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Direct Marketing, Advertising Agencies, and Designers

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Most of the early employees at AT Direct were women looking for part-time jobs to help pay bills or work when their kids were in school — once affectionately known as “The Mailing Mommas.”

U.S. organizations spent $46 billion on direct mail in 2014.


Impact of Direct Mail

In 1835, the American Anti-Slavery Society (AAS) took their campaign to a new level with what has been called the first use of a direct mail campaign. [Deeper Learning: Direct Mail Campaign] The Society, founded two years earlier by Arthur and Lewis Tappan of New York, mailed a number of anti-slavery newspapers and printed materials to religious and civic leaders in the south. They selected names from newspapers, city directories, and other published lists. The reception for these unordered and mostly unwelcomed publications was swift, widespread, and hostile.

Direct mailing grew in use over the next decades and would grow to become a critical advertising tool in the United States. By the 1860s, retailers and service providers were using circulars to create awareness, provide information, and generate sales. Today, businesses have many different ways to advertise, and direct mail continues to be an effective part of the “marketing mix.”

Research suggests that people spend more time looking at print than digital content, and that print is more likely to generate an emotional response. People were able to both recall information faster and be more confident in their knowledge when they had read content in print. People often prefer printed products to digital ones for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the relative clutter of the digital mailbox. Overall, print content is seen as having a higher value and generates higher response rates than online marketing.

Direct Mail Began as a Business Tool

Direct mail did not really take off until the use of the typewriter became widespread after 1867, and an organizational system of marketers came into being in the early 20th century. The term “direct mail” came into use about 1905 and the Direct Mail Association (now the Direct Marketing Association) was established in 1917. The first direct mail agency was created in 1921, and a special class of advertising mail was created in 1928.

In the late 19th century, direct mail was seen as a way to generate leads for salesmen. Among the early users were the National Cash Register Company (NCR), founded in 1884, and the Burroughs Adding Machine Company, established in 1885. In 1891, it was reported that the National Cash Register Company mailed almost four million pieces of printed material to prospects.

Book Clubs Lead the Mass Market Way

As the educational and literacy rates increased, so did the demand for books. The Book-of-the-Club was founded in 1926 to fill that need. The owners developed the sales concept called the negative option, in which customers would automatically be sent a book at regular intervals unless they opted out of a particular selection in advance. Other mail order book companies followed, including the Literary Guild in 1927. These companies flourished even during the Great Depression. Later, inexpensive and lightweight paperbacks became popular, especially for military personal serving overseas in World War II. After the war, Time-Life Books and Reader’s Digest capitalized on the growing education and affluence of the American population. These companies also pioneered analyzing their lists to see which books were selling and who was buying them.

Other retail segments looked to capitalize on the concept of sales through the mail. Columbia House entered the market selling records, while the magazine industry benefitted from subscription services such as Publishers Clearing House and American Family Publishers.

The growth of local retail outlets for books, records and other goods put a dent in the mail club approach. As retail strategies shifted, so did the use of direct mail. More retailers and service providers started using direct mail and the object shifted to encouraging people to visit nearby stores. . The creation of the Internet and the emergence of online superstores such as Amazon changed the market yet again by reducing the need for retail stores for some products and changing how marketers talked to their customers.

The Changing Retail Market

While some retail segments reduced or eliminated their use of mail, other segments found ways to use it to bring customers to their stores and, later, their websites. Large regional or national retail chains and franchises advertised promotions and sales, provided coupons, and combined direct mail programs with radio, television, and newspaper ads. Smaller, local firms used First-Class mail with existing customers and often used post cards to remind people of appointments or announce special sales or discounts. In 2011 the Postal Service introduced their “Every Door Direct Mail” service for local businesses, allowing retailers to reach customers by geographic area without requiring an actual mailing address.

Relevant Direct Mail Works

Most people at least look at their direct mail. Many find it very useful in planning their routine shopping. The challenge for direct mailers is to develop carefully targeted and relevant messages. Good marketers have become experts at collecting and analyzing data from different sources, including customers, about their preferences and behaviors.

The next challenge for direct mailers is to design attractive campaigns that catch and hold the reader’s attention amid other distractions and to get them to respond. The formula for direct mail success is well known, but difficult to implement effectively. It is said that there is no such thing as “junk mail” – only poorly designed and implemented campaigns.

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Lester Wunderman, Creator of Modern-Day Direct Marketing (part 1/3)

Well the Direct Mail industry goes back a long time.

It goes back, probably before certain areas of the country had retail and before goods were shipped all over, so.

Chicago became the center of the Direct Mail industry because it was kind of accessible to the whole country.

It was the beginning of the West, if you will.

