NEW DIMENSIONS IN THE MAIL
AWARD-WINNING DIRECT MARKETING PROGRAMS COME IN ALL SHAPES AND SIZES
Debbie Coakley, Contributing Editor
The trick to breaking through the clutter of direct mail farmers regularly receive might be interestingly shaped, intriguingly wrapped packages. Just ask the winners of the direct-mail categories in the annual Best of NAMA competition sponsored by the National Agri-Marketing Association (NAMA).
The following mini case studies describe the programs of the first-place award winners in three of the four direct-mail categories: response-generating - single; response-generating - series; and outbound only - single.
POWERFUL TOOL FOR DEALERS
Response-generating - Single
John Deere dealers couldn’t help but tear into the shrink-wrapped green metal toolbox that arrived at their dealership last summer.
The kit contained all the tools dealers needed to learn about John Deere’s advertising promotions and support materials, including signage, national advertising, direct-mail programs, parts programs and events kits. Inside, dealers found two spiral-bound booklets - organized by business segments such as equipment and aftermarket - along with a mouse pad that included an Intranet address they would use to enroll for the new PowerTools program by Aug. 15.
"The objective of the PowerTools project was to communicate in one mailing the tools available to help dealers promote their business in 2001-02," says Laura Crowley, associate creative director for Osborn & Barr Communications, Kansas City, Mo., who also worked as copywriter on the project. "Not only was it important that the kit have an immediate impact on dealers, but for the first time the enrollment process would be completely online. We were replacing dozens of forms. It was a great creative challenge."
Custom-crafted of metal and built specifically to hold its targeted contents, the PowerTools kit was as functional as it was engaging, Crowley notes.
The goal was for the dealers to pore over the booklets in the toolbox, go to the Intranet site - designed to reflect the materials - and then order the materials they wanted. Kits from previous years contained information about the promotional programs in various formats - fliers in a flat box, a binder and even booklets done in magazine format.
The PowerTools kit was the latest version of the popular John Deere dealer advertising sign-up kits. "These kits, mailed out in June of each year, demanded attention, as they generally arrived in oversized boxes and contained every John Deere advertising program a dealer could use for the upcoming year," explains Michael Gustafson, manager, advertising planning, John Deere-Agri Marketing Center. "In the past, these kits contained paper sign-up sheets - in triplicate - that dealers filled out and returne[. PowerTools, however, was the first kit to direct dealers to an online sign-up program."
Gustafson says the program was a success. "Grabbing a dealer’s attention, obtaining a quick understanding of the program and providing an easy sign-up experience are essential to the success of the program," he says.
Agricultural marketing communications programs, as well as programs from other John Deere units, rely on the kit to get the greatest number of dealers involved. "The PowerTools kit was one of the more successful, as we had relatively few problems moving dealers into an online environment, and overall program participation was comparable to that of other years," Gustafson points out. "In fact, the program was so successful that the PowerTools theme and approach will be repeated for the coming year."
BUILDING A BRAND WITH ENERGY
Response-generating - Series
A series of mailings helped fuel a marketing communications campaign for Biolys® 60, a proprietary lysine product for the poultry and swine feed industries. Biolys is manufactured by Midwest Lysine, a joint venture between Degussa and Cargill.
"We wanted to establish a recognizable brand and stir up sales leads for this innovative lysine source that has many advantages for animal nutrition," says Bob Dion, vice president/creative director for Davis Harrison Dion, Chicago. "It’s the only lysine source that contains valuable co-products that deliver additional nutrients such as amino acids and energy."
Because this product is so revolutionary, educating the target audience - feed companies and large integrated poultry and hog operations - was crucial. "They’re accustomed to using lysine HCL to improve the rate of gain, feed efficiency and lean tissue formation," explains Gerhard Himmel, Biolys 60 marketing manager. "Biolys has 60 percent of the lysine contained in lysine HCL and other nutritional aspects. We needed to explain these extra nutritional benefits they’re getting at no additional cost while still retaining the benefits of traditional forms of lysine."
To build the image of the Biolys brand, the agency created a logo and graphic to show energy and represent the brand across all forms of communications.
For the direct-mail component, a series of three-dimensional mailers was developed to focus on specific Biolys advantage points with the poultry and hog prospects (approximately 300 in each group in the United States, Canada and Mexico). "Each direct-mail execution was attention getting, yet educational, to break through the direct-mail clutter," Dion says.
