me, you’ve been confounded by their occasional screw ups too. And I’m not going to conflate this into an indictment of  government incompetence and the “public option” like some congressmen or pundits have been doing these days.

But can someone please explain to me what was going through that mail carrier’s head when he or she chose to leave that package in the rain in front of a vacant apartment in spite of the sender having paid extra to know when it was delivered, or if not successful, when delivery was attempted?