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Mailbox Monday

Times of economic upheaval are particularly tough on nonprofits. With the current pandemic, many have had to cancel events, in some cases losing down payments on venues and other investments, as well as the money they had hoped to raise. And, as Americans grapple with job and income insecurity, donations are likely down — especially if your nonprofit organization seems unrelated to current health concerns and news making movements like Black Lives Matter.

We recently received a package from HFA, the Humane Farming Association. This might not seem like an organization that has a direct relation to the COVID crisis, but HFA quickly makes the connection — and does so in an engaging package filled with good information and a compelling case for support.

The outer envelope features a full-bleed color image of a cow, relaxing in a field. Teaser copy starts to tie the campaign to current events: "Protecting Farm Animals is an Essential Activity." And, a standard rate stamp rather than an indicia is a nice touch.

Inside, the two-sided letter continues to stress relevance. The Johnson box reads "Standing Strong for Farm Animals — During the Pandemic — and Beyond." (We overlooked the awkward application of dashes because the message is bold and clear.) The letter copy expresses AHF's hope that "you and your loved ones" are safe and healthy, and goes on to assure concerned supporters that all of the rescued animals and HFA staff are well, "Thanks to HFA's long-standing emergency preparedness." In fact, "Even in the midst of crisis" the organization has saved 250 animals. This timely report moves into general information about HFA's mission and accomplishments and, naturally, a request for support. We were particularly impressed with two places where HFA mentions its legitimacy as a nonprofit. The last line of the letter, before the National Director's signature, reassures that "100% of your contribution goes directly into HFA's lifesaving work." The P.S. (a sometimes underestimated letter hot-spot) informs us. that HFA "has once again achieved the highest possible rating from each of the nation's charity-review organizations."

The showpiece of the campaign is a 16-page full-color magazine (folded once to fit into the 6" x 9" envelope). The magazine takes advantage of photos of animals — including animals living peacefully in HFA's sanctuary and those who are suffering in factory farms. Stories include updates on current lawsuits, boycotts, legislation, and campaigns; a list of House and Senate contacts for our state and various committee chairs in case we want to write them to support reform bills that are currently under consideration; and HFA branded items (tee shirts, books, posters, bumper stickers) that can be ordered to provide and show support.

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Adapting Creative for Times of Crisis

Excerpted from the Queen B's story in the current issue of DMAW AdVents ...

Back in February (doesn't that seem like a lifetime ago?) Time magazine wrote that the coronavirus had become "The World's Largest Work-From-Home Experiment." That was weeks before any U.S. state had issued a stay-at-home order. Much has been made about our nearly instantaneous remote workforce. But, what does this "new normal" mean for marketers?

Many of us are asking ourselves timely questions. How do we stay relevant during a pandemic? How do we create a sense of urgency about our organization when there are clearly more urgent issues on everyone's mind? Are we better off waiting until the current crisis abates? Or can we use our creative — albeit carefully — to build stronger relationships?

Regardless of what you're selling — a product, solution, or worthy cause — emotion is one of the most effective tools at your disposal. Of course, this is particularly true for nonprofits. But, in the creative we do for all clients, even for fairly technical B2B solutions, we always strive to blend promotion (a free trial, a discount, a value-add) and emotion (how the solution will benefit you, personally or professionally). Appealing to emotion is key to getting a response and inspiring lasting loyalty.

And emotions are certainly running high.

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B2C? B2B? B2ME! The Beauty of Monogamous Marketing

It happens all the time. You're ordering lunch and ask for a Diet Coke. Without missing a beat, your waitperson asks, "Is Diet Pepsi all right?"

This person is not a carbonated beverage expert. They may not have even waited tables for very long. But, whether they're an out-of-work actor, a grad student, or a retiree supplementing their Social Security, they have learned a thing or two about brand loyalty. Give a dedicated Diet Coke drinker a Diet Pepsi (or vice versa) without a proper warning and you could end up tip-less.

As silly as it may seem (just compare the nearly identical list of ingredients on two different cans of soda), some brands somehow warrant that level of fandom and devotion.

We think of it as "monogamous marketing." And, guess what? It's priceless.

Here in the Boston area, just try convincing a Dunks devotee to go to Starbucks instead. You'll have a wicked fight on your hands.

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Picture Perfect vs. Real Diversity

Right now, the Bs are working on a very exciting communications program for an important client around the extremely timely topic of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This got us thinking about how we communicate diversity as a creative agency. Most clients (and over the years, we've worked for really big ones: IBM, The Boston Globe, Bank of America) ask us to use stock photos that showcase corporate diversity. No problem. There are lots of them available, although the options decrease as you try to depict C- or senior-level executives.

Without naming names, we did a quick experiment with a very popular stock photo resource. We searched for "Senior Executive" and on the first page of 60 images, there were only a handful with women or people of color. In fact, the ones that we did see were often alternate shots of the same model.

Still, we can almost always find a token image of a token type of executive. But, that begs the question, how does our stock photo experience stack up to real-life? In other words, are all our clients living up to the image they ask us to project in advertising, direct marketing, and collateral? (And, rest assured, the clients we mentioned earlier are.)

The disparity isn't unique to corporations. We created an animated viewbook for a local college whose student body has — for many years — been 2/3 to 3/4 female. They consider this a disadvantage when they're recruiting new students, so they asked us to put a boy on the cover of the viewbook. Not a boy in a. group of students, but a single boy standing in front of an academic building and looking like the collegiate equivalent of everyman.

The problem, we advised the client, is that the minute a prospective student steps onto campus, he or she will see for his or herself that the students are mostly girls.

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Paper Chase

This week, the Bs attended a webinar presented by Neenah Paper. So often, marketers invest tons of time and energy (and that means money) on a direct mail campaign or a piece of corporate collateral. We pay talent (writers, art directors), we buy photography, we budget for postage, and then at the project's very end, we skimp on paper.

