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A Matter of Trust

Preferences for shopping experiences vary from person to person. Some prefer in-person shopping to physically interact with the goods they are purchasing before placing them in their shopping cart.

Others enjoy browsing the inventory from the comfort of their living room and virtually placing each chosen item in a digital shopping cart.

Regardless of your personal preferences, we can all agree that the lockdowns of 2020 severely limited the in-person shopping options. With online shopping as being a last resort for some, let’s look into why this might be.

It’s common for many people to be hesitant to buy online due to the fear of their information being compromised. The concern over whether a website is a trustworthy shopping outlet to input credit card information is very real. Consumers need to feel they can trust a website with their personal data and information in order to feel at ease shopping there.

It’s also natural for people to distrust online shopping retailors because of privacy concerns. That’s why it’s the individual business’s responsibility to earn their consumers’ trust.

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Mailbox Monday

How does a big brand win back a disgruntled customer?

That's easy: by listening, empathizing, appreciating, problem-solving, demonstrating value.

The thing is ... in real life (or at least in real marketing), easy isn't always easy. Many brands are too busy to do all of that. Or they have their sights set on acquiring new customers and making new sales rather than shoring up any fragile relationships with current customers. Or they've simply become so big, so corporate, so automated, that the individual customer slips through the cracks.

We recently came across a very effective piece of very, very personalized customer care marketing.

Our agency content coordinator is a fan of Dial Moisturizing Body Wash, and has been for years. The problem is that the specific products she loves have been discontinued. Twice.

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Be Proud, Not Performative

Today is June 1st and you may start noticing rainbow flags flying throughout your city or town. This is to mark the start of Pride Month. In fact, you may see a variety of different flags during this time. (Refresh yourself on what each flag represents here.)

Supporting the LGBTQIA+ community is always the right thing to do, and during June, we celebrate their lives, their achievements, and their impact to society.

But how we celebrate as marketers hasn't always been an easy thing to figure out.

In 1994, the furniture company, IKEA, released a dining room TV ad. This ad featured a gay couple talking about purchasing a dining room table and chairs from IKEA. More importantly, this ad featured the first openly gay couple in a commercial. You can view this commercial here. The commercial sparked controversy as both detractors and supporters had strong reactions.

Companies that were being “progressive” in the 90s with their advertising, were often purposefully vague. For example, a 1997 Volkswagen ad featured two young men, but the relationship between them was up for interpretation. They weren’t explicitly boyfriends, but they also weren’t explicitly just friends. This created a cushion to protect Volkswagen from criticism.

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Mailbox Monday

If every marketer could send out 3D packages, response rates would go through the roof. Unfortunately, so would costs. Boxes, tubes, padded "jiffy bags" do get attention, but the postage alone is beyond the budget of many mailers.

So, what can you do if you want big impact with a small price tag?

You make a flat mail experience as special, engaging, tactile, and interactive as you can.

That's exactly what local business A&A Services did with their recent self-mailer. A fairly ordinary three panel piece becomes out-of-the-ordinary with the addition of a die-cut.

The address panel works hard from the get-go. A picture of the two business owners is coupled with a call-to-action in their voice: "Join our rowing list of satisfied customers... and become part of the family. We look forward to helping you on your next Roofing — Siding — Window — Door Project!" In the "hot area" above the address and indicia, there's an offer (Free Estimate), phone number and URL, and a compelling "before and after" example, complete with a three-line caption.

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Don't Just Recycle, Upcycle

In our last blog post, we talked about how some direct marketers are practicing greener mailing methods. As a recap, some marketers are using recycled paper, or water-based, eco-friendly inks. There are other methods too, such as encouraging recipients to recycle the mailings when they are done with them. Even though 94% of Americans claim they support recycling, 75% of U.S. waste could have (should have) been recycled.

Today, we’d like to look into an even more personal approach to recycling.

We’re talking masks.

With the CDC relaxing mask guidelines, we are left with the question of what do we do with our masks?

If you’re anything like us, you probably have a dozen-or-so cute masks that you purchased. It seems silly to throw them out, but what other use could they have?

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Greener Pastures for Your Direct Mail

Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.

Making responsible, environmentally conscious choices is always the right thing to do. This is important for us on a personal level as well as a professional level. How can direct marketers make responsible decisions when direct mail campaigns in themselves are not sustainable? Despite everyone's best intentions, the postcards and letters and flyers that come through the mail can easily end up in the trash — after all, they’re invariably (and unaffectionately) called “junk mail.”

However, there are some different approaches direct marketers are using to make their tactics greener.

A new group called the Green Marketing Coalition is striving to make “an inherently unsustainable practice at least a little bit greener” (New York Times). This group is made up of both direct marketing companies and a select few of their clients. Some members of the group include Microsoft, Washington Mutual, and OptimaHealth. The various members are all in agreement that the direct mail business is in need of some guidelines to make choices that benefit the environment.

A few examples of guidelines the coalition has come up with so far include using chlorine-free recycled paper and proofreading via digital files instead of hard copies. Guidelines also strongly recommend improving upon waste disposal standards. One way to do this is to conduct some research and choose a vendor that is committed to recycling.

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Email Copy Options (and Opt-Ins)

In our last blog post, we talked about optimum copy length for a direct marketing campaign. Today, we'll look at the same question with regard to email copy.

The overall recommendation is the same: if the length is effective, then that is the length to use.

Emails are a challenge to begin with. Readers have the ability to quickly delete messages without even opening them. And of course, the dreaded “unsubscribe” button is easily accessible to allow your readers to opt-out from hearing from you ever again.

So what length of copy works best for an email?

While shorter email copy is widely considered to perform better than longer copy, the real answer lies in your data. Get to know your audience really well and then test what length of email they respond to best.

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Copy: The Long and Short of It

We can all agree that marketing campaigns are meant to get a response out of a consumer. This could be an emotional response, a financial response, or even a physical response. We take the time to look at data to find the perfectly targeted audience to send our copy to. However, without good writing, even the most fine-tuned audience might not understand the narrative of your offer, or they might not even be interested enough to finish reading the piece you wrote just for them.       

One of the biggest challenges about writing is determining how long a piece should be. This challenge is even more of a concern when writing marketing copy. Grabbing the audience’s attention is one thing, but maintaining it is a whole different ball game. Marketers are tasked with creating content that remains interesting throughout the piece to keep readers interested.

This prompts the question, “How long should the copy be?”

And the answer? “As long as it needs to be to sell your product.”

