The b direct logo Hive

Is Your Company Really About Your Customer?

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

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

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

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

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

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The Name Game

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

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

Uh-oh ...

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

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

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Mailbox Monday

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

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

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

Then, a funny thing happened.

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

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Button, Button, Who's Got the Button?

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

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

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

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

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

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New England's Going to the Super Bowl After All

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

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

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

This week, we found out.

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

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Nervous? Picture Your Audience Reading Your Emails

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

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

But, we digress.

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

And, it may not be where you think.

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Direct Mail Promotions for 2020

Something exciting happened at B Direct this past week.

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

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

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

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

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Mailbox Monday

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

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


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

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

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Happy Holidays from the Bs

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

Creepy Cats and Other Tales from Social Media

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

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

Oy, do they ever!

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

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

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A Holiday Love Letter to the USPS

Dear United States Postal Service,

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

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

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

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

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Is Peloton the New Vacuum Cleaner?

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

Now, it's a Peloton.

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

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

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

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Infographics, 22 Ideas to be Fun and Effective

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

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

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

Bottom line?

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

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Mailbox Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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You Can't Be What You Can't See

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

You're thinking "Duh."

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

We say, "Yes."

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

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Make 2-D DM a 3-D Experience

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

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

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

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

But, what if you're not?

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Mailbox Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today, we screen.

Oy, do we screen.

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

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

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Just Being Social

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

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

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

  1. Treat social media like every other kind of marketing.
    That means have objectives, goals, and a strategy in mind. Don't think of social media as a necessary evil. Think of it as another way (and it can be a very powerful way) to engage with prospects and customers.

  2. Check out what your competition is doing.
    The idea isn't to copy them, per se. Instead, see where they may be missing opportunities and improve upon them. Also, make note of where they post and how often.

  3. Think about your audience.
    Where do they "hang out" online? What would interest them? Don't limit yourself to posts about your product. Think bigger — how can you entertain them, educate them, or help them solve their day-to-day problems?

  4. Create a schedule and assign writers.
    Be realistic. Don't assume you can go from zero to sixty (you can't). Start with expectations that are manageable — posting, consistently, once a week, is better than posting three days in a row and then taking a six-month break.

  5. Look for articles, research studies, and news items that can spark ideas.
    Your customers will value what you bring to their attention — even if it started somewhere else. Just be sure not to plagiarize. Cite and give credit whenever you repurpose content.

  6. Make sure anything you post encourages response.
    Social media is a two-way street. Finish posts with open-ended questions; motivate readers to tell stories of their own. And, always suggest that they re-post and share your content.

  7. Be professional, but not stuffy.
    Social media content should feel less formal than more "official" communication vehicles, like corporate brochures, annual reports, or your website. But, don't use offensive language or slang. And, by all means, proofread!

  8. Test, test, test ... and then test some more.
    Test types of content (interviews, informal research, testimonials, use cases); test which platforms work best; test day of the week and time that you post. Then, fine-tune your strategy based on what your tests reveal.

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

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

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Word Processing

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

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

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

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

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

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Can You Feel It?

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

Key emotional copy drivers include:

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

And we would add Empathy to the list as well.

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

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EZ Tips for Effective Email

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

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

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

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

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

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Mailbox Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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Direct Mail Plays Well with Others

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

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

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

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

(Well ... duh!)

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Mailbox Monday

"How long should a letter be?"

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

That answer also happens to be the truth.

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

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

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Email by the Numbers

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

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

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

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

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

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This is Only a Test

Quick question. Do you consider yourself a direct marketer?

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

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

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

We also have the opportunity to test.

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Mailbox Monday

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

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

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

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

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

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We Love Big Bots (and We Cannot Lie)

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

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

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

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

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

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