Direct Mail Politics

Misguided Montana bill proposes to eliminate so-called “junk mail”

HB718, submitted by Bozeman Rep Franke Wilmer, is yet another stab at the heart of the small business owner (much less the wanna-be entrepreneur) in Montana.

Note that this bill is scheduled for a hearing, so it has a long way to go. By the time they are done, it will be filled with lobby-influenced exemptions, like non-profit organizations, and of course – elected officials and political candidates.
Before you celebrate that your mail box wont have any more junk mail in it, perhaps you should consider a few things:

This is not like the “Do Not Call” list. US Mail doesnt interrupt you during dinner, doesnt nag you, etc. If you dont like it, you can throw it away and punish the mailer by not buying anything from them. It also ISN’T limited to residential addresses.

The great thing about direct mail is that you have to get it right or it costs you a fortune. Anyone who isn’t willing to study the masters and learn from them is doomed to waste $ and is punished in the wallet for their mistakes. If you are mailing to the wrong prospects, or to the wrong people, your wallet gets a big hole in it for nothing. Its not like spam email where it costs close to nothing to send 200,000 emails a day. Email isnt paid for by the sender. Direct mail is.

Small business loses on this one. Imagine that you start a new business tomorrow. One of the best ways to get leads on new business is with an appropriate offer to a segmented list that you are sure, AHEAD of time, will have a reasonable percentage of people who get your mail. Sorry, but you cant mail to people you don’t know anymore. You cant call them. You cant fax them.

Big business is the clear winner. They already have market share, a customer list, staff and cash flow to beat down any newcomer who has no relationship, no mailing list, cant call, cant fax, etc. If you were thinking about starting a small business, doesn’t that make you feel good?

Entrepreneurs in Montana who have businesses built around helping other businesses do direct mail marketing are going to be hurt. Welcome to reality.

Print shops that print direct mail will find their customer workload shrink. Remember, these arent evil, 3 headed monsters, they’re tax-paying, voting citizens with kids to feed and homes to buy.
Unintended consequences abound. Hopefully in tomorrow’s hearing, someone will realize this and kill it. I’ve emailed my rep and the bill’s sponsor to ask for that very action.

Full text of the bill:

You can keep up with the current status of the bill here.

Currently there are no exemptions, but I have full faith in the legislature that they will manage to find a way to exempt political organizations and non-profits, as well as anyone represented at the passing of the lobbyist’s wallet.

One last thought: Have you gotten less spam email since the Feds created their anti-spam law? Think this will work any better?

If this and similar legislation in other states passes, you can expect your direct mail to start coming from Canada, etc. Sure, it’ll cost a little more for a business to mail it, but that just benefits the businesses with more savvy and deeper pockets. The more they have to spend to do a mailing, the harder it is for a small business to break in. Just what big business wants. Unintended consequences for the consumer – less competition, less quality, poorer service.


I caught the USPS getting it.

Well, the shipping and mailing frenzy is over for another year.

I kept a close eye on vendors this year, as we intentionally had one of those fashionable “small but meaningful” Christmases this year, so the blur was less blurry. For what it was worth, the “small but meaningful” actually worked out nicely.

Highlights from this year’s Christmas vendors:

Amazon: Solid. I ordered several books later than I should have (morning of Dec 21), didnt pay for overnight delivery – and Amazon had them there by the Friday before Christmas. Their promised delivery date? Dec 27-29. Underpromise, overdeliver.

UPS: I have never been a big UPS fan. I think this stems from the residential side of their service, because their business to business address service over the last 6 months with me has been spectacular. Would I like Worldship to just update itself and not annoy me with 37 messages every time it needs to download a new fuel surcharge table? Sure. But thats minor compared to their peak season Christmas performance this year. I dropped off 2 fairly large packages at UPS (actually, the UPS store here in Columbia Falls) on the evening of Dec 21. Both were shipped UPS Ground. Both were promised on Dec 27. Both arrived on the Friday before Christmas (one to Missouri, one to Cincinnati).
Montana Day Spa: Bought a gift certificate for a massage for someone at 415pm on the Friday before Christmas. Busy time. Despite that, I was treated with care, a touch of humor (in response to mine) AND with the closing line of “We’ll take special care of her for you.”. Now, they didnt need to say that, but they did. Nothing major, but a little touch that I still remember over a week later. How many little things does YOUR staff say that a client remembers a week later?

And the surprise? The United States Postal Service, at least the Columbia Falls branch.

