Adventures in Winback Direct Mail

Blue Bottle Label

Blue Bottle Coffee Winback Mailing

I love winback customers. They are already familiar with your product and are usually much cheaper than a fresh prospect. Better, as they’re familiar with the product, you’ll often see much better retention when they come back after having seen the other options available.

As a former customer, I was really excited to see this dimensional mailer from Blue Bottle Coffee. A 3D box, nice rattle and filled with promise. Well done!

Except they spent tons of money to send it me first class (probably without testing) and never bothered to put my name on the box. Why not? They know my name!

Further, after investing all that money they didn’t give me a reason to open the box right now. It’s got a FREE sample of their latest product (pre-ground coffee) inside. Why not tell me to open it and enjoy their product again, in a new way?

Blue Bottle Bella Donovan Coffee Sample

Bella Donovan Sample

Since I love direct mail, I decided to open the box to see the single serving sample. As with everything they do, it’s packaged very stylishly.

I think the sample is intended to get me to come back to Blue Bottle Coffee and re-start my subscription. But I’m not sure.

The mailing started out poorly and got worse. Let’s go inside and check it out.

Blue Bottle Flyer Front




Notice the size of the flyer.  It’s impossible to get out of the box without bending it open. In fact, when I first opened the box, I thought they’d printed the flyer on the bottom of the box. It took a second–one more second than the average recipient will spend–before I realized it was a separate printed piece.

The very best direct mail will fall apart in one’s hands upon opening it. This piece required me to do work to get to what I’d hoped would be a strong offer, hidden on the reverse of the flyer. After all, why would you spend so much and not make an offer?

Sadly, I was wrong.

Blue Bottle Flyer back

A Flyer Without an Offer. Sigh.

Lots of “we” copy about the company. Nothing about me. Oh sure, I could “sign up” (poor choice of words), but nothing about my past relationship with the company.

Where’s the offer? Where’s the personalized benefits?

They could have thanked me for being a former customer, welcoming me back with a FREE shipment of their great new pre-ground coffee and maybe told me about some of their new home delivery options, making it even easier than ever to be a customer.

Nope. I learned that “we” have hated ground coffee for 14 years and now they’ve got a better way to make it. Why should that make me care enough to want to buy?

I haven’t yet opened the coffee. But when I do, I suspect the aroma will be that of a “growth hacker.” The piece doesn’t make the grade from a direct mail professional point of view.

Takeaway: Know the rules. Work with an expert. Make your direct mail investments pay off.

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Digital Flim-Flam: Mode Media Edition

How does the 10th most trafficked group of websites, per comScore, go out of business overnight? That’s what you should be asking yourself as you read the news about Mode Media’s abrupt shut-down last week, especially if you’re one of the army of freelancers left unpaid.

You might wonder how the company was able to attract an “audience” (there’s that digital word that should immediately cause your antennae to go up) of 137 million monthly unique visitors and  generate over $90 million in annual revenue. You would also be right to wonder how they could have raised over $225 million in funding and be valued at over $1 billion as of 2013.

The answer is pretty simple. The traffic wasn’t real. It was bots purchased from traffic brokers and sold to unwitting advertisers who didn’t care enough to look too hard at what they purchased. At some point the whole traffic scheme falls part if they can’t arbitrage the junk traffic for enough to cover the cost of producing the “content” (there’s another digital word that should also cause you to look twice).

Take a look at the following video, which has received over 10 million views as I write:


100 Years of Fashion: Wedding Dresses ★ Daily Views

100 Years of Fashion: Wedding Dresses ★ Daily Views

Really compelling huh? So compelling, it generated almost 900K views in the day or two after launch (left).  And bots have been viewing and clicking on it ever since.

As they say around the poker table, if you don’t see the sucker, it’s you.

Takeaway: Look at your direct, PMP and programmatic buys, line-by-line and site-by-site. Look at your site transparency report. And trust your gut: if it feels wrong or odd to you, it is.

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Mistaking Surveillance for Advertising

Are we focusing on identifying a specific and measurable goal, carefully segmenting our audience into mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive segments, then developing a very clear brief for our agencies?

