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EZ Tips for Effective Email

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

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

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

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

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

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Mailbox Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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Direct Mail Plays Well with Others

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

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

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

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

(Well ... duh!)

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Mailbox Monday

"How long should a letter be?"

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

That answer also happens to be the truth.

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

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

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Email by the Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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This is Only a Test

Quick question. Do you consider yourself a direct marketer?

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

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

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

We also have the opportunity to test.

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Mailbox Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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We Love Big Bots (and We Cannot Lie)

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

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

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

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

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

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Labor Day

It's Labor Day, and here at B Direct, we're laboring.

We're not complaining. One of our favorite clients asked us to design a tradeshow booth (one of our favorite kind of assignments) for an upcoming event in Korea. The deadline is ... well ... yesterday. Not really, but pretty close. So, we're working away while the rest of the world is making the most of Summer's last long weekend.

Good thing we love what we do.

It did get us thinking about Labor Day and wondering why we celebrate labor by taking a day off from it. Of course, in this day and age, and with all the digital gadgets we have, there's never much of a reason to wonder. Here's what we quickly gleaned from the nice people at Google ...

Labor Day was created by the labor movement (naturally) in the late nineteenth century to honor the hundreds of thousands of workers who had helped America become the most industrialized nation in the world. Today, we celebrate with cookouts, retail sales, and the official unofficial start of football season. But, its origin was more somber and respectful.

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Mailbox Monday

This #10 package caught our eye for two reasons. One, we ran the same offer for a progressive phone company several (like nearly twenty) years ago. Two, ice cream. Hello? Of course it caught our eye!

The piece is colorful — with lots of fun graphics — but other than that, quite simple. There's a standard window envelope and a personalized letter. The back of the letter is used as a sell sheet. That's it.

On the envelope, there's an image of a pint of Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough ice cream (we prefer Phish Food and Marsha Marsha Marshmallow, but who's being picky?). A teaser under the window reads:

"Get Ben & Jerry's on us when you choose clean energy in Marblehead."

Assuming this was sent to recipients in multiple towns, the envelope had to be customized. Mentioning locale, and in this case (maybe?) responding to a concern that clean energy might not be an option in a small place filled with historic homes, may have been part of the strategy. To us, it didn't seem necessary.

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Mailbox Monday

According to our friends at Deloitte (and, yes, we really do have friends at Deloitte), total back-to-school spending is expected to reach $27.8 billion or $519 per student this year.


Retailers take advantage of this annual burst with promotions on jackets, shoes, backpacks, notebooks, etc. etc. etc. The creative, in many cases, features happy kids waving good-bye to even happier parents. Behind each mom and dad's smile, we can imagine a common prayer. "Please let little (insert student name here) have a good year." Whether Junior is headed to pre-K, sixth grade, or freshman year at a university four states away, parents are willing to pay for the clothes and supplies that will help her fit in. No one wants to see their child bullied, and if the right lunchbox will give him the confidence he needs in the cafeteria — truly one of the most intimidating rooms in any school — then it's well worth a trip to Target.

Recognizing the anxiety around back-to-school (and the willingness of parents to pay to alleviate it), we thought the oversized postcard we received this week was right on strategy.

It's from Paradise Dental Associates, a local dental practice. And, the card leads with an emotional appeal before heading into lots (and lots) of promotional copy. "Send them Back to School with a Confident Smile!" reads the headline, next to a stock image of a smiling pig-tailed girl in a classroom setting. If anyone's going to succeed this year, it's this confident young girl and her pearly whites.

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Mailbox Monday

Here at B Direct, we're flattered. The New York Times wants us. They want us real bad.

In the past two months, we've received 13 email messages from them with subject lines ranging from "Ends soon. Expert reporting for $1 a week" and "Ends soon: Subscribe now for $1 a week," to "Reward your curiosity: The Times for $2 a week." (They must have tested subject lines and found that including the weekly rate increased response. At least we hope they did.)

This week, in addition to the now ubiquitous emails, we received a direct mail package.

The 5 1/4" x 7 1/8" envelope is subtle and classy. The size and shape of a greeting card or invitation, it stands out against more businesslike business correspondence. The familiar NYT logo and their NYC address offsets a subtle indicia.

Inside, a two-panel brochure shows the newspaper in a fairly classy, if not downright eclectic, setting. Shot from overhead, there are plants, a tray with fresh exotic fruit and some small bowls of spices. The overall feeling is one of calm sophistication. The headline is promotional but set in sober type. After the NYT logo, we're encouraged to "Try the Sunday Times for 4 weeks free." There's a toll-free number and campaign URL.

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The Outsiders

If you're a road warrior, a family vacationer, or simply a bored commuter sitting in traffic, you're familiar with billboards. Some are clever, attractive, compelling. Some are dull and uninspired. (Some are so downright bad that you can't believe an agency ever presented them or a client ever bought them. Sheesh!)

According to Statistica, there are currently 342,306 billboards in the U.S. 8,800 of them are digital.

Direct marketers don't get a lot of opportunity to create billboards. Common sense tells us that if you need someone to take action, reaching them while they're behind the wheel of a three-ton moving machine may not be the best time to do so. But, of course, there are exceptions.