As Neenah persuasively explained, paper makes a difference. And, that difference translates to results.

Here's some of what we learned ...

Digital may save you money, but consumers want more.72% of consumers say they prefer to connect with brands through multiple channels before purchasing. And 93% of online responses are driven by direct mail promotions.

Analog — i.e.: paper — marketing communications influence purchases. Direct mail can be shared, discussed and considered.Nearly 90% of purchase decisions are made or discussed at home. 61%of recipients find direct mail influenced their purchase decision. And 76% of shoppers discuss relevant mail from a brand or retailer they have purchased from in the past.

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Mailbox Monday

Prior to covid-19, an estimated 4.7 million employees worked from home at least 50% of their time. Since the pandemic forced us to physically isolate, that number has increased exponentially. Despite complaining about haircuts (or the lack thereof), most newly remote workers have found cause to celebrate. No more commuting! More flexible hours! Zoom backgrounds! Sour dough bread (wtf?).

When home is also your office — and you're stuck there pretty much all the time except for the occasional walk — you might start noticing that your surroundings, specifically your furniture, are looking pretty tired. But, with most retail establishments closed, what's a person to do?

Shop online, of course.

This "new normal" is a great time to upgrade your living/working arrangements. Assuming, of course, that you haven't been furloughed or laid off. If you have, we're genuinely sorry and you don't need to continue reading. (A drink might help. Or chocolate. Or some comfort TV. Have you tried Derry Girls? Truly, it will pick you up.)

Anyway ... we just received a postcard from online homewares retailer Wayfair. It gets so much right, it's hard to know where to start. The card is big (6"x9"), colorful, and printed on decent stock. It's attractive and inviting and almost as welcome in the mailbox as a stimulus check signed by the president.

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True Colors

Color blindness affects about 8% of men and .5% of women. Those afflicted by the condition can see as few as 10,000 variations of colors while the rest of us can see up to 1,000,000. EnChroma, an innovative company that makes glasses that can correct most types of color blindness, has a free two-minute color blindness test if you're curious about your own vision. Try it here.

For the rest of us, color is the first thing we notice and — as marketers — we know that first impressions are powerful. In fact, according to Entrepreneur magazine, 93% of purchases are based on visual perception.

Color speaks directly to our emotions. And contrasting colors improve recall. If you're old enough (ahem), just think of Howard Johnson's. There's a reason why their distinct orange and turquoise palette was ... well ... so distinct. And why we remember it, thirty years later.

When choosing a color for a company logo or for a particular marketing effort, you can tap into the power of color to convey your brand or product's personality. How do you want people to feel? Color can help you achieve the mix of promotional and emotional resonance that makes your target audience stop, take notice, and — most importantly — take action.

Here's a quick overview of color theory:

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Mailbox Monday

WGBH, Boston's beloved public television station, wants us. They want us bad.

We received two different solicitations recently, one dated April 2020 and the other dated May 2020. The packages are similar: #10 window envelope, double-sided letter, personalized response slip, and a return envelope.

Both leverage the COVID-19 pandemic. But, in different ways.

The earlier package uses a teaser that we've seen (and actually responded to) before: "Special Offer" reads an orange burst. "You Decide! Contribute any amount and receive a WGBH membership ..."

Inside, the personalized letter (visible through a standard window on the OE) reinforces that offer in a Johnson Box that says, "Special Offer - A contribution in any amount makes you a WGBH member with a full year of member benefits!" The body of the letter introduces the current situation in a paragraph that feels like it may have been added at the last minute:

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B2B Data Gets the Respect it Deserves

At B Direct, we believe in data. As direct marketers, we see the enormous value in knowing who, where, when, and how. Our goal, no matter what project we're working on, is to make people take action. And the more data we have access to, and the better that data is, the easier it is to achieve that goal.

Dun & Bradstreet, an important client of ours, recently published its Seventh Annual B2B Sales and Marketing Data Report.

D&B surveyed 500 B2B sales and marketing professionals across the U.S., U.K., and Canada. The results were a mix of good news and missed opportunity.

First, the good news ...

Sales and marketing teams finally seem to recognize the importance of data quality. And, not just recognize it, but invest in it. 73% — nearly three-quarters — of those surveyed have increased their investment. Virtually everyone recognizes data quality's value. When asked how important data quality is ...

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Expert Testimony

In direct marketing, there are lots of catch phrases we use over and over again. Like "There's never been a better time to ..." And, "This offer won't last so ..." And "It's our way of saying 'Thank You' ..." And, of course "Call now," "Act now," "Buy now," "Learn more now," and myriad other — oh-so-emphatic — calls-to-action.

Here's another phrase that can help you increase response:

"But, don't take our word for it ..."

You may be making a very attractive offer. Your product may be best-in-class. Your organization may donate half its profits to widows and children. In fact, you may be the most honest person to ever list Marketer as your occupation on a tax form. Even so, your propsective customer doesn't trust you. The thing is, you're trying to sell them something and it's human nature to be suspicious.

Your best defense is to not defend yourself. Really. Let others do it for you. Customer testimonials are one of our not-so-secret weapons (and bonus if you have a name and a picture next to that glowing recommendation).

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To Insert Name Here or Not?

It's one of those direct marketing golden rules (like, "If you can't make it big, make it red"): Personalization increases response. But, the truth is this ...

All personalization is not created equal.

First of all, if you don't have good data, don't even bother. No one likes to see their name butchered or simply wrong. In fact, the more you showcase an incorrect name, the worse your recipient feels. The Queen B (whose last name is notoriously difficult to get right) once received a very sleek, very high-end water bottle with her name so egregiously abused that she threw it away. And, promptly forgot the name of the vendor who sent it.

A client of ours, for whom we had designed an elaborate self-mailer that included multiple points of personalization, gave us a list that was "hand-built" by their sales force. Good thing we checked, because one record had "Owner's Wife" in the field for first name.

But, we digress ...