The fact is, there really is no right or wrong answer for how long your marketing copy should be. It won’t be too long or too short, it will only be effective or ineffective. If the length is effective, then that is the length to use. Consultant Boyd Butler shares that, “Copy should be long enough to emotionally engage the prospect and give them enough rational reasons to back their emotional decision to purchase.”

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Mailbox Monday

Self-mailers are one of our favorite direct mail options. First of all, the options themselves are practically endless: oversized, undersized (yes, we've had those work), different folds, different die-cuts, creative personalization. Depending on your audience and product, they work equally well for B2C and B2B. And, they are generally cost-efficient and effective.

Of course, we love working on 3-D solutions as well. Sending something to someone is ... well ... if not downright bribery, at the very least curiosity-provoking and compelling.

We just received a self-mailer that included a 3-D element.

The piece is from Omaha Steaks, and measures 6" x 9" closed with full color bleed photography on both outside panels.

The address panel includes an offer in the "hot spot" above the address area. "Order now & get 12 FREE BURGERS ..." In case we're wondering just how good those burgers may or may not be, a short but effusive testimonial appears to the left under a glamorous shot of ... you guessed it ... a burger. "Best burgers ever ... purchase these monthly." So says Karen M from Port Charlotte, FL.

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When I Grow Up

The Queen B recently had the honor of writing a cover story for the DMAW's wonderful newsletter AdVents. Here's what she had to say ...

As a child, no one thinks, "When I grow up, I want to be a direct mail marketer." But, those of us who make a living at it, are actually very fortunate. We get to reach millions of people with messages that can make their lives better.

Before you disagree or use the words "junk mail," allow me to point out that innovations in data science and print technology now allow us to send extremely targeted, extremely relevant offers to just the people who care about them. Decades ago, direct mail marketing earned the description "spray and pray," send out lots and lots of mail to lots and lots of people and ... well ... hope for the best. Marketers who do that today aren't just lazy; they're wasting money and resources.

Now, smart marketers send less mail that's more relevant. They reach less people who are more interested. And, they achieve better returns on investment for doing so.When my team and I sit down to develop creative concepts for direct mail, we start with the target audience, the product or solution, and the offer. Then, we think about what we can send that will make someone smile, or laugh, or simply stop and think. We have the opportunity to surprise and delight someone, to move them emotionally and — even more important — to move them to take action.

In terms of formats and creative, the possibilities are endless (grounded, of course, by budget). Whether it's a postcard from your vet with a picture of a dog that looks just like yours (easy to do with variable data printing), to a simple brochure that offers tips for successful Zoom meetings (very relevant right now), to a box that contains virtual reality goggles that work with your smart phone (worth sending when you're marketing high-ticket medical equipment). 

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Mailbox Monday

If you're like the Bs, you probably get more mail (like A LOT more mail) in your email mailbox than in the one on your porch, in your lobby, or out by the curb.

The other day, we received an email from an online retailer that wasn't just good — it was delightful.

The email was simply confirming an order and providing tracking information. So, in that sense, it was pretty typical. The copy, however, was anything but. It did a great job of building brand while it took care of business. And it was passed along multiple times, which may mean more business for this Better World Books, a very smart and funny marketer, in the future.

Take a look ...

From: Better World Books To: (NAME)Sent: Wednesday, April 14, 2021, 11:41:58 AM EDTSubject: Your Better World Books Order Has Shipped!

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Better To Gift Than To Receive

Virtual meetings and Zoom calls are mentally tiring and physically draining. How can we make these more engaging for our participants? Can we think of ways to solve this problem internally for our company and then use those same solutions when helping run a virtual event for clients and customers?

Here’s an idea to help spice up your virtual meeting platforms: virtual gifts.

There are countless ways to give virtually. These can range from eGift Cards, to an eBook, to a streaming subscription, to virtual gym memberships. These methods will entice your viewers/attendees/employees to come to the event or meeting with motivation.

Digital gift cards are one of the easiest ways to give a reward virtually. These gift cards could be for just about anything, as long as it’s appropriate. Some popular choices include Amazon, iTunes, and Visa gift cards. Even if the amount on the card is small, it will show your people that you value their time and appreciate them being with you for the call.

An eBook is a great addition to an event marketing strategy because of the halo effect it offers after the event is over. eBooks focused on a specific topic will give readers a more in-depth explanation of the information.

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Mailbox Monday

When sending direct mail to consumers, our main goal is for them to open it. Actively interacting and engaging with the piece is even better. One of the most popular forms of direct mail are postcards. Postcards are simple to create and also simple to engage with. From the marketer’s standpoint, postcards are easy to design, print, and mail — while also bring reasonably inexpensive. From the consumer’s viewpoint, postcards are easily digestible, making the focus of the message clear and precise. Postcards are a great tool to use because they can grab a reader’s attention without needing to retain it long enough to open an envelope. Besides being time-consuming, opening and unfolding letters can be distracting. Readers might not even bother opening them before tossing them into recycling.

Postcards get the job done, and when done effectively, they get the job done well.

Which leads us to today’s post, which we’ll call, “A Tale of Two Postcards.”

Let’s compare two different direct mail postcards we very recently received. There is a clear winner here between the two of them. We’ll call them Postcard A and Postcard B. Postcard A is from an insect repellant company, MosquitoRanger. Postcard B is from Valvoline Instant Oil Change.

A main challenge postcards pose is the limited space. Due to this, the marketer has to be creative about picture placements, and the amount of text printed. Just like with PowerPoints, the less words shown on the postcard the more effective they will be. Postcard A has a single question on the front: “Is Your Family Protected Against Mosquitoes?” along with the company’s name, tagline, and website link. Meanwhile, Postcard B has a longer sentence at the top: “We let you see the job done right, right before your eyes” but also has an offer at the bottom for $9 off a specific oil change. Postcard B is much wordier on the front and it distracts from the picture. It is harder to read because the font is on top of the picture versus Postcard A’s question is on an orange banner that stands out from the picture.        

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The Power of Magical Marketing

We’ve talked before about how important it is for brands to make personal connections with their customers and clients. It was beyond challenging to stay connected during a global pandemic that left us more-or-less isolated for the last year. Companies looked to digital resources and virtual platforms to bond and continue to build relationships with their target audience.

We’ve also talked about how important it is for brands to serve the common good, whether that be through charitable donations, inclusive campaigns, or even just standing up for justice. With all the choices customers have, many of them are looking to support companies that align with their beliefs and are actively working to better the community.

A good example of a company that does both of these things well, is Keebler.