If you have an easy to remember (vanity) URL or 800-number, you may get drivers (or backseat drivers) to respond once they're home or at their office. Or, if you're running a lot of related campaigns (direct mail, print or digital ads, TV or radio), a billboard can reinforce the message and offer your audience has already received in arguably more responsive media.

And, of course, if you're trying to drive traffic (no pun intended), a well-placed billboard may be a great option. Restaurants, banks, retailers, recreation and amusement properties are just a few examples that can use engaging graphics, a special offer, and proximity to get people to take a detour or make an unplanned stop.

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Digital Marketers, You've Got Mail

Digital or direct mail? That is the question.

For a few years, our clients turned away from direct mail and focused mainly on digital. That was okay with us (we bill ourselves as all-media direct marketers and have been deep into digital for the past 25 years). But, we had two concerns. One, that they were missing an opportunity to zig while their competition was zagging. And two, that they were already investing in creative for one medium (digital); why not leverage that investment across two media (digital and direct mail)?

The USPS has recently put out the results of a study that makes a very strong case for combining digital and direct. Here are some of the most interesting results.

According to marketing decision-makers:

68% said that combining digital and direct mail increased website visits
63% saw an increased response rate
said combining digital and direct mail increased ROI
and those interviewed saw a 40% conversion rates when digital and direct mail are combined.

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Mailbox Monday

No one wants to think about "back to school" quite yet. That said, we have to give BJ's Wholesale Club credit for waiting until the end of July to send their back to school mailing. (Other retailers started weeks ago.) The colorful self-mailer stood out in a mailbox filled with monthly statements and other correspondence.

The cover of the piece features an extremely happy little boy ready to "Go back with big savings." A teaser message under the photo reads "Don't stress. We have savings to help." There are cute spot illustrations of notebooks and a healthy snack. Friendly, colorful, engaging.

On the address panel. along with BJ's return address and a standard indicia, there are more illustrations (tape, crayons, a tablet, cookies, pencil) with another message that says, "Look inside for your handpicked offers." Finally — and what got us most excited — there's a Zapcode and instructions to "Download the Zappar App and scan here to learn how to 'Shop the way you want.'"

We followed the directions and waited for our augmented reality experience — relatively new technology that mailers should use more often. (Read more about it here: Alas, after several attempts, we had to abort. The app successfully scanned the code, but nothing happened. The hidden content stayed hidden.

The self-mailer was sealed with fugitive glue. Thoroughly sealed. In fact, it took more than a few moments to determine how the piece should open (turns out it opens like a book, like a very thoroughly sealed book). The first reveal (the package is a double gate) includes a dozen microperfed coupons and a headline announcing that the corresponding deals were "Chosen just for you." There's just one problem.

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What's in a Name?

Google. Apple. Nike. Uber. Amazon. Coca-Cola. Lexus.

What's in a name? When it comes to marketing ... a lot!

There are monolithic (and handsomely compensated) brand agencies that spend hours and days and weeks and months coming up with names for high-profile companies. But, for most of us, generating names for a product or a promotion is just one of many tasks associated with promoting, marketing, and selling.

If you're a $218 billion dollar brand (Apple), by all means, invest in the experts.

If you're working on something that isn't quite so high profile, here are some tips that can help you generate names:

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When a Human Touch (and a Love for Pets) is Good for Business

It's long been accepted that a customer who has a good experience with your brand will tell other people. But, a customer who has a bad experience with your brand will also tell people — and they'll tell ten times more people. Ten times!

Social media has made this phenomenon exponentially more impactful. Not only is the reach dramatically increased, but every other customer with a gripe can air it as a comment to the original complaint. A dissatisfied rant on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter can blow up in a brand's face.

But, there is an upside.

If a customer has an experience that's unexpected and truly extraordinary, that can get similar if not the same amount of traction online. This week, we saw a great example of this.

A gentleman named Nolan posted a story about an interaction he had with the pet supply delivery business He wrote:

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Mailbox Monday

When it comes to outer envelopes, there are (at least) three schools of thought.

Some campaigns take a stealth approach — they don't reveal who the mail is from, what the mail's about, or why it might matter to you. These campaigns count on human curiosity. It's kind of like the gameshow "Let's Make A Deal." Even when a contestant has already won something, it's very hard not to go for what's hidden behind curtain #2.

Other campaigns use teasers to ... well ... tease. They hint at what's inside, maybe mention an important benefit, or cleverly tie-in to a creative concept. At B Direct, we often take this approach because (a) we've found it works and (b) it's wicked fun.

The third approach is what we might call "the kitchen sink" approach. In other words, the marketers throw everything they've got at the recipient; the outer envelope includes everything except said sink.

A package we just received from Progressive Insurance is a good example of this. The 6"x9" double-window envelope includes:
• the company's logo and Maryland return address
• an indicia
• the name and address of the prospect (on the enclosed letter, appearing through window one)
• a personalized average savings card (appearing in window two and fugitive glued to the letter)
• a Massachusetts-targeted teaser that looks as if it was printed as an after-thought with a lighthouse and the message "Enjoy Big Savings In The Bay State"
• a toll-free number
• a URL

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Direct Mail is Dead. Long Live Direct Mail.