Or are we simply selecting a bunch of cookie pools and letting algorithmic targeting decisions decide which “audiences” receive our messages?

If we had less surveillance and ad tech, we’d have to think in an old-fashioned way to build brands and sell our products. We’d be dinosaurs like Coca-Cola, P&G, Walmart, Ford, and, well you get the idea.

Don’t start with the technology. Start with figuring out who’s going to buy your product and who won’t. Brief your agencies well. Think about what you won’t do. Think like a marketer, not like the NSA. And win.

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Pokémon Go: This Year’s Ice Bucket Challenge

images“Can we talk about this in tomorrow’s 1 on 1?” goes the email from the CxO, followed by a link.

A couple of years ago it was the ice bucket challenge. Remember all the requests you got to figure out how to do something like that for your business? More maddening is the amount of limited resources burned at other non-profits as they tried and failed to get their own equivalent to go viral.

Starting roughly, oh, today, marketers and ad agencies will get the same email, this time about Pokémon Go.

Except it will be worse this time.  The difference is that the ice bucket nonsense was for a charity. The latest craze has resulted in an increase in Nintendo’s stock price by around 43% as I write this. Given the number of adults I saw huddled in the streets of Manhattan last night and stumbling around like zombies with the app open, I suspect the stock will go higher.

There’s nothing an executive likes more than the sound of the value of their unearned grants jumping by that much in a few days. Especially when the cost per acquisition is “free.” (Which as marketers we all know is BS.)

So be prepared to be forwarded lots of articles with idiotic titles like:

  • Ten things startups can learn from Pokémon Go
  • What’s really behind the Pokémon Go craze
  • Creating buzz: secrets of Pokémon Go
  • What killed marketing? Pokémon Go

Worst of all, you’ll be putting together lots of decks explaining to your addled CxOs why Pokémon Go isn’t relevant to your business.

Let me help you make the only slide you need. Cut out a picture of a Pokémon, put an equal sign next to it and insert a picture of a small rock.

Pokémon Go is lightning  in a bottle folks. Make interesting things that people want to buy and use. That increases your chance of lightning striking.

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There Are Always Trade-offs

As CMOs, we often ask our staff and agencies “is it possible to..”

  • Update that deck weekly
  • Track performance of that number daily
  • Have a quick weekly check-in to discuss another metric

The answer, of course, is yes. It just depends on what you want to trade for the quick meeting or that easily updated number. If what you’re giving up is of lower value, then you’ve made a good trade. Unfortunately, we often decide we want both. Instead of getting one thing done correctly, we now get two things done in a substandard fashion.

The solution is to always force a trade–what are you giving up for the thing you’re getting? Remember the old Milton Friedman saying: TANSTAAFL*. It pertains in economics and it pertains to CMOs too. Even if we don’t want it to.

*There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

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Utica College Receives $2.5 Million Grant for Athletic Facilities

The Tangerine

Nicholas Souza, News/Online Editor

On Feb. 4, Senator Joseph Griffo and Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi announced that Utica College has been awarded a $2.5 million grant from the state that will be used to make improvements to the athletic facilities on campus.

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Rome New York: Welcome Home

Another good post by Arian Horbovetz, this time on nearby Rome, NY. Wonderful photography and article about another Central New York city you should know more about

The Urban Phoenix


On January 13th, 2015 I clicked “Publish” on my first small cities blog post featuring my visit to Utica New York.  Thirty-six hours, two radio interviews and 25,000 views later, I realized just how important the story of the small city revival had become.

After visiting Utica, Schenectady, Binghamton and Troy in 2015, I decided to start 2016 with a focus on even smaller cities in New York State.  The obvious first choice was only a stones throw away from where the blog began, in Rome New York.

In this post, you will see less emphasis on photography and more on dialogue, conversation and the exploration of ideas, viewpoints and visions.  The photography works to establish the context, but the real meat of Rome’s adventure is in the people who’s passion lies in the growing energy and momentum their community is experiencing.

