Mail I Didn’t Throw Out

By | April 20, 2009

I kept two pieces of direct mail last week and got so excited that I wanted to share it with the world! As a print industry junkie, I am always on the lookout for mail that is compelling and interesting (guess that skews my observations). Honestly, I don’t keep too much of my mail. I keep the bills and statements, often keep the catalogs, hold onto some coupons, and generally shred indiscriminate direct mail like credit card solicitations.


But last week, I received two pieces of mail that seemed unique and compelling enough to at least hold onto for awhile to research and spend more time with the documents.


The first piece came from VISA. It was an invitation to apply for its Black card. I was already aware of this card and quite frankly I am not a big fan of paying higher fees for concierge services. That said, the mail piece was unique enough to capture my attention. Essentially, it was an oversized replica of the Black credit card with a generic name on the card. Attached was a simple application form. No, my name was not personalized on the card, nor on the rest of the application. However, a separate, cleanly designed note card was personalized. It started off “Dear Mr. Gordon” and was signed in blue ink (pre-printed) by the VISA director of customer experience. All in all, it was a simple but effective direct mail piece. It used very limited personalization, but did so tastefully with impact—in other words, they didn’t overdo it.


Even without a personalized URL, I visited the Visa Black Card website to conduct my own research. The site was as easy to understand as the direct mail piece, indicating that VISA did a good job synchronizing its print and online channels. As a geeky print guy, I would have loved to have seen a personalized URL – maybe next time! 


The second direct mail piece was my first issue of “mine,” a pilot collaboration between Time Inc. and Lexus. I am certain that Time would like to call this a magazine, but the document had only one sponsor, came wrapped with a Lexus ad which stated “We Couldn’t Have Made It Without You,” and was peppered with a few ads highlighting the new Lexus 2010 RX. In my opinion, it was a sophisticated opt-in direct mail campaign that did a good job of combining a high-quality design with relevant content and personalized marketing.


The graphic design throughout the document was exceptional. Honestly it’s much cleaner than Time’s other publications. As most of you know by now, subscribers to “mine.” can choose the content they want to be featured in the publication.


You can select content from specific Time publications like Real Simple, Food & Wine, InStyle, Money, Time, Sports Illustrated, Golf, and Travel+Leisure. The publication structure comprises five content sections with one or two articles per section. A few well-placed ads are scattered throughout the document. In the beginning of the document, the advertising seems generic, but upon closer inspection, it starts out with a regional focus “…the John Hanson Highway can be tricky on your way to Annapolis” and then at the end of the document “…your fellow neighbors in Rockville.” On the last page of the document it gets bolder and more direct, ‘The ALL-NEW 2010 RX. NOW WITH MORE ANDREW GORDON.


If you really are interested in content from Time Magazine (or any of the other affiliated publications), then mine. isn’t going to satisfy your requirements. However, the articles are interesting. The layout is clean and well done (more like what you would expect in a special Life edition). The advertising is effective but not offensive. It gave me enough exposure to Time’s publications that I might be tempted to subscribe to some of the publications. Honestly, it is a pleasant document to read and Lexus owns my time as I sit and enjoy reading. I am really interested to see how Lexus builds on this over the pilot program and what additional personalized messaging they will convey.


What Do These Documents Have in Common?


What does a credit card solicitation and an opt-in custom publication/direct mail document have in common? They are both well thought-out and offer a sense of exclusivity and trust. Both are well designed, which makes them stand out from the pack. Both employ personalization and variable data printing. The use of VDP is subtle, non-offensive, and not gimmicky.


Lessons Learned


We don’t know how successful mine. will be and how Time will use the feedback to develop new products in the future. However, they appear to have developed an effective formula for creating a personalized experience funded by advertisers trying to cut through the clutter, keep the attention of their prospects and develop relationships founded on trust. In addition, mine is an effective way for Time Inc. to cross-sell its own publications.


As for the Visa Black Card, I probably won’t spend the $495 for the privilege of using the card. However, I think VISA has done a good job developing its campaign and I certainly will speak highly of the offering.


Finally, I think there is plenty of room for exceptionally designed printed documents that are well thought-out and use personalization, opt-in mechanisms, and cross media. But great creative and personalization isn’t enough if the targeting and segmenting isn’t tightly done to the profile of those likely to purchase. So, let’s encourage the industry to continue to experiment and innovate, leading to transformational applications that help drive new customer relationships. This is how print will survive in the future.


Now let’s see these same principles applied to newspapers, catalogs, other magazines and publications etc…

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One thought on “Mail I Didn’t Throw Out

  1. John Sweeney


    i too received both as well, and was also impressed with design of both.

    I am not currently in the market for a credit card, so the VISA piece went to recycle, but since I had input into my “mine”, am keeping it for awhile.

    your remark on exceptional design is right on the money !

    Fellow print junkie,

    John Sweeney

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