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Homework

On March 19th, California's Gavin Newsome became the first U.S. governor to ask people to stay at home. "This is not a permanent state," he promised. "This is a moment in time. We will look back at these decisions as pivotal.”

Other governors and local leaders followed suit. Today, at least 42 states, three counties, 10 cities, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico — totaling 316 million people — are under similar orders.

That's a lot of empty offices.

Much has been made about the phenomenon that Time magazine calls, "The World's Largest Work-From-Home Experiment." Everything from morning news to late-night talk shows are being broadcast from living rooms. Zoom meetings are so ubiquitous they rated their own skit on NBC's recent all-virtual SNL. And, pretty much every industry from technology to health care to education to financial services is offering advice on how to stay home, stay at work, and stay sane.

We thought it was time to jump in.

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Mailbox Monday

In the last few years, as email inboxes have overflowed, we've witnessed a renaissance of direct mail. We've stayed busy with content, social, and digital marketing in every shape, size, and platform. But, from quick postcards to custom 3-D packages, we were happy to be back in the mail business, producing a healthy mix of B2C and B2B.

Enter COVID-19.

B2C marketing may still make sense depending on what you're selling (and whether you have a relevant message for these stressful times — see our recent post on that!).

Meanwhile, B2B marketing lists are suddenly outdated if not utterly useless. Do you really want your precious piece of direct mail sitting in some abandoned mail room, meant for someone's abandoned desk in their abandoned cube? Chances are, the person you're trying to reach at their place of business is conducting their business somewhere else, namely at home.

And, besides, what would you send anyway? A roll of papier toilette?

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Send the Right Signals with Type

When it comes to effective marketing, typography can make — or break — you.

One of the Bs recently stumbled across some outdoor advertising for a college in Boston. It had an engaging image and a compelling message, but there was something a bit off about it. The copy used a play on words— two nearly identical statements with a single word switching out and making the point. Oddly enough, the art director chose to make that all-important word smaller than the rest of the sentence. Exactly the opposite of what the strategy called for. Hmmm.

We started looking for more examples of ads in which type doesn't do the creative concept any favor. Moving left to right, here's what we came up with ...

Burying the leadThe headline reads DON'T JUST MAKE IT TO BOSTON. MAKE IT IN BOSTON. Cool, we get it. But, the word IN is smaller than the rest of its sentence. It's easy to miss IN altogether. Similarly, the tagline next to the school's logo says MAKE YOUR WAY. We have to assume "YOUR" is the most important part of that phrase (you, your, yourself are million-dollar words for marketers), but again, the word is smaller. If this is deliberate, it's getting in the way of reading and comprehension.

Breaking up is hard to doYou can't tell everyone who reads your message exactly how you'd like them to read it. So, make sure it's reader-proof. Your line breaks and color choices need to make sense and work with your design not against it. In this piece of signage, changing the background color halfway encourages people to read the words down in columns rather than across in lines. So, the message (we assume) "Excellent Alterations and Tailoring" is easily mistaken for "Excellent and Alterations Tailoring."

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Be Quiet — Unless You Have Something Real to Say

Heading into our second month working from home (I'm speaking about professionals in general — the Bs have been WFH for 17 years), we're fairly astounded by the number of emails we've received from businesses that lead with the coronavirus pandemic. Some of them make sense. Like the refund guidelines for a hotel or airline reservation. Or the new shipping policy from a production vendor we do business with. Or a discount on home office supplies. Or even a promotion from a tech company introducing us to its web conferencing solution.

But, some of them don't.

Yes, people are home. Yes, they're online. And, yes, they're probably bored. But, taking advantage of a national crisis is not a good way to sell socks. Or jewelry. Or T-shirts.

We have clients with legitimate reasons to do outreach during the current situation. One, for example, offers low-cost auto refinancing. So, we're working on a campaign that explains a set of very timely benefits: a lower rate, lower monthly payments, and cash advances. With more than 10 million people filing for unemployment, our client's financial solution will be good news to many.

Another client is one of the world's leading online learning companies. They have content that can help remote workers and remote managers alike, including courses on driving business continuity. And, with so many facing unemployment now and in the future, our client is offering an extended free trial so people can sharpen their current skills and acquire new ones. We're helping to promote the offer with emails, blog posts, digital media, webinars, and more.

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Mailbox Monday

We often have to convince clients that less is more. You simply can't fit an entire company brochure on a social media tile or in an email or even in a letter. But, sometimes more is more. Or, bigger is better. And, the way to find out which works better — short or long — is to test.

We're direct marketers; we love to test.

So, apparently, do the folks at Staples. On a single day, two people here received two different postcards. Same promotion, but two sizes: one big (4.5 x 11), one small (4 x 6).

The creative is almost identical — same headlines, same photo. The offers are slightly different (interestingly enough, the smaller card has the bigger offer). The disclaimer copy (and there's plenty of it) is virtually the same. And, both have an offer addendum: an increase in the company's rewards program.

The art side of each postcard depicts a minimalist office setting and the headline:

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When We Find Ourselves in Times of Trouble

If your experience is anything like ours, your email inbox is probably overflowing with Coronavirus messages. Businesses want to reassure us that they have effective continuity strategies in place. Professional organizations explain that events are being cancelled, postponed, or transformed into digital experiences. Nearly every email we send or receive starts and ends with the same message: "I hope you are well. Stay safe."

One message about the pandemic really stood out this week. It's from Goldstar Events.

Goldstar is a membership service that offers discounted tickets to live events. Founded in 2002, the business has more than seven million members, and represents more than four thousand event venues in twenty-six metro areas. (If you're wondering why the Bs are such fans of show business, email alex@bdirectmktg and the Queen B will share our recent presentation: "There's No Business Like ... Direct Marketing.")

Just like ticket issuers across the U.S., Goldstar had disappointing news to relay. A play for which we had bought tickets was being cancelled in the name of social distancing. This wasn't a surprise, but the email notice itself is a surprisingly wonderful piece of copywriting.