It's human nature to gravitate toward the coolest, newest, shiniest things. When televisions became popular in the 1950s, soothsayers predicted the demise of radio. When the Internet became ubiquitous, the great grandchildren of those clairvoyants predicted the end of magazines and TV. Email, fast, accountable, and cheap, was supposed to mean the end of direct mail.

Not so fast.

Radio's still here, as are magazines and television. And direct mail — although much maligned — is still going strong too.

Skeptics will point out that there's less mail being sent. That's true. According to the USPS, total mail volume has dropped nearly 30% in the past ten years. In 2007, there were 212.2 billion pieces mailed. In 2017, there were only 149.5 billion.

This is bad news for the postal service.

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Thankless Job

Many moons ago (when the Bs worked together at a larger direct marketing agency), we created a B2B mail package that pulled a remarkable 13% inbound response, had 100% follow-up recall, exceeded client expectations, won numerous creative rewards, and was also a crunchy, nutritious breakfast alternative.

We sent a custom cereal box to VAR (value-added reseller) software developers. These are extraordinarily talented individuals who work odd hours, play video games (when they're not programmig them), participate in cosplay, and consume vast quantities of cereal. We knew this because we took the time to ask.

The cereal box was covered in relevant messaging and inside jokes. For example, the standard nutritional information box housed our client's product specs. Every feature and benefit was expressed in breakfast or cereal language. There was even a prize inside. A terrific campaign, we expected it to succeed (maybe not quite as well as it did). We expected to win awards and generate some industry press. What we never expected was that we would receive "Thank you" notes from the campaign's recipients.

But, we did.

One prospect actually contacted us to see if he could get several more packages to give to his team for Christmas.

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See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me

It seems like we (the entire industry, not just B Direct) has been defending direct mail for years now. It's not that we don't work on email, social media, digital ads, and other electronic communication. (We do). Or that we don't enjoy it. (We do.) It has more to do with choosing the right medium for the right message (sent to the right person with the right offer at the right time).

It's also a matter of touch.

From the time we are infants, we explore our world through touch, through sensations like warm, cool, rough, smooth, flat, bumpy, soft, hard ... You get the idea.

When a person receives an email message, they experience it through sight and maybe sound. (Although we don't recommend pushing unsolicited sound — especially anything intrusive that might embarrass your recipient.)

When a person receives direct mail, they experience it through sight, sound, touch, and even scent. As they tear open your envelope and pull out your content, they are more actively engaged with you and your marketing message than they are if they're simply looking at a screen.

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Mailbox Monday

At B Direct, we love nonprofits. Not only do they give us a chance to do good work for a good cause, but the nonprofit industry is one that has long embraced direct mail marketing — and one that has great respect for testing.

Major nonprofit mailers know exactly how much lift they'll achieve if they add personalized address labels, a notepad, greeting cards, or other "freemium" item. They test copy, design, offers, teasers ... pretty much every element that teams like ours come up with. Basically, they understand — and make the most of — the left brain/right brain (the one, two punch) of direct mail. Creative, emotional appeals that have real results and data analytics backing them up.

(Yes, we're direct marketing geeks. Sorry, not sorry.)

This week, we received a terrific package from one of our favorite nonprofits: World Wildlife Fund. This campaign works hard from its envelope teaser to its response device and everything in between. It includes several pieces (six two-sided inserts total), all of which reinforce WWF's message and mission.

The package arrived in a four-color, #10 converted window envelope. Front and center is a teaser and photo of the campaign's offer: "Get a set of 4 FREE WWF Tote Bags!" Images on the bags include a tiger, a polar bear, a couple of giraffes (graceful necks entwined), and a shore bird. A second teaser advises us to "Say "No" to plastic bags." Under the photo of the tote bags, it might as well have said "Animal lovers, open at your own risk." The back of the envelope includes WWF's return address and a message that encourages the recipient to "Turn over a new leaf wth a paperless membership today," along with a campaign URL. Finally, there are seals certifying that the capaign was produced on recycled paper with vegetable-based ink. WWF knows its audience.

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Big Little Lies

Is it ever right to lie to children?

Well-meaning childless people will probably shake their heads and say "No. Never." Meanwhile, parents (who may be equally well-meaning, but far more tired) will quickly lose track of all the lies they've told. "Fluffy went to live on a kitty farm." "The grocery store was all out of Oreos." "Santa Claus won't come if you don't apologize to your brother right this very minute."

Gigantic grocery conglomerate Kraft is in the news today because of some new product positioning. At B Direct, we're all for product positioning. As marketers, we help our clients determine the best position their products and solutions should occupy in a customer or prospective customer's mind and heart. Then, we use all sorts of communication vehicles to put and keep that product there.

However ... we also believe in truth in advertising. And, what Kraft is doing is not exactly truthful. Let's face it, it's kind of a lie. And, a big fat one at that.

Kraft has repackaged, repositioned, and renamed ranch salad dressing as (wait for it) "Salad Frosting."


The idea is that children love frosting but hate vegetables. So, if you tell them that ranch dressing is actually frosting for their vegetables, they'll happily eat their vegetables. In a press release, Kraft asserted, "Kids will eat anything with frosting, right? It's a match made for dinnertime bliss." Um. There are just a few flaws in this thinking.

First, kids aren't stupid. They know what frosting tastes like. (Guess what? It doesn't taste like ranch dressing.)

