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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

How to Make Direct Mail Useless

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About four of five months ago a Boston-based New England supermarket chain called Stop & Shop shuttered all six of its stores in New Hampshire. The stores had been open for about five years but they didn’t seem to compete well with some other regional chains and especially with Wal-Mart supercenters. Stop & Shop’s prices were higher—substantially on some items—and key products such as meat and produce weren’t competitive in terms of quality. So they pulled the plug, selling the stores to bare shelves in a matter of days with 50 percent off of the pricing on everything. That finally made it worth going to one of the stores.

Stop & Shop had a subsidiary called Peapod that provided home delivery of grocery orders over $60. Consumers could shop using their computer, smartphone, or tablet, and pay for the order with a debit or credit card and their groceries would be delivered to their door. Nice idea, and it probably appealed to the dual-income, mini-vanned families with no time and two or three urchins clamoring for milk and cookies.

Fast forward to last week. I received a 6x11" four-color, digitally printed postcard with basic name and address “personalization” offering 20 percent off my first order using Peapod and my local Stop & Shop. Only the nearest store is now about 40 miles away in another state. There’s a disclaimer on the card saying that Peapod delivery is not available in all areas. Yeah, I probably could have figured that out.

So the real question is, why didn’t someone at Stop & Shop tell the direct mail shop to eliminate people in New Hampshire where there are no longer any stores, or at least none nearby? New Hampshire zip codes all start “03,” while those in Massachusetts start with “02.” This is not quantum physics.

Based on the postal indicia, I have a pretty good idea of which company sent this out, and their Website claims they offer a range of data management services, so a zip code select would likely be within their skill set. But they apparently didn’t get the memo that six stores in the Granite State had gone belly up. So the marketing budget at Stop & Shop has to take a hit for printing and mailing a load of postcards that promptly landed in recycling. That probably amounted to between 50,000 and 100,000 people who couldn’t take advantage of the offer even if they wanted to. And there might be a marketing manager at Stop & Shop trying to figure out why the response rate on the nice big full-color postcard is so abysmal. Or did they not actually think about the process at all?

Direct mail can be great—when done correctly. But when it’s done poorly or sloppily, as is too often the case, it makes me cringe. As a print provider you may not have control over design, but you may well have control over a customer’s mailing list. It’s worth taking a moment to ask your customer if there is anything about their list that needs to be considered, adjusted or refined. Even minor changes can save them money, increase response, and make you look better to your customer because you have their back.

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