The subject line is: "Coronavirus Actions and Thoughts" and the body of the email reads as follows:

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Mailbox Monday

All right, first things first. We know this is a print ad. BUT, it's from a magazine to which we have a subscription. Therefore, technically speaking, it did show up in our mailbox.

And, we're glad it did.

Over the years, we've won a lot of awards. We've also judged a lot of awards shows. We've always thought there should be a category for courageous clients, clients who are willing to push the envelope, go out on a limb, be — maybe — just a little ridiculous.

If we were judging a show that included something along those lines, we would vote for this ad.

It's from Oatly oatmilk, and it grabbed us immediately with its irreverent headline: "This tastes like sh*t! Blah!"

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Making a (Power) Point

At B Direct, clients often ask us to design PowerPoint systems — or clean up presentations they've started themselves. More often than not, we find ourselves trying to convince people that "less is more."

Just because you can fit 350 words on a PowerPoint slide, doesn't mean you should. In fact, that's precisely what you should not do.

PowerPoint slides should be persuasive visual aids. They should supplement an oral presentation and drive the most relevant points home. They should help make a presentation more entertaining, more educational, and more memorable.

The should not be a brochure.

Here are some tips to help you make the most of PowerPoint (not, we repeat, to be confused with cramming the most into PowerPoint).

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Mailbox Monday

After more than a few years in the business, we still find focus groups fun. First of all, there's that totally cool, almost sci-fi, one-way mirror. There are interesting group dynamics. There's a smooth-talking moderator. And, there are always M&Ms. But, most importantly, you get to see and here real people engage with the creative you've created.

Watching a focus group go through a direct mail package is an education unto itself. You may think you know how people open and read your mail. But, guess what, you're probably wrong.

Some people open the envelope and pull out item by item, reading each one in its turn. Some people pull everything out at once and lay it on the table in front of them. Some read whatever is most colorful. Others read the letter. Some people cut to the chase and go right to the response device.

We can't usually determine what a person will see and when they will see it. Unless ...

We use a format that can only be opened and read one way, revealing content in exactly the order we want.

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Mailbox Monday

Thank you notes were already going out of fashion long before people became addicted to texting and emailing. Now, they feel like a true relic of a bygone age.

That's probably why a postcard that the Queen B received last week was such a standout.

The Queen B is a theatre lover and had recently seen a production of Kate Hamill's (look her up; she's amazing) Vanity Fair at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge. She's on the mailing list of many local theatre companies and receives postcards promoting new productions regularly.

But, this one was different.

The front (or art side) has a photo from the play she just saw with a big message: "THANK YOU!"

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Is Your Company Really About Your Customer?

B DIrect is working with the leading eLearning, training, and leadership development company right now. A lot of our messaging (to date, we've done design work, emails, landing pages, digital and print ads, sell sheets, case studies, and postcards) revolves around businesses recognizing that their most important asset is their workforce.

But, an equally important asset is the customer. In fact, you may have the best workforce in the world, but if you don't have any customers, that workforce will be polishing off their collective resumes pretty darn fast.

A true story from the Bs' archives. Prior to founding Plan B, which became B Direct, we worked together at a considerably larger direct marketing agency. One day, there was a fairly major f*ck up on a project for an important client. The Queen B (then the agency's COO and ECD) happened to be travelling with the Account Executive on the left coast when they got a call from an understandably distraught client. For about twenty minutes, the Account Executive made excuses and ignored the client's growing anger.

When the call ended, the client went into her supervisor's office — frustrated as hell — and said, "I can't believe they didn't even say they were sorry."

At the same time, the agency Account Exec hung up and burst into tears. She couldn't believe what had happened to the project, and she spent the next forty-five minutes beating herself up for every conceivable way she might have prevented the mistake but didn't.

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The Name Game

We are often asked to help clients generate names for products, for promotions, once in a while for a new company or division itself. There's lots of science to it, as well as some art. And, then you get into the really fun part (we're being sarcastic here), which entails Googling and trademark searches and cultural allusions ... oh my!

For example, we once worked on naming an online directory. All of the names (dozens of them) that we came up with were rejected. The client had his own idea. And, in all fairness, it was a great idea — in English, in America. The only problem was that the name needed to work globally, and in at least one European market, the name didn't imply an online directory. It implied what the director of a porn film might tell his leading man to do.

Uh-oh ...

But, all in all, naming can be an interesting challenge. And, for some lucky businesses, naming can be great fun too.

Just take a look at these real-life and really creative solutions:

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Mailbox Monday

Toward the beginning of January, we received an oversized postcard with an image of a phone crossed with a safe. The card was from Ooma Office and was promoting a special offer on business phone service. The real estate on the postcard was filled with benefits, competitive advantages, third-party endorsements, a compelling offer, and easy ways to respond.

All-in-all, a quite respectable piece of direct mail marketing.

However ... we are perfectly happy with our current business phone service, so we took just the quickest of looks and discarded the card.

Then, a funny thing happened.

We started getting emails. Same image of the hybrid phone/safe. Same color scheme (deep burgundy, grey and black), same benefits, and same offer. Between January 7th and January 27th, we received no less than five emails from Ooma. They all had exactly the same look and feel. Headlines changed somewhat. Benefits and offers stayed the same but they were delivered in slightly different ways. With a special offer ending January 31st, a sense of urgency built email-to-email.

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Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?

As a direct marketing agency, we pride ourselves on having many tricks up our sleeve. These nifty little sleights of hand (or keyboard) help us help clients generate response and results. And, that's why we're all here.

For example, the Johnson Box. That's the short paragraph that appears in the empty space above letter copy. It's a great place to call out some important part of the letter that the recipient might otherwise miss. Did you kow it's named after a real person? Direct marketer Frank Johnson invented it in a letter for American Heritage magazine in 1941. Nearly 80 years later, it still works. (But today, your Johnson Box can sit in a box or not.)