Second, if you want a kid to eat their healthy vegetables, but, you drown them in ranch dressing, how healthy are those vegetable going to be?

Of course, this isn't the first time food companies have tried to pull a fast one. And, adults are targeted (or should we say, lied to) at least as often as kids. For example, those of you who remember the 80s may also remember "wine coolers." They were originally made from fruit flavoring, sugar (lots of sugar), and cheap wine. Then, the government ran out of money (we're oversimplifying here, in case you couldn't tell) and started taxing alcohol. The tax on wine was exponentially higher than the tax on beer and other booze, so companies like Bartles & Jaymes started making wine coolers without wine. They were technically malt beverages. (Fruit flavored beer, really.) But somehow changing the name to malt coolers didn't occur to anyone. Probably because the target audience for wine coolers wouldn't buy beverages called malt coolers, which we have to admit sound a little disgusting.

Here's another one. The Girl Scouts sell wonderful cookies called Caramel de-Lites. They are delicious, but — alas — there is nothing "lite" about them. In fact, according to Eating Well magazine, they tied with the new S'mores cookie as the least healthy of all the Girl Scouts' options. A serving of Caramel de-Lites (two cookies) has 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, 19 grams of carbohydrates, and 55 mg of sodium. The first (and therefore most abundant) ingredient is sugar.

Hmmm. If you can't trust the Girl Scouts, who can you trust?

Not Kraft, apparently.


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Facebook Pages, Plural

How many Facebook pages does a business really need?

We're all familiar with personal Facebook pages. That's where you brag about your children's success in school, sports, and the arts. Where you post selfies. Or select the most flattering photos from yesteryear for "Wayback Wednesdays," "Throwback Thursdays," or "Flashback Fridays." You can even be excused for indulging yourself by posting FOMO-inducing images of fabulous vacations, front-row tickets, celebrity sightings, or newly acquired luxury items. (FOMO stands for "Fear of missing out," in case you don't have a teenager at home.)

Businesses have Facebook pages too. These should be official, including information customers need to know, like hours of operation, street address, directions, and ways to get in touch. Posts should include company news, event announcements, promotions, and sales. You can choose to let visitors respond to business posts or you can keep it completely .... well ... businesslike.

Then, there are Facebook group pages. These are often used for clubs, associations, reunions, or informal groups of like-minded individuals, such as "Mudville Little League Carpooling Parents." The target audience for these (if you want to think of it that way) is communities. These group pages become a convenient way for "members" to get and stay in touch.

Some organizations quite naturally have both business and group pages. For example, a golf club might have an official business page that promotes the club and keeps members (and prospective members) abreast of club news and announcements. That same golf club might also have a group page where members can communicate with each other. Depending on how the page is set up, it can be formal or informal, while the page for the golf club business itself will remain fairly formal.

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Mailbox Monday

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about taking a "less is more" approach to direct mail packages. Some pieces work — and work well — in smaller real estate. This is especially true when you want to create an intimate experience, when your product or service deserves some quiet respect.

That said, however, there are certainly times when less is not more. When, in fact, more is most definitely more. When you are selling a bigger than life adventure, when your audience needs to see big, bold images of people, places or things that they can practically reach out and touch, then you may want to think bright, colorful, glossy, and — yes — big.

This week's mailbox gave us some good examples of a category where you should go big or stay home. Travel.

(Btw, quick message to the direct marketing powers that be. Apparently somebody up there thinks the Bs deserve a vacation. You're right!)

Back to our samples. We received a trifold self-mailer from Norwegian Cruise Line. It's 5.25" x 9" closed, features a gorgeous beach shot of Bermuda with a super-sized ship in the background. It also contains teaser copy about the company's "Free at Sea" promotion, along with the more conceptual headline "Got Vacation Plans? You Do Now."

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Me, Me, Me

Here's a joke from one of direct marketing's elder statesmen.

"What's a prospect's favorite radio station?"

"WIIFM." (Or, "What's in it for me?")

All right, we admit that the joke is kind of lame. But, the lesson behind it is right on.

Here's what the prospects you're marketing to do NOT care very much about ...

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Mailbox Monday

The first job of any direct mail package is to stand out in a crowded mailbox. You can do this through color, through photography, shape, or size. We typically think that bigger is better — or at least more difficult to ignore. In the case of this extremely hard-working not-for-profit solicitation, being little works to its advantage.

The closed envelope measures just 4" x 6", significantly smaller than the business mail, credit card bills, magazines, and sales flyers it arrived with. The envelope is also blind — the name and address appear in a window but there's no return address. The postage paid inidicia does indicate that it's a nonprofit organization and even names it: Feeding America. However, we think it's safe to assume that the average prospective donor is not looking at the indicia. (That, gentle reader, is an activity saved for direct mail geeks like the Bs.)

We don't usually recommend leaving off return addresses. Even if you want to wait and reveal the sender inside, we still suggest putting a street address at the very least. (It just seems like the polite and respectful thing to do. Plus, we've been in business long enough to remember the anthrax mailings of 2001.) However, in this case, the mailing's distinctive size was intriguing enough to get us to open it.

