Your company’s product guarantee policy: reducing the barriers to purchasing

Some years ago I worked for a clothing cataloger that offered a no strings attached, lifetime money back guarantee.  Occasionally we received a tattered well used article of clothing back 2-3 years later, but mostly the guarantee worked for us.  We were pioneering organic fiber fashion and as a company wanted to do everything we could in order to reduce the risk that could have a negative effect on a purchasing decision.

A good solid guarantee is an important part of the selling process.  It tells the consumer that you stand behind your products and you are truly focused on your customers needs.  Showing your guarantee prominently on your website and your catalogs makes good sense, and in my opinion should be heavily promoted as part of your offer.

Also in my opinion, and I cannot stress this enough in the age of social media, is for management to offer the best possible guarantee they can, and then back it unconditionally.

Take a look at your company’s warrantee.  Is it clear, simple and to the point?  If not then simplify it.  Make it so easy even a child can understand it.  Why?  The internet and social media are the great equalizers and simple things like upsetting a customer with a hard to understand guarantee, will wind up being tweeted, Yelped and status updated.

The ‘Death’ of Direct Mail and Catalogs

I’m not a big fan of naysayers. Your typical naysayer has a particular agenda that drives the “nay” that they’re “saying.” For instance, pure-play internet marketers do a great job of casting a shadow of impending doom on the direct mail industry.

Why? Simple: They don’t benefit from the competition!

In recent years, direct mail has been positioned as old-school, obsolete, “doesn’t work” and just plain bad. When asked, direct and non direct mailers will tell you direct mail is dead. but, It’s when non mailers get into the act that I get really worried because they are buying into the philosophy sight unseen.

I get it. Direct mailers already have a reputation as junk mailers. So while catalogers haven’t been hit as hard by the junk mail tag, in large part due to their value to shoppers as name brands, the mailing industry as a whole is threatened.

Can’t we all just get along?

Maybe not!

Every time I turn around, there’s a new name and/or affront to direct mail. First it was called push marketing. (We were being too pushy!) Then it was outbound marketing. (“They” coined the phrase “inbound marketing.”) The term I hear all the time these days that makes my blood boil is “intrusion” marketing.

Who creates these monikers?  Answer: marketers!

And while referring to direct marketers as intrusion marketers, they’ve named themselves “attraction” marketers. Let’s attract; let’s start a conversation; let’s communicate. Oh please!

Setting the record straight…

So I’d like to take this opportunity to clear things up for those who put forth the garbage that direct mail intrudes and/or is dead. Consider the following:

1. Direct mail isn’t going to die anytime soon. Direct marketers will evolve, survive and thrive. By taking advantage of personalization, variable data printing, PURLS,  and the multitude of tools online, direct mail will continue to find new ways to drive leads, sales, and increase their response rates.

2. Your goal is to be relevant. Direct marketers don’t want to mail to people who don’t want to receive their offers. And those consumers who don’t want to receive catalogs/direct mail can turn to suppression services such as Catalog Choice and the Direct Marketing Association’s mail preference service. All mailers should run those suppression files against their prospect lists, not their housefiles.

3. So-called “intrusion” marketers set the rules for direct marketing and internet marketing. We’ve created a medium that’s all about measurement and metrics. Direct marketers are responsible for the tools that differentiate themselves from those dot-bomb sock puppet marketers, so why are they dissing you?

4. You’d think there’s room for all types of media in today’s marketing mix. Direct marketers don’t bad-mouth pull marketing. They embrace it, use it, measure it — and if it works, roll out with it. They’re driven purely by return on investment. If it works, they love it.

5. Direct marketers have taken big hits on paper and postage rates, the economy, even anthrax in the last decade, but they continue to soldier on. The truth is, they still get response and ROI. If not, they’d stop mailing. Consumers still buy via the mail, and will continue to do so.

The bottom line: Don’t buy into the self-fulfilling prophesy that direct mail is a dead medium. It ain’t! My clients are seeing good to excellent results in the mail. Just follow the principles of direct marketing and you’ll succeed.

Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Empty-Wallet Wednesday: A Tale of Two Shoppers

(update: even 5 year olds are getting into the act.  Friday I was at Best Buy and overheard the following, “But Daddy, it’s Black Friday… Pleeeeeeeease get it for me before the price goes up!”)

Friends and readers: I hope you all had a happy and safe Thanksgiving. I also hope you had a great Black Friday and a killer Cyber Monday despite our current economic circumstances.

I seem to remember not too long ago when Black Friday was just a retail industry term for the one day of the year that could change a company’s P&L from red to black. Somehow the term has crept into our national lexicon and collective psyche. As I went through my e-mails on Thanksgiving morning, I had at couple of dozen sale-oriented e-mails pitching Black Friday sales. Some referenced Black Friday right in the subject line, just so I would know that somethingmore than special would be offered that day. I even got a Black Friday offer from a car dealership.

It certainly seems to me that the media turned this day into the biggest shopping event of the year — just like Presidents Day, Valentine’s Day and other major shopping days. Thanks to the Internet, we also have its sister event, Cyber Monday. Now we have even more competition, as shopping events become clashes worthy of sibling rivalry (or an opportunity for marketing channels to be in sync).

I chose to write this on Friday morning, Nov. 28, after Thanksgiving dinner, feeling mostly recovered from the sleep-inducing agent in my turkey. Others in my family were getting ready to shop, too. My wife was going to hit the mall extra early to beat the traffic, hopefully the crowds too, while scoring the best gifts at a discount. She’ll likely turn Black Friday into an all-day marathon, going in to many stores and spending as much time as possible perusing each rack, end cap and item until she has fully scratched the internal itch that will not let her miss one perfect fit for someone on her shopping list.

As for me, if I never set foot in a mall or retail store again, I’ll be happy. And even when I do go retail, I go with a goal in mind — find it, buy it and get out before some overzealous clerk sprays me with cologne!

Instead, I’ll spend time in the other marketing channels. I’ll shop catalog and Internet, and if I have questions, I’ll pick up a phone and call a toll-free number to clarify. The only exception I may make is for an item-return. To return an item, I may actually drop it off at a retail store, rather than send it back via the mail. I find this easier somehow.

And NO, this isn’t a sexist thing — as in man vs. woman. It’s purely about preference. Some people desire the tactile experience of seeing, feeling and touching. Some don’t. In my younger days, I actually enjoyed the mall shopping experience, but now I don’t. Simple as that.

Points to consider

So why am I telling you this? There’s a moral to my story and it’s quite simple. Know your customers and their shopping patterns. Satisfy their needs in any channel they choose. Also know that shopping preferences change over time. Today’s retail customer may be tomorrow’s Internet shopper and vice versa.

Speak to you next week.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog and direct marketing agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at , or you can e-mail him at

Kudos, an open letter (and a warning) to the USPS Postmaster General (spread this around)

Over the years I’ve been super vocal about my dislike for the U.S. Postal Service and its less-than-forward-thinking bureaucracy. When it slammed direct marketers with a 20 percent postal increase back in 2007, I went (pun intended) postal on it in my Catalog Success Magazine Column.

Earlier this year after it announced its summer postage sale, I was optimistic. But once I looked at the fine print (i.e., how much you had to mail to qualify), I was critical then, too.

I try to be fair in the offering of my opinions.

Therefore, I have to applaud the USPS for its announcement last week that there would not be a postal rate increase in 2010 for dominant classes.

For those of you not aware yet, last week the Postmaster General sent out a memo announcing no 2010 rate increase, which has spread around the internet faster than a scandalous YouTube video goes viral. That memo can be reviewed here.

I know, I know: Postal rates are already ridiculously and restrictively high, but at least mailers can build their 2010 mail plans without having to cut circ from marginal lists and housefile segments.