The Keebler Company is a cookie manufacturer that also produces and markets multiple types of baked snacks. A recent campaign from Keebler takes shoppers through an interactive experience that will teach them more about Keebler cookies and the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

One experience offered is an animated video that features a Make-A-Wish child, Jessica, recounting her wish experience. Jessica is seven-years-old and has a nervous system disorder. During her wish, Make-A-Wish partnered with Keebler to bring her dream alive — to become the “queen” of Queen City (Charlotte, North Carolina).

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The Postal Heroes of the Pandemics

It's nothing new for doctors, nurses, or first responders to be called “heroes.” But mailmen? Postal service workers? The COVID-19 pandemic showed us just how “essential” these USPS employees are.

Countless everyday workers have been described as “heroes” during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fourteen months ago, the term “essential worker” wasn’t used at all. But after communities started self-isolating, jobs that otherwise didn’t receive appreciation or recognition were beginning to be looked at as selfless, heroic, and completely necessary for our functioning society. When countless office jobs were being moved to virtual platforms from home, there were still many positions that made it impossible to work remotely. A few examples include grocery store workers, farmers and delivery drivers.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the corona virus pandemic isn’t the only national health emergency that the United States has faced. The so-called “Spanish Flu” pandemic was actually the deadliest in modern history. Many parallels can be drawn between these two disease outbreaks (see the picture of the mailman in a mask above), that occurred roughly one century apart. Looking at the way the USPS handled their new responsibilities on the frontline is both informative and helpful — and relevant today.

The Spanish Flu can be seen as an even more isolating virus than the corona virus due to the time period of the outbreak. In the early 1900s, there was no Zoom, no social media, and no text messaging. The historical significance of the sheer power mail had during this time cannot be underestimated. The US Post Office Department was tasked with the responsibility of keeping the mail moving and by doing so, keeping people connected with one another.

Jenny Lynch, the Postal Service’s historian, finds that, “The ability to connect can be, quite literally, a lifeline during times of extreme stress. Mail enables the exchange of vital supplies and information. Perhaps even more important, it can provide hope, comfort and purpose.”

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Email Marketing: 8 Days a Week

Okay, we're exaggerating. We don't really get email eight days a week.

It just feels like it.

Clients often ask what time and day they should send emails. Of course, there's only one answer: it depends. Every brand, every product, every target audience is going to be different. But, there are some guidelines that emerge when you look at a variety of research.

In terms of day of the week, many studies suggest that Tuesday is best, followed by Thursday in second place, followed by Wednesday in third. Mondays and Fridays appear to be too close to the weekend (people are either recovering from or preparing for their time off; your email is not top of mind; sleeping in or going out is).

With regard to times, there appear to be multiple hot spots during the day. Many studies cite 10 am as a good time to reach recipients. This may imply that by 10 am, they've stopped socializing, organizing, and caffeinating, and are ready to start their day in earnest. 8 pm is also a good time, perhaps indicating that many people open, read, and deal with emails in the time between dinner and bed. 2 pm also sees a surge; it may be that, wedged as it is between lunch and the end of the traditional workday, it's a natural break from work activities. And, finally, at 6 am, there's a lot of email action. Apparently people check their emails first thing when they get up.

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To Make Good, You Have to Do Good

The year that was 2020 made us all rethink our priorities and values. From being cooped up in our homes to stay safe from the coronavirus, to watching social revolutions happen in our cities … we had a big year. We became more reliant on digital resources and technology to keep us connected to those we love and those we work with.

These same resources and technology showed us the frontlines of movements such as #MeToo and Black Lives Matter. These movements are social in their nature, but can be applied to workplaces and companies alike. The demand for brands to align their priorities and values with their customers has never been greater.

The key decision factors aren’t just a company’s price or product selection. Consumers are now interested in supporting good companies. Thoughtful companies. Sustainable companies. Charitable companies.

Consumers often make impulsive decisions when choosing and supporting a brand. They can be quick to dismiss or even abandon a company that doesn’t align with their political stances, for example.

Early in the pandemic, masks were hard to come by and priority went to those working on the frontlines. This prompted companies such as H&M, Reformation, Nordstrom, and Hanesbrands to shift their production focus from their usual fashion lines to making as many masks as quickly as possible. Empty words such as “we’re all in this together,” mean nothing to the everyday consumer; action supporting the greater good shows purpose. This purpose drives the public to view the company positively.

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Sell Where They're Shopping

We’ve all had to make adjustments in our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Businesses and companies were forced to adapt as well and — unfortunately — for many, the adapting process resulted in either a sink or float outcome. Countless small companies, such as local restaurants and “Mom-and-Pop” stores had no choice but to close their doors permanently.

It’s devasting that so many businesses have struggled during this time, but there are some companies that have risen above the challenges and, through their resilience, adaptability, and agility, have redesigned a new kind of success.

Something some of these brands have in common is that they began expanding upon, or creating, a direct-to-customer (DTC) channel for distributing their product.

Obviously, there digital shopping is nothing new. In fact, it’s steadily grown over the past decade and a half. Online sales booming were booming well before 2020. However, the pandemic escalated it even more when in-person shopping experiences became limited to essential stores such as supermarkets and pharmacies. Wholesale brands that were able to make a smooth transition to DTC channels were better prepared to stay afloat.

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Mailbox Monday

It's one of the premier tenets of direct marketing (or any other marketing, for that matter) ..."Know your customer."

Or in the case of digital pet supply company Chewy, "Know your customer's pet."

Like most humans, the Bs at B Direct don't get as much postal mail as we used to. Even on special occasions. Between email, texts, and social media, holiday greetings (including once ubiquitous birthday cards) rarely arrive as anything other than digital communications. So, it was cool to find an analog, paper-based birthday card in the mailbox.

Just one catch. It was for the dog.

Guess what? That made it cooler!

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Email (Yes, We're Talking About Email Again)

We’ve talked before (and will again) about how email marketing is an incredibly useful tactic — especially during the course of the last year. Social distancing makes it harder to see not only people in person, but also companies and products too. Digital resources are more important than ever to retain both relationships and product awareness.

A new Demand Metric Benchmark Report focuses on the current state of Email Marketing. The report analyzes email’s overall “accessibility, ease of use, and effectiveness." Various tactics are looked at in depth in order to help individual organizations — and their marketing agencies — transform their email performance from average to high achieving.

Let’s look at some of their tips…

One of the all-too-important tips is to make sure you understand your audience and analyze their consumption of your emails. For example, marketers should know details about the subscribers’ habits, including what device(s) the emails are being opened on, the amount of time they spend reading or interacting with the emails, and what time of day most emails are opened, among others. Physical location of the subscribers could also be helpful to analyze.

As with any marketing strategy, having a better understanding of your audience will help you tailor the emails appropriately, make them relevant, make them resonate, make them responsive — and turn out better results.

