THEY SAY IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD. The same could be said about creating a successful direct mail piece.
The creative team. The marketing manager. The U.S. Postal Service. The print vendors. All play a key part in getting a mailing piece into the hands of prospects and customers. But like children, they all have to play nice together.
Direct talked with Michele Egan, worldwide director of direct marketing at American Power Conversion, about how her creative team works with its vendors and the USPS to create postcards, number 10s, magazines and other mail pieces that get the attention of IT pros and consumers alike.
“The goal is always to get leads into the funnel,” she says. “We’ve used a huge variety of formats, and we’re always testing. Our rule of thumb is that we always have at least one test creative, and we’ve had as many as eight to 10.”
SURE, EVERYONE LIKES TO think their direct mail pieces are creative and aesthetically pleasing. But if they don’t elicit a response, they’re not worth the paper they’re printed on.
And if they don’t arrive by a certain date, forget about it.
“Especially with all the event marketing we do, if the piece doesn’t get to the person in a timely manner, it’s a waste,” says Michele Egan, worldwide director of direct marketing at American Power Conversion (APC).
Egan and her creative team work with direct mail vendors to make sure the pieces meet U.S. Postal Service requirements so they reach their intended recipients — and net a favorable response. She talked with Direct recently about the printing and production challenges the company works through to make that happen.
American Power Conversion, a $1.69 billion company in 2004, provides protection against data loss, ranging from battery back-up for networks in large businesses or enterprises like hospitals or schools, to power-surge strips for home offices. The price range of a B-to-B system can range from $10,000 up to $1 million, depending on what’s being protected. Home office protection typically runs $80 to $150.
The North Kingston, RI company’s 5 million-name database is split approximately 60% consumer and 40% business.
“Our BTB customer is the one we’re targeting and spending all the money on,” notes Egan. “But consumers hold a big percentage of the database, because they’re the ones who fill out warranty cards, and the businesspeople don’t.”
APC mails some 18 million pieces annually. Per quarter, mailings are done to promote more than 200 events, such as seminars at customer sites, co-branded events with channel partners and meetings targeting C-level executives. Ten to 15 mailings promoting new products or applications also are sent each quarter.
The vast majority of direct mail targets B-to-B customers, such as IT managers and CIOs. Egan estimates that APC has 80% of the market share in the consumer space, because it was one of the first to address the the need for protection against data loss. “We’re kind of like the Kleenex or the Band-Aid, so we don’t need to spend a lot in that space.”
The company’s annual direct marketing budget is between $8 million and $9 million, resulting in 35 million print and online advertising impressions in North America. E-mail accounts for about half of those impressions, followed by 35% for publications and 15% for direct mail. Some customers receive a print catalog, but APC really doesn’t focus on selling directly to consumers, to avoid channel conflict with resellers.
Retention efforts make up about 60% of the direct mail budget, with the remainder focused on acquisition.
“The goal is always to get leads into the funnel. The exception would be in the C-level and engineering newsletters, because there we’re just trying to make sure we’re a key player when they’re making decisions,” says Egan. “We’ve used a huge variety of formats, and we’re always testing. Our rule of thumb is that we always have at least one test creative, and we’ve had as many as eight to 10.”
For event promotion, an oversized postcard has been the control for years, but APC also is seeing a lot of success with the number-10 format. For other mailings, several things have been tested, including dimensional pieces. But gimmicks like pop-ups didn’t perform strongly enough to justify the added cost.
To get the attention of senior IT professionals, APC has tried more ambitious pieces. One campaign sent a cigar box and literature to C-level execs; those who responded received a three-month cigar club membership. That effort was fun, albeit not overwhelmingly successful.
At press time, results weren’t available for the most recent drop targeting 450 key resellers. The mailing featured a copy of the golf edition of Monopoly and played on themes like the fact you don’t get a “Mulligan” in business.
“But for the most part, self-mailers work well if an audience knows us. Envelopes are good if we think they don’t know us or we want to tell them something new and get their attention,” Egan says.
