4 Ways Messages Can Break Through the Clutter

Earlier this month, we launched our first-ever virtual conference and expo: Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk 2011. (The entire program is accessible on-demand—and free—until June 17th. Click here to find out more.)

Among the 12 sessions that all received high ratings, the opening roundtable “Messages That Break Through the Clutter: 2011’s Winning Campaigns from Every Channel” was the day’s biggest winner and brought in over 500 folks. The big trends hitting email, direct mail, mobile and social media were discussed, along with many examples that are likely to succeed in 2011.

Featuring four top marketers—Alan Rosenspan, Carolyn Goodman, Gary Hennerberg and Neil Feinstein—on this hot topic, the hour flew by, and we were bombarded with questions. Needless to say, we weren’t able to tackle them all.

Here are four particular questions that we didn’t get to, but many marketers want to see answered:

1. What are some key ways to capture a local market, versus a global market, through emails?
Hennerberg: I think the best way to capture your local market is to work with a reputable email list broker who can recommend lists to you that are geographic based. There are several out there, but one that I use is TheListWarehouse.com. Otherwise, look at strategies to build your own list with an opt-in form on your website or social media that brings people to your offer.

2. Our agency understands the importance and impact personalization has on direct mail performance, however, our ability to leverage this information is often handicapped by our clients’ IT capabilities. How would you recommend creating the necessary urgency for our clients to drive such a significant (costly) change?
Rosenspan: Great question. I’ve been there, and it’s not an easy task. I have two suggestions for you.

  • Take baby steps. Sometimes just one or two pieces of data can drive a direct mail piece. For example, I did a mailing for an insurance company that was trying to get existing policyholders to increase their insurance. The letter started with, “Dear When you first took out your policy in <19xx>, a new car costs <$XXX> … a loaf of bread costs <$XXX> … a quart of mild costs <$XXX>. It’s a fact that inflation has reduced the value of your policy, and it’s time to increase the amount.”
    This was very successful, and driven by just one data point—the year they took out their policy. The rest was public information.
  • Use personal information when you present. What that means is that when you present your creative, use the client’s names’ in the work itself—not . I’ve found that this dramatizes the idea of personalization, and clients seem to “get” the impact.

3. Are social media messages to B-to-B prospects more susceptible to filtering for clutter? Are the prospects less likely to engage on a strictly personal value proposition?
Feinstein: Here’s the text book answer to your question: The primary strength of social media is in building engagement and dialogue with your existing customers. Most likely they will be brand loyalists who have a passion for your product or service. Think about it: Would a casual customer take time from his/her busy work day to get on your Facebook page? So to answer the first question, a brand loyalist is more likely to take notice of your communication than ignore it. To answer your second question, social media is not typically used for prospecting.

BUT I see you’re from a university, and I’m assuming you’re in admissions. Social media in an educational environment would be a little different than for a corporate environment. I could see how you might engage prospective students through social media, but you need to build your program in a way that makes the messaging believable. It should provide advice and insight, not marketing hype. High school seniors have great radar and can smell a marketing pitch a mile away. Enrolled students need to be the conduit. Admissions people can be there to answer questions. High school seniors are very into finding out as much as they can about a school and social media could potentially be a differentiator for your university, if used right.

4. Are you aware of any great difference in effectiveness where the recipient is named ‘Dear ____’ as opposed to a generic name/phrase?
Goodman: Unfortunately the answer, like many in direct response, is “It depends.” If you’re trying to establish a 1:1 relationship with your target, then a more personal “Dear , does seem to work better IF your data is clean and you know you have the correct spelling of a first name (and no initials or blanks in that field) and you have a signature at the bottom.

However, if the content of that email message is a Newsletter (with lots of different articles) then a salutation is really a non sequitur. We do know that Dear works better than Dear Valued Customer, for example. Consumers don’t actually feel valued being called a Valued Customer—they feel more valued when called by first name.

If your data is dirty or you’re not confident you know their first names or it doesn’t seem to make sense to use a personal salutation, then by all means leave off the salutation altogether. Another “generic” option is to use something relevant to what you’re selling. In your business it might make sense to say Dear Sports-lover or Dear Bride-to-be—you get my drift.

Ethan Boldt is the chief content officer of DirectMarketingIQ, which operates as the research division in the Target Marketing Group. He can be reached at eboldt@napco.com