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In today's overdigitized world, a clever hard-copy mailer can be more captivating that an email missive. Here are five dimensional mailers that prove direct mail gets read. By Linda Armstrong
irect mailers have gotten a bum rap. During the Great Recession when marketers squeezed pennies tighter than Spanx on Mama June, people turned up their noses at direct mailers and flooded inboxes with seemingly free email instead. But now that budgetary belts have loosened, few people have gone back to direct mail. And given today's high-tech world, many marketers have come to think of mailers as relics from the Pony Express, rather than perfectly viable promotional tools.

In reality, direct mailers in general and dimensional mailers in particular don't deserve this level of disrepute, particularly when it comes to effectiveness. In fact, some studies show that direct mail has the upper hand. A recent Response Rate Report from the Direct Marketing Association indicated that the rate of response for email is 0.12 percent; meanwhile, postcards and dimensional mailers score 2.4 and 3.95 percent, respectively.

More likely than not, however, you don't need a study to illustrate how effective lumpy mail can be. Just consider your email inbox. You likely delete scads of emails from it without even opening them. But you carefully thumb through the stack of mail on your desk and maybe even eyeball the postcard mailers within it. If you give them merely a two-second glance, they're still making more of an impression than the electronic missives you just obliterated.

If there's a lumpy piece of mail amid the stack, your eyes are drawn to it like Donald Sterling's foot to his mouth. And chances are, the really clever mailers will take up residence on your desk next to your stapler and framed pictures of your kids.

Indeed, dimensional mailers aren't the expensive dinosaurs many marketers have made them out to be. In fact, they can be valuable tools to promote everything from exhibits to corporate events – and to target everyone from the press to VIPs. So to help you envision just how dimensional mailers might work for you, here are five inventive examples. Illustrating a variety of purposes and price points, these mailers not only caught the attention of EXHIBITOR staff, but also left a big enough impression for us to carve out space for them in the magazine. (Meanwhile, we trashed tens of thousands of emails without the courtesy of a double click or an ounce of regret.)

Caterpillar Inc. and Chevron Lubricants (a division of Chevron U.S.A. Inc.)
Caterpillar and Chevron Lubricants turned a toy dump truck with working lights and realistic sounds into an invitation to its Construction Symposium.
Company Descriptions: Heavy-equipment manufacturer; lubricant-products provider
Target Audience: 120 construction-company owners and construction-equipment operators
Communication Goals: Communicate event details
Call to Action: Register for the Construction Symposium via microsite
Mailer Dimensions: 7-by-5-by-3.5 inches
Contents: Mini Mover toy with a tilt bed, sounds, and lights; cardboard box holding the toy with event-registration directions
Cost/Mailer: $20
Postage/Mailer: $5
Results: Of the 120 recipients, 52.5 percent attended the event – compared to a 14.8-percent response rate achieved for a previous event sans 3-D mailer.
Creative Firm: Deckel & Moneypenny Exhibits, Louisville, KY, 888-501-7469, www.deckelmoneypenny.com

3D Exhibits Inc.
To thank VIP booth visitors for their time, 3D sent them a 6-inch-diameter cardboard tube filled with a clay pot and asylum seeds.
Company Description: Exhibit house
Target Audience: 28 VIPs that visited 3D's exhibit at EXHIBITOR Show
Communication Goals: Reiterate the exhibit theme, thank VIP booth visitors for their time, and invite them to "grow" with 3D
Call to Action: Instructions implied recipients should plant the seeds and grow their marketing strategy with 3D
Mailer Dimensions: 4-by-4-inch box holding a 2.5-inch-diameter clay pot
Contents: Raffia "grass"; red 4-by-4-inch box tied with twine; red instructional insert; 2.5-inch-diameter clay pot; 2-inch-square packet of asylum seeds
Cost/Mailer: $3
Postage/Mailer: $10
Results: Consistent with 3D's goal, the post-show mailer helped score four requests for proposal following the show. To date, booth visitors continue to comment on the mailer's memorability and have inquired about the firm's marketing capabilities as a result.
Creative Firm: 3D Exhibits Inc., Schaumburg, IL, 847-250-9000, www.3dexhibits.com

The Expo Group L.P.
To encourage Expo Expo attendees to submit a request for proposal, The Expo Group sent 60 trade show managers a CD case and iTunes gift card that used humor to deliver the company's message.
Company Description: General contractor for the trade show industry
Target Audience: 60 trade show and exhibition managers that have been using the same general services contractor (GSC) for years
Communication Goals: Use humor to make recipients consider the last time they requested a new GSC bid and how much times have changed since then, and ultimately submit an RFP to The Expo Group
Call to Action: Visit the exhibit and submit an RFP
Mailer Dimensions: 5.5-by-4 inches
Contents: CD case with $10 iTunes gift card
Cost/Mailer: $12
Postage/Mailer: $2
Results: Forty percent of recipients visited the booth at Expo Expo, and 10 percent of recipients submitted a request for proposal. In addition, there was twice as much booth traffic compared to the previous year.
Creative Firm: The Expo Group L.P., Irving, TX, 972-580-9000, www.theexpogroup.com

Iatric Systems Inc.
Iatric Systems Inc. sent a faux Kindle to 44 prospects, hoping to lure them to its booth to trade 15 minutes of their time for the real thing.
Company Description: Health-care information-technology firm
Target Audience: 44
prospects with CIO or executive-level titles attending the Medical Users Software Exchange
Communication Goals: Invite prospects to Iatric Systems' booth to spend 15 minutes sharing their pain points and learning about Iatric Systems and its customer-success stories in exchange for a Kindle Fire
Call to Action: Schedule an in-booth meeting
Mailer Dimensions: 1.5-by-9.75-by-6.5 inches
Contents: Foam support platform; piece of cardstock showing an image of a Kindle Fire whose screen offered an invitation to visit the booth and hear customer-success stories in exchange for a free Kindle
Cost/Mailer: $5
Postage/Mailer: $2
Results: Fifty-seven percent of mailer recipients scheduled meetings in the booth, and 100 percent of those people actually attended the meetings.
Creative Firm: Iatric Systems, Boxford, MA, 978-805-4100, www.iatric.com

Steelhead Productions
Steelhead wanted to generate media coverage for its integrated campaign at EXHIBITOR Show. So it sent media reps a metal lunchbox featuring components of its peanut-butter-and-jelly-themed campaign.
Company Description: Exhibit house
Target Audience: Key members of the press attending EXHIBITOR Show
Communication Goals: Lure 11 press members to Steelhead's booth and convince them to write about the company's integrated promotions
Call to Action: Visit Steelhead's exhibit, talk with staff, and create a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich
Mailer Dimensions: 7.5-by-6-by-3 inches
Contents: Metal lunchbox; plastic sandwich container; pink branded napkin; 3-inch diameter "Spreading Happiness" button with booth number; 6-by-6-inch booth invite and attached wooden knife; 4-by-6-inch invitation to the in-booth "PB&J Party"
Cost/Mailer: $23
Postage/Mailer: $13
Results: Eight of the 11 recipients visited the booth to discuss the campaign.
Creative Firm: Steelhead Productions, Las Vegas, 702-405-0190, www.steelheadproductions.com

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