Business-to-business, Maslen on Marketing

A case study: what’s working in b2b direct marketing right now

Imagine you’re the marketing manager for a hugely successful business magazine. (And I know that for many readers of this e-zine, that’s not a stretch). So, you’re briefing a subscriptions acquisitions campaign.

You want HTML emails, a landing page, banner and skyscraper ads, carrier sheets, in-mag ads, the whole nine yards … and, still, in the early part of the 21st century, direct mail. So what’s the brief?

Surely, since we “know” businesspeople are busy, ultra-short copy. And, equally, because your title is over 100 years old, a sensible, serious design.

We know executives are too clever to be swayed by offers and gifts, so we won’t bother with those, will we?

And, finally, we’ll keep the tone of voice relentlessly down to earth, focusing on content and eschewing wit, humour or any other techniques to engage the reader emotionally.

Won’t we?

Er, not if you’re the excellent marketing team at William Reed Business Media.

Their title – The Grocer – is all of the things I said above, and the firm is a family-owned business into the bargain.

But the campaign I and my design partners Ross Speirs (print) and Nick Carpenter (digital) created broke all the “rules”.

The signature colour is a shocking pink.
The campaign strategy was driven by the offer – in this case a classic BOGOF.
The copy was long (by some people’s standards, anyway) – 427 words for the email and, for the mailpack, an A4 two-page letter with drop-down flap, a copy-heavy, six-page A5 leaflet and, of course, the outer. Ah, that outer. Picture this…
BOGOF screaming at you from the aforesaid cerise background. The teaser: “What’s the best deal in food and drink?”. And no logo. Not for The Grocer and not for William Reed either.
Talking of things that weren’t there, the letter dispensed with a headline altogether. We felt the offer and the accompanying premium were so strong that we could cut to the chase with no preamble.

What happened? Well, the figures are, naturally, confidential, but the results bettered the client’s expectations by a country mile.

Chief among the reasons the whole thing worked were, I think, a proper briefing that included Adam Leyland, the editor, whose input was vital in shaping the ideas behind the campaign.

Also, the way the marketing manager – at that time, Tracy Larner, who has since moved on to another big publisher – spent her time briefing me, planning and executing the campaign with her team, and getting buy-in from the management of The Grocer so that we didn’t suffer death by a thousand cuts.

And I’m telling you this because?

Recently I read an article in Direct Marketing International by Herschell Gordon Lewis – one of the fathers of direct marketing – in which he said that experts providing opinions are ten a penny: what counts are facts.

I thought you might like a few facts about what’s working in b2b direct mail right now, in 2009. The letter was long. It was set in a serif typeface. It had fake highlighter pen to emphasise key passages. In short, it had all the direct mail copywriter’s tricks from the last 50 years. Oh, and it was wrapped up in that beautiful outer. See it here.

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