Marketing Case Study: Mailing List Fail

In this edition of “I Have a Story,” The Marketing Writer’s blog, we present a marketing case study that underscores the importance of a clean direct mail list.

Direct mail continues to produce strong results with an average response rate of 9% for house lists. A house list is a list of a business’ customers or people with whom the business has a connection.

Prospect lists also do well these days with an average 4.9% response rate. Prospect lists can be sourced from other companies, compiled from public directories, gathered from subscribers of magazines, or rented from sweepstakes and coupon companies. The results of a mailing using either a house or prospect lists depend, of course, not just on the list, but on three additional factors: the offer, timing, creative.

This marketing case study looks at how a company got everything right…except for the mailing list.

It’s a company you may have heard about:

Marketing Case Study: Pet Product Company Mailing List Fail is an online retailer of pet products selling everything from dog training equipment to goldfish food. They are known for great customer service, fast shipping, and competitive pricing.

A few months ago, we received an offer of $15 off of our first order. With seven cats and a new puppy on the way, we gladly used our coupon and were delighted with the entire ordering experience. We purchased cat food and continued to hope for more offers from the company via email, but the offers we received were for specialty products and gourmet foods, which our rescued cats don’t get. (Sorry, fellas, but y’all just showed up here…you get what you get, and that’s Friskies and Meow Mix.)

Marketing Case Study: Direct Mailing List Failure

Then in July, we received another mailer from This mailer touted $15 off again. We held onto it knowing our new puppy, Zeke, would arrive in August and need some items.

We tried to utilize the coupon this week only to find we could not – it was for first-time customers only, and of course, we were returning customers now.

It was supposed to be our second order. We did not place the order.

Always Suppress Current Customers from a Mailing to New Customers

Chewy offers excellent customer service, but somehow, their marketing department neglected to update their mailing list against their customer list.

An offer for a new or first time customer should NEVER be sent to current customers.

Mailing lists can be compared using specialized software so that any potential duplicates are flagged and removed. If Chewy purchased a list of pet owners or people who own pets, for example, they could then send this list to a mailing list company or data provider and have any potential duplicates suppressed from the final list.

Why bother spending the money to suppress duplicates?

Because customers like us, eager to order again, left disappointed and annoyed at the fine print on an offer that we thought we qualified for but didn’t.

If a company mails us a coupon, we assume we can use it. It should never be incumbent on the customer to get out a magnifying glass and check the fine print on the offer. And it is deadly to your e-commerce business to have customers get all the way to the checkout and as a last step, enter a coupon code only to be told the offer isn’t valid.

We abandoned our shopping cart and bought the cat food and dog harness from Amazon. No, we didn’t get $15 off, but we got free shipping and didn’t feel cheated by the offer.

Key Takeaways: Direct Mail Basics


  • Create a compelling offer. The Chewy offer was great. So was their timing and their creative execution.
  • Be 100% sure that offers for new or first-time customers ONLY get sent ONLY to new and first-time customers. You can do this by sending your list data to a mailing house who runs it through a computer program and compares the prospect list to your customer file and suppresses any duplicates.
  • Provide a way to honor the coupon if you make a mistake. Don’t just turn customers away.

If Chewy woos us back with a great offer, we may consider shopping from them again. But with Amazon so convenient and accessible, and no feeling of being screwed over by them as we did when we were disappointed at finding our coupon didn’t work, we may not.

Good Management Is An Art

Good management is an art rather than a science.

I started thinking about management skills today after I took a test for the website, (Yes, I’m job hunting. Seriously hunting for a telecommuting, marketing job, director level or above. If you’re looking for someone or you know of a job…message me.)

But back to management as an art form.

Indeed, like many websites, offers skill tests. I’ve taken a few. Some are crazy hard, some aren’t what you think they are, and some, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, was just right.

The marketing tets – just right. The SEO test – just right.  But the management skills test? Difficult to say.

The test included multiple choice questions as well as audio clips that you listen to and then choose the correct response. The audio clips were strange. They were supposed to be a manager talking to her team. You’re then asking to evaluate her management skills.

My issue with the test is that I believe management is a nuanced skill. No two situations require the same approach. I once had an employee who was chronically late for work and showed up clearly hung over. His tardiness differed from another employee who also showed up late and seemed hung over. Her issue, I later learned, wasn’t overindulgence in the party lifestyle but rushing to drop off a cranky child at daycare every day.

Should I have immediately judged both employees similarly? You can’t apply the same response to each person. I knew, for example, that Employee B was a single mom. I suspected Employee A had been hitting the bars and dance clubs too often and too hard. But the only facts I had to deal with were 1) they were both showing up for work after 10 a.m. when business hours required them to be at their desk at 9 a.m.

My preferred approach is always to sit privately with someone and ask what’s going on. If I’ve built up enough trust with someone, they will tell me what’s going on. In all cases, I try to find a happy medium.

For Employee B, we agreed she could work through her lunch hour to make up the hour she missed. Her job required her to be on location, at the office, but whenever we could allow her to telecommute, we did. It seems clear to me that single parents, male or female, may need a little more flexibility to handle unexpected childcare needs.