Asymmetry. Humans crave order. If you give them something that's imbalanced or lopsided AND give them a way to correct that fact, they will take a moment or two to do so. That's why pistol- or L-shaped BRCs work so well. Diecut the business reply card with a section that perfs off, turning your aymmetrical L into two separate, comfortably symmetrical rectangles. This gets your audience interacting with arguably the most important part of your mail piece: the response mechanism. Once they've bothered to tear the card, they might as well mail it back.

Bullet points. Most people are natural scanners. Unless they're English Lit majors, they really don't savor every ... single ... word ... of ... every ... single ... paragraph. We always try to serve up copy in small, digestible chunks. Bullets are a great way to attract attention, make sure that your most important messages get through, and break up the layout. They are especially important in the digital age when more than 50% of website visitors spend just ten seconds or less on a page.

And, speaking of digital, how about email buttons? These are dressed-up links that transport the email recipient out of your email and off to a landing page, registration form, or any other content that you want them to encounter. Buttons catch the eye and (the best ones) tell the prospect what you want them to do.

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New England's Going to the Super Bowl After All

A few months ago, one of the Bs was mildly inconvenienced when the entrance to his South End, Boston condo was blocked by a massive film crew. They painted and redecorated storefronts, constructed a giant rain cover to keep the inclement weather from the set, painted perpendicular parking lines, and otherwise disrupted the mild-mannered lives of neighborhood residents.

It was for a car commercial, the B was told, for the Super Bowl.

This seemed a bit odd. Most car commercials feature speeding vehicles on long stretches of highway, shot on deserted roads along the coast, or through major metropolises before dawn. How much, we all wondered, could they really highlight a car's design or performance on a single block of a small historic street.

This week, we found out.

The ad is for the Hyundai Sonata. And, while it's a perfectly nice-looking vehicle, the message isn't about its sleek chassis or its performance. It's about something Boston drivers know — and care — a lot about. Parking.

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Nervous? Picture Your Audience Reading Your Emails

There's a bit of sage advice that inexperienced public speakers often hear. If you're nervous (and — let's face it — most people would rather face death than get up and speak), picture your audience in their underwear.

For those of you who grew up with The Brady Bunch (like the Bs at B Direct did), Marcia tapped into this time-honored trick when she was taking her driver's test.

But, we digress.

Still, what goes around, comes around. If you're a marketer and your marketing includes email, you may already have a persona in mind. Well, thanks to Adobe, you can now picture them exactly where they'll be when they read your email.

And, it may not be where you think.

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Direct Mail Promotions for 2020

Something exciting happened at B Direct this past week.

A client asked us to create several "always on" campaigns to generate leads — and, hopefully sales — for a number of B2B solutions. This isn't unusual for us. But, what was unusual — and, as we said earlier, exciting — was that direct mail is going to play an integral role in each one. So is social, PPC, retargeting, email, and campaign landing pages, of course. But, the fact that direct mail was already part of the plan (in other words, we didn't have to make a case for it), was exciting.

It's 2020, and direct mail (still) works. In fact, we might argue that it's working harder now than it did back before we all went digital. There's less of it these days. In fact, there's less mail period these days. So, whatever we do put in the mail stream stands out, gets noticed, and gets results.

One thing we've always told cost-conscious marketing clients is that we can find ways to save them money on creative and on printing (with the collaboration of some of our wonderful production partners). But, postage is postage is postage. (There's death. There's taxes. There's postage.)

Except, of course, when the USPS runs a business mail promotion. And, they have several planned for 2020.

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Mailbox Monday

It's a new year. It's a new decade. But, some things don't change. We still receive unsolicited direct mail. Some of it is of interest. Some of it is not. But, it arrives just the same.

We were recently struck by the extremely oversized dimensions of a package from Fisher Investments. The outer envelope, which reads vertically — an unusual choice in its own right — measures 11" x 13.75". If the goal was to stand out, the generous size certainly fulfilled it. Unfortunately, it also meant that the piece was mangled somewhere along the line, and folded in half by the letter carrier.

Uh-oh.

A "handwritten" teaser (although clearly printed on, the art does seem to be done by hand rather than some faux handwriting font — props there) reads "The Favor of Your Reply is Requested!" The outbound and return addresses, along with the indicia, are printed within a slim gold border, approximating a label. Fisher Investments appears up the lefthand side in a clear varnish.

Inside is a two-page letter that reads like a flashback to some of the famous control packages from the Mad Men agency era. The letterhead, like the OE, is oversized: 9.25" x 12.25". A subtle Johnson box (in a handwriting font this time) reads "I'm guessing congratulations are in order."

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Happy Holidays from the Bs

Best wishes to all our clients and colleagues. May today — and all your days — B merry and bright.

Creepy Cats and Other Tales from Social Media

A week or so ago, we talked about the social media uproar that fitness manufacturer Peloton accidentally set off with its "give your wife an exercise bike for Christmas so she can feel really self-conscious about her body" television spot. Reactions to the ad (most of which were very negative; only a handful were of the "it's an ad, get over it" variety) sparked memes, spoof videos, and a clever sequel by a liquor brand. Stock for Peloton took a big hit, and competitors raced to promote alternative, and assumedly less controversial, products.

Moral of the story? We may think we know what will appeal to our customers. But — especially in the age of social media — they have the last say.

Oy, do they ever!

Another, rather humorous example emerged this week from Hollywood. Do you remember when the teaser trailer for Cats first came out back in July? According to the film's promotional team, it was going to be this amazing and spectacular and groundbreaking movie experience. Blah, blah, blah. The performers were filmed in digital onesies — and only then were their cat features and fur digitally added. Supposedly, this would make every whisker, every tail, and every strand of fur (does fur have strands?) incredibly lifelike.

In truth, at least judging by that early trailer and social media's reaction, the creative process made the cats look incredibly creepy.

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A Holiday Love Letter to the USPS

Dear United States Postal Service,

This is something you often deliver, but rarely receive. A love letter.