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Influentiality

From social media stars on apps such as Instagram and TikTok, to TV and movie stars, influence is everywhere.

Celebrities being seen with your product, or better yet, promoting it in a way that doesn’t read like advertising, is a wonderful ways to develop brand awareness. In fact, today consumers much prefer engaging and connecting with individual people instead of big corporations and institutions.

And what better way for an individual ­— whether a celebrity or just a plain, old, everyday marketer — to reach a wide audience than using a digital communication channel such as social media?

The term “influencers” is one that we hear frequently these days, and while the word itself is fairly new, having just been added to the English dictionary in 2019, what it stands for is not new in the marketing world. Companies choosing “role models” to model their products dates back to the 1700s according to SocialMediaToday when a potter made a tea set for the Queen of England. The Queen using this tea set showed it had the stamp of royal approval, thus making it more desirable for commoners.

So, if you're not of royal blood, how can you influence your customer base?

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In the Beginning: A Little Word Can Make a Big Difference

In 2020, we saw huge changes that impacted all aspects of business (and life) as we knew it. One of those changes is that everything ranging from education to social events to shopping all shifted to a digital platform. With the hope that vaccine rollout will get us back to some normalcy, there are trends that we just simply can’t ignore.

As marketers, one of those trends is the effectiveness — and ubiquitousness — of emails.

Since the pandemic started, email has been working very hard, and, for the most part, really well. But with that being said, the challenge with emails is to get them opened by your audience and of course, to avoid users clicking the unsubscribe button.

WorldData has been looking at themes in subject lines (find our previous post on this topic here) and has updated their trending words to represent the first month of 2021. In B-to-C emails, trending words include “new,” “just in,” and that old direct marketing standby “free.” These words show a theme of promoting and striving for a stronger and happier new year. On the other hand, B-to-B emails are seeing trends with the words “forecast,” “outlook,” and “look ahead.” These subject lines are focused on advancing an individual’s career, a concern for many post-2020.

Here are the complete lists of top performing words by target category:

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Mailbox Monday

Direct mail marketing, something that the Bs have proudly called a vocation for nearly two decades, involves the head and the heart. Promotion and emotion. Words and pictures and a veritable ton of tried and true techniques (or tricks, if you'd rather) that can increase attention, engagement, and that all important reaction: response.

Some practitioners — and consequently, some packages — rely too much on the tricks of the trade, to the detriment of other more aesthetically pleasing elements.

But, some find a balance between working hard and looking good. We received just such a package from American Express this week.

First of all: the feel of it — in a mailbox filled with invoices, statements, tax documents, and even "thank you" cards, the 6 x 9 American Express package took advantage of a sleek, elegant, and weightier than average paper stock. Complete with spot varnish, it literally felt too good to throw away.

The artwork didn't hurt either. Full bleed coverage with a color photo of a busy businesswoman multitasking from what is probably a home office (timely) and a full-size image of the card. Other envelope elements include branding ("Keep your business moving forward with the Business Platinum Card") and an attractive, easy-to-understand offer ("Earn 85,000 Membership Rewards Points"). Our only criticism (and in an upscale package like this one, it shouldn't be underestimated) is that B Direct Marketing Communications had somehow transformed into B Direct Mktg Cmmnications.

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When Life Gives You Covid … Order Online

By now we’re all tired of the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and very impatient to get back to “normal.” On top of the millions of people who have been infected with the virus and the hundreds of thousands of deaths, the economic collapse made the last year into a struggle for countless industries. Jobs were lost, businesses suffered, and some companies had to close their doors for good. None of this is new information to us, however, there are some industries that actually have been boomed during the pandemic.

Let’s take a look at one of those industries.          

The industry is actually a pretty obvious one, e-commerce. While the majority of the population were encouraged to stay at home, digital shopping numbers increased substantially. Retail wasn’t the only industry that had success with e-commerce, as food delivery apps also experienced increased numbers with people ordering takeout instead of going out to restaurants. Grocery store delivery services offered an easy solution to stay home rather than brave the — potentially contagious — crowds in store.

Throughout the past year and likely into the future, extensive digital marketing campaigns will continue to grow the e-commerce industry. These campaigns will work to appeal to both returning and new customers. It’s crucial to have a presence online during this day and age, and maintaining a relationship with customers and clients is always important, even if it’s only virtual.     

How can you take advantage of the surge in e-commerce, both now and into the future?

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Martin Luther King Day

Today is Martin Luther King Day. The minister, activist, civil rights leader, American hero, Nobel laureate, and champion of non-violence was himself violently murdered nearly 53 years ago.

Like many (most?) children in the U.S., we studied his life and tragic death, and memorized parts of his immortal “I have a dream” speech. But, there’s another speech by Dr. King that is at least as meaningful and eerily prescient since he delivered it just one day before his assassination.

It’s known as, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” and he was speaking in support of a sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis. Here are his most compelling and beautiful words from that speech. He began by imagining that the Almighty is giving him a choice of any era of the whole human history to live in.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy." Now that's a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough, can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a away that men, in some strange way, are responding — something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same — "We want to be free."

And another reason that I'm happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we're going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demand didn't force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it's nonviolence or nonexistence.

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Whose Brand Is It Anyway?

The Bs are writers and art directors, designers and illustrators. In our hearts, we're also direct marketers (duh — that's why "Direct" is in our name). But, that doesn't mean we don't appreciate brand. In fact, we've helped many clients over the years build and grow their brands. We've worked with start-ups to develop branding (positioning, logos, identity systems, brand guidelines). And we've supported more established companies by ensuring that everything we develop adheres to or complements the brand.

We've also learned how to play nice with the brand police. In recent years and past lives, we've worked with big players like IBM, Apple, Chevrolet, Bank of America, and NYNEX, as well as the strictest brand keepers of all: Disney.

Take our word for it, you don't mess around with Mickey!

So, the first question we had when we heard about the TikTok phenomenon Ratatouille: The Musical was ... "What is Disney going to do about it?"

Before we answer that, let's give you a bit of background.

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Cheers to the New Year!

2021 is just a few days away.

What a wild year we had in 2020!

Marketing, like most industries, was forced to adapt its traditional methods and strategies to keep up with the unexpected changes this year brought.

We saw increases in digital marketing as firms created or expanded their virtual platform. We saw advances in social media advertising to attract consumers online.

And we definitely saw companies working hard to keep their products and services relevant during this trying time by staying active and persistent with their marketing tactics.

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Mailbox Monday

It's official.

