Speaking Directly: Speak the language of your audience

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.I've said...

The following column, which appears each issue, looks at new and emerging trends in direct marketing. Alternating columnists are Barbara Canning Brown, a leading figure in the Canadian direct marketing industry, and David Foley, a specialist in database marketing programs.

I’ve said before that paying attention to what you get in the mail can yield some practical illustrations of direct marketing dos and don’ts.

A recent example showed up in my mail to prove the maxim that there is only one thing worse than not pinpointing your target audience. That is, missing the mark in your communications to that audience.

Targetted women

The mailer was Jaguar Canada. The target audience was women. How did I know?

For starters, the mailing was addressed to me rather than the resident male of the household, who is the usual recipient of automotive promotions.

Unfortunately, it all got off on the wrong foot.

The closed-face envelope, response piece and letter were all beautifully laser-personalized to Ms Brown Barbara Canning.

For the mailer’s sake, I hope this was a fluke. If not, Ms Smith Susan, Ms Jones Sally, etc., along with me, now have a similarly distorted view of Jaguar Canada.

The brochure, the first piece out of the envelope, gave it away completely that the mailing was aimed at women.

‘The Romance’

‘The Romance’ was the heading on the first panel, not exactly the phrase one would choose to stop a man in his tracks over a car.

Not to mention the opening lines of the letter: ‘If you’ve ever yearned for a Jaguar – for the mystique and celebrated performance of this legendary automobile – the moment of surrender is here. Now and for a limited time, we’re offering you a number of seductive reasons to lease a new 1994 Jaguar.’

There was more, much more. The brochure went on from there with ‘The Engagement’ on the second panel and ‘The Honeymoon’ on the third. ‘The Proposal’ was, of course, the lick-n-stick postage-paid response piece.

Based on research?

Other than having the usual progression of romantic events a little out of chronological order, I really hope this whole exercise was based on Jaguar (or its agency) having conducted, at least, some focus group research on the creative.

My own initial reaction? That, overall, the package was more appropriate for a chocolate fudge cake mix than a luxury car.

To test my theory, I conducted a survey of my own. I showed the package to several female friends and colleagues, some of whom could buy several Jaguars with this month’s pocket money if they wanted to, and several who couldn’t, and, probably wouldn’t, even if they could.

To a woman, there was only one thing about the package that was of any interest, attraction or emotional appeal. The offer.

‘The Honeymoon Lease’ offer, the first month of the lease ‘courtesy of Jaguar Canada’ (I guess ‘free’ was considered too crass.)

On top of that, there was the ‘Dream Guarantee,’ 30 days in which to ‘fall hopelessly in love’ or drive back for a full refund.

Wanted to know more

After the offer, most of my researchers wanted to know more about the car. Of course, you could send back the reply card to get more information, thereby putting yourself forever on another mailing list.

But, other than more juicy adjectives wrapped around the dashboard and the leather seats, all you learned in this package was that 1994 enhancements include passenger-side air bag, improved sound-proofing, more safety features – and improved reliability.

One of my victims (who has deep pockets and loves Jaguars) really picked up on the last point because the only reason she does not drive a Jaguar is due to a perception of poor reliability, and ‘improvement’ was not enough for her. She wants superlative reliability.

What does all this say?

Understand target

Quite simply, that you must seek to understand your target audience, their needs, wants and wishes before you seek to communicate with them.

Speak the language of your audience instead of falling back on a stereotypical approach that neither appeals to that audience in the real world nor enhances your product.

And, I don’t think, in this day and age, that a manipulative Gothic novel approach will sell cars to an adult female audience. For Jaguar’s sake, I hope I’m wrong.

Also, this month, I got a mailing from Action Window Cleaners, which I have used for the last couple of years.

Here we are in April, the winter grunge on the windows is annoyingly blocking the spring sunshine, and, ‘bingo,’ here’s a hand-addressed mailing telling me what work I had done last year and how much it cost.

All I have to do is tick the boxes on the postage-paid reply card to choose what week I want to book and someone will call me to set an appointment.

And, on top of it all, I’ll pay exactly the same price as last year. Just goes to show, an effective loyalty program does not have to be complicated or time-consuming.

Barbara Canning Brown, a 20-year veteran of the direct marketing industry, is a direct marketing consultant specializing in catalogues.