Last night we watched "Miracle on 34th Street." Not one of those newer made-for-TV adaptations (yuck), but the real deal: 1947, black and white, with the elegant Maureen O'Hara, adorable if precocious Natalie Wood, dashing John Payne, and the only Santa Claus we'll ever truly believe in: Edmund Gwenn. Did you know they filmed the parade scenes at the actual parade? (Need to reshoot? Too bad!) Did you know Payne was so smitten by the film that he wrote and wanted to produce a sequel? That O'Hara, Payne, and Gwenn hung out together after each day's filming ended? Or that Wood, just eight years old at the time, thought Gwenn really was Mr. Claus?

Ah, those were the days. But, we digress.

"Miracle on 34th Street" is probably required watching for new postal employees, so we're sure you already know the organization that saves the day when the State of New York threatens to lock Santa away ...

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Is Peloton the New Vacuum Cleaner?

What are the worst Christmas gifts a husband can give his wife? An iron? Socks? Snow tires? A vacuum cleaner?

Now, it's a Peloton.

At least according to social media. And — let's face it, as marketers, listening to social media has become one of our most important job desciptions.

Peloton is essentially a stationary bike, but it bills itself as "an immersive experience that will keep you coming back for more." And, "more" is certainly what the company gets. Try $2,245. (To go nowhere; really, think about it.)

The company has done a lot of things right. On its website, it weaves an engaging story about its people, process, and product. Bicycling magazine, a Hearst publication, raves that "The Peloton bike brings the spin class party to your house" and that "With live and recorded spin classes, it's so much more than a bike." Although it's undeniably expensive, they offer 0% 39-month financing. And, their target audience would quickly spend as much at Soul Cycle or some other high-end gym.

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Infographics, 22 Ideas to be Fun and Effective

According to Wikipedia, the defacto Encyclopedia Brittanica for the digital age, the term infographics is a clipped compound of information and graphics.

(Well duh, we could have figured that one out.)

"They are graphic visual representations of information, data or knowledge, intended to present information quickly and clearly. They can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system's ability to see patterns and trends. Infographics have evolved in recent years to be for mass communication, and thus are designed with fewer assumptions about the readers' knowledge base than other types of visualizations."

Bottom line?

With infographics, you can convey technical or complicated information in a fresh and engaging, memorable — and shareable — way. They're ideal for inclusion in websites, collateral, and publishing projects, your custom infographics also become powerful stand-alone marketing tools for sales, presentations, and fulfillment offers.

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Mailbox Monday

Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away, and you know what that means. In addition to turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie, 'tis the season when we are absolutely deluged with holiday offers. Between catalogs and Christmas cards and Amazon Prime boxes, our postal delivery professionals are definitely earning their pay.

This week, we received a neat little B2B self-mailer that promoted holiday rewards cards as gifts for the agency's employees, customers and vendors. The seasonal graphics and simple, benefits-driven message made it stand out in a fairly full mailbox.

The address panel uses the valuable real estate above the recipient's name to promote a special offer. "Save up to $750* on Ho-Ho-Holiday Rewards!" This teaser sits beside an image of a MasterCard with some illustrated fir trees. We have two concerns about the teaser. One is that while $750 sounds like a lot of money (because it is), we have nothing to measure it against. Is that half of what we're spending or 10%? And, if the savings are that great, are the products themselves terribly expensive? We also hate to see an asterisk in an offer. (Of course, they are often unavoidable, but right away they detract and raise suspicions.)

The cover of the piece is fun. Two cards, a MasterCard and a Visa appear over a festive winter background. The MasterCard itself has a cute marshmallow snowman floating in hot chocolate. "Spread Some Joy With These Holiday Rewards" reads the headline, followed by a persuasive subhead, "Give Your Employees and Customers What They Want." The "up to $750" offer is promoted again in a burst device.

Inside the three-panel mailer, the overleaf promises that these are "The Most Requestd Holiday Rewards 12 Years in a Row." Intro copy is bulleted, so even if the recipient doesn't read the whole thing, they learn that the cards are co-branded with their logo, that there are more than 150 options, and that the cards ("Happy Cards") are accepted at multiple merchants. The copy — although not set up as a letter — is signed by "The Team at OmniCard."

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You Can't Be What You Can't See

As marketers, we have responsibilities. To our clients. To their customers. To our agency colleagues.

You're thinking "Duh."

But, we also have responsibilities because what we say and show goes out into the world, affects how people think about things, and becomes part of a larger communications conversation. Can we make the world a better, more inclusive, and welcoming place through the decisions we make as marketers?

We say, "Yes."

Here's an example. The Queen B belongs to a local gym, where she works out at least a few times each week on resistance equipment, takes yoga classes, and dances. They recently decided to upgrade the fitness floor, which meant that the gym would be closed for a little over a week.

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Make 2-D DM a 3-D Experience

Just like good parents, as agency creatives, we love all our projects equally. But, we have the most fun when clients ask us to create 3D packages. After all, who doesn't like stuff? And, when it comes to mailing stuff, we've seen — and mailed — it all.

Recently, we designed a package with a 6-inch bale of hay that had a (plastic) needle sticking out of it. ("Needle in a haystack," get it?) We sent a magic wooden box that was a challenge to open (there was candy inside, as well as our client's brochure). We sent an elaborate first aid kit, an identity theft-proof wallet, a magnetic desktoy, 50 smiley face buttons, a Swiss army knife, glow in the dark stars, a champagne bottle filled with jelly beans, a model race car, a personalized silver-plated computer mouse, a Magic 8 ball, and even ... a Twinkie.

Yes, we once created a fun (and very effective) campaign around a Twinkie.

What these campaigns had in common was a small, targeted audience, and a big-ticket product or solution. If you're selling enterprise software for $800,000, you can afford to send a $25 direct mail package.

But, what if you're not?

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Mailbox Monday

We're big fans of postcards. (Really, we've created hundreds of them by now.)