But along with my kudos to our Postmaster and the USPS, I also want to put them on notice.  Here goes:

Dear Mr. Postmaster General,
You’ve started a trend here. Between the postal summer sale and now this offer to keep postal rates stable in 2010, catalog and direct mailers believe that you may actually be interested in working to our benefit. We look forward to the next postal sale, and hope that the USPS opens it up to smaller mailers to take advantage of. We truly hope that you’ll continue to stop thinking like a bureaucracy and encourage more mail volume with innovative special offers and such.

But we’re also wary. Direct marketers are wary because the USPS holds a great deal of power and leverage over us. The last substantial postal rate increase nearly put us under with rate increases of 20 percent-plus. What was the USPS thinking? That move single-handedly drove more and more mailers into the online world. If we were to do the math, we believe the increase in postage actually caused your revenues to go down due to less mail in the mailstream.

Remember this Mr. Postmaster General: Every penny more it costs us to mail means we need to generate about two cents more per catalog and direct mail piece mailed just to breakeven. In this economy, we need every opportunity we can get to mail profitably. We’re struggling to stay alive and keep our workers employed and our customers satisfied.

Keep up the good work, Mr. Postmaster. Please continue this trend.

The Direct Mail Industry

As to you, my loyal readers, I encourage you to send your letters to the Postmaster General (or just copy mine and send it). Make your voice heard! Remember, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Reach the Postmaster General at the following:

The Honorable John E. Potter
Postmaster General

U.S. Postal Service

475 L’Enfant Plaza, SW

Washington, DC 20260-0010


Speak to you next week, when I’ll discuss a tactic to help you reduce mail costs by doing a specific suppression on your housefile and list rentals.

Orignally published in All About ROI (formerly Catalog Success) Magazine.

Attention S. Florida Marketers, This months event in Ft. Lauderdale: Going Green and Getting Digital with Paper & Print

This Month… Thursday, July 16, 2009

Session 1 – The Truth Behind Cherries, Chocolate & Paper. The more paper you use, the better for the climate.

Speaker: Wayne Dennis, Corporate Director of Sustainability, Mac Papers

Learn why paper and print are the best environmentally responsible choices for marketers. Find the right shade of “Green” for your marketing efforts, how to measure your environmental impact and the best ways to communicate it to your audience.

Session 2 – Advancements in Web to Print technology: What it means to you and your customers.

Speaker: Gary Ritkes, Managing Director of Sales/Marketing, SproutLoud

Discover how web to print technology is transforming traditional printing processes and empowering marketers. Find out how you can deliver one-to-one marketing messages on demand via direct mail, e-mail and the web – all from your desktop!

Event Location: Westin Fort Lauderdale Cypress Creek

Time: 11:30 am – 1:30 pm

You lost me there part 2 (your website doesn’t do enough to capture leads)

In part 2 of this series, I’ll continue to recap a presentation I gave a few weeks ago to the Florida Direct Marketing Association titled “The Second Half: 50 Tips, Tricks and Tactics to Make You a Direct Marketing Superstar.” It’s my goal to continue to serve up tips so you too can be a superstar at driving more ROI for your company. (For part one, click here.)

This week, let’s look at the many ways you can lose prospects who visit your Web site without even knowing who they are. This “phantom demand” can be captured and added to your contact strategy, and these leads can be nurtured until they’re ready to buy. To capture them and begin a sales dialogue, however, you must get them to identify themselves, right?