Inside, we found a single sheet of card stock folded into four panels. The first message, printed as a teaser above the name and address, alerted us to the fact that there are children in Marblehead (home of B Direct's world headquarters) who are struggling with hunger and need our help. We're also directed to read an important message inside. An art panel acts almost as a brochure cover with a picture of a young child and a title telling us that the mailing is for Feeding America's 2019 Annual Fund. Below that, a personalized panel acts as a response device, serving up six donation options and the number of children, from 200 to 2,500, that each helps feed. We have an option to donate online, and a call-to-action expressing urgency and encouraging us to respond by June 11th. A final short-fold panel serves almost as a receipt, personalized again, and thanking us for our support.

On the flipside of the insert is a personalized letter from the president of the organization. It's well written, persuasive, and to the point. Below it, the back of the response card offers a credit card option. And, finally, on the back of the "thank you" receipt is a list of "Handy Kitchen Conversions," tying in nicely to the message of helping to feed people. A final inclusion in the package is a postage paid BRE.

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Take it Away

As marketers, we spend most of our time trying to persuade someone to do something — to read further, to turn the page, to visit the website, to make the phone call. But, have you ever tried to persuade your target customer not to do something?

In direct marketing we call that a "take-away." And, in many cases, it can be a copywriter's best friend.

When you decide to employ a take-away, what you essentially do is persuade the person to whom you're communicating that they want what you're selling. Then, as the name implies, you take it away.

Imagine you're in a store, shopping for something that has been notoriously hard to find (a bridal gown, for example, or a rare antique, a piece of sports memorabilia signed by your childhood hero ... you get the idea). After days, months or even years, you finally find exactly what you've been looking for. You're all set to make the purchase of a lifetime. But then, Oh no!, the salesperson sheepishly explains that the long sought after, much coveted item shoudn't have been on the sales floor after all. Someone has already purchased it.

Sacre bleu!

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A New Website? Now, That's Refreshing

Over the years, we've been asked to revamp websites for many clients — from colleges and universities, to high tech corporations, to financial advisors, to one of the area’s premier direct marketing companies. Regardless of their industry segment, these clients come to us with similar objectives:

• Develop a more contemporary and visually engaging website that better creates and communicates their unique brand

• Establish a single voice and go-to-market message that can be leveraged across all channels, targeting multiple constituents

• And develop a new website that works quantifiably harder from a business generation, direct marketing, and customer acquisition perspective.

You may be thinking, "Wow, that's a big ask." Maybe, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. Happily, these objectives are not mutually exclusive. In fact, the smartest, hardest-working marketing communications solutions (like a website) can effectively build brand and demand.

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Mailbox Monday

In Hollywood, actors are warned never to share their screentime with children or animals. Small or cute (or small and cute) will steal the show every time.

How fortunate then for marketers like the folks at Their products not only can but should be promoted using the cutest pets they can find. Like the two adorable pups on their recent self-mailer.

The three-panel, barrel-fold arrived in the mail and immediately stood out, thanks to its bright colors, animated typography, and — yes — the baby bulldog. You can't miss who the card is from; "" appears prominently on both the address and art sides of the closed piece. There's also quite a lot of promotional copy; in fact, there's a little too much to absorb.

LIMITED TIME OFFER! $15 OFF your next pet food & supplies order of $49 or more*
Plus, FREE 1-2 day shipping!

There's a checkout code (included on both sides) and a teaser line near the address that encourages us to "SHOP OVER 1,000 BRANDS OF PET FOOD & SUPPLES!" All the caps and exclamation points would bother us if the type itself weren't so playful.

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Mailbox Monday

A simple little postcard that arrived today has us scratching our heads.

It's addressed simply to "Resident" at the Queen B's house. It's been a while since we received anything addressed to "Resident." And, when we did, it was probably something that had mass appeal. A flyer for a sale at a local super market. A postcard from a local realtor. An offer for cable TV. A self-mailer from one of the seemingly dozens of 2020 presidential candidates.

In this case, oddly enough, it's for diabetes supplies.

As of 2015, 9.4% of the U.S. population has diabetes.

As of 2019, 0% of the residents at the Queen B's house do.

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Clients sometimes ask us to create logos for them — either for their company, a product, an event, or a promotion.

Other clients sometimes ask us why they should use a direct marketing creative shop (ie. us) to create a logo for them.

We tell them it's because there's more to good design than pretty pictures.

At B Direct, we approach every project — yes, even if it’s a logo — with a clear understanding of how our design fits into the client's overall marketing conversation. We think about all the ways it will be used, online and off. And, most important, we think about our client's business objectives, whether that's earning new customers, keeping old customers, increasing revenue, or simply attracting attention.

So, what makes a good logo ... well ... good? There are several things.

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Mailbox Monday

This week, we once again turn to our digital mailboxes for "Mailbox Monday." Along with the usual newsletters we subscribe to (and the usual newsletters we don't subscribe to), the correspondence from clients and colleagues, special offers from vendors, and ads for Viagra, identity theft protection, ambulance chasers, and real estate agents, there was one that caught our eye for a number of reasons.

The solicitation from Ooma Office starts with a concept, which looks like a mini print ad or emailed postcard. It depicts two Swiss Army knives. One, very simple, with just a single blade, is labelled "AT&T business phone & others." The second, including multiple blades, a corkscrew, scissors, pliars, and sundry other instruments, is labelled "Ooma Office." Not a new idea (in fact, the Bs used the same analogy in a 3D direct mail package years ago), but clean, simple, and eye-catching. Beneath the image, the headline reads "Finally, a business phone service assorted with sharp features, not costs." Nice payoff, guys.

