The b direct logo Hive

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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Pass the Popcorn: the Agency Goes to the Movies

It's been three years, seven months and twenty-one days (and no, that's not a Sinead O'Connor song) since they aired the final episode of Mad Men. That's a long time. For those of us who work at agencies, where everything is always due yesterday, that's a really long time. Without Don and Peggy and Roger and Joan, Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove, and the rest of Sterling Cooper (Draper Pryce) to keep us entertained, what are we to do?

Find new (or not so new) ad agency heroes on the big screen.

Here are some of our favorite films that feature copywriters and art directors ...

The Hucksters (1947)

Clark Gable (audible sigh) plays Vic Norman, a returning vet, eager to reestablish his advertising career after the war. He convinces Adolphe Menjou (a powerful ad exec) that he can secure the elusive account of Evans Beauty Soap, run by an eccentric Sydney Greenstreet. Vic pitches an idea that centers around an earnest war widow, Deborah Kerr (pre-King and I or An Affair to Remember). Of course Vic ends up falling hard for the widow and has to decide what's more important, being straight with her or succeeding at work.
Watch the trailer here:

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Mailbox Monday

Here in the Boston area, there used to be a chain of odd lot stores called Building 19. It was the kind of place where you needed to walk in with an open mind, with no specific expectations. You just had to be receptive to the weird and often wonderful things you could find, for pennies on the dollar. Building 19 was always an adventure. And, from a marketing perspective, they had the single best tagline ever ...

Good Stuff Cheap.

Really, that's the kind of clean, clear, catchy, and utterly irresistible tagline we should all aspire too.

We were reminded of this masterpiece of copywriting when we received an efficient little self-mailer from Square, the company that allows small businesses and entrepreneurs to accept credit card payments right on their smartphones.

The cover of the two-panel, folding mailer is as brief and to the point as you can be:

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If you are the parent of a teenager, you've probably seen FOMO in action.

FOMO stands for "Fear Of Missing Out."

It's not a new idea, but it's changing. When the Bs were teenagers (we won't bore you with how long ago that was), we might have been aware that we'd been excluded from a party, but aside from some twinges of jealousy, we could distract ourselves and move on. Today, if a teen is left out of a gathering, she can be there virtually. She can go on myriad social media sites and vicariously participate. "Oh look, there's the birthday boy blowing out his candles!" "Oh look, there's my crush with his arm around another girl!" "Oh look, there are five of my closest BFFs having a blast and not giving my absence a second thought!"

With social media, you're a digital fly on the wall. 24/7. Kinda creepy, isn't it?

FOMO's not just for teens either. Most people these days worry that they might be missing something. So, they check social media incessantly. And — guess what? — they're always going to be missing something. Someone will always have a better job, a bigger house. And all that envy is exhausting. So, they weave better, bigger versions of themselves to post.

"Hey. If we're going to suffer from FOMO, we're going to make damn sure that other people do too. Right?" And so the vicious circle continues.

The idea that you might miss out on something is also a super powerful marketing motivator.

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In Praise of Chameleons

One of the Queen B's earliest creative inspirations was a copywriter and agency executive named Joy Golden (June 30, 1930 - August 29, 2015). According to her Ad Age obituary ...

"In 1984, she gained international recognition when a client asked her to write a 'little schtick' about Laughing Cow Cheese. That 'schtick' became a hit, winning her shelves full of awards that included ADDY, Clio, One Show, Effie, Mercury, Andy, IBA, International Festival Grand Prix, among others.

'Little did I know that would make me famous,' Ms. Golden said in a 1992 interview. 'I went from nothing to international fame. I was in the New York Times, Museum of Television and Radio and I said, 'Goodbye' to the world and said 'I'm opening my own business.' I was 55 and I was a hit, kids.'"

Golden developed a particular voice and built a successful career putting that voice to work for a variety of clients. Of course, there were many companies (and entire industries) for which "Joy Radio" would not have been appropriate. (Funeral Parlors and Cancer Hospitals come to mind.)

The industry's best copywriters (and Golden was certainly one of them until that signature moment in the 1980s when she started to specialize), don't have a single voice or a signature 'schtick.'

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May Your Days B Merry and Bright

As we wrap up another year here at B Direct (we just celebrated our 15th annniversary - WOW!), we realize how fortunate we are to work with so many wonderful clients and colleagues. We're enormously proud of the campaigns we create for companies of every industry, every shape and every size — from start-ups to some of the biggest names in technology, banking, and publishing.

We know we've got it good. We flex our creative muscles every day. We learn about exciting new products and solutions all the time. And, most important, we help our clients succeed by reaching and often exceeding their goals. When that happens, we're all superstars.

That's why we can say with confidence, "There's no business like direct marketing."

In honor of our clients, colleagues, friends, and family, this year B Direct is donating to Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. This organization helps men, women, and children across the country and across the street receive lifesaving medications, health care, nutritious meals, counseling, and emergency financial assistance.

May this season be filled with holiday hits, standing ovations, and rave reviews.

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The Ones That Got Away

In the new "Mary Poppins Returns," Emily Blunt sings a lovely song called, "The Place Where Lost Things Go." (It's beautiful. In fact, the entire film is beautiful. Do yourself a holiday favor and see it!)

As agency creatives, the Bs at B Direct have a different fantasy world to cherish. It's called "The Place Where Concepts Go To Die." We're talking about the ones that got away. The concepts that were too risky, too sexy, too sophisticated, or too playful. Basically, the concepts that were too ... well ... too too. Too much.

We remember them fondly. We vow to find another way to use them. But, eventually, we resign ourselves to the fact that no matter how much we loved them, no matter how promising we thought they were, they are dead.