So, Direct Mail is kind of an ancient practice.

What happened to Direct Mail was that when I was asked to address the Direct Mail Association, I thought about it and decided I didn't want to do that.

So I went to the Direct Mail Association and I said, hey guys, why don't you change your name to the Direct Marketing Association which would give you access to more media and more companies?

So they thought about it and decided they would do that.

So we had a day, I think it was at the Plaza Hotel, where I made a speach and introduced the idea. As a matter of fact, I bought an ad, a full-page ad in the New York Times, announcing the first Direct Marketing Day and explaining in that ad, what the differences were between Direct Mail and Direct Marketing.

Direct Marketing is an industry as is Direct Mail but that's one medium.

Actually, to prosper these days, you can't live with one medium. It's like having one note on a piano.

It just doesn't make music.

So, we began to understand that you had to use all media, and that they in some way had to cooperate in this change.

So, the first...

I was asked by the Direct Mail Association to speak at the Plaza Hotel.

And, what I did, was to create this full-page ad announcing the first Direct Marketing day, and suggesting that I was going to speak at the Plaza Hotel to explain it.

What happened was, because of that ad, lines formed outside of the Plaza Hotel. They could hardly accomodate the number of people who came.

Where, it was simply my thought, that they had to expand beyond their own mailing list. to give this information about where they were going, and why they were going to get there.

So, the whole thing was kind of a rebirth of an old industry that had functioned very well, through the media it had.

With the onset of other media, particularly the coming out to the Internet, it changed the face of the whole industry.

And, everybody understands that the Internet is interactive.

And it came to me because I noticed the Army had a system called the Arpanet.

And the Arpanet was a dialog between offices in the Army who could communicate to each other through the Arpanet.

I knew about that. And I decided why should that be limited to Army offices?

Why not do something more expansive?

So I thought about the Internet.

And the Internet was really beginning to happen strongly at a couple universities, MIT, where a man named Nicholas Negroponte became one of the first visionaries of what I call Direct Marketing and a Peter Drucker who out in California, I think it was Stanford, Peter Drucker was one of the great marketing professors of all time.

And Peter also came to the conclusion that Direct Marketing was the future and Direct Mail would be an essential part of it, but not all of it.

So that's how we got there.

And I met a couple of very interesting people, Negroponte at MIT, Drucker out in California at Sanford.

So we began to get academia involved.

So, suddenly we were looking at something much more expansive, fundamental, and future based than the industry had been.

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Lester Wunderman, Creator of Modern-Day Direct Marketing (part 2/3)

By naming it, the industry, as Direct Marketing industry is to take it one step beyond its Direct Mail foundations.

That was a very expansive idea.

And that began to lead other people to realize that the world was changing and that the communication systems had to go along with it.

That they had to...

That addressing as, all, first, advertising was, addressing the mass, masses of people, announcing, whatever the product was and trying to market it.

The fact that we could select individuals who would be likely more prone to buy the product.

So that if we were talking about something that required transportation, the automobile, we could look up automobile registrations, for example, and that would give us an absolute target.

So we began to find that there were targets out there that we could expand and collect into this industry that I began to name Direct Marketing.

That first ad was so, successful.

It brought, I mean I tell you, it just brought a hoard of people but more than that it brought companies into understanding that the world was changing.

That marketing through retail that's through stores, which was the first way of reaching the public but that was not reaching the public individually.

It was not a communication system.

So making goods available to retail stores was the first important step of marketing.

But, we were going beyond that.

We found that, that we could find selective characteristics that we could sell to.

I mean, all sorts of characteristics that began to give us relevant communications.

And that became a big difference, a difference between relevance and mass.

Individual communications with their sponsors and mass with no response.

So, what I brought to the industry was this sense that was a tidal wave and not just an incident.

And that the tidal wave was going to overcome the whole marketing system.

Which it did.

You know, Sears Roebuck was this begining and they marketed to the whole country out of Chicago.

But, their time kind of passed too. So they were into retail business and the mail order business.

And their catalog became a feature but, it no longer was, was, the pioneer it had been.

So there were other pioneers that came along such as L.L.Bean and Leon Gorman up there, understood that he couldn't wait for traffic.

The traffic in Maine was not the traffic that could build an industry, it was, you know, a retail store.

So, he and I kind of came to a meeting of minds.

And we began to represent L.L. Bean.

And we took them out of their single catalog business into mass media.

And suddenly L.L.Bean became a national institution and one of the first.

But then we found other clients and other companies that could follow the same model.

That could begin, and media supported it.

I mean the fact is that the Internet would have been an interesting idea but it wouldn't have been the marketing powerhouse it has become without understanding that the people who are part of it wanted to talk not only to each other but were perfectly willing to hear directly from manufacturers and become customers, over time, at distances.

