Direct Mail, Email and your brand


Direct Mail and Email marketing are critical components of any branding strategy for either a business to business or business to consumer brand. And it is a growing business. But the quality of Direct Mail and Email marketing in Malaysia and the mining and management of the databases used is horrendous.

If you own a company and you want to destroy any equity there may be in your brand, prepare a badly written product sheet on your desktop and when you are finished, don’t bother to spell check the document.

Print 50,000 copies and shove them in all the letterboxes of as many office or apartment complexes in the Klang Valley as you can. While you are sitting at home waiting for the phone to ring (assuming you included it on the flyer – and believe me, some don’t), your ‘DM campaign’ is being thrown in the rubbish bin by the lift, used as a place mat for lunch or simply thrown on the floor by the mail boxes. Hardly an inspiring ‘moment of truth’ first time experience for your brand and potential customer.

Another way to damage your brand is to send the wrong material to the wrong people. I have three kids, two under the age of 13. Yet this year they have both received two offers from credit card companies. These offers state that applicants must be at least 18 years of age.

A lot of firms are moving away from DM to save money on the printing of their flyers or brochures and looking at Email marketing. Although figures are unavailable for Malaysia, the Direct Marketing Association in the UK informs us that 90% of companies are now using email marketing.

There is no doubt that a well thought out and planned email campaign can be effective and profitable. But too many firms don’t do this and instead are simply adding to the seven trillion spam messages expected to be delivered to inboxes around the world in 2011.

I signed up with a local event organiser for information on forthcoming branding and marketing seminars that they organise in the region. Within a week my inbox was inundated with emails related to human resources, accounting, insurance, motivation and other topics I have nothing to do with and no interest in. These emails are trashed with the same irritation as the ones for Viagra, lottery wins and Nigerian banks.

Despite my repeated requests to be unsubscribed from their list, I continue to receive multiple emails. I cannot simply mark the email as ‘junk’ because they are using a Gmail account and this will send all mail from Gmail addresses to my trash. The name of the company is ingrained in my subconscious, but for all the wrong reasons and it is now a matter of principle that we will not sign up for any event organized by this firm.

I have received about 10 emails in the past month from an insurance company that recently spent RM13 million (US$4 million) on a rebranding exercise. The emails are not personalized, the attachment is of a flyer that is dull and states in two places that the offer is exclusively for Mastercard holders yet I don’t have a Mastercard.

I really lose faith in financial institutions and other companies when they make such mistakes. Think of the money wasted on the cost of the name, flyers, administration and so on.

The rewards for good campaigns are significant. The Direct Marketing Association reports that more than RM550 billion was spent on direct marketing advertising (including email marketing) in 2008 and sales generated from that were an astonishing RM6,450 billion! There is no question then that DM can be effective because it allows consumers to read about the products and services before deciding to explore further, or even buy.

But it has to be done properly. It is not enough simply to create a campaign and send it out. It is also important that the content resonates with the target market. And you still need to ‘sell’ the product. Just because you have got into the prospect’s inbox, doesn’t mean the prospect will buy.

The key for all direct marketing or email marketing is get the customer information right in the first place and keep it updated accurately thereafter. If you are collecting a lot of leads but don’t have the resources to input and clean the data, then outsource. There are many firms offering such services and it will be money well spent.

There is an edict within Direct Marketing industry that says, “Right offer, right person, right time.”

So it’s time for Malaysian firms, from SME up to main board, to end all this untargetted, uninspiring, untrackable, unproofed direct mail and start building brands with quality marketing collateral.

Effective email campaigns must be part of your brand strategy


You’ve probably never heard of unsolicited bulk Email (UBE) or for that matter, unsolicited commercial email (UCE) but you have of course heard of junk mail or spam, the more common moniker.

The earliest known spam was a message sent in 1978 and the earliest known commercial spam message was sent in March 1994. This latter event coincided with the opening up of the Internet and the amount of spam has grown exponentially since then and the forecast is that seven trillion spam messages will be sent in 2011, making up about 85% of all emails sent worldwide.

This constant carpet bombing of consumer inboxes with irrelevant messages has had a detrimental effect on email marketing and now, with the advent of social media, our belief and trust in email is wavering. Nevertheless, email is still an effective tool in the communications of any brand strategy. It can be used as a marketing, sales, retention and CRM tool and response rates to personalized emails have been reported to be as high as 62% although 2-4% is the average. Still impressive.