Direct mail gets opened when it looks ... well ... official. That's why so many marketers use tools (and tricks) to make their campaigns look like official notifications. Artwork may include "stamped" deadlines, PINS, seals, bar codes, reference numbers. They may use serious teaser lines like, "Time Sensitive Material" or "Important Documents Enclosed." Or there may be instructions to the letter carrier: "Deliver to Authorized Recipient Only" or "Exclusive Offer: Do Not Forward." Often, the art director has designed the envelope to resemble a FedEx Letterpak or USPS Priority Mail.

The agency just received a B2B package from Comcast Business. It arrived in a generous 9" x 12" envelope with just about as much "official" artwork as possible. We're informed that there are "Time-Sensitive Materials," not once, but twice. A faux mailing label is set up to look like a delivery service waybill, with real estate blocked off for Sender, Recipient, Status, Reference Number, and Special Instructions. A "sticker," complete with drop shadow, includes the January 10 expiration date and a bunch of numbers. Finally, the indicia clues us into the fact that this oh-so-official package is actually presort standard.

Then again, we might have guessed as much given that it's addressed to "Business Owner."

Inside this elaborate envelope is a single sheet of paper. An extremely short letter (neither personalized nor signed) along with a faux tipped on card in lieu of a Johnson box promises "Up to 1 Gig Internet Speed." On the back, features are set up as a simple infographic on what looks like a sales flyer. Overall, the copy is efficient — perhaps a little too efficient. It seems like a lot of formal rigmarole for too simple a message.

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'Tis the Season for Subject Lines

Billions of emails are sent daily and it probably seems like you received more emails this year than any other year. Personal inboxes are filled with discount offers and holiday specials at this time of year. But how can marketers work to get more of their emails opened, read, and interacted with? There is always a risk of customers and clients clicking the dreaded “unsubscribe” button, but on the bright side, with each email sent out, you’ve an opportunity to learn, grow, and connect with your customers.

These days, with instant gratification and social media usage rising, attention spans are continuously getting smaller and smaller. How can marketers capture and then retain their audience’s attention when writing emails? One answer is in the subject line and the pre-header.

The subject line is the first chance you get to grab your audience’s attention. Being unique and standing out helps get emails opened. With that being said, there are specific key words that can be incorporated to encourage higher open rates.

According to Worldata, trending words for the 2020 holiday season include:

  • 2021
  • Curb Side
  • Free Shipping
  • Deserve
  • Budget
  • Open
  • You/Your
  • Just For
  • Free
  • Pipeline
  • New
  • Growth
  • Forecast
  • Future
  • Jobs/Career

When thinking about the wild year that was 2020, most of these trending words seem logical. For instance, the majority of us are looking forward to a fresh start in 2021, and brands that can strategically use that to their advantage can drive more engagement from their emails.

Like all marketing tactics, there is a delicate balance that will create the engagement and response you are looking for. These trending words are helpful in the subject line, but that’s just the beginning. You must also work to retain the customer’s interest with intriguing pre-headers and quality content in the email itself.

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Adding Long Distance Fun to Your Virtual Events

The global pandemic has been a boon for videoconference providers like Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom. If you feel like your work (and even your personal life) is made up of endless Zoom calls, you're not alone. Several months ago, Zoom reported that they were supporting more than 300 million meeting participants every day. That number has probably grown.

Zoom meetings and the like have become a ubiquitous way of conducting business in 2020 — as well as a reason for all of us to dress professionally (from the waist up, at least). The problem is that we're all a little weary of them. So, if you're planning an event for customers, prospects, employees, association members, or any other cohorts, how do you make sure your virtual happening generates actual excitement?

Here are a dozen ideas that can transform an online get-together from ho hum to oh fun:

DrinksHost a cocktail hour, wine- or microbrew-tasting. Send a kit with booze, all of the fixings, snacks, and customized barware in advance. Hire a mixologist, sommelier, or cicerone to give your guests a brief, informative lesson.Movie NightAsk everyone for favorite or recommended titles and host a live "watch party." Keep a chat channel open and encourage popcorn, Milk Duds, and other movie theatre snacks.PortraitsHire a caricaturist to create original portraits of your event's attendees. Send them as a follow-up.Trivia ContestTake trivia breaks during your event or plan an entire party around a trivia contest. Offer prizes to individuals or teams that earn the most points.Private ConcertInclude a musician or small musical group as the intermission in your conference call. A community chorus or school band would appreciate the gig; and it's a great way to add entertainment to an otherwise informational event.Chair YogaAsk a local yoga instructor to put together a 10-minute set of stress-reducing postures that people can enjoy right from their seat (without a mat or any equipment). CostumesHost a "black tie" affair; ask attendees to wear masks or funny hats; encourage participants to wear a tee shirt that has special meaning (and be prepared to explain). Being just a little silly can increase team spirit.Bring Your ____ to Work DayPets and offspring have made plenty of unexpected appearances in recent meetings. Why not formalize it? Invite your group to bring along their dogs/cats/guinea pigs/toddlers/houseplants the next time you meet.Background, CheckCreate custom, branded backgrounds and distribute them in advance. Your attendees may be staying at home, but their Zoom persona can be on the French Riviera (or the moon).Add Star PowerFor an out of the ordinary attendee experience, invite a celebrity to join your conference call (or prerecord a message at https://www.cameo.com/)Drawings and Give-AwaysYou may not  have the budget to give everyone a car like Oprah once did, but prizes of any size can be a nice incentive to keep your participants at your event until the rewarding end.Generate More IdeasTake five minutes of your meeting to ask the team to contribute their creative ideas for your next session. You may end up with enough to last well into 2021.

Even with a vaccine on the horizon, video conferences are likely here to stay. Do what you can to make yours something to look forward to.

 

Special Delivery and Seasonal Delays

Earlier this year, there was some concern about whether the USPS would be able to deliver mail-in ballots. With removed sorting equipment, missing  mailboxes, and reduced overtime work available, those concerns seemed well founded. However, the USPS pulled through, delivering more mail-in ballots than ever before in this country's history.

As direct marketers who cut their teeth on direct mail, we like to think the USPS can always pull through. But, this holiday season is going to be a challenge.

With millions of Americans following COVID lockdown, stay-at-home, and social distancing guidelines, the holidays will be an even greater mail order event than usual. "Home for the holidays" isn't a smart option for many of us, and gifts sent by mail (or FedEx or UPS) may feel like the next best thing. In fact, the USPS is planning to deliver 28 million packages per day from December 16-21, and 20.5 million thereafter for the rest of the year.

With all this traffic, how can you ensure your gifts are delivered on time? The major delivery services have published deadlines. Cards and packages should be mailed by or before these dates for delivery by Dec. 25:

USPS

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Mailbox Monday

What would you rather find in your mailbox this time of year: a catalog or a holiday card?

