Turning a negative into a positive

Client: Bell MobilityProduct: Rate Guarantee PlanAgency: CMG DirectRather than tiptoe into a price increase and hope for the best, Bell Mobility managed to turn a negative situation into a positive relationship-building exercise through a recent direct mail communication, says Brian Bimm...

Client: Bell Mobility

Product: Rate Guarantee Plan

Agency: CMG Direct

Rather than tiptoe into a price increase and hope for the best, Bell Mobility managed to turn a negative situation into a positive relationship-building exercise through a recent direct mail communication, says Brian Bimm at Toronto-based direct marketing agency CMG Direct.


The client offered its customers the chance to avoid a price increase for its cellular phone service by signing a three-year ‘rate guarantee’ contract.

Bimm says clients received an explanatory letter, plus a contract that was personalized with their rate package information.

The package was customized by region, language and rate package information, resulting in more than 30 versions.

Bimm says the mailing had several objectives: to convert customers to long-term subscribers; to minimize disconnections due to the price increase, and to minimize the number of complaints and inquiries over the increase.

While Bimm declined to reveal the actual response rate, he says the projections ‘were aggressive going in, and the final result more than doubled that.’

Q. Why was this piece successful? What made it work?

A. I think, first of all, the customers were strongly committed to cellular service and to Bell Mobility, and were receptive to locking in for three years.


Secondly, the creative approach made it extremely simple to understand the financial impact of the price increase and how to avoid it painlessly.

And thirdly, customers appreciated the control they were given, in choosing their options. It wasn’t, ‘There’s a price increase, take it or leave it.’

Q. On what level were you trying to generate a response?

Appeal to logic

A. In this case, it was a straightforward appeal to logic. Here is an opportunity to avoid a price increase.

The package was designed to look very official and important and contractual.

It was designed as a non-intimidating contract, with all of the personal details filled in. It really just needed a signature and return in a reply envelope.

Q. Excluding your own work, what have been some of the best examples of direct mail?

A. I’d look at programs which have been successful over time. If you see something again and again, it’s an indication that it’s working.

Ongoing programs

I like ongoing customer contact programs, which recognize something unique about the customer and build loyalty over time. The car companies are doing it fairly successfully.

I’m impressed with Toyota. I drive a Toyota and receive their stuff on an on-going basis. It does recognize me as someone who owns a particular model, and it keeps me involved.

Another example I like on the consumer side is National Geographic.

They do a terrific job of blending the imagery of their product with traditional hardworking direct mail formats and offers.

Q. What qualities do successful direct mail pieces have in common?

A. In general, the list is key and ease of response is a prerequisite.

Q. How important is personalizing the letter?

A. Personalization will almost always pay out. However, the nature and degree of personalization is something that should be carefully planned.


If the response device is personalized, it may not be necessary to personalize the letter.

Personalization with information beyond the name can be very powerful, but you have to be careful not to offend someone’s sense of privacy.

Q. Do you favor long or short letters?

A. It depends on the audience and the job.

Letters are important in establishing a one-to-one rapport, and that’s important in making the piece successful.

It should be long enough to be dominated by benefits and not just product information.

Q. How important to the success of the direct mail piece is knowing your prospects?

A. It’s ultra-important because one-to-one communication fails if it’s not meaningful or relevant.

That’s why you’re going to see more and more companies harnessing the power of a database, which is full of knowledge and customer information.

Q. People are bombarded with direct mail offers every day. How do you make yours stand out from the rest?

A. Not all that many are personalized and relevant. The key is to capitalize on a prior relationship you may have with a recipient. And also be personal, be relevant and make it quick.

Q. Is there a hierarchy of objectives, creatively?

A. Creative needs to be subjugated to the overall direct marketing objectives. So I would say, start with the database, the list, the offer and the desired response, not the creative.

Q. How hard should you press for a response in a direct mail offer?

A. There’s no doubt the success or failure of every campaign depends on the ability to generate a response now.

So you should always have an offer and an expiry date. You should always highlight the offer and the expiry date. You should always repeat the offer and expiry date.

More specifically, you might have to press a little harder if you have a lower-interest product, or don’t already have an established relationship with the audience.

Q. Do you see direct mail primarily as a support for mass media advertising, or as a stand-alone medium?

A. For many products, like marketing subscriptions and services, direct marketing has become the primary medium.

For others, it plays a secondary or support role. It’s a mistake and a missed opportunity to categorize it as one or the other. Or to fail to integrate direct marketing closely with all of your other advertising efforts.

Q. How are the rules changing in direct mail? What are you doing in creative today that you might not have done two years ago?

A. Direct marketing is changing by the adoption of database marketing techniques. Since you know more about your audience, and you are targetting a lot more, the creative is becoming more focussed, concentrating on one main idea or thought, rather than spraying out a multitude of benefits.

We are being much more respectful of the reader’s intelligence and desire of control in selling situations.

Q. If you look at the winners of this year’s RSVP Awards, what trends do you see creatively?

A. Overall, the RSVP Awards are based on actual results, rather than the creative itself. So you don’t necessarily see winning programs that have fashionable graphics.

In general, I’m seeing a cleaner look, more professional approaches, more prominence to visual elements and, this year, I guess, there are more and more new advertisers who have not been traditional direct marketers, until now.