Happy New Year and welcome to one of my favorite times of year – prediction season.  What marvelous innovations will 2017 bring?

This is exactly the question I was asking myself over the holidays.  The answer came to me as I was cleaning out the garage and came across a giant stack of “to recycle” marketing solicitations we received in 2016.

I quickly thumbed through the pile.  Credit cards, home goods, clothing, technology, you name it, it was all there.  Pretty much every store, bank, airline, etc. sends us something whether it’s a catalog, an application, or a solicitation.

All the sudden a realization hit me: this is all terrible marketing.  Every direct mail marketing piece in the pile was just really lousy marketing.

As I started to read some of the letters more careful, the marketing tactics started to segregate into three buckets:

1) The Generic:
These begin with the “Dear homeowner” salutation and are often include “or current resident” in the address field.  These solicitations generally have no relevance to me whatsoever and the company sending them is obviously using a “spray and pray” tactic to see if they can get anyone to buy their products.  I’d be truly surprised if anyone does.

2) The MS Office mail merge:
These are just one step up on the marketing scale from #1.  These begin with my name (which is good), but it’s clear that it’s just a copy paste from the name on the front address: “Dear Andrew C Eifler.” Occasionally I’ll see something like “Andrew C Eifler &%” where the person putting together the mailing used the wrong syntax for the mail merge and left extra characters on the page.  These are often totally cold mailings from brands I’ve never heard of before – likely the company sending them purchased my name and address from a mailing list provider.

3) The “Look! We remembered what you bought from us!”
This is a big leap up from #2.  Here the solicitation not only starts with my name but it also includes a mention of something I purchased in the past.  It’s still obviously a computer-generated letter, but as far as most marketing solicitations go, this is cutting edge stuff.

Based on all the technology that exists today – all three of these categories above are really pitiful attempts to market products.

There’s only really one marketing communication I’ve ever received that has been any good. It was from Charles Tyrwhitt. It was a work of art. I wish I had kept it.

Here’s what made it so good:

1) It was written as a personal letter from someone important.
In this case the letter was from the CEO of Charles Tyrwhitt who briefly explained how as a small independent shirt marker they relied on customers like me to spread the word about their products.  It was signed by the CEO and it legitimately looked like someone had signed it by hand (not the fake signature machine either).

2) It was completely personalized.
The message contained a lot of details about things I’d purchased from them before, including the names of the products and when I purchased them, and it also included some suggestions of similar and complimentary products I might like to buy in the future. It wasn’t clunky like a machine wrote it – it was prose like a human would write.

3) There was a good incentive.
The letter contained a $25 gift card with no restrictions.  The letter suggested I either use it or give it to a friend.  It could also be combined with any other sale or discount (unlike most marketing incentives).

It felt like the CEO of Charles Tyrwhitt had written me a personal letter. It made me genuinely think that a person (probably not the CEO, but still a real person) had a hand in writing my individual letter.  If it was a machine that had written it, it had certainly passed the Turing test in my mind.

The best part is: it worked. I went online and bought four new shirts after receiving the message.  I was happy about it and I’m telling my friends about it (on this blog).

Just like it is a totally different experience to talk to a real person on the phone when you are calling for customer service, it’s a totally different experience to get a marketing letter from a real person.

I believe in 2017, we will see more marketing communications like the one I received from Charles Tyrwhitt and marketing will get a whole lot better because of it.

The Turing Test of Marketing
  • I think marketers have been making the same prediction for ~80 years :)

  • Well- I like to think that in today’s world of frictionless communication, all major technical leaps will come about shortly after everyone is absolutely sick of talking about them.