Business CRM Directed Advertising

Costco Direct Mail Fail

I just received my membership renewal notice from Costco, and I was astounded by their blatant failure to apply one of the most basic rules of direct marketing:  give me a reason to buy!

There were at least 3 offers to upgrade my Gold Star (or Basic) Membership to an Executive Membership for an additional $50. The most prominent of these offers was a Yes! box on the reply “portion” (their lackluster word, not one my agency would ever use) of the renewal notice.

Since Gold Star Membership only costs $50, I was intrigued to know what extras I would get for double the price.

I looked on the front of the notice. Nothing. They spent a whole panel encouraging me to sign up for exclusive online offers and shop online, but not a single word about why I should upgrade my membership — at the exact moment in our relationship when I was about to take action to renew my membership!

I looked on the back of the notice, where they directed me to find instructions for upgrading to an Executive Membership. Sure enough, there were instructions… but no list of features and benefits or any kind of explanation of Executive Membership.

I looked at the inserts. There was one for Ameriprise Auto Insurance. Nothing there about Executive Membership.

There was an insert for the TrueEarnings Card from Costco and American Express Card. And miracle of miracles, it mentioned that with the TrueEarnings Card, you can earn 1% in addition to the 2% rewards “you’re already earning” with your Costco Executive Membership. But nothing else.

Just for fun, I went to the Costco website and looked up Executive Membership. Here’s what I found:

Executive Membership is our highest level of membership. Executive Members enjoy an annual 2% Reward on most Costco purchases, as well as additional values on member services, such as lower prices on check printing, auto loans and identity protection; larger Costco Cash card amounts for mortgage, real estate and home equity transactions; an account bonus for money market and online investing accounts; free roadside assistance for vehicles covered through the auto insurance program; and extra travel benefits.

That’s not a bad offer: Cash rewards, better benefits, extra features. At 2% cash back, I can even figure out my annual purchases and see that if I spend over $2,500 a year, the upgrade more than pays for itself. And that’s not even including the value of extras and account bonuses.

It’s a good story, one that might have convinced me to upgrade my membership, if it were anywhere at all on the Renewal Notice.

Direct mail isn’t rocket science. There’s a set of time-tested basic rules, a wider set of tested-into best practices, and some basic mindsets. A good direct marketing agency (like mine, Tanen Directed Advertising) knows how to apply these time after time to generate predictable, successful results.

But it doesn’t take a direct mail expert to know that if you want to upsell someone to a product or service that costs twice as much, you’ve got to give them a reason why.

Did they just forget? Were they trying to drive me to the website or the phone to get more info because they’ve tested into it and learned that they actually upgrade more memberships that way? Or did their lettershop screw up and fail to insert the buckslip extolling the features and benefits of upgrading to Executive Membership?

Since this blog is based on the premise that if we knew the reasons behind some seemingly incomprehensible choices those choices would make more sense, can someone please explain to me why Costco thought they could get me to fork over an extra $50 without telling me why? (And Costco, if there isn’t a good reason, give me a call. My agency can really improve your membership renewal mailings.)

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Did Costco call you?

The other day, we got an interesting pre-recorded message on our phone. It was from Clif Bar, notifying us of their voluntary recall of certain Luna Bars that potentially have peanut butter in them that came from the same processor responsible for the current salmonella outbreak.

The message said they called us because we were Costco members, and that we’d bought the affected products. A friend of ours got a similar call, also because his family are Costco members, too.

Here’s what I find most interesting. Just the week before, I’d bought a case of Clif Bars that fell into the recalled batch… from BJ’s.

Did I get a call from BJ’s? No.

Did I get a call from any other manufacturer about their possibly contaminated products? No.

Recalls are touchy things. They can make or break a company. Marketing professors use the 1982 Tylenol recall as a case study of how to manage a crisis and turn a potential customer service nightmare into a brand building triumph. It cost them over $100 million dollars to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol, but in the long run it saved the brand, and possibly the company, Johnson & Johnson, for whom it represented 17% of net income.  The International Herald Tribune has a good article about it here.

I’ve had other things recalled — most recently, my daughter’s toys being recalled for lead contamination comes to mind. But I never received a call from the company — I had to find out about it myself online after hearing the news stories.

What Costco did is good customer service. And Costco and Clif Bar have raised the bar (no pun intended.)

In the rivalry between Costco and BJ’s to win my business, who do you think just gained the lead? Given similarities in pricing and selection, what else is there to help set these two big box wholesalers apart except service?

I can’t imagine there’s much of a difference in the way they track customer data. They both swipe my membership card before they ring up my orders. BJ’s must have known that I bought the contaminated bars.

So can someone please explain to me, not why Costco called, but why BJ’s didn’t?

PS. Shameless promotion follows…

I just finished another dark and twisted collaboration with my friend, the extremely talented illustrator, Viktor Koen. As some of you may know, we worked together on Lexicon: Words and Images of Strange (AtticChild Press, 1996).

Our new collaboration is Toyphabet. You can read more about it here. But for those of you going to New York Comicon next week, I wanted to let you know that TOYPHABET is a limited edition book made specially for the 2OO9 New York Comic Con and is carried exclusively by Baby Tattoo Books at booth#1622.