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Go Direct: The Benefits of Clutter-Busting Direct-to-Client Promotions

By Joe Walsh
February 7, 2007
Go Direct: The Benefits of Clutter-Busting Direct-to-Client Promotions

Big opportunities are being overlooked between the treetop canopy of advertising and hard ground of proposals and pitch materials. It’s a space called direct-to-client marketing that we frequently ignore because direct-to-client is so often associated with unwanted junk mail. (Even that prejudice is unfounded. Junk mail works or it wouldn’t persist. Recently, I received an offer addressed to “Joan Walsh,” not “Joe” and signed up immediately in hopes of meeting prospective clients at the spa… just kidding.)

We’re not talking about the annoying, faux-personal junk mail that plagues your mailbox and mine. And certainly not “act-now, one-time, buy-one-get-one-free” offers designed to ring up sales.

Nor are we talking about professional service staples like newsletters. Don’t get us wrong. We are big fans of newsletters, like the one you’re reading now. But newsletters seem to be either canned and vaguely irrelevant or overly long and lack a real point of view; in other words, more clutter. (Breakthrough newsletters and advisories read more like Slate.com than a PowerPoint presentation from the Journal of Epidemiology.)

The direct outreach tools we propose are much more refined, targeted and, well, expensive than the usual fare. The goal is to create a positive impression and awareness first, then turn the corner toward creating preference for your offering. The following examples illustrate great direct-to-client marketing:

Grand Masters

1. Morgan Lewis CLAYX3
The CLAY Awards (California Lawyer of the Year) honor lawyers whose work defines excellence in the profession. To win once is an honor; to win consecutively for three years is one for the record books. And that’s just what Morgan Lewis did.

To assist the firm in promoting this unique accomplishment and to bolster its presence on the West Coast, the firm distributed a dimensional mailing about half an inch thick that unfolded to reveal three colorful blocks of clay: one for each year’s award. The first panel read, “CLAYX3: Want to make something of it?”

Another panel unfolded to reveal a compelling story fragment above each block of clay designed to drive the recipient to a unique Web page with the complete story. This piece was so successful, firm recruiters used it on West Coast campuses where Morgan Lewis was less well-known.
Morgan Lewis clay mailer
2. Pillsbury 15 Questions
During a recent recruiting season, Pillsbury Winthrop sent students a swatch book: 15 Questions every student should ask before selecting a firm (Yes, a swatch book with a grommet, just like you’d get at the paint store). The 15 were selected from a researched list of more than 30 FAQ’s posed to recruiters on campuses.

The firm’s associates had answered the questions on the verso of each page. Students found the swatch book so helpful they referred to the questions when being interviewed by other firms.

File this creative tactic under the heading “contribution marketing.” Instead of a purely self-promotional brochure, Pillsbury provided students with a decision-making tool doubling as a promotion. Smart.

Pillsbury Recruiting fan book

3. Unisys 1:1
As reported by The Wall Street Journal last October, “Around 20 high-ranking executives at corporations such as Subaru of America, DHL, Citigroup and Northwest Airlines will get a surprise when Fortune magazine arrives on their desks this week. Each will find his or her own face gracing the cover.”

These one-off covers are designed to create a one-to-one conversation between CIOs and Unisys. Each cover wraps an actual copy of that month’s Fortune edition, part of a direct-to-client campaign conducted by the information-technology company to get the attention of information-technology executives.

When the executives flip over the mock Fortune cover, they discover a custom letter from a senior Unisys manager describing challenges in the target’s specific industry.

To reinforce the message, Unisys is placing billboards and outdoor signs—albeit without CIO portraits—close to the executives’ offices. Ads are also planned for video screens in the elevators of their office buildings.

4. Navigant eMarketing
Publicly traded since 1996, Navigant Consulting is a specialized consulting firm providing dispute, financial, regulatory and operations advisory services with 40 offices internationally. Navigant has been recognized by Fortune as one of the “100 Fastest Growing Companies.”

To accelerate awareness of the firm’s capabilities and success in major U.S. markets, Navigant launched ads in The Wall Street Journal and major metropolitan airports. The intelligent illustrations of Craig Frazier anchor Navigant’s identity and give life to its advertising.

This effort is integrated with an innovative e-marketing campaign. Over three months, firm contacts received an ad through the email paired with succinct and substantive case studies. Direct links in the email landed those who clicked through—an unusually high percentage—on the Navigant site for more case studies and useful links.

Coming full circle, Navigant turned the email effort into a printed leave-behind brochure for face-to-face meetings. All to explain in simple terms that Navigant helps clients chart a successful course through constantly changing business and regulatory environments.

Navigant eblast

You say potato, we say twice baked and stuffed
So what’s the real difference between a common direct mailer and a clutter buster?

Clutter busters engage and provoke people. They are bold and take risks. As the ad wizard David Ogilvy once said: “You can’t bore people into buying your product or service.” Nor can you bore them into looking at your mail or email.

They are usually delivered in small lots and customized. The customization can be as big as the Unisys idea or as small as making sure the name, title and address of the recipient are typed on the package (not mass printed on labels and stamped with bulk postage).

Clutter busters are not cheap (which explains the small lots); budget accordingly.

They are often integrated with the rest of the marketing mix because “the hip bone’s connected to the…”

3,000 per day and counting
As we’ve written before, the average American is exposed to more than 3,000 messages a day. Some say email traffic has upped the dosage to 5,000 messages a day. At home. In the car. On the Web. At the ball game. It’s unrelenting.

Ironically, the more we’re exposed, the shorter our attention span gets. And the harder marketers must work to break through the clutter. It’s a vicious, expensive circle.

Direct-to-client marketing, done well—and differently—can earn your offering the kind of attention you believe it deserves.