The first mailing, dropped in April 2000, was a sound-chip package introducing the product, its nutritional aspect and competitive advantages. The hog and poultry targets received separate mailings geared toward their needs. The mailing was delivered in a glassine envelope so recipients could see the message and Biolys logo on the enclosed material. "We get a great response to glassine mailings," Dion notes. "They’re different and eye-catching."
Plus, the packages were intriguing because they included a sound chip that made the envelope "lumpy." Targets in the hog industry received a mailing entitled, "We’re not looking to hog the lysine market." Upon opening it, they heard a hog squealing as they read, "We’re listening to the needs of lysine users."
Poultry prospects received a mailing with these words on the outside: "It’s a race to get birds to market weight." When they opened it, they read, "Take the lead with the right lysine" and heard the familiar horse race tune, "Call to Post."
Included in the mailing was a business-reply card requesting recipients to answer questions about their knowledge of Biolys and usage of lysine supplements. To encourage the target audience to respond, those who filled out and returned the card received a blue cap with the distinctive Biolys logo.
The second mailing focused on the nutritional aspects of Biolys and included a regular shoestring (representing ordinary Lysine) and a contemporary green, blue and black spiral shoelace representing the energy provided by Biolys. The theme: "You get nutritional extras with no strings attached." It was mailed to both groups and included a business-reply card (identical to that of the first mailing).
The third mailing included product information, a vial containing an actual sample of Biolys and another business-reply card.
Sales reps continued to help build the Biolys brand by distributing product brochures and specification sheets. Sales support and leave-behind premiums also featured the Biolys logo, Dion notes.
Overall, the direct-mail program received a quite high 21 percent response. "We got the feedback we needed to build a database and set up the selling process," Himmel concludes.
Outbound Only - Single
Chalk up another one for the FBI, the Federal Bug Investigations, that is. Detective Marks of this mythical organization has closed the books on case 039529. The victims: aphids, thrips, boll weevils, stink bugs and plant bugs. The suspect: Bidrin 8, aka "the most economical, broadest spectrum, fastest-acting insecticide, period."
The FBI theme was used in a June 2000 direct-mail piece sent to 120 crop consultants in Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas and Texas. "We wanted to remind them in a unique way that their clients needed an insecticide application and to be sure and use Bidrin 8," says Peter Marks, vice president/account supervisor for Maris, West & Baker Inc., Jackson, Miss., which developed the piece for AMVAC, based in Brandon, Miss.
Included in the mailing was a microcasette tape recorder with a recording of "Detective Marks’" notes at the crime scene and a printed "homicide report" - complete with lineup photo, evidence photos and an evidence bag containing a Bidrin 8 label. "The recording added another dimension to the sales effort by reinforcing the printed message," Marks points out. "And the recorder doubled as a nice gift that the consultants could use in their jobs."
The mailing was sent in a brown government-type envelope with an "FBI" stamp/seal on the outside and a return address. In large red type stamped sideways across the envelope - careful to not interfere with the post office’s "no mail zone" - were the words "Homicide Report, evidence enclosed." Directly under the address label it read: "Confidential, Open Immediately."
"The package was large enough to create curiosity," Marks says. "The tape recorder was wrapped in bubble packaging, which created enough bulk for the consultants to want to open the package to see why it was so heavy."
The piece was a dramatic departure from what AMVAC previously had been doing - an annual form letter that was mass-mailed to crop consultants. "With direct mail, you can’t just send a letter and expect it to get read," Marks reports. "We tried to entertain the consultants immediately to get them to open the package. Once they opened the package, we wanted to entertain them further and get the message across."
Billy Hines, Southern regional manager for AMVAC, says the mailing was different and caught the consultants’ attention. "It was an innovative approach but was still timely and informative," he points out.
By focusing on a narrow target audience, it was important for AMVAC’s sales team to help develop the list. "They knew most of the consultants from dealer meetings, farm shows or associations," Marks says. "Most of the targeted consultants had recommended Bidrin 8 on cotton in the past, so the mailing was an important reminder that it was time to check their customers’ fields and apply Bidrin 8."
Consultants’ responses to the mailing were positive. "We’ve heard that they got a good laugh out of the recording, found it interesting and said it was a good reminder to apply Bidrin 8 - which is what we wanted to do in the first place," Marks notes.
Marks reports that because Bidrin 8 sales are not broken down by advertising source, determining how much the consultant mailing contributed to overall sales is not certain. "Sales for 2000 were 9 percent above budget with a spike in sales after the mailing," he says. "Sales would have been even higher, but problems with the bugs dissipated toward the end of the season."
A follow-up direct mailing is planned for this summer. AM
Debbie Coakley is a freelance writer based in Warrenville, Ill.