But it is critical for marketers to ensure that their emails are relevant to the target market, well written and succinct enough to gain the attention of the reader in the roughly three seconds they have before the reader hits the delete/spam button.

It is also critically important to ensure before the campaign begins, that you know what the purpose of the campaign is and, most important of all, that your database is clean and up to date.

I am constantly stunned at the amount of shockingly written, poorly thought out and irrelevant emails that land in my inbox. I’m equally stunned at the amount of times I receive the same email from the same organization.

For instance this email, from an organization that recently spent RM15 million (US$5 million) on a ‘rebranding’ exercise, is exclusively for Mastercard owners yet I don’t have a mastercard!

Furthermore, the email is addressed to ‘undisclosed recipients’ and contains no cover message or other form of personalization. Finally, to the detriment of the brand, it has been sent to me an incredible six times in less than a month!

Takaful Malaysia which refurbished its 13 platinum branches and outdoor signs and billboards during the rebranding exercise should have also looked at its communications processes and systems, including qualification, lead and list management and other elements. As its stated aim is to ‘make the company more appealing to the younger age group, it should also review its creatives! But I digress!

What should Takaful Malaysia and other companies, who are thinking of carrying out email campaigns do to ensure those email campaigns create leads and prospects rather than brand antagonists?

Here are 10 recommendations that will help them and others get the most out of email:

1. Target your message
It’s critical that the subject line grabs the attention of the reader and encourages them to open the email. The best way to do this is to personalize the subject line. The Takaful Malaysia subject was the name of the product. Few people buy products. A better option would have been “Can I help you protect your family?”

2. Segment your target markets
Keep list sizes to a manageable amount. Don’t send gazillions of messages and then be unable to respond to them in an acceptable time frame (24 hours). Segmenting your targets will stop this happening.

3. Target messages
Keeping list sizes to a manageable level will allow you to develop multiple messages for multiple segments, critical to successful tracking. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

4. Use a Salutation
The whole point of the exercise is to get a response, not to make a sale. If you met someone at a convention, you wouldn’t start pitching to them the moment you are introduced and it is the same with an email campaign. Be contemporary, slightly informal and inviting. Start prospecting emails with a greeting and, depending on the product or service, the contact’s first or last name, such as “Dear Mr Smith” or “Hi Fatima.”

If you don’t have the first and last name, don’t send the email until you have the correct information. The majority of emails without a name will go straight to the trash folder.

5. Keep Your Email Short
Lay the content out so that it is easy to read and keep the first email short to ensure it is skimmed. You want the prospect to read the entire email but they won’t stick around for long so make it a fast, easy read.

Keep the email to three paragraphs of no more than three or four sentences. You can also close with a one-line sentence.

6. Track each segment within each campaign
One of the great advantages of email campaigns over traditional advertising campaigns is the ability to calculate an exact CROI (campaign return on investment).

But don’t limit your calculations to response and conversion rates. Depending on the goals of the campaign, track demographics, territories, consumer data, page visits, click-throughs, time spent on pages, and other elements. Use this information to influence future email campaigns with more efficient and effective content.

7. Have a hook
Business owners and C level executives are busier than ever. They don’t have time to waste so have an instant hook. We are in difficult economic times and businesses are looking to save money, especially small businesses so an obvious hook would be related to saving money for a business. Ensure content resonates with target markets.

8. Content is still king
Mention specific issues relevant to target segments. There is so much information available that it is easy to identify issues affecting segments. It may take a little more preparation but it will be worth it in the long term.

9. Don’t go overboard on design
I’ve received emails with video clips, multiple graphics, embedded links, audio and so on. These are all distracting and time consuming when opened on a mobile device at an airport. Keep it simple.

10. Email marketing should form part of a brand strategy
Many firms conduct email campaigns on a whim, without any real thought or planning. This is a bit like driving a Ferrari in first gear, the car does everything you want it to but is it getting the best out of the car?

Incorporate your email campaigns into your brand strategy. Identify your quiet periods and implement an email campaign to boost sales in that period.

Email is still the most effective way to reach a lot of new prospects quickly and inexpensively. Email campaigns also have impressive response rates.

But email campaigns, carried out in an amateur way, can have a negative effect on your brand. However, if you follow these email best practices, prospects will take notice and respond, increasing your sales and building your brand.