Scrolling down the email, the next section is html copy that explains why Ooma is better than AT&T and all the benefits of switching. We also learn that Ooma has been "rated the #1 VoIP business phone service 5 years running." There's a special offer, a call-to-action, and a button to "Start saving."

The next section, moving down the email, includes 6 features with icons and 2 quick lines of copy. It has the clean and contemporary look of an infographic. It offers a lot of valuable information without bogging us down in body copy.

Another section follows with an endorsement from PC Magazine, the low price ($19.95 per month), yet another call to action "Start saving today!" and a toll-free number. Finally, we have what we call a "housekeeping" area with links to various (pretty much all) social media and legal copy.

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Augmented Reality: Enhanced Engagement, Increased Results

Earlier this year, the Queen B was asked to write a story for DMAW's magazine AdVents. With their permission, we're reposting it here ...


Augmented Reality: Enhanced Engagement, Increased Results

The late great John Lennon once said that "Reality leaves a lot to the imagination."

Today, some of the most creative people in the direct marketing business are adding a lot of imagination to reality — by augmenting traditional print material with a digital experience.

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Mailbox Monday

Some types of insurance are necessary evils: health, auto, homeowner's. Other policies can be a very hard sell. For example, you're planning a dream vacation. You've saved all year, requested the time off, arranged for a dogsitter, maybe even dieted and exercised to attain a reasonably respectable beach body. When an insurance provider urges you to protect your investment because bad things might happen, it's a bit of a downer.

Okay, it's a major downer.

Marketing for travel insurance has to achieve two things: one, scare you and two, reassure you. The self-mailer we just received from carrier AIG succeeds at both. And, against the odds, it even entertains.

The mail panel has a spot image of a tropical drink and a teaser that reads "You planned the perfect vacation. But stuff happens. Rest easy, we've got your back."

On the art side, there's a photo of a vacationer relaxing in a hammock with an idyllic beachfront scene behind her. A headline reads: "How to make sure you get the vacation you deserve." Both outside panels are branded with AIG's logo and their insurance product Travel Guard.

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The Bs' Bookshelf

When we launched B Direct, nearly 16 years ago, a friend and former colleague who had started her design business a few years prior, gave us some excellent advice. "You may not have a lot of revenue at first," she warned us, "So, if you feel like going on a shopping spree, make sure everything you buy is tax deductible."

Office supplies? Check. Art supplies? Check.

And books? Check. Lots of marketing books.

Here are some of our favorites along with quick descriptions. They're great for browsing when you're stuck on a concept or experiencing writer's block. They're instructional, motivational, and often inspirational too.

Ogilvy on Advertising
David Ogilvy

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Mailbox Monday

Just because you can do something, it doesn't mean you should.

Just because you're sending an 8.5" x 11" postcard, it doesn't mean you should include content on every single square inch of space.

We recently received this oversized card from a local home improvements company. When it comes to spreading ink on paper, they definitely got their moey's worth. But, when it comes to encouraging prospects to notice, read, absorb, and act on a special offer, they may be very disappointed.

More isn't always more. In fact, in direct mail, more can be overwhelming, confusing, and even paralysing.

The mail side of the postcard (it's hard at first to even tell which side is the mail side) includes the address area, return address and indicia, PLUS a headline, an offer for a free estimate, body copy in the form of a letter with ten bullet points, a photo of the owners, a list of services, five logos, three reviews, a URL, a toll-free number (and a partridge in a pear tree).

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Mailbox Monday

Here at B Direct, we were overdue for a "Mailbox Monday." But, what to write about? Business services from American Express? Fundraising from the ASPCA? 178-day world cruises we can't afford? The fake check from Gladiator Lending (grrrrrrrrrrrrrr)?

We were about to find an oldie but goodie from our "swipe file," when a wonderful email arrived. So, today's "Mailbox Monday" is really an "Inbox Monday." And this particular piece of marketing has captured our hearts and imagination.

For a bit of background, the Queen B recently ordered a package of mini bully sticks for her mini dachshund. They are just about his favorite treat (and, trust us, you really don't want to know what they're made out of). An email arrived this morning with the subject line "Important Update to your Amazon Order." Naturally, we assumed that the item was backordered or the order was delayed for some other reason. However, when we clicked and opened the message, we found an adorable note addressed to "Alexandra's dog."

Here's the text ...


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Get Smart

When it comes to direct marketing, the list is important. The creative is important. But, the offer is king.

Basically, the offer spells out what the customer or prospect needs to GIVE and what he or she will GET in return.

We call this the Give/Get Ratio. And, an offer is only as good as the recipient perceives that ratio to be. If you aren't asking them to GIVE much and you've convinced them that what they'll GET is worth more than they have to GIVE, you have a compelling offer.

For example, when we used to work in cable television, a typical offer to a new subscriber might be: "Free Installation and $4.95 for 250 channels your first month." 250 channels sound like a lot, don't they? And, $4.95 doesn't sound like too much. So, the prospect thinks "I'm being asked to GIVE $4.95, and in exchange I'll GET 250 cable channels. Gee!" Assuming they watched television, this was a strong offer.

