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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

Alan Rosenspan's "Improve Your Response" Newsletter

Special Edition:
Issue # 8: Dealing with the Anthrax Emergency


• 1. Is This the End of Direct Mail?

• 2. What's the Real Danger?

• 3. What Are You Doing?

"The mail and our employees have become the target of terrorism"

John E. Potter
Postmaster General

"U.S. Postal Service officials yesterday said they are considering sanitizing equipment similar to that used in the food processing industry, which uses radiation beams to kill bacteria. "

Boston Herald

"Postal officials announced new safety measures — even urging people at home to "wash their hands" after opening letters."

"I assume you’re working on a newsletter that will help direct mail companies cope during these trying times."

One of our subscribers

Dear Friends,

I spent two days this week with Navy Federal Credit Union, based just outside of Washington D.C.

Like every other company, they are concerned about the problems with direct mail right now, but not just with their outbound mail.

They’ve received a number of telephone calls from their members who don’t want to mail in their payments, their mortgage applications or other important papers — because they are afraid they will be delayed, or just not delivered.

This is a very real fear. Several of our clients have been experiencing two or three week delays in the mail.

And it will probably get worse before it gets better.

The U.S. Postal Service is delivering a postcard to every household in America with a warning checklist for suspicious direct mail. The checklist warns people to beware of mail that is:

  • Addressed to someone no longer at your address.

  • Handwritten and has no return address, or has one that you can’t confirm is legitimate.

  • Lopsided or lumpy mail.

  • Marked with restrictive endorsements.

  • Unexpected or from someone you don’t know.

This list includes at least three of the techniques we recommend using in our seminars. But they’re not going to work anymore.

Is This the End of Direct Mail?

No, it is not. Are most people over-reacting? Yes. However, there are a number of smart and prudent things that you can and should do.

First and foremost, you might want to postpone your next direct mail campaign.

With delivery being delayed, or even at risk, it just doesn’t make sense to use the mail right now.

Consumers will be much less willing to open things from companies they don’t already use. They may even be afraid to.

And the same is also true of business-to-business. Many companies are simply discarding their third-class mail. It used to be called "Corporate Dumping." Today, it’s more serious than that. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal talked about how companies were hiring other companies to open their mail.

All this means — now may not be the best time to launch your new product or your new campaign. January has always been one of the best months to mail. I recommend waiting until then, if you can.

If you must mail, pay attention to these guidelines:

These include recommendations from the Direct Marketing Association, as well as my own thinking.

  1. Clean and update your list now. This has always been important, but it may become critical going forward.

    You lose a great deal of credibility with customers and prospects if you don’t have their correct name and address. Today, they’ll probably just throw out your mail.

  2. No "stealth" envelopes, please. I’ve always recommended them, and they’ve almost always worked. However, in this environment, you will need to put your company name, logo and address in a prominent place on the envelope.

    If your company is endorsed by any reputable and recognizable organization (for example, the DMA) you may want to include their logo on the outside as well.

  3. Test a "see-through" envelope. One of my clients is testing a vellum envelope for the first time. It’s more expensive, but we want to make sure that people can see what’s inside. You may want to test this idea.

  4. Beware of boxes. If you must use them, make sure your box is clearly identified and looks slick, expensive and professional. Not something that someone could have put together in their kitchen.

    You should put your name and logo on the outside, and even tell people what’s inside.

  5. Self-mailers may work better now. I’ve always argued against them, but there’s a time and place for everything. A mailing piece that doesn’t have to be opened may be more welcome now.

  6. Don’t fool people. This is a time you should be trying to create confidence and build trust with your customers and prospects. The techniques to "trick" people into opening the envelope will probably backfire right now.

  7. Make your 800 number bigger. Some people may feel more comfortable responding by phone or mail.

  8. Finally, take a closer look at e-mail. If your company already uses e-mail, you have an important advantage.

    If you don’t, I believe you should make every attempt to capture the e-mail addresses of your customers and your prospects at every opportunity.

    There’s never been a computer virus as bad as anthrax.

    One company I work with is sending out an e-mail to tell customers that they will be sending them direct mail — so they know to expect it.

What's the Real Danger

Your chances of actually getting anthrax are 100 million-to-one, but there are two very real dangers that every direct marketer faces right now.

1. People will feel even worse about direct mail.

They’ve never really liked it. They’ve always believed they get too much of it. But most people have never been actively against direct mail. That may change.

    One of the important things you can do right now is to try and add value every time you mail. Try to be extra helpful to your customers. Try to understand how they feel.

    Many companies have sent special letters to their customers during these difficult times. That may be something you want to consider.

2. The Government may intervene.

In other countries — mainly in Europe — there are severe restrictions on both direct mail and database marketing. So far, that hasn’t really happened in the U.S.

One reason may be because politicians are one of the biggest users of direct mail. But that may change. I’m not sure what we can do about this one, besides supporting the DMA. and honoring their privacy protection guidelines.

What Are You Doing?

We want to know how your company is responding to these challenges — so we can share your ideas with our subscribers.

Please let us know: how you’re coping; what you’re doing about it; what you’ve been hearing from your customers; and we’ll do our best to spread the word.

Thank you — and good luck in the difficult days ahead.


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