If you're like the Bs, you probably get enough catalogs already. That's why we appreciated receiving a holiday card from an online retailer instead.

The envelope was 5 x 7.5 and a cheerful shade of green. Although the address was clearly a handwriting font rather than actual handwriting, it did help it stand out from the rest of the mail. As did the live stamp and postmark. Even better was the Hallmark deboss on the back and a gold seal with the card company's familiar crown.

Inside, as expected, we found a holiday card, bright red with festive graphics and a headline that reads "Merry all the way!" When open, the greeting continues with "Oh what fun it is to wish you a happy holiday." A (faux) handwritten message beneath reads, "Hi, Happy holidays from all of us at Woman Within. We appreciate you and have tucked in a special offer just for you to treat yourself this season. Enjoy!" And it's signed by "Your friends at Woman Within."

Inserted is a single card with the aforementioned special offer: "Our gift to you. $50 off $100. $100 off $200."

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Thanksgiving, Better Days Will Come

When we look back at 2020, it may be difficult to feel much gratitude. 

We'll all remember a global pandemic that has already killed 1,430,000 people, 268,000 in the US alone; shuttered businesses, large and small; record levels of unemployment; tragic stories every week about refugee children separated from parents, mass shootings, racist and transgender attacks; and a country contentiously divided. But, better days will come.

There are, now and always, reasons to give thanks.

(Hint: it's not because some disgruntled Europeans invaded North America 380 years ago.)

By now, most of us know someone who has had COVID-19 and many of us know someone who died from it. To all the friends and family suffering from that devastating loss, we send more than "thoughts and prayers;" we send sympathy and regret and love. But be assured, better days will come.

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Phishing in the Time of COVID

With all due respect to Durante di Alighiero degli Alighieri, also known as Dante, there must be a special circle of hell reserved for criminals who take advantage of catastrophic events and their victims. People who committed insurance fraud after Hurricane Katrina, those who prey on armed services widows and widowers, or those who filed bogus claims after 9/11.

Or today's cybercriminals, who are making money by defrauding people in the time of COVID.

With so many people working remotely, our B2B clients are relying on email marketing more than ever before. So too, unfortunately, are scam artists. And, while we've seen increases in open and click-through rates when we allude to the current situation, so are they.

KnowBe4, a leading cybersecurity training company based in Clearwater, Florida, recently published findings from a Q3 2020 study on COVID-related phishing attacks. Phishing is the fraudulent attempt to obtain sensitive information or data, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details, by disguising oneself as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. And, the public's concerns and sensitivity around COVID has led to devious new campaigns.

In KnowBe4's new report, they reveal that coronavirus-related email subjects are the biggest threat. Covering the entire third quarter, messages related to the coronavirus were the most popular, with a total of 50%. Social media messages are another area of concern when it comes to phishing, and LinkedIn phishing messages dominate as the top social media email subject to watch out for, holding the number one spot at 47%.

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"But, I Don't Have Time to be Social"

Over the years and as recent as last month, some B Direct clients have admitted that — of course — they understand the benefits of regular social media posting, but they just don't have the time. This is particularly true for people in sales. Can they really spare that half- or full-hour away from prospecting?

And, then we hear all the other objections ... What would I write anyway? Who wants to read what I have to say? Haven't others already said it? And said it better?

People, especially people who don't take pleasure or believe they have talent in writing, can become so anxious about it that they don't end up doing anything. We call this "analysis paralysis." And, it's understandable. When you put something out there, you want it to be clever and engaging.

But, one of the really great things about social media is that it's as much about sharing as it is about crafting some unique and perfect original thought. In fact, it's much more so. Think about the various posts you browse during the day. Sure, some of them are exceedingly well-written and offer a new way to look at the world or your industry (or parenthood or politics or myriad other timely topics). But, at least as many are just passing along interesting information.

When you find and share something of interest to your customers and colleagues, you're doing them a service. And, while you may not be the original author, you still get credit for finding, curating, and distributing. Yes, that takes some time too. But not nearly as much. And, you can build once and share multiple times. Find something worth sharing? Post it (with a quick intro of your own) on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. And, only about 6% of your audience will see any given post, so feel free to re-post it (with a slightly different intro) multiple times.

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Head of the Class

Some copywriters are geniuses when it comes to headlines (btw, some art directors are too). But, sheer talent aside, headlines are so important that they often need extra attention.

When you're short on time, or simply stuck in a creative rut, here are 35 formulas from legendary adman John Caples.

Begin your headline with the words “How To”Begin your headline with the word “How”Begin your headline with the word “Why”Begin your headline with the word “Which”Begin your headline with the words “Who Else”Begin your headline with the word “Wanted”Begin your headline with the word “This”Begin your headline with the word “Because”Begin your headline with the word “If”Begin your headline with the word “Advice”Use a testimonial headlineOffer the reader a testOffer valuable information Tell a storyWarn the reader against delaying buyingSpeak directly to the readerAddress your headline to specific person or groupHave your headline ask a questionOffer benefits through facts and figuresBegin your headline with the word “Introducing”Begin your headline with the word “Announcing”Use words that have an announcement qualityBegin your headline with the word “New”Begin your headline with the word “Now”Begin your headlines with the words “At Last”Put a date into your headlineWrite your headline in news styleFeature the price in your headlineFeature reduced priceFeature a special merchandising offerFeature an easy payment planFeature a free offerUse a one-word headlineUse a two-word headlineUse a three-word headline

Granted, some of these may seem dated, and you may be working in a medium that hadn't even been imagined yet in Caples's time. But, these prompts combine tried-and-true-and-tested direct marketing with what's foremost in the potential customer's mind.

And, that's a powerful formula — in 1931 (when he published this list in his Tested Advertising Methods) or today.

Mailbox Monday

Adding emojis to your email subject lines usually increase open rates. However, they can also increase complaints, so you need to use them sparingly and judiciously. In other words, does your message lend itself to an emoji? Or are you just jumping on a gimmicky bandwagon?

Last week we received an email that used an emoji that made sense. It was from Staples and the tiny piece of art that made the subject line stand out was directly related to the offer.

The emoji was a waving hand and the offer was for free hand sanitizer. Cute, huh?

This week, we received another email from Staples. No emoji this time, and the offer is $15 off an order of $60 or more.

Both emails plug their respective offers in the subject lines. Both effectively leverage Staples brand in their layout, design, and bright red color. So, emoji aside, we decided to take a closer look at the true — and the perceived — value of the offers.

