Not long ago we lauded Royal Mail for (inadvertently) encouraging effective marketing. Well yet again, they’ve just shot themselves in the foot. They offer a “Business Solutions Pack” aimed at small companies just like Gloo.

Sounds exciting:

We’re ready when you are to tailor a free pack of our most relevant business services and case studies to help your company find new customers, keep the ones you’ve got, and deliver your orders even better to both.

So we thought we’d see what they have to offer. After filling in a short questionnaire about the size and nature of your business, you get an email in your inbox with a slightly personalised PDF attached. It’s a pretty good PDF, filled with information about Royal Mail’s services that’s backed by statistics and case studies, related clearly to business needs and expressed in plain English.

Snippet from Royal Mail’s Business Solutions Pack

A couple of days later the phone goes with a telemarketing call.

A few days after that, now over a week since filling in the online form, a printed copy of the PDF arrives in the post. And the postmark shows that this wasn’t held up in transit, it took that long to produce.

Spot the problem? Royal Mail is trying to persuade us that printed mailshots and prompt delivery of orders to customers are the best way to make our business successful. But their marketing processes are telling us something different: that both phone and email are faster at delivering information. They’re also telling us that the post is redundantPDFs, by design, appear identical to the print version.

We’d forgive that contradiction if the posted version contained something that couldn’t be sent down a wire. And indeed there is something extra in the envelope. By this point we’re getting near to Christmas and we’re excited by the thought of a present.

Alas, it’s a sachet of coffee, accompanied by a cheesy “have a drink on us” message. Apparently it’s gourmet coffee, but do they really think that a sachet of instant coffee is going to impress? While we’ve seen worse promotions, it lacks creativity and is a touch patronising.

We can learn three lessons from this when building campaigns:

Stand out, even if you have to spend money: a 20p sachet of coffee does not make us feel that Royal Mail values our custom. In fact, it may have the opposite effect. To mark our official launch we sent some rather delicious Gloo-branded cupcakes by courier. They were expensive, but we targeted them very precisely and we’ve since done business with every one of the recipientsbeat that for a return on investment!

Prove it: show by your actionsas well as your messageswhy your products are compelling and why your business is the best choice. If Royal Mail had been really serious about making an impression of speed and importance, it would have sent the package Special Delivery and called within an hour. If you’re running a web hosting company, you’d better make sure your website is never down. If you’re a printer, make sure your brochure is something special.

Understand your audience’s preconceptions: in this case we were thinking, “isn’t mail slow, dull and lacking in interactivity?” and, “why should I use the post when I have the web?”. With their rather bland mailshot and unimaginative gimmick all Royal Mail did was reinforce these negative views. Make sure you confound any negative opinions and have an answer to any potential objections.

Posted by John on 4 January 2011