For example, we presented concepts for a 3-dimensional campaign to an identity theft solutions client. We really liked the option they chose (an RFID, theft-proof, wallet with credit card shaped inserts that promoted individual benefits of our client's product).

But, we really loved the idea of sending a glow-in-the-dark zombie apocalypse set.

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Mailbox Monday

We have created (hundreds? thousands? countless!) self-mailers for clients ranging from The Boston Globe to IBM to Healthy Pet veterinary clinics. We love self-mailers — they're like postcards on steroids. They can be high impact. They can be highly informative. They can be creatively personalized. They can buy our clients "real estate" in their audience's homes or offices.

The point is ... we have nothing against self-mailers.

We also respect direct mail packages that work hard. Offer? Check. Call to action? Check. Testimonial quote? Check. No matter what format we're designing, we try to accommodate different browsing styles, taking into account where the recipient might — or might not — look first, second, third, or last.

The point is ... we have nothing against including lots of promotional information.

BUT (you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?), sometimes a self-mailer isn't the right vehicle for the message, the audience, or the sender. And, sometimes including too much content, without guiding the recipient through it, causes "analysis paralysis." Or, worse, just makes a big mess.

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Are You Talking To Yourself Again?

Picture yourself at a dinner party.  You are seated between two people you have never met before.  Both are attractive, intelligent and well-spoken.

The person to your right introduces himself and starts talking ... and talking ... and talking.  He doesn't stop to ask if what he is talking about is of interest to you.  In fact, he doesn't let you get a word in edgewise.  Because he is engaged in his topic, he assumes you are.  When you do manage to ask a question, he either ignores it or rushes through an answer in order to get back to his own monotonous monologue.  You get the sense that there might be something interesting in what he's saying, but he hasn't given you a chance to find out for sure.

Now, the person to your left introduces herself.  She tells you a little about herself but also asks you some questions -- about your family, what you do for a living, where you're from.  She asks if you're interested in something and waits until you affirm that you are before sharing her perspective on it.  She stops talking frequently to allow you to contribute.  She listens attentively and answers your questions.  She actually shifts her train of thought in response to what you've shown interest in.

With which guest would you rather converse?  And with whom would you rather reconnect at a later date?

The problem with so much marketing is that while it may attempt to engage the customer or prospect, it's really taking the role of the first person we've just described.  Even committed direct marketers, professionals who champion the concept of two-way communication, spend most of their time, effort and money talking about their own product or service.  Too often, marketers don't listen.

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Privacy or Personalization?

This week, B Direct attended MTech, the New England Direct Marketing Association's annual Marketing Technology Summit.

As always, the event was very well-attended (practically standing room only). There were informative and inspiring keynotes and general sessions, a number of exhibiting sponsors, a networking lunch. Then, early afternoon, attendees broke into two groups for presentations on channel marketing or video.

The video session was led by two very polished (and very young) Google executives. At least 100 of us learned about new ways to use online YouTube video to drive and track consumer behavior. It was fascinating and the marketing opportunities were exciting.

And, no wonder.

Video is quickly taking over the Internet. In fact, as we learned, by 2020, video will be 82% of consumer web traffic, and by 2021,digital video ad spend will rise to $22.2 billion. So marketers really do need to understand how to use it — and use it well.

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Voted Most Likely to Misuse

Proofreading. It's the bane of many (otherwise talented) copywriters' existence. And, a really crackerjack proofreader is a valuable member of any team.

Last year, we talked about proofreading and offered some helpful tips. (See:

Now, we want to review some of the common words that are way too commonly misused. This list can help you in two ways. First, hopefully it will clear up any confusion you might have about which version of what word to use when. Second, it's a good idea to doubly proof any section of your copy that uses one of these potentially tricky words.

Your and you're are not interchangeable. Your is possessive second person. You're is the contraction of the words you and are.
"Your campaign is so great, you're going to win a lot of industry awards."

Then and than are two different words. Then means at that time or next. Than is used for comparisons.
"Then the client told the agency that the results were better than the year before."

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Mailbox Monday

We all know not to judge a book by its cover. But, as direct mail marketers, we also have to admit that many (maybe most) people have no problem judging our campaigns by their outer envelopes.

And the walk from the mailbox to the waste basket in most homes takes about twelve seconds.

Some mailers respond to this sad fact by putting everything — and we do mean everything — on the outer envelope. Product, features, benefits, offer, and even call-to-action. Others take a stealth approach and send their solicitation in a completely blank envelope, hoping that the recipient's curiosity will get the better of them and they'll be compelled to open.

One such stealthy campaign arrived the other day.

The 6" x 9.5" white window envelope was completely blank except for postage. It didn't have a printed indicia, but had been metered with non profit postage.

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Millennials Mind Their Mail

Years ago, we did a 3-dimensional package for a technology company. Our audience was web-based software developers. These geeks (and we say that with affection) lived and breathed, ate, drank and slept online. The client, logically enough, assumed that any responses to our campaign would come in via an electronic channel. He didn't want to spend the money on a mail-back option (a BRC, or in this case, a form that folded into its own BRE).

As direct marketers, we felt strongly that incorporating multiple response options — including a traditional postal one — was the right way to go. We all agreed to a test.

Here's where it got interesting. Not only did a significant percentage of the responses come in via the BRE, but all other response options (phone, email, and microsite) saw a lift when there was a mail option.

We're always reminded of this test and its counterintuitive results when clients or colleagues assume that millennials, a generation raised online, aren't interested in mail.

The USPS's Mail Moments study confirms our opinion that mail matters to this audience. What's really interesting is that in many ways it matters slightly more to the digital generation than to older people.

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