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Mailbox Monday

"You have to spend money to make money." This sage advice for marketers is attributed to the Roman playwright Titus Maccius Plautus, who lived from 254 BC to 184 BC. It's the concept behind ROI.

When we're marketing something and our client wants the audience to perceive that something as inexpensive or a good value, we sometimes use fewer graphical bells and whistles and less expensive paper stock. On the flipside, when our client is trying to sell luxury goods or a very sophisticated solution, we adapt the design and production to look (and feel) more elegant.

Over the years we've been in business, we've helped market forty dollar jackets and multi-million dollar enterprise technology solutions. But, we've never tried to sell "Condominium homes priced from $3.2 Million." We're guessing if we did, we would definitely go the aforementioned elegant route.

That's what 180 East 88th Street chose to do. They selected a paper stock that is thick and textural and rich. They used photography that is understated but conveys affluence. And they put the piece (an oversized postcard) in a self-sealing clear envelope, which certainly made it stand out from an otherwise ho-hum mailbox.

The "art side" of the card depicts a young but clearly well-off family. Dad has hipster glasses and is sipping wine. Mom is dressed in conservative jewelry and a silk blouse. Their daughter has a (private) school uniform, pigtails, and impeccable posture. Even the family dog, enjoying a plate of scraps under the table, seems well-behaved.

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The Secret Weapon (You're Probably Ignoring)

Prior to the launch of B Direct (18 years ago — whoa!), the Bs worked together at a much larger Boston agency. The founder and president of the agency had two memorable pictures framed and hanging prominently in his office. The first was a funny interpretation of one of direct marketing's golden rules; it was a famous scene from The Godfather with the caption "Give them an offer they can't refuse." The other, oddly enough, was about chickens.

The connection isn't immediately apparent, but read on.

Specifically, the illustration was a rooster, abandoning a hen and her chicks to pursue a new hen. His excuse? "It's new business I'm after."

Agencies need new business; they need "rainmakers" who can attract and convert clients. And, in all fairness, our former colleague and boss was the penultimate new businessman.

But, what about the poor hen and her virtually fatherless chicks? What about old business?

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Mailbox Monday

Before we ever heard of COVID 19, nearly 5 million Americans were already working remotely. Once the pandemic struck, according to Gartner, 88% of business organizations around the world mandated or encouraged their employees to work from home. So, while the economy is struggling for many industries, there are some products and services that are doing well ...

Sweatpants, for example. Sour dough starter, so we've heard. And, for some, home (or home office) improvements.

We just received a direct mail campaign from Pella Window & Door Replacement. It's a #10 window envelope with a single insert, which comprises a letter on one side (personalized, but misspelled — we'll get to that in a minute), and a flyer on the other side.

Let's start at the beginning.

The envelope includes a printed faux yellow sticky note with a teaser that reads "Exclusive fall savings inside just for you." An additional teaser below it urges us to "Act before this offer expires" and has a triangle/arrowhead steering us to the back, where a third teaser reads, "Windows and doors built to last. OFFER ENDS SOON."

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Best Foot Forward

Meeting customer expectations isn't a bad thing, per se. In fact, you could call it table stakes.

But in today's customer centric marketing world, meeting customer expectations simply isn't enough. It isn't noteworthy. With nearly 20% of all purchases the result of word-of-mouth, it's important to exceed expectations. In other words, make the customer experience so extraordinary that your customers are compelled to talk about it.

One of the Bs recently ordered a pair of Skechers for his mom. Like so many of us these days, he made the purchase online. Within a week, he received a truly remarkable — as in, worth remarking about, as in brilliantly generating word-of-mouth — package.

The first thing seen when the package was opened was a "Thank You" card. Marketers sometimes forget that customers like to be thanked, often and sincerely.

This was followed by a free cloth tote bag for the shoes, a nice, relevant, and practical gift item.

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Mailbox Monday

Contrary to popular belief, direct response mail and junk mail are not synonymous. We think of junk mail as the wrong offer sent to the wrong audience at the wrong time. At B Direct, we work closely with our clients to make sure that their marketing budget isn't wasted on junk.

But, that doesn't mean we never get any ourselves.

This morning, the agency received a colorful, oversized (6" x 11") postcard from a local Ford dealership, promoting ... trucks. Or, as the headline on the very busy address panel says:

YOUR LOCATION FOR ALL YOUR COMMERCIAL NEEDS

We're a small boutique creative agency. We have no commercial vehicle needs. We do not need a truck.

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The Bard of B2B

"O, my prophetic soul!"

That's Hamlet, Act I, Scene 5. The eponymous Prince of Denmark is responding to intel from his father (a ghost) that his uncle murdered him (the father, not the prince). In modern English, he's basically saying "I knew it!" Literature professors often point out that Ham didn't, in actuality or at least in the text, suspect his uncle until his father clued him in. But that's neither here nor there. Hamlet suddenly believes he did, so he did.

In Shakespeare, as in advertising, perception is reality.

William Shakespeare lived 400 years before the setting of fictional agency Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce). But, many of his most famous quotations offer great lessons for agency people and marketers. Especially B2B marketers. Here's what we mean ...

Let's start with one of Will's earlier plays, Henry VI, written in 1591.

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What's Your Best Subject?

As B2B marketers, many of our clients have had to forego direct mail in recent months. After all, why spend money to send letters or packages into empty offices? More people are home and sitting in front of a computer screen. So, an increase in email volume was a perfectly predictable — and logical — outcome.

Sure enough, commercial emails (sent by businesses to either business people or consumers) saw an uptick between March and May, increasing to about 110% of usual volume by week 11 of the pandemic. Open rates and click-throughs also increased — although inversely to volume. In other words, when there was measurably more email in in-boxes, response rates were lower. When the surge in emails sent died down, response rates stabilized and then increased hovering at about 120% of pre-Covid levels.

Unfortunately, for some email "marketers," stay-at-home orders were akin to shooting fish in a barrel. Scammers have taken advantage of changing at-home media consumption — and widespread worry and anxiety — to increase their nefarious activity. Data from security firm Barracuda Networks demonstrates a 667% spike in phishing emails since February.

So, how do you stand out in not only more emails in general, but many more hostile emails? The first and by anyone's count most important place is in your subject line.

According to business2community, 35% of email recipients make the decision to open (or not to open) based solely on the subject line. Those limited characters have to work for you and work hard.

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Happy Labor Day

Despite the pandemic, despite struggles for long overdue justice, despite the recession, despite the most viciously contested election in memory (if not history), despite civil unrest, toilet paper shortages, and the dimming of the bright lights on Broadway ...

B Direct is having an INCREDIBLE (and incredibly industrious) year.

