A New Message Carried In An Old Way – Direct Mail

Published on April 22nd, 2015


A New Message Carried In An Old Way – Direct Mail


Don’t forget Direct Mail as part of your Omni Marketing

 This blog is about the value of direct mail in the 21st century and how it can be part of  your Omni marketing strategy.

 Direct mail harks back to an era before the Internet and before email marketing (EDM).

The history of direct mail…

As the writer of this blog I am just old enough to remember the tail end of direct mail marketing’s “hey days,” the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The arrival of the internet and email was still a few short years away.

 As a teenager, I worked part time in a large retail music store called Allan’s Music while studying at university. My interests were not really business focused at this time, but rather music and education driven.

But what I saw around me working in this music store would years later continue to help build a business and a brand. Not just in Australia, but globally.

… in my experience

The music store I worked in had a long and rich history – the business had over 100 years under its belt by the time I became an employee. It had many floors housing sheet music, CD’s, musical instruments, electronic keyboards and pianos, in addition to a further seven floors of head office administration for the nationwide stores and outlets.

This store had a relatively young and very creative manager, Greg Wright, who had also grown up in the retail music industry. Greg was ultimately responsible for the sales success of the business but I always felt his true passion was marketing. He would constantly be trying things – some good some not so good – until he found the winning formula. And he was very generous to the people around who showed an interest in marketing, helping them gain a better understanding from his own experience. I later was to learn his fellow retail competitors found his marketing a little too successful and constant to the point of irritation.

Aside from his retail experience he had also been a semi-professional musician in the once flourishing Australian live music scene. This live music scene sometimes known as “pub-rock” spawned some innovative bands and performers. Some of these artists became domestically popular and some also became internationally successful; such as AC/DC, Split Enz/Crowded House, Men at Work, The Angels/Angel City, Midnight Oil, INXS and many more.

As I entered retail business, I soon realised the name of the game was sales and marketing.

You may have the best product, but do you know how to market it?

Yamaha Direct Mail Piano Promotion

Yamaha Direct Mail Piano Promotion

You may have the best product, but unless you know how to market it to the right consumer, it may not necessarily be successful.  With music, as in any industry, sales are predominantly dictated by trends, fashion, reputation, reliability and innovation.

As a retail store in a main-street in a large city, we had a steady stream of foot traffic streaming in and out of our store on a daily basis. For over a century the shop front had featured some attractive window space that carried the in-store promotions and themes for the month. This was used to entice the shopper into the store and hopefully they would buy something. This was a tried and true retail method that is still effective to this day.

One example of this strategy working well was in the 1990s. We were running a Billy Joel promotion and we had a life size cardboard cut out of Billy Joel at a keyboard. At that time Billy Joel was riding high on chart success of ‘We didn’t start the fire’, a US Billboard number one and an Australian number 2 single. I was standing just near the store window on a Saturday morning when a van with darkened widows pulled up and out jumped Billy Joel and Christine Brinkley armed with a video camera. They had obviously heard about this great retail window on a music store. I jokingly said to Billy Joel “You know that guy sort of looks like you”. He didn’t see the humour.

Allans Direct Mail Private Sale Inviatation

Allans Music Collins street Melbourne were Direct Mail Private Sale Pioneers -Here’s one such invite from 1995

But getting back to the value of direct mail.

At this time the late 1980’s and 1990’s Australia was going through a series of economic recessions. And it was becoming increasingly hard for retail to flourish under such conditions. Ideas were needed to drive more traffic into the stores.

Salvation appeared in the form of books that the manager of the store had brought back on his travels to seminars in the US, primarily the annual NAMM music show in LA. At this conference, leading sales and marketing leaders and educators would pitch the virtue of their methodologies. The conference was attended by industry retailers and wholesalers from the world over. It was a great learning environment.

 I would observe the store manager carrying these books around a like a bible – studying them and educating his team about how to customise and adopt the strategies found in these books. 

 I saw with my own eyes the huge success direct mail marketing brought the store.

Direct mail to promote private sales

In any business you will find cynics. And I clearly remember the cynics saying prior to the first direct mail ‘Private Sale’ experiment:

“It won’t work in Australia, we are very different to America” or “People don’t want to shop after hours!” or  “I don’t want to work after hours”. Then some weeks later the same people saying, “Yes I knew that would work well”.

Some people always seem to knock someone’s idea before it has had a chance to be measured. And from my experience, these people don’t tend to have open minds. Don’t get me wrong, debate is healthy, but in any business you must always try new ideas and strategies – or in this case old ones – in order to keep expanding your business.

The strategy

Greg Wright introduced a raft of direct mail campaigns to Allan’s Music Store. Some of these included Red Letter Days, Fire Sales (to celebrate the rebuilding of the store after a fire in 50 years before), Birthday Sale and probably the most successful of all the ‘Private Sale’.

 Lets take a look at the strategy behind a ‘Private Sale’.

