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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:

  1. Drinks
    Host 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.

  2. Movie Night
    Ask 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.

  3. Portraits
    Hire a caricaturist to create original portraits of your event's attendees. Send them as a follow-up.

  4. Trivia Contest
    Take 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.

  5. Private Concert
    Include 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.

  6. Chair Yoga
    Ask 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).

  7. Costumes
    Host 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.

  8. Bring Your ____ to Work Day
    Pets 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.

  9. Background, Check
    Create 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).

  10. Add Star Power
    For an out of the ordinary attendee experience, invite a celebrity to join your conference call (or prerecord a message at

  11. Drawings and Give-Aways
    You 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.

  12. Generate More Ideas
    Take 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:


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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.

  1. Begin your headline with the words “How To”
  2. Begin your headline with the word “How”
  3. Begin your headline with the word “Why”
  4. Begin your headline with the word “Which”
  5. Begin your headline with the words “Who Else”
  6. Begin your headline with the word “Wanted”
  7. Begin your headline with the word “This”
  8. Begin your headline with the word “Because”
  9. Begin your headline with the word “If”
  10. Begin your headline with the word “Advice”
  11. Use a testimonial headline
  12. Offer the reader a test
  13. Offer valuable information
  14. Tell a story
  15. Warn the reader against delaying buying
  16. Speak directly to the reader
  17. Address your headline to specific person or group
  18. Have your headline ask a question
  19. Offer benefits through facts and figures
  20. Begin your headline with the word “Introducing”
  21. Begin your headline with the word “Announcing”
  22. Use words that have an announcement quality
  23. Begin your headline with the word “New”
  24. Begin your headline with the word “Now”
  25. Begin your headlines with the words “At Last”
  26. Put a date into your headline
  27. Write your headline in news style
  28. Feature the price in your headline
  29. Feature reduced price
  30. Feature a special merchandising offer
  31. Feature an easy payment plan
  32. Feature a free offer
  33. Use a one-word headline
  34. Use a two-word headline
  35. Use 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:


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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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 lead
The 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 do
You 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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For creative marketing that really works, it’s time for B Direct.