So without further preamble (or pre-mumble as a former colleague of mine used to say), here are some more tips for you:

  1. Catalog requests — say it loud; say it proud. Believe it or not, people still love to shop via catalog. Some people, myself included, still prefer the tactile feel of leafing through a catalog. And here’s a bonus for you: Catalog/multiple channel buyers spend more money per channel. In other words, the more channels they spend time in, the more engaged they are from an emotional perspective in your products and business. This yields buyers who in most cases will spend more per order and over their lifetimes. That said, why is your catalog request link not more prominently displayed? Make it big, and make it stand out so it’s easy to find.
  2. Newsletters, special offers and other sign-up opportunities (yes, but something crucial is often missing here). This is a must-have on your Web site, and most of you already do it. BUT when I sign up to receive a newsletter, that’s when the inquiry conversion can start. Most of the time I get this boring, generic “thanks for signing up” e-mail confirmation — if I get anything at all. But more often than not, I get nothing — no thanks at all, which is totally shameful. Confirmation pages — better yet, confirmation e-mails — are the perfect place for special offers, coupons and forward-to-a-friend links. They’re also a great opportunity to call out specific products that you want to promote. And don’t forget to add a few testimonials. (I’ll discuss more about testimonials later in this series).
  3. Serve up a whitepaper or other info. While not normally applicable to consumer business, whitepapers in B-to-B are a powerful tool for building credibility. If you’re a B-to-B seller, prominently offer free whitepapers on your site. Give customers value in return for their permission to continue the sales dialogue with you.
    For consumer-based merchants, offer things like style guides or something else relevant to your prospects in order to have them pony up their names for future marketing efforts.

The goal is to get all the people who visit your Web site to raise their virtual hands in the air and allow you to continue to market to them until they buy.

Check back next week for part three of this series, when I’ll examine additional ways multiple channel companies can stop the Web-bleed and capture more prospects.

Have a comment? Want to add something? Post it below. Don’t be shy.

Catalog and Direct Mail’s Slippery Slope: The Environment, Some Facts and Mail Suppression Files

I’ve been getting a lot of comments to my last article on the evolution of our industry. There’s been some back and forth about going green and its impact on direct mail — the typical “direct mail kills the environment” issue.

Does direct mail really destroy the environment? I don’t think so. The Direct Marketing Association, on its DMAchoice Web site, has published the following information about direct mail being the “green” way to shop:

“Facts About Direct Mail:
Some people come to the DMAchoice mail preference service planning on completely stopping all the direct mail they receive, because they think that doing so will help save paper and the environment. But before you do this, here are some numbers you may find interesting.

  • Direct mail is a green way to shop. If Americans replaced two trips to the mall each year with shopping by catalog, we’d reduce our number of miles driven by 3.3 billion, a 3 billion-lb. reduction in carbon dioxide and a savings of $650 million on gas alone.
  • Mail represents only 2.4 percent of America’s municipal waste stream.
  • The production of household advertising mail consumes only 0.19 percent of the energy used in the U.S.
  • Mail is made from a renewable resource. The vast majority of paper produced in America today comes from trees grown for that specific purpose. The forest industry ensures that the number of trees each year is increasing, so trees are not a depleting resource. In fact, forest land in the United States has increased by 5.3 million acres in the past three decades.
  • Direct mail is critical to the economic well being of communities, businesses and charities throughout the U.S. Last year it represented more than $686 billion in sales, supporting jobs at more than 300,000 small businesses across the country.”

Makes sense, right?

That said, I do support the availability of mail preference services, such as DMAchoice and Catalog Choice. The goal of all direct mail, of course, is to be as relevant as possible. After all, every catalog or direct mail piece sent that goes in the garbage is a waste of your money; it lowers your response rates.

So, having a database to merge against is a good thing. Less wasted mail, right?

Not necessarily. Maybe this holds true for straight customer acquisition programs, but what about inquiry conversion and retention programs in your regular catalog circulation plan? Here we have a slippery slope, as I’d never, ever use a suppression file on my own customers and databased prospects. As far as I’m concerned, they all opted in.

As a mailer, I’m not going to leave that potential revenue on the table. End of discussion.

Let’s get vocal here. I’m deliberately putting an “oil and water don’t mix” issue out there. Feel free to agree, disagree or challenge me to a duel over my opinions (they ARE facts actually, LOL). Post your comments below.