A postcard can be a great choice for your direct marketing outreach for several reasons. Postcards can be ...

High-impact — they really stand out in a mailbox full of ho-hum white envelopesLow-cost — inexpensive to print and to mailQuick message — great for today's shorter attention spansPersonalization opportunities — with clever VDP 1:1 personalization, they'll be shared and displayedRedemption device — retailers can encourage recipients to bring the whole card in for a special offerOversized, die-cut, textural creates 3-D experience — spend a little more, and your postcard becomes a memorable, tactile experience

BUT, there are times when you may have too much to say for a humble postcard. Just because you're paying for paper, ink, and postage, don't feel compelled to cover every millimeter of your card with copy.

Sometimes, too much — even of a good thing — is simply too much.

This week, we received a postcard from business phone service Ooma. They had a lot to say. And, we mean A LOT. Much too much for a postcard.

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"Don't Answer, it's Just a Telemarketer"

God bless caller ID. In the olden days (we're talking 1970s, 80s, 90s and even 00s), when the phone rang, we used to answer it. After all, it could be a friend, a family member, or a celebrity informing you that you'd just won the Publisher's Clearinging House Seepstakes!

Today, we screen.

Oy, do we screen.

Numbers from sketchy 800-lines, towns where we have no contacts, or companies with names like Pro Business Info, Inc. are summarily ignored.

Nevertheless, telemarketing remains an important part of the omnichannel marketing mix. Especially for certain targeted audience segments. At B Direct, we're often asked to write outbound telemarketing scripts to follow-up on a direct mail campaign. A thoughtful, informative, and respectful call can be a powerful next step in the "marketing conversation" that leads to a purchase.

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Just Being Social

When we talk to some clients about content and social media marketing, you would think we were describing the latest Stephen King movie. The look in their eyes? Pure fear.

Of course, some of our clients (especially the larger ones) have the whole content marketing conundrum figured out already. But, they have an unfair advantage. They have big company budgets, big company staff. It isn't hard to commit to social media when there's actually a warm body committed to social media.

So, for our small- to mid-size clients, here are some tips to get you started ... and keep you going.

Treat social media like every other kind of marketing.That means have objectives, goals, and a strategy in mind. Don't think of social media as a necessary evil. Think of it as another way (and it can be a very powerful way) to engage with prospects and customers.Check out what your competition is doing.The idea isn't to copy them, per se. Instead, see where they may be missing opportunities and improve upon them. Also, make note of where they post and how often.Think about your audience.Where do they "hang out" online? What would interest them? Don't limit yourself to posts about your product. Think bigger — how can you entertain them, educate them, or help them solve their day-to-day problems?Create a schedule and assign writers.Be realistic. Don't assume you can go from zero to sixty (you can't). Start with expectations that are manageable — posting, consistently, once a week, is better than posting three days in a row and then taking a six-month break.Look for articles, research studies, and news items that can spark ideas.Your customers will value what you bring to their attention — even if it started somewhere else. Just be sure not to plagiarize. Cite and give credit whenever you repurpose content.Make sure anything you post encourages response.Social media is a two-way street. Finish posts with open-ended questions; motivate readers to tell stories of their own. And, always suggest that they re-post and share your content.Be professional, but not stuffy.Social media content should feel less formal than more "official" communication vehicles, like corporate brochures, annual reports, or your website. But, don't use offensive language or slang. And, by all means, proofread!Test, test, test ... and then test some more.Test types of content (interviews, informal research, testimonials, use cases); test which platforms work best; test day of the week and time that you post. Then, fine-tune your strategy based on what your tests reveal.

Social media marketing can be a great addition to your integrated marketing strategy.

If you and your team are still a little afraid of it, let us know. (We'd be happy to hold your hand.)

Word Processing

"What are words for? When no one listens anymore." (This flashback to the 80s is brought to you by B Direct.)

Fast forward to 2019. Last month, Webster's announced that it was adding 533 new words to the dictionary. Some are serious, like deep state and the Bechdel Test. Some not so much, like vacay, inspo, and fabulosity. Some are trendy activities, like free solo, escape room, and pickleball. Some are complicated, like rhoticity and aphantasia. And, some are just plain terrifying, like coulrophobia.

In case you're wondering, coulrophobia means "fear of clowns." (OMG.)

Traditionalists may not appreciate the addition of they as a singular pronoun (for non-binary individuals). But, we can probably all agree that there's no room for colorism in today's society.

New words aren't the only thing new either. Webster's made 4,000 other changes, including pronunciations, etymologies, and dates of first known use.

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Can You Feel It?

So much of what we do in direct marketing is all about promotion. Discounts, offers, expiration dates. But, the best direct marketing (and the not-for-profit industry does this masterfully) combines promotion and emotion.

Key emotional copy drivers include:

• Anger• Exclusivity• Flattery• Fear• Salvation• Greed• Guilt

And we would add Empathy to the list as well.

But, why should you make sure your direct marketing communications include emotion as well as promotion? Because using emotion works. (And that's not just a feeling we have — there are actual numbers that back this up.) For example ...

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EZ Tips for Effective Email

Even though people are receiving more email messages than ever before, and even though the same people are spending less time with their emal, email remains an important (for some marketers, the most important) channel for both customer and prospect communication.

But, oy, how many walk-in tub emails does a person really need?

As direct marketers, we would argue that it's email and not direct mail that has earned the nickname "junk."

So, given that it's getting harder to break through all that digital clutter, what can you do — right away — to make sure your emails are working hard for you? Here are some pretty easy, but effective, tips.

Know who you're mailing to — before you hit "send"Emails may be inexpensive to send out, but you'll do more harm than good if you send to expired, incorrect, or unqualified email addresses. Keep your lists clean; respect recipients' preferences and opt-out requests. Better to mail less but to the right people than to "spray and pray."

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Mailbox Monday

Okay, imagine a typical trip to your mailbox. You pull out a stack of mail. Let's see ...