For Employee A, after our discussion, he admitted he was having trouble with drugs and alcohol. That was a punch in the gut for me as I cared for him very much as a person and a friend. I’d worked with him for a long time and it was hard to hear him tell me some things. In the end, though, I worked it out with human resources to find him the assistance he needed to get treatment for his addiction problems. It was tough.

Management is really an art and a learned skill than a science. I’ve attended management courses throughout the years and all have been helpful, but the most helpful management training I received was direct mentoring from one of the best managers I have ever worked for in my career. He took me under his wing and coached me to be the manager I am today.

I would never say that I’m a perfect manager, by any means. But I successfully manage teams I’ve never met through remote, telecommuting work, because I ask the right questions, build rapport, and hold people accountable.

These are things that can be difficult to measure in a multiple choice test. But when all is said and done, no two people manage the same way. It’s really all about fit with a company’s style, culture, and the manager’s approach.


Making Virtual Teams Work

How do you make a virtual workforce a thriving part of your company?

work from home
Photo by Emma Matthews on Unsplash

Many companies need extra help during peak season. Some require specialized skills or a temporary opening filled. In these cases, a remote worker, also known as a virtual worker, telecommuter, or telecommuting freelancer, may be the answer.

So why don’t more companies avail themselves of the miracles of technology and find the absolute best person for the job, allowing them to work remotely?

For the past ten years, I’ve managed virtual teams. I began managing editors and writers for a major website. In that role, I didn’t choose who I worked with–I inherited teams from the previous editors. The company had strict working requirements, provided specialized software, and offered clear guidelines and quotas for monthly content.

In this example, a virtual workforce worked very well for the company. Not only did they achieve their revenue goals, but they were able to expand into multiple content niches because they drew from an enormous pool of writers scattered geographically far from their headquarters. They didn’t care if you lived within 10 miles or 1,000 miles from headquarters.

How did they achieve what other companies fail to do?

Clarity. Communications. Accountability. These are the hallmarks of happy, healthy virtual teams. Layer in some flexibility and its sister, creativity, and add to it the notion of reliability from both the company and its workforce and you’ve got a winning recipe for a happy, healthy virtual workforce.

In my latest article for Medium, I distill ten years of virtual management wisdom into an eight-minute read. For those looking to expand operations or improve the talent pool, consider a virtual workforce. Not only can it work well, but it can also work exceptionally well for your productivity, profitability, and service.

Ready? Let’s go virtual. Read the full article: How to Build a Healthy, Happy Virtual Workforce.

Three Leadership Qualities

find your target audience

We often equate leadership qualities today with qualities that are actually antithetical to good leadership. The bluster, brashness, and bragging often associated with leadership point to weakness, not strength, when it comes to leaders.

What makes a leader?

Watching the coverage this week of former President Bush’s funeral, I was struck by several things.

President Bush exhibited a gracious approach to life. He understood the power of a simple thank-you. He understood the power of kindness. Not many leaders today, in business or in politics, understand this.

Secondly, his humility impressed me. All of his speeches formed humble pictures, many tributes to others. The elegance and grace of his words spoke to a time when American understood that political stance and divisive behavior moved aside post-election.

Lastly, his ability to connect with others, some of whom were former opponents, clearly spoke of leadership qualities.

I made a video discussing my impressions of these leadership characteristics and how business people may parlay them into qualities for success. Watch it below.


Business Leaders, Take Note

There are several lessons to be learned from this. CEOs and business leaders who understand the power of kindness and a gracious approach to their everyday interactions with their peers and subordinates tend to achieve better results than those who act dictatorially towards their staff.

Research bears this out. A study from the State University of New York at Binghamton demonstrates that leaders with a benevolent style tend to achieve stronger result than those with a dictatorial style. In other words, nice leaders finish first.

Are You Afraid to Be “Too Nice?”

I’ve heard that so often in my career – leaders saying they put on a mean mask to prevent others from thinking they are ‘too nice.’ They think that if subordinates view them as nice people, they will be viewed as weak and others take advantage of them.

St. Francis de Sales, a 17th century bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, wrote, “Nothing is as strong as gentleness, and nothing is as gentle as strength.” Be gentle, kind and firm, and you will achieve the best results. Consistent guidance, clear communication, and a kind approach to human relationships will always take you further than you anticipate.


Stopping Workplace Gossip

Stopping workplace gossip may be impossible, but it should be among your priorities as a leader. Workplace gossip wastes time, ruins reputations, and generally does more harm than good.

I’ve written a new piece for Medium this week Gossip in the Workplace – Stop Before Someone Gets Hurt.

I know that it is human nature to gossip, to share, to communicate. But I also believe that gossip can be the root of many workplace evils. It certainly wastes time. It can ruin good people’s reputations and cause damage that takes a long time to get over.

As a Virtual VP, a manager who heals and energizes teams for companies worldwide, I know that gossip flourishes in a culture of fear. Excessive workplace gossip is often a sign of poor communications. Employees, starved for accurate, honest information, speculate and share their guesses (gossip) for validation and feedback with coworkers. The result? Gossip, a lot of incorrect guesses, and a corporate culture that thrives on rumor. When the rumor mill takes over and is the best source of information in a company, you’ve got an unhealthy company environment that should be fixed.

Continue reading “Stopping Workplace Gossip”