So, the mail order, the so-called mail order business, became a marketing center.

And, I began to use radio, some television, certain newspapers, that we began to make Direct Marketing very expansive beyond Direct Mail.

In which case the Direct Mail industry had to rename itself because the focus was now on marketing, not on mail.

Mail being a medium, and only one.

So that's how we got there and we knew we were on the right track because everything we did had good consequences.

Obviously we were touching a hot button.

And that hot button has become a very major button, become a, become a system.

So today we have, I mean, it's amazing the companies that are in the Direct Marketing business.

For example, the automobile industry which would never sell a car by mail, but they certainly use mail to communicate and get people to go into dealerships to buy their cars.

And they're only one of a number of industries that didn't distribute by mail, but should use mail as a major medium that engaged individual customers by name rather than mass customers by no name, by mass.

So that was the beginning of what I found so exciting and what has become.

I mean the industry just keeps growing, and growing, and growing.

And I think it will continue to become a major source of business because, relevance is its basis.

That knowing who is out there, what they need, what they buy, what they might buy again, and if they bought this they might also buy that.

So these companies have grown into major, major marketers.

I was there at the outset of the change and became, I guess, one of the change agents, because I thought this was an exciting idea.

For a person who is, you know, my brother and I had started this small agency with small capital.

And if we didn't hit a hot button we were not going to stay long in the industry as entrepreneurs.

So the search for expansion, the search for entry really into the marketing industry, became our mission.

And, it was an exciting mission because it had never been explained that way.

And, so I became that father of Direct Marketing.

But my god, the progeny is multitudinous.

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Lester Wunderman, Creator of Modern-Day Direct Marketing (part 3/3)

Columbia Records company was run by a very interesting man named Goddard Lieberson.

Goddard Lieberson was not only a brilliant musician, but a brilliant organizer of the music industry so that Columbia House and Columbia Records became a major source.

They had made it a point that I join them, they had Frank Sinatra for example.

Sinatra was at the Paramount Hotel which was his first burst into public view.

And they signed him. And they began to sign stars like him.

And, it was Lieberson. So Lieberson came to me one day.

Came to my office.

Now I thought it's strange that the head of a big company, he'd come to visit me instead of asking me to visit them.

So the first visit was from him and he explained that the Book of the Month Club had changed the book industry.

Suddenly books of all kinds were sold through the Book of the Month Club.

They had divisions. And it was a growing business.

So, I designed, and devised, and named the Columbia Record Club.

And went to Terra Haute to see their fulfillment, the record production, and fulfillment.

And then we began to talk to some of their recording stars to advise them that we were going to change the industry if we could.

And we were very successful at the beginning.

Of course, Columbia Records had, for example they had Mitch Miller who had a group that sang folk songs and things.

And Mitch then became the head of their artists and repertoire department, what the industry calls "A&R".

And, so all together there are a couple of new minds, and new thoughts, and new visions to fulfill and companies that could operate within another system.

And Columbia Records was the first one. Matter of fact, what they worried about, and this had happened to the book industry, the Book of the Month Club when it began became a pariah to retailers.

Because suddenly, instead of people buying their books at retail, they were buying them by subscription.

In the Book of the Month you signed up to take four books a year.

So you had a mandated subscription.

And to entice you to enter the subscriber group, they gave away, at bargains, they gave away hot books or hot series of book to engage people into the Book of the Month Club.

And it was so successful because bookstores were not great marketers.

Bookstore owners were kinda hobbyist in a way.

They were part hobbyists and part retailers.

They love books, they love stories.

And they were happy to market them and have customers coming in whom they could share their visions with.

So, suddenly all these forces came together and generated what I named, the Direct Marketing Industry.

And Columbia Records was one of the more outstanding. I mean they spent with us millions of dollars and they finally had a million subscribers, at one point, to the Columbia Record Club.

I mean it just, because what I did, unlike the Book of the Month Club which sold all kinds of books, I started these divisions. We had, Classical division, we had a Jazz division, we had a, we had four divisions.

I had divided the industry into four divisions.

So when people enrolled into the Columbia Record Club, they enrolled in a division.

That division gave Columbia the understanding that these people wanted records in that category.

They wanted Jazz, Classical, Folk, or whatever.

We had a division called Listening and Dancing.

It was strange. We added the language that was very odd it would seem now in reflection.

But it seemed kinda funny.

But we knew we had to get into the public mind.

And we had to advise people that this was a better way to buy the product.

That this was a system that would engage the consumer in what could have been his hobby or his passion.

America’s Mailing Industry