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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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Face Masks Are The New Pens

Promotional items. They're everywhere. Take a look inside an ad agency office (or better yet, the agency kitchen) and you'll spot logos on mugs, office supplies, tote bags, sports bottles, calendars ... you name it. Over the years, we've recommended our fair share of them to clients. Favorites include magnetic desk toys, stress bulls, first aid kits, puzzle boxes, an oversized green stamp pad and a giant stamp (for printing money), and tee shirts that read, "I paid big bucks for web analytics and all I got was this lousy tee shirt."

Whatever you call them: specialty items, executive gifts, tchotchkes, ... their purposes are the same: to get and keep your brand in front of your customers or prospects; to make them appreciate you; to open the door for a sales call; to gain "real estate" in their office and their mind.

The industry is always evolving, innovating new giveaways based on what is top of mind for the audience. In the 90s and early 00s, we focused on technology accessories, like mouse pads; dial-up adapters; even monitor rearview mirrors (so you could see who was sneaking up on you). As we moved into the twenty-first century, we saw a boom in mobile phone gadgets: imprinted cases; earbuds; holders and stands. Then, as people became more conscious (and conscientious) about environmental issues, we were inundated with cloth shopping bags; recycled notebooks; and reusable straws.

And now? We have Covid-19. The marketing specialty industry was (as per usual) quick to shift gears and produce exactly what people want. And, the pandemic has definitely changed what people want.

According to the Advertising Specialty Institute, here are the top promotional item search terms for 2019:

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Uncertain Times Can Be Beautiful Too

We've been in quasi-quarantine since mid-March. When the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic hit home for all of us all those months ago, most advertisers had to shift gears, fast. It would be difficult to count the number of brands that set their commercials for shoes or ketchup or sleep sofas aside and instead produced spots that were meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy. Like the big, bad brand was looking out for the little guy. Like we were all in this together.

Most of these ads were, to be honest, well ... hack.

Really, someone should create a Bingo card (or a drinking game) featuring the most common lines of copy:

"In these uncertain times ..."

"Never has it been more important for us to stand together ..."

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Comma, Comma, Comma, Comma, Comma, Chameleon

We recently looked at typography. (And thank you to everyone who shared that post!) Today, we're going to talk about one tiny bit of type: the comma. Serial or "Oxford" commas are a big point of debate among writers, editors, and brand style guide authors.

What is an Oxford comma? It's a comma used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before the word "and" or "or."

So, an Oxford comma-compliant sentence would be: Some of the best direct marketing tactics include email, postal mail, print ads, and radio spots. Without the Oxford comma, the same sentence would read: Some of the best direct mail tactics include email, postal mail, print ads and radio spots.

We know what you're thinking ... BFD. (And, no, we don't mean Bidirectional Forwarding Detection.)

Granted, in the example above, there isn't a lot of difference between the two sentences. But, in many instances, the Oxford comma can and does provide clarity. Here are a couple of examples:

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Mailbox Monday

According to Business Insider, Gen Z, typically defined as those ages 10 to 22, has spending power of $143 billion (yes, that's billion with a "B"). This makes them enormously attractive to retailers ... and to credit card companies.

The recent college grad daughter of the Queen B (does that make her the "Princess B?") received two direct mail campaigns from Discover about a week apart. Both pieces are small and colorful. Each stood out in the pile of hum-drum household mail. We're not sure whether they are the start of a multi-touch campaign or if she received both versions of a very straightforward A/B test.

Here's what we mean ...

The first package has a blue patterned envelope that measures 4.25" x 6.5". There's a die-cut window, pictures of Discover cards, and a teaser that reads: "For college. For life." The back of the envelope includes four features: (1) No Annual Fee, (2) $20 Statement Credit for good grades, (3) 5% Cash Back on different places each quarter, (4) Unlimited Cashback Match. Each side of the envelope encourages the recipient to "See details inside."

The inserts aren't set up as your typical letter, brochure, lift note, and rate disclosure. Actually, the rate disclosure is in there, printed on a very light stock akin to newsprint (or tissue paper). There's also a folded BRE, lined for confidentiality. But, the star of the package is information-rich, yet slightly confusing, and personalized. The outside of the four-panel gate-folded insert includes the address information revealed through the window, along with a sidebar highlighting another offer: "0% INTRO APR on purchases for 6 MONTHS." It lists the post-offer APR, which is fairly high but may be typical for a young audience without much credit history. The flip side of this piece is an art panel that shows three Discover cards and reads simply, "It is different." If you open the first reveal from this cover, the interior content is upside down. (Hate it when that happens.)

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Type A-Positive

A typical creative team includes someone in charge of words and someone in charge of pictures. Where the two meet is in the area of typography. Type can be a powerful graphic element. It can also have a tone of voice that does — or does not — complement what's being said.

Way back when (but not quite as far back as Mad Men, thank you very much), art directors would "spec type," working with huge catalogs of typefaces, send manuscript copy out to a "type house" and get back "type galleys." We didn't have email, we didn't have Adobe software, for the longest time we didn't even have fax machines. (We did have bicycle messengers though. Lots and lots of bicycle messengers.) If the galleys weren't correct or what we expected, the whole process started over again.

Today, we all have everything we need, right at our fingertips. (Thank you, Steve Jobs.) So, art directors are often typesetters and photo retouchers and mechanical paste-up artists, all rolled up into one.

Convenient? Yes. Time-saving? No doubt.

But, the ease with which we can now set type and put together a mechanical file shouldn't diminish the importance of those steps.

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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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