Happy 2016 New York.  Meet your neighbor…

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(Occam’s) Razor-Sharp Targeting

straight razorA straight razor–used properly and with care–can do the job as well (or better) and far more cheaply than one of the newfangled five blade gizmos being sold by the big consumer products companies.

Likewise, sometimes the best targeting and segmentation schemes are Occam’s Razor-like in their simplicity and effectiveness, as Bob Hoffman reminds us.

Instead of building out complicated schemes, let’s think of targeting in two ways:

  1. They’re in the market for your product/category
  2. They are not in the market for your product/category

Too simple you say? Try this the next time you watch TV. Sit there with a pencil and paper, instead of your iDevice. Place a mark in one of two columns every time you see an ad. On the left if you’re “in the market” meaning you either buy in that category of product or believe you will in the near future. Make a mark on the right side if you’re not in the market for that category either now or in the future.

You’ll see Wanamaker’s Law at work. A minimum of 50% of your marks will be on the right side of the paper. You might see a lot more.

Tons of client money, bolstered by fancy and expensive segmentation schemes, is being spent every time you watch the tube. Yet most of the time you find yourself thinking “I’d never buy that thing or that category. Why the heck are they wasting my time with that ad?”

I used to work for a large publishing company where our segmentation scheme was based on Occam’s Razor. Either you had what we called “the collector instinct” and were in the market for continuity products or you did not. We tried to focus on the former and spent zero time and money targeting the latter or tying to convince them that they wanted our products.

We only sold a few billion dollars of stuff with margins that enabled us to have a couple of private villas on the Costa Del Sol with a great chef. I guess we were too dumb to know that we could have been more sophisticated. But we ate really well!

The trick to making Occam’s Targeting (TM) work: You have to make sure you define your category correctly. Too broad and the razor fails. Too narrow and you don’t scale. Price, purchase occasion and lifecycle all matter in defining your market.

Need help? Give me a ring.

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Nitrocellulose laquer: the smell of customer service?

Inside Wildwood Guitars (no, alas I didn't get the chance to rock out with Joe B and Greg Koch) Photo borrowed from Wildwood Guitars

Inside Wildwood Guitars
(Alas I didn’t actually rock out with Joe B and Greg Koch)
Photo borrowed from Wildwood Guitars

If you want to experience outstanding customer service in action, I suggest you visit Wildwood Guitars in Louisville, CO.

I took a detour yesterday to visit the famous guitar emporium on a trip to Aspen and was greeted by Senior Sales Associate Lance Bowzer. Even after announcing myself as a guitar tourist–i.e. I was not going to be exchanging money for a Gibson that day–Lance took the time to tell me about the town (which is really lovely), the store and some of the custom runs they’ve done with Gibson. While we talked and I fooled around with a Gibson 58 reissue, the smell of the nitrocellulose lacquer completed the Wildwood brand experience.

Brand = Experience

When we have a positive experience with the brand–the website, the products, the sales process and, most importantly, the people–we encode that experience emotionally and can recall that information far more easily than rational things like facts and figures. I know Lance told me how many guitars they have in the warehouse, but I don’t recall other than it was a lot. What I do remember is the smell of that R8 as we talked about the story of Gibson CustomBucker pickups and the nice conversation with Lance.

Of course the opposite can happen too. Quick–what do you think about your cable company? Thought so.

Want to sell more product and have more fans? Emulate Wildwood Guitars and Lance Bowzer. I know I’ll be back and I won’t be leaving without something with Gibson or Fender on the headstock. Highly recommended.

Wildwood Guitars
804 Main
Louisville, CO 80027

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Full circle: data cards for PMP and programmatic buys!

Emailed data cards for PMP and automated guaranteed "lists"

Emailed data cards for PMP and automated guaranteed “lists”

More proof that even programmatic media needs to be sold, and is not just bought.

I received an email from Kantar Media that looks just like the ads I used to see in DM News touting new-to-market files. The email contained data cards (see image at left) for eight different lists and brought me back 20 years. What’s old is new again!

I haven’t–yet–received the email promoting old-fashioned sucker lists. Of course when buying digital media, if you don’t see the sucker, pick up the mirror on your desk before you sign that I/O.

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