Speaking Directly: Yes, but how many Caddies does it sell?

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.An interesting...

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.

An interesting mailing came to our household recently.

It was addressed and personalized to Mr. and Mrs. showing through a window envelope with a bulk third-class indicia and addressee ‘The Cadillac Dealers of Ontario.’

There was no return address, just a metallic gold Cadillac crest.

Inside was an 8 1/2- by 14-inch letter. The envelope also contained a brochure folded to 3 3/4-in. by 9-in. that opened out to 36-in. long by 3 3/4-in. – not your everyday brochure format.

Three reasons

The letter began: ‘I am writing you today on behalf of your local Cadillac dealer for three reasons.

‘The first is to introduce you to the exciting roster of all-new Cadillacs for 1995.’

The letter went on to list the superlative virtues of the cars, and noted that J.D. Power & Associates had recently named Cadillac ‘Best Overall Carline in Vehicle Dependability at Five Years of Ownership’ – boy, I hope some poor engraver didn’t have to put all that on a little brass plate.

And, besides, who’s J.D. Power, and why should we care?

I was guided to the answer by a tiny double dagger (I guess asterisks just won’t do in the luxury car business.)

The reference was to the J.D. Power & Associates 1994 Vehicle Dependability Study of 1989 Model Year Vehicles at Five Years of Ownership.

Well, so long as nothing had changed on these cars in the past five years, I guess one might be safe assuming that the same would be true for the next five years, maybe.

Get to the point

Have you ever noticed how many companies are so much in love with their product they take forever to get to the point? That being, what’s in it for me? But, first, the second reason for the letter.

‘To invite you in for a demonstration drive (dd) of the 1995 Cadillac of your choice.’

And, the third reason? ‘To offer you a gift.’ Now, I thought, we’re getting somewhere.

The letter continued. ‘Simply for taking one of the new 1995 Cadillacs for a dd by Nov. 30, 1994, you will receive our classic, special edition Cadillac Executive Pen Set.’

All we had to do was bring the attached invitation. And, we could call a 1-800 number to locate our nearest Cadillac dealer.

The letter closed: ‘Thank you for your time. We look forward to serving you.’ I thought it a little unusual that the ‘I’ at the beginning of the letter became ‘we’ at the end.

The sign-off was from the ‘Cadillac Dealers of Ontario,’ which explains it. There was no name, no address on the letterhead, no regular phone number, no nothing to show that human beings had anything to do with this mailing.

Based on this, I wondered if they might follow through with the same treatment in the showroom and leave the salesperson out of the picture, too. Not a chance.

At the bottom of the letter was a perforated, personalized ‘Test Drive Invitation.’

This coupon had a separate section for ‘Dealer Authorization,’ with space to write in the dealership, a signature, date, Yes/No boxes under ‘Gift Awarded,’ with ‘Please send immediately’ beside the ‘No’ box.

It also had room to write ‘Current Vehicle Make, Model and Year.’

Now, what do you suppose they would do with that information? Especially if you weren’t driving a Cadillac product.

Is it realistic to expect that people who are in the market for a luxury car will walk into a dealership and wave their little invitation for attention like they’re in a supermarket with a coupon for a free pound of coffee or something?

As well, the potential exists to have to wait until somebody is available to do the dd. And, they’re going to do all this for a pen set? Puleeze. I can only hope different premiums are also being tested.

Make it more personal

How much more engaging might this letter have been if, instead of coming from an impersonal group, they had figured out, based on our postal code, which dealership is closest to where we live, had used letterhead addressed accordingly, and had the letter signed from the local sales manager, and called the pen set his own personal little gift just for dropping by.

And, all we had to do is tell him we got the mailing, not remember to take in the silly little coupon. Or, maybe the letter asked us to call and book an appointment at our convenience to ensure we would receive personal attention.

But, you ask, how would they track the response if we didn’t carry in the little coupon? How about simply asking for and recording people’s names when the pen set is given out? You don’t always need to use rocket science for tracking response.

With all the technological tools available for making direct mail personal, relevant and enticing, why don’t we see more companies making creative use of it?

Oh, I’m sure I’ll hear that this mailing had wonderful response, which means lots of dds and pen sets given away.

But, what I want to know is just how many Cadillacs it actually sells.

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