So, while we may be a bit overtired, we're also extremely grateful.

We have a handful of projects to labor over this weekend, but we wish all of our friends and family, clients and colleagues ...

A Very Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Mailbox Monday

Election Day is 63 days away. If the USPS is really hurting for revenue (as some say it is), there will surely be plenty of mail between now and then. In a single day, the Queen B received several solicitations from politicians: senate hopefuls, current congress people, even the Speaker of the House.

But, the piece that stood out most was from democratic presidential candidate, Vice President Biden.

The outer envelope is oversized, measuring 4.75" x 11", so the generous dimensions alone got it noticed in a mailbox full of #10s. It has a live (albeit, presorted standard) stamp, and the teaser is personalized:

Alexandra, are you with me?

Inside, there's a two-page letter. It's addressed to "Friend," but the copy is compelling, focusing on the incumbent's failure to protect us from the convergence of "a global pandemic, a devastating economic crisis, and the reality of systemic racism." Biden (or, rather, Biden's copywriter)  makes good use of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt), as well as a hopeful sense of righteous optimism. Throughout the letter, key phrases are in bold type or underlined, and the P.S. does exactly what a P.S. should do. It underscores Joe's main points and emphatically repeats the call-to-action:

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Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word

In Dale Carnegie's pocket-sized "Golden Book," he advises:

If you are wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.

In our experience, a lot of people don't listen to Dale. Whether it's personal insecurity, company policy, or fear of legal liability, saying "sorry" is out of fashion. As marketing communications people, we usually approach customers and prospects from a position of strength, not weakness. But, there are moments of marketing truth when honesty — and, quite frankly, humility — are your best weapon.

Remember the tainted Tylenol of 1982? (All right, many of our readers probably don't, but it's relevant.) Someone tampered with Tylenol capsules, lacing the over-the-counter analgesic with potassium cyanide. Seven people died in Chicago and several more were murdered in what police call "copycat crimes." Johnson & Johnson, Tylenol's parent company, immediately recalled the products and worked closely with the Chicago Police, the FBI, and the FDA — not only to try and locate the criminal, but to ensure that packaging and distribution would be enhanced to avoid future incidents. Most importantly, they came forward and accepted responsibility (even though they certainly weren't the perpetrators of the crime itself). Market share dropped from 35% to 8%, but rebounded within the year and continued to grow, as Johnson & Johnson — leading the entire industry — developed tamper-proof packaging.

Lesson learned? (See Dale Carnegie quote above.)

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Banking on Brand

Jeff Bezos once said, "Your brand is what other people say about you when you're not in the room." He should know. Amazon is one of the top brands in the world today by pretty much any measure.

Last month, Forbes published its "Most Valuable Brands List for 2020."

The list is not a popularity contest. In fact, there are several steps involved, all requiring an MBA or at the very least a BS in Advanced Calculus. Here's how Forbes describes its methodology:

"After looking at a universe of 200 global brands with a notable presence in the U.S., our first step in valuing the brands was to determine revenue and earnings before interest and taxes for each one. We then averaged earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) over the past three years and subtracted from earnings a charge of 8% of the brand's capital employed, figuring a generic brand should be able to earn at least 8% on this capital. (Forbes applied the corporate tax rate in the parent company's home country to that net earnings figure.) Next, we allocated a percentage of those earnings to the brand based on the role brands play in each industry. To this net brand earnings number, we applied the average price-to-earnings multiple over the past three years to arrive at a final brand value. For privately held outfits we applied earnings multiples for comparable public companies."

Hello? Are you still there? (OMG.)

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Letraset, Stat Cameras, and Rubylith ... Oh My!

When you've been in the agency business for a few years (all right, decades, we mean decades), you may marvel at some of the things that were business as usual back in the day ... and are nowhere to be found in the here and the now. Surely the same can be said for many industries, but it does seem like those of us on Madison Avenue (figuratively speaking) had our own unique tools of the trade that have been replaced by newer, often digital, options.

For example: the stat camera. According to Wikipedia, a stat camera was a large-format vertical or horizontal stationary camera used to shoot film for camera-ready artwork, and sometimes called a copy camera. This was a large bellows-type camera which consists of the copy-board, bellows and lens, and filmboard. When they say "large," they mean LARGE. One of the Bs remembers how she resented that the stat camera closet was bigger than her office. Another B remembers working with a stat camera that was from the 1940s (and no, we weren't alive when it was manufactured ... sheesh). It had a shower curtain you pulled around yourself and the equipment when you wanted to use it.

And how about Letraset? Rub-on (or "dry transfer") letters in a variety of typefaces that you bought by the sheet at places like Charette's. (R.I.P. Charette's.) Some departments had their own linotype machines, but most of us sent manuscript copy out to be typeset, which would come back as galleys to be proofed, probably marked up, and sent back to be redone. When it was all set, we would then use an X-ACTO knife to cut the lines of type and adhere them to a mechanical board with Spray Mount or hot wax. If your agency cared about the state of your lungs, some of this was done under a ventilation hood. (If they didn't care, you made do with some makeshift solution, like a cardboard carton with the top and front sliced off.)

Art directors and designers sat at adjustable drawing tables, with nary a PC or monitor in sight. There were always plenty of colored markers and pencils, and sketch pads. Plus, more sophisticated tools like French Curves, Rubylith, Rapidographs, and non-repro blue pencils.

Many supplies that copywriters used are virtually obsolete as well. Like electric typewriters and Wite-Out; even dictionaries, thesauruses (thesauri?), and the essential Strunk and White are now online. We used to review video tapes of auditions or commercials on a video player. And we used to store documents on floppy disks. We rarely even see a CD anymore.

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Don't Ask, Tell

As the Queen B asserted in her book, The New Marketing Conversation (co-authored with Donna Baier Stein), direct marketing — regardless of medium — should always strive to be a dialogue. Ask about their problems, let them relate whatever you're selling to their real life. Give them multiple ways to learn more if they're undecided.

The best direct marketing is a two-way conversation. Except, in one place ...

The call-to-action.

Whether you're creating direct mail, a website, email, print ads, video, radio, or out of home advertising, by the time you get to the call-to-action, the conversation should be one-sided. Don't ask questions anymore, tell them what you want them to do. Tell them exactly what you want them to do.

First of all, we're going to assume that the rest of your piece has given your audience solid reasons to respond. Even the best call-to-action can't succeed if you haven't interested, intrigued, educated, or entertained someone. You've set up a solution to a problem, showcased benefits rather than just features, highlighted testimonials or third-party endorsements (assuming you have them — if you don't, you should). The call-to-action is only as strong as the case you've made.

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