Jim Gilbert is president of Gilbert Direct Marketing Inc., a full-service catalog, direct marketing and social media agency. His LinkedIn profile can be viewed at You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter at or read his blog at

Evolution, Revolution: Attention All Marketers – Change Is Gonna Come (and ROI Will Follow)

Note from Jim: Originally written for All About ROI, the newly branded and revamped Catalog Success Magazine.

As we near the end of the first decade of the new century (time flies right?), the direct marketing business is caught in a war that’s being played out on many fronts.

Let me put this in perspective for you: If you study history, you’ll see that at the turn of every new century comes great change. However, great change is often preceded by great turmoil. Whether it was the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century or the buildup to World War I and the Great Depression in the early 20th century, change, as they say, is gonna come.

The goal of my newly branded column — in this newly branded publication — is to help you drive as much high-quality return on investment (ROI) as possible. I’ll examine ways to do this in the ROI channels and mantra (retail/catalog, online integration) from our magazine’s tagline. I’ll also talk change on a continual basis so you can adapt and thrive.

The point is, we face several threats, many of which are actually opportunities in disguise. And the opportunities are considerable:

Social Media: You must adopt social media as a tool for engaging your customers and prospects alike, both from a marketing and customer service perspective. New customers are just, if not more, as likely to seek out information from peer groups as they are from product research. This column will discuss strategies for blogging, message boards, video, Web site product reviews, Twitter, Facebook, and more going forward.

Direct Mail (part 1) — Push Me, Pull You: The chatter I hear every day is that direct mail is dead. Mostly, this is perpetuated by pure-play Internet folks who believe marketing is all about “pull” rather than “push.” I recall in the not too distant past when direct marketers were looked upon by brand marketers as the redheaded stepchildren of the marketing community. Of course, the Internet leveled this playing field, and now all marketers need to be direct marketers to survive. Curiously, the next generation of marketers — weaned on the Internet — see us much the same way.

Funny how things turn. For without the principles of direct marketing, these same Internet marketers would’ve gone the way of the dinosaurs (oops, I meant sock puppets). For a direct marketer to drive consistent ROI, all marketing channels must work together. I’m a big fan of “why can’t we all just get along,” and will go to considerable lengths in this column to create synergy in all channels and with all people.

Direct Mail (part 2) — Let’s Get Personal: Also part of the chatter I hear is that the death of direct mail has to do with the process itself. Technology exists today to use personalization to increase engagement and, in turn, response rates and ROI. But is it being used? Sadly, many companies aren’t adopting technology. I’ll delve further into personalization, segmentation, PURLS (personalized URLs) and landing pages in this column.

Direct Mail (part 3) — Revenge of the Tree Huggers: More and more the direct mail industry is being attacked by environmentalists who believe direct mail destroys trees and the planet. Activists are trying to get “do-not-mail” bills passed on a daily basis. Most of these people have no clue about the actual impact of direct mail on the environment (or lack thereof as the case may be) and are just jumping on the bandwagon because it seems like the right thing to do (or they hate junk mail). Our goal as direct marketers, both offline and online, is to mail to relevant customers and prospects. I’ll address how to mail smarter in this column, and you can bet that I’ll loudly voice my opinion against anyone who says the wrong thing about our industry.

And Then There’s the Economy: People are sitting on the sidelines and not buying. Spending habits, especially around credit purchases, are changing rapidly. I’ll discuss how this affects your business and how to market smarter in troubled economic times. Here’s a hint: People are still buying! Find them, and coddle them. Hint No. 2: Many companies have made fortunes in bad times. You can, too!

And Lastly, Mobile: Are you prepared for the next channel to open and open big? Over the next few years, mobile will need to be harnessed if you plan on surviving.

A client vendor negotiations video that’s LOL funny (see if you’re guilty of any of these)

This is a good one.  A hysterical video on client vendor relationships and payments.  I don’t know about you but I may be guilty of some of these tactics.  Thanks to the videographers for calling us out.  

Got a favorite client/vendor horror story? Post it in the comments section.