When choosing and articulating an offer, you always want to make it sound like the customer is getting the better part of the deal. But, did you know that you need to think about the Give/Get Ratio before an offer is even made? At every milestone of your campaign, your audience has a choice to continue or to abort. You may not have asked for money yet, but you are asking them to give their time and attention. They have to believe they will GET more than they GIVE every step of the way.

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Mailbox Monday

An old direct marketing mentor of ours used to joke, "If you can't make it big, make it red."

Actualy, he wasn't joking.

When you're designing direct mail, you want to make an impression and one way to do that is to make your headlines or your graphics or your entire package as BIG as possible.

Another way is to make your campaign small.

When a person empties the contents of their mailbox, they are naturally drawn to anomalies. In the sea of business correspondence and credit card statements they receive on a regular basis, the campaigns that are bigger, smaller, an unusual shape or texture tend to stand out.

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Fight for the Right to be Creative

Next week, the Queen B will be speaking at NEDMA's annual Direct Mail Symposium. Her presentation is called, "From Blank Page to Killer Creative." She'll be sharing several campaigns, showcasing the successful concepts that were produced and mailed, but also the two or three in each case that didn't ever see the light of day. The goal is to illuminate the creative process.

If you're interested in attending, visit:

When the Bs sit down to brainstorm, there are generally two different categories of input that we work with. The first is a formal Creative Strategy. You can think of this as all the left brain data and insight. It usually includes:

  • The creative challenge
  • Industry overview
  • Product overview
  • Competition
  • Objectives
  • Target audience
  • Message strategy
  • Format
  • Lists/Media strategy
  • Offers
  • Misc. (mandatories and/or “sacred cows”)

This information can come from the client in the form of a Strategy Brief. It can be generated by B Direct, after various input conversations. Or, it can be the result of collaboration between client and agency. No matter how it's built (or which of dozens of templates we use), it's critical that these articulated and agreed upon.

Concept presentation is NOT the time to determine strategy. The goal, always, is to present mutiple options that ALL adhere to a predetermined strategy.

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Mailbox Monday

Are "Thank You" notes a lost art? It certainly seems so — at least the ones that arrive in the mail. (As baby boomers, we've never really warmed up to "Thank You" tweets, texts, PMs, or Facebook posts.)

B Direct is a busy agency, so we order a lot of supplies for ourselves and on behalf of our clients. We usually get email confirmations. Sometimes they even include a nice modern convenience, like one-click tracking. And, yes, the words "Thank you for your order" appear on most of them.

But, it's just not the same.

Bravo then to ULine! We ordered several hundred shipping boxes recently — which, btw, were a great price and arrived in a single day — and two days later we received this neat little piece. Mail often stands out when it's oversized, but at 4.5" x 6", this stood out because it was small. The size felt personal and more like a greeting or note card than business mail. The teaser reads: "Thank you for your Uline order."

Inside, a single folded card continues with the outside message "THANK YOU for ordering shipping supplies from Uline."

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Everything New is Old Again

At B Direct, we worry about many little things — 800-numbers, URLs, indicias, spelling. We take accuracy (and effectiveness) seriously. But, we're only human. And, it's somehow reassuring that much bigger marketers can make mistakes too.

Remember 1985? Ronald Reagan was president (again). USA for Africa released "We Are the World," featuring superstars Tina Turner, Lional Richie, Diana Ross, Cyndi Lauper, and Michael Jackson. The Iran-Contra Affair began. And, Back to the Future was the top-grossing film.

1985 was also the year of New Coke. Coca-Cola was struggling with a steep decline in sales (Coke only had a 24% share, less than half of its 60% share right after WWII). The company's researchers and strategists theorized that the drop was due to baby boomers preferring the sweeter taste of competitor Pepsi. So, they created a new, sweeter formula and in April launched New Coke. They quickly stopped production of traditional Coke.

As Vivian would soon say in Pretty Woman (just five years later), "Big mistake. Big. Huge."

The reaction was swift and emotionally charged — especially among Southerners. Coca-Cola's headquarters was a fixture in Atlanta, GA, and fans in the South saw the switch as a betrayal. It was as if General Lee had surrendered to Yankee General Grant all over again. The company received 40,000 letters and phone calls complaining. And, that's not all. There were boycotts, grassroots protests, and lawsuits brought by Coke's bottlers and distributors.

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Mailing to the Elusive C-Suite

In B2B high tech direct marketing — of which we have done a ton of campaigns as B Direct and prior when we all worked at Direct Results Group — you're often selling a very high ticket solution, ten or hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more. Sending an email or postcard just doesn't feel sufficient. You need to make sure the medium matches the message. Or, in this case, the money.

At the same time, there are other challenges. You may need to reach a decision-maker or influencer in the C-suite (CEO, COO, CMO, CFO, CTO, etc...). She or he is strapped for time, bombarded by marketing, and focusing on other important things — not your marketing piece. Chances are, she or he has an assistant or "gatekeeper," who has been asked to sort out (and throw out) the dreaded "junk mail." At the same time, you'll be hard-pressed to reach them through other traditional means. Email? Don't bother. Print ads? Maybe, but you'd better have a big budget (a full-page in Fortune magazine costs $188,500). We had some success placing illuminated airport ads at major business hubs, and sponsorships of upscale events can be helpful too.