Some of APC’s strongest responses have come from a number-10 “blind” envelope, with a handwriting font in blue, a stamp and no return address. Since mailers no longer can omit the return address (except in certain situations with a permit), APC moved the return address to the back flap. Inside was a personalized letter, with an article and a quiz. The recipient had to read the article to respond to the letter, either online or using the enclosed business reply envelope.
APC’s direct mail design is handled in house. To help the creative services team understand the mechanics of postal requirements, Egan organized a post office tour for the team. They were able to see the machines and understand why all the requirements were so important.
Because of the sheer volume of pieces it produces, APC works with a variety of vendors, including QuadGraphics, Protocol, LaVigne, Southwest Direct, Signature Printing and Mercury Print and Mail.
Egan says she takes care to work with mail houses that have postal representatives on staff who really “know their stuff.” And when designing a mail piece, APC always uses the USPS’ template to make sure the piece meets postal requirements. (Forgetting to do so can lead to disaster: See sidebar for an example.).
The USPS’ mail-piece design analysts also are available to assist mailers. These postal employees are specially trained to answer any and all questions about mail-piece design.
“This is a huge thing for us,” says Egan. “We use them all the time.”
Michele Egan and Christine Barry, vice president of Mercury Print and Mail, Pawtucket, RI, will present “When Worlds Collide — Direct Mail Creative, Production and Postal (or How to Creatively Get Your Mail Delivered)” at DMA05 in Atlanta on Monday, Oct. 17 at 4:15 p.m. The interactive session will feature a workshop following the presentation where attendees will be given postal templates, rulers and calculators to try and guess which postal rule has been broken on a selection of sample mail pieces.
They Meant Well
An idea intended to help recipients sunk one APC mailing
No matter how carefully a marketer tries to make sure its pieces meet postal regulations, sometimes a mailing gets out that isn’t quite up to snuff. Consider this a cautionary tale on making sure you check and recheck your mailings.
American Power Conversion of North Kingston, RI uses print-on-demand for many of its event mailers so the pieces can be turned around quickly, notes Michele Egan, worldwide director of direct marketing. APC has about eight or nine templates for such mailers, such as an oversized postcard with the event specifics along the bottom left-hand side of the piece, to the left of the recipient’s address.
The piece was designed and checked with the post office to make sure it met USPS requirements.
“Everything looked great,” says Egan. “But then at the last minute we thought, ‘Gee, everyone uses MapQuest now. Even though we sent directions, it would be so much easier for attendees if we used the ZIP code of the event location. So we did — but never checked the piece against the post office again.”
What happened next would break the heart of the hardest direct mail veteran. The ZIP code of the event locale, it seems, was in what the USPS calls the “no-fly zone.” The pieces had been barcoded by APC, but postal sorting machines read the postcards from the bottom up and read the event ZIP and address before reading the intended recipient’s mailing address. Thus, the machines re-barcoded all the pieces and sent them not to prospective attendees but to the event location.
It was, as Egan put it mildly, “not good.”
“It happened for about four or five events before we caught what was going on,” she laments. “For the first one, the event was at the partner’s return address, so we weren’t sure if these were returns that weren’t getting delivered. And then a hotel got a bunch of them.”
For such events, APC sends anywhere from 1,500 to 8,000 invitations. Egan estimates the mailings were on the smaller side, so maybe 2,000 pieces were sent for each. Not surprisingly, registration was down for these events.
“For event marketing, you tie in [the mailings] so close so the piece only hits a couple of weeks before. The only clue is low registration numbers,” she says. “And because it went back to the [event] partner, they thought it was just returns, because their list was used for the mailing.”
APC redesigned the templates to put the event data above the address information to avoid any repeats of this mishap. All in all, she estimates the company wasted a few thousand dollars, as it cost about 800 bucks a pop to redesign each template.
“You don’t like to laugh about it, but we’re usually so good about checking stuff,” she says. “We thought we were doing what was right for the customer by throwing in the ZIP code and no one even thought to check the piece again.”
— Beth Negus Viveiros