Since Christmas fell on a Monday, that made incoming package delivery a little worrisome for many. At our local post office on Saturday morning before Christmas, we had a pretty good line of people with package slips (rural areas have a much higher PO Box use rate for residential customers than do urban areas). I spied a sign taped up in several places that quite simply blew me away. “We will be open for PACKAGE PICKUP ONLY from 830am – 1030am on Christmas Eve, SUNDAY Dec 24”.

Now that was a nice, considerate touch. Something they clearly didn’t have to do.

Where you are, the USPS may not have the level of service you’d like to see, but out here in Rural America – its pretty good. I can routinely drop a letter in the mail on Day 1 before 5pm, and will find out (via the response) that it was delivered in Billings or Wolf Point (ie: at least 400 miles away) or such on the very next day. Its a dirty little secret. Direct mail works, if you know what you are doing.

Corporate America

“Dear Valued Customer”

Delta, Delta, Delta. Your DNS was such a great idea. Did you forget a mail merge feature?

I received a “personal” email from Delta today. It started off like this:

Dear Valued Customer,

On behalf of the hundreds of Delta Global Sales professionals dedicated to serving you and your travelers worldwide, “Thank You!” for choosing Delta as your preferred airline

Are you kidding me?

Tell me, if your business relationship is truly valued by a business’s owner, would they DREAM of sending an email or letter to you that starts off as “Dear Valued Customer”

Let’s refocus this for a moment. I can just guess what Jeffrey Gitomer would say if he and I were talking about this. Jeff’d probably say something like: “If you were feeling romantic and rolled over toward your wife, would you say ‘Dear Valued Woman Next To Me’? Yeah, right.” If you were dumb enough to do that, would you expect a positive, romantically-inclined response? Not likely.

Here’s a company that is sending me an email because I am part of a program they run. They have my full name, phone, frequent flier #, address, fax, cell and they know where I fly and how often (if they pay attention).

Despite all this, they send me an email that says “Dear Valued Customer”.

If that was my name, it’d be ok. It’s not and it isnt.

How about “Dear faceless, nameless member of our customer herd whose wallet we so adore while caring little about he who carries it”?

That’s one interpretation of the message it sends. Im sure you can think of others. More importantly perhaps is the activity a greeting like that causes: PRESSING THE DELETE KEY.

Did they accomplish the goal of the email by sending me something addressed like that? I doubt it. In fact, I’ll bet that the majority of the people who received it didnt get past the first paragraph.

Remember, the goal is not to SEND the email, or DELIVER the email, though these things are certainly important. The goal of your email, or your direct mail, or your billboard (etc) is to get someone to READ it and take ACTION. Someone forgot about that.


Talk to the animals

In the not too recent past, my business was quite dependent on a product from a particular company. As good as it is, this product had a rough time, as it was passed from one company to another. Unfortunately, none of the owners anywhere along this trail seem to have an inkling of customer relationship skills, much less marketing aptitude.

Certainly there is or has been at least one person at these companies that “gets it”, but it is never the CEO. Leadership comes from the top. If the CEO mistreats the customer base and has disdain for them, guess what the line employees are going to do and have. That’s exactly what one sees in this case.

Case in point: Any customer of this company who is unfortunate enough to state negative comments, constructive or not, gets summarily ignored.

Certainly the 80/20 rule is applicable and we all have customers we should “fire”, but ignoring “everyone” is stunningly inept. If you are willing to ignore your customers and make them ambivalent to your company and your product or service, you are ASKING a competitor to come in and take your business.

When I walk into a business and get treated like this, the first thought that crosses my mind is to call my real estate person and ask if this business’ competitor is for sale.

In this case, we’re talking about a product that the customer gets fairly heavily invested in from a time point of view, so perhaps the company feels that a multiple year, multiple decade pile of products related to this company’s product is an impediment to the departure of customers. They couldnt be more wrong. These days, companies like this are fiddling while Rome burns.

Will this company go out of business? Perhaps not.

Do they have a notable percentage of customers who are perpetually annoyed with them? Absolutely.

Will they leave millions on the table? Absolutely.

Does this negatively impact their customers? Sure. Without the millions that they should have had and the resources that money could provide, this company will be less agile and less able to provide to their customers that which will keep them ahead of THEIR competitors.

Talk to your customers as often as possible, by email, direct mail, fax, telephone, smoke signals…SOMETHING. If you dont, I can assure you that someone else is. It might even be my company and Id like nothing better than to take your customer and do the simple things that are necessary to keep them as my customer for life.