Yamaha Dealer Direct Mail rare combined Birthday Sale &'Private Sale' -SA mid 1990's

Yamaha Dealer Direct Mail rare combined Birthday Sale & ‘Private Sale’ -SA mid 1990’s

Essentially it was designed as an event-type strategy. They were designed to make clients on your direct mail marketing database feel important and special.

Customers on your database would receive a personalised invitation to a sales event. What made this different was they could come into the store after hours when it was closed and make purchases the day before the sale opened to the general public. A little like Ticketmaster does today with pre selling concert tickets to VIP customers.

Limited numbers of product at 30-50% discounts on selected products were not uncommon from retailers in these sales. Wholesalers would gleefully provide a few selected items at heavily discounted loss leaders or door buster prices for the retailers to have as specials. This could sometimes help start a feeding frenzy on their product. The clear under current message of the promotion was that in all likelihood that by the time the general public could access the sale, all the worthwhile bargains had already been snapped up. First in first served! Can you imagine how many sales you could make from happy customers queuing up in the street to by your products after hours?

Looking back on the Private Sale strategy, it probably made music lovers feel like VIPs. And possibly a little like Elvis shopping in stores after hours to avoid the fans and the general public.

A sales stampede

I marvelled at how a simple marketing strategy could turn into a sales stampede.

 Now for the test would anybody respond and book an appointment as a result of the Private Sale direct mail?

 Let me tell you the response was like nothing we had ever seen.

 People queuing up outside the closed store in the street half an hour before their appointments. They were hungry to get inside the store to make that big purchase.

 The result was incredible. Salespeople, departments, store and company budgets were smashed. 

Such was the success spawned in this store the company Allan’s and it’s owner Brash’s took the same strategy to all corners of the company’s operations across the nation. Pretty soon the follow up direct mail Private Sales were scheduled again and again. More and more sales records were smashed nationwide. It was a pure sales and marketing gold rush fuelled by direct mail.

Proof of concept.

 News of the stunning spectacular direct mail marketing strategy success began to travel outside the company. And soon many retailers in many industries in Australia began to adopt the “Private Sale” strategy. And the early adopters of the strategy in many different retail sectors also experienced tremendous sales success with this simple direct mail strategy. 

Greg eventually went on to become the Director of Sales and Customer Service at Yamaha Music Australia. He introduced the concept of Private Sales to Yamaha retailers all over Australia. Again Private Sale Direct Mail marketing was immediately successful. Even dealer cynics who originally rejected the idea later adopted the idea as their own. 

Moving forward to now.

Of course, the hype of Direct Mail Private Sale strategies eventually subsided. The main reason being the Private Sale was a great strategy to use on a database. Even if it were just a couple of times a year. But some retailers desperate for quick sales started to roll the Private Sale out on an ever more regular basis. So common did they become it became ridiculous! And the general public soon lost interest in the concept.

 So now, we fast forward to 2015 where mail direct marketing has largely been replaced by electronic marketing such as email marketing and social media marketing. Direct mail marketing has not completely gone away but it is no longer king.

 In 2014 Webtron was looking at new ways to improve our marketing and thought back to the era of direct mail marketing.

Let’s give it a go!

You use direct mail? But you’re a web design company?

Being an online company this method of communicating with our customers is far from the norm. In fact, in our industry, it is a rarity to communicate this way.

 But being just old enough to remember the tail end of direct mail, I decided to give it a go. My team around me thought I was crazy. Why was an online company bothering with a marketing technique (‘snail-mail’!) that went out before they were born?

What were the results?

But what we hadn’t initially taken into account was the fact that most of our clients were older than us. They came from the generation before the Internet and email marketing. In fact, most of them rarely checked their emails if they thought it was of a marketing nature. Yet if they received the same correspondence in a personalised envelope we have found they are more likely to open it and read its contents.

 So when our first campaign went out in an envelope personalised to them on custom designed A5, the response was immediate.

An overwhelming spike in enquiry and sales activity. The best we had ever had in a short measurable period. Since this time direct mail marketing has become a bigger and bigger part of our marketing strategy. And as a brand now developing in other parts of the world such as the UK, we are using this same strategy to tackle new markets in 2015.

Through direct mail, what we had found was an opportunity to target a niche market that many, if not most companies were constantly not hitting the mark with. Part of the beauty of old fashioned direct mail is that it is obsolete in most industries. Direct mail allows you to reach target audiences via a new channel, one that is not as cluttered as other means of B2C contact, for example your day-to-day eMails, social media posts and TV communications – it’s a perfect vehicle to help get your company’s marketing message to stand out from the crowd.

So the next time Webtron helps your company conduct its online sales strategy, don’t forget to ask us about designing an old fashioned direct marketing strategy to compliment your online marketing activities and promotions.

What can we learn from this?

 With the increasing fragmentation of consumer attention, it is becoming harder and harder to reach the right customer at the right time. We need to make sure that we are contacting them from every possible angle. Just to effectively communicate our marketing messages to our customers. 

Add direct mail marketing for a truly successful omni-directional marketing campaign.

 A new message carried in an old way indeed.

Webtron Online Solutions Direct Mail 2014

Webtron Online Solutions Direct Mail 2014

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