Still, we typically fall back on direct mail. Specifically, high-impact 3-dimensional mail. But, even that tried-and-true tactic needs a good deal of strategic thinking.

First of all, you have to make sure your package gets noticed and opened. We do this in a couple of ways. We typically recommend sending an email teaser "A package is coming your way; watch for it." We often recommend sending it Priority or Express Mail, or FedEx. This makes the package seem urgent and important, and it enables us to track deliverability. We very carefully check and re-check and re-check once again the list we're using. To this VIP audience, you definitely don't want to send a package with a misspelled name or out-of-date title.

An aside ... A list we worked on recently not only had typos, it had dead people. (This generated irresistible references to The Sixth Sense: "I see dead people.") Besides making your campaign more succesful, you don't want to waste money (as much as $25 or more per piece) sending something to someone who is ... um ... no longer in a position to buy.

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Interesting things happen in focus groups.

No, we're not talking about the copious amounts of M&Ms that are ingested (although, from a purely scientific perspective, that's pretty interesting too). We're talking about what marketers can see, hear, and learn from this kind of research. Here are two examples ...

In a focus group for our client Polaroid (yes, we know that dates us a little ... okay, a lot; it dates us a lot), we were asking EMTs to look at a new instant camera product that had been designed for their use as first responders. It was a very exciting project for us; post-focus group, we would be developing videos to train police, firefighters, and EMTs on how instant imaging could help them provide a clearer picture of an accident scene to ER doctors. As the professional moderator guided the group, our client — who was in the secret viewing room behind the mirror with the M&Ms and all of us — became more and more agitated. She (the moderator) didn't understand some of the camera's functionality. He (the client) was desperate to correct her.

"Please," we pleaded, "It doesn't matter."

"No," we explained, "You can't go in there."

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Mailbox Monday

Here is a hair-raising fact:

In ancient Rome, women used to dye their hair blonde with pigeon dung.

Okay, then.

This self-mailer from online hair color company Madison Reed stood out in a recent mail delivery for a number of reasons.

First of all, size. The four-panel, double gate self mailer is 6" x 10.5", significantly bigger than most business correspondence and credit card bills.

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Retire Stereotypes

At B Direct, we've created many campaigns that targeted retirees. Some were for financial services companies; some for healthcare companies; some even for travel companies. Different industries, different clients, but the same target audience: seniors aged 65+.

We didn't show these folks pictures of 30- or 40-somethings. Flattery will get you everywhere ... unless it's such an obvious (and borderline deceitful) marketing tactic that it pisses off your audience. Instead, we looked for the absolutely best-looking models who could conceivably be in their 60s or 70s. Our images were complimentary and aspirational, not impossible.

Too often, marketing aimed at seniors assumes that they're frail if not downright infirm. We've always had better luck (and pulled better response) when we show active, engaged, satisfied seniors. The idea of the retiree sitting in a rocking chair knitting is as obsolete as The Waltons. (And, after all, Grandma and Grandpa Walton were pretty active themselves.)

Let's take a closer look at this not-so-retiring demographic:

82% of people in their 60s plan to work past age 65 and/or don't plan to stop at all

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An Infographic's Worth a Thousand Words

We have a strategic partner who has launched a very smart new way for colleges and universities to target and nurture prospective students. It's one of those ideas that make you smack your forehead and say "Of course. Why didn't I think of that?" But, there was a problem, school admissions departments have been using the same old student data and same old marketing tactics for years.

And, the new solution is ... well ... new.

So, we created an infographic that explains — in words and pictures — why our partner's solution is better.

The old adage "A picture's worth a thousand words" rings particularly true in today's fast-paced, cyber-based world. An infographic, essentially a collection of imagery, charts, icons, and minimal text that gives an easy-to-understand overview of a topic, is one of the best ways to communicate complicated products, services or ideas. Here's why.

People are being inundated with more information than ever before ...

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Mailbox Monday

When it comes to a direct mail campaign, what is the main purpose of an outer envelope?

It's not to build brand (although it's nice if you can do so). It's not to make the recipient smile or laugh (although that's nice too). It's not to present features and benefits. Or make a special offer. Or serve up a testimonial.

Whatever else an outer envelope does, its main purpose is to get opened.

But, there's a fine line between getting opened and misrepresentation.

Here's a package we just received and felt compelled to open. But, after we did so, the whole thing left a bad taste in our mouths.

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How To Win Friends and Influence People

After ohmigodyougottabekiddinme years in this business, we've learned a lot of the so-called "rules" of direct marketing. But, we've also learned a lot — and achieved great results for clients — by ignoring or rewriting some of the rules as we went along.

For example, "Don't be negative," is a rule we hear all the time. Yet, we built a very successful campaign for a high tech client around The Worst Case Scenario Handbook.

Or this one: "Short copy outpulls long copy." Sorry, but in a head-to-head test, we saw an email that was at least three times longer beat one with the same message and offer and a fraction of the word count.

If the creative is ... well ... creative — entertaining, educational, engaging — you can break some little rules and still end up with a big success.

So, how do you put together a recipe for success? Here are what we'll call B Direct's "helpful hints," rather than "rules." Because, you know, rules are so yesterday's news.

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For creative marketing that really works, it’s time for B Direct.