Bill, bill, credit card solicitation, bill, credit card solicitation, bill, bill ... COOKIES!

We just received a win-back offer so sweet we simply couldn't refuse. The self-mailer came from Cheryl's Cookies, and it was big and colorful, printed on a fairly heavy stock. It certainly stood out from the rest of the mail (see actual unedited list above) with its nearly life-sized cookies.

On the art panel of the mailer, in addition to a delicious shot of ten cookies shaped like pumpkins and ghosts, a headline promises "Spooktacular Savings" and we're urged to "Look inside for your exclusive offer." The mail panel had another tasty photo and a burst element that specifies "$15 Off you next offer."

The piece is a horizontal double gate, and after slitting the wafer seals (which were conveniently perfed, thank you), the first reveal included a top panel with the message "We've missed you!" and an offer to use our $15 savings now at any of their "family of brands." Eleven logos took up the rest of the panel. In addition to Cheryl's, we could use our discount at The Popcorn Factory, Harry & David, Simply Chocolate, Wolferman's baked goods, and more.

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Direct Mail Plays Well with Others

Here at B Direct, one of the things we love about direct mail is how well it plays with others.

We used to joke with clients after they selected a direct mail concept, quoting any employee at your local McDonald's: "Would you like fries with that?" What we meant was that after all of the thought and creativity and problem-solving that went into a direct mail package, it was pratically a no-brainer to extend the concept into other media — whether that was a print ad, an email, digital banner, or a follow-up postcard. The heavy lifting was already done.

And, direct mail always works better when it's part of a bigger, integrated campaign.

But, don't take our word for it. According to a new study by PFL and Demand Metric, response rates for direct mail in integrated campaigns are 41% higher than direct mail that stands alone. And ROI improves by nearly 63%.

(Well ... duh!)

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Mailbox Monday

"How long should a letter be?"

That's a question we hear from clients and colleagues alike. Of course, the smart aleck response is "As long as it needs to be to sell what you're selling."

That answer also happens to be the truth.

These days, it's a common belief that less is more, that nobody reads long copy. At B Direct, we would append that assumption and say that nobody reads long copy that doesn't interest them. This week, we received a solicitation from the ASPCA that includes a letter that isn't one or two or even three pages long. It's four pages. (Wow.) Nevertheless, we would wager that many of the package's recipients will be reading it.

It's not just long, it's beautifully written.

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Email by the Numbers

Adobe, a vendor with which B Direct does a lot of business (since they pretty much own the creative studio software industry these days), just released their 2019 Email Usage Report. There are some interesting trends and tidbits in it.

First of all, people are spending less time with their email than in years past — both B2C and B2B. Personal email is only checked 143 minutes a day. Business email is only checked 209 minutes.

Now, it may seem like we shouldn't use the word "only" in either of those sentences. But, what's interesting is that those rather large units of time represent a significant downward trend. In 2016, personal mail was checked 209 minutes. Business mail was checked 256 minutes.

What make this even more worrisome for email marketers is that the number of emails going out has actually increased. That means people are spending less time on more email.

There was also a decline in people checking work email before work and on vacation. And no matter when or where they check email, they only think about 1/4 of the marketing offers they see are worth opening.

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This is Only a Test

Quick question. Do you consider yourself a direct marketer?

We certainly do (after all, we put the word "direct" right in the name of our agency). Basically, if you're any sort of marketer today, you need to think of yourself as a direct marketer. You're building relationships with prospects and customers — no matter what media you use or what title is on your business card.

So, what does it mean to be a direct marketer? The words and phrases that come to mind include "targeted," "one-to-one," "responsive," "measurable," and "accountable."

Another important part of direct marketing is "continuous improvement." Because our programs and campaigns provide a means by which our audience can reply, we have result metrics and an objective way to measure success.

We also have the opportunity to test.

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Mailbox Monday

Over the years, we've ordered tens of thousands of imprinted premium items for clients. That used to mean calling a specialty products representative and having her come in with samples. Now, like so much else in our industry, the entire transaction can happen online.

One of the digital vendors we've worked with is Custom Ink. And, we've been very happy with the results. So, when we received their self-mailer, we were eager to see what was new, what promotions they might be offering, and how they'd market their online store offline.

The cover of the colorful 5 7/8" x 7 3/8" package shows three millennials looking at a computer screen. "GET DOWN TO BUSINESS," the headline encourages, "in custom gear." Custom Ink's cute octopus logo appears in the lower right corner cut.

The mail panel is pretty busy. Above the address area (in what we call "a direct mail hot spot") is an offer for customized PopSockets. A cute teaser reads, "Stay on top," followed by copy that promotes the items. Next to the address area, two features are called out: "FREE Shipping" and " Guaranteed on-time delivery." In smaller type (quite small and reversed out, unfortunately), a call-to-action suggests, "Start your order today" with a URL and a toll-free number.

The mailer, which is a double gate, opens to show an imprinted backpack with other items spilling out from it. "Pack their bags," instructs the headline, "Set your team up for success with custom gear for the road or the office." Captions point to various items in the photo listing features and benefits. The treatment is engaging and will likely be read. At the bottom of this first reveal, there are logos for the various brands Custom Ink sells, like Adidas, North Face, Nike, etc.

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We Love Big Bots (and We Cannot Lie)

News flash. People don't want to do business with companies. They want to do business with people.

Okay. Not exactly news. But with all the channels — and all the technology — available to marketers today, it's more important than ever to keep this in mind. If your website includes an online "Help" or "Contact Us" feature, make sure your customer's experience with it is as personal as it can be.

Because, guess what? People don't want to do business with robots either.

Nevertheless, Gartner estimates that 85% of customer interactions will be managed without human agents by 2020.

It's easy to understand the benefits of customer service automation for the marketer. Cost, efficiency, cost, consistency, cost ... oh, and did we mention cost? But, there's a problem.

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