Special Delivery

By Ryan Sullivan

A flood of information streams into our lives each day and a lot of it is marketing material from companies that want to make a sale. With limited time and attention, every member of your target audience is stacking sandbags to keep some messages out. How do you breach the dam and reach these potential customers?

New technologies are helping both marketers and customers turn the flood into a manageable flow that delivers the message with more precision and utility than ever before.

Direct mail has been around in some form or other for centuries, but modern postal delivery and database technologies put it on steroids during the last few decades. The advantage of direct mail is its potential to get your company into the home of a potential customer. The disadvantage is its ubiquity. So many companies use this marketing tool that customers can be overwhelmed by volume—and leave your message in a garbage bin outside their door.

You have to catch and keep the eye of the savvy direct mail sorter. New technologies and practices can help.


Meijer is a familiar name for value-conscious shoppers in the Midwest. The credit union that serves its employees is less familiar—even with its current and potential members. The credit union wanted to slow attrition and boost retention. It turned to The F.P. Horak Company to help. The company designed a multi-pronged “onboarding” program for enrollees to familiarize them with Meijer Credit Union member services and build a lifelong financial relationship.

Under the program, clients receive three different direct mail pieces targeted to their particular financial needs within the first 30 to 60 days after joining. Using specific information pulled from databases, each mailed piece is personalized to bring a unique message to the member. The regular contact builds the business relationship and reinforces the perceived value of their new financial institution. But it also makes practical recommendations for other financial products and reminds members of the many ways they can contact the institution for help.

Like most credit unions, Meijer Credit Union only has a few physical branches. Its power to help employees around the country comes from partnerships with other credit unions that share branches to provide member services anywhere they go. The credit union knew that finding a shared branch was sometimes a problem for its members, especially when they’re on the road. So F.P. Horak designed pieces containing QR codes, images that smartphones can scan with their cameras to link the user to web-based content over wireless networks. The system helps clients find shared branch locations near them, and can help them get familiarized with other mobile services, like text banking from their phones.

Personalized URLs (PURLs) give clients another way to interact with the credit union. Direct mail pieces contain a web address, the PURL, created specifically for that member. Members enter this address in their web browser and are taken to a page with unique, highly customized information tailored to their particular financial needs. With the click of a mouse, a client can enroll in credit union programs, change contact information or preferences, take a survey, or request more information on other available services. Clients feel a personal touch. The credit union gets increased business, keeps its records up-to-date without additional labor costs, and gets nearly real-time feedback and response rates to gauge the effectiveness of each direct mail piece.

Is it working? Ashley Steenstra is a business development officer with Meijer Credit Union. Her opinion is unequivocal. “We are very happy with the programs and services we receive from F.P. Horak. Their approach allows extreme customization and personalization at a low cost. We’ve had double-digit response rates—29 percent last May. That’s almost unheard of for direct mail campaigns,” Steenstra notes.

Braiding new and cost-effective technologies with well-used tools like direct mail also helps smaller companies achieve the kind of marketing reach and precision formerly available only to larger competitors. “For a small staff, automation is a huge bonus, allowing us to do things that only big companies could do,” Steenstra adds.

Keep in Step with a Highly Mobile Audience

Soaring Eagle Casino & Resort is a regional entertainment powerhouse, offering Las Vegas-style gaming and world-class entertainment in the heart of Michigan. While it’s a powerful magnet for visitors throughout the state, the owners knew it lacked attractions for all family members. So the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan decided to add a water park into its potent entertainment mix.

The new park’s general manager, Bonnie Sprague, is responsible for marketing the venue to Soaring Eagle customers, old and new. Curious about technology, she did her homework and discovered a world of social media and mobile marketing opportunities that could help her reach a mobile audience throughout the state. When The F.P. Horak Company suggested these tools, Sprague was ready.

“As general manager, I’m always looking for ways to drive people to our site. We’ve had a tremendous response from people on the go who see our QR codes and social media presence, and link to our sites immediately from their smartphones. We’re incorporating these options into our email blasts, billboards, Facebook and Twitter postings, and traditional mailings,” Sprague explains.

Mobile web visitors access sites that are specially designed for a smartphone’s smaller screen. While site visitors receive information on the park’s amenities and its May 2012 grand opening, they can also enter a drawing for an overnight stay if they fill out a visitor preference survey. The survey results augment a database of potential future visitors and detail their entertainment interests. Later, this information guides a finely targeted direct mail campaign.

Sprague also values the way these electronic tools can generate a “dashboard” of information on marketing performance and effectiveness, helping her see where and how potential customers encounter marketing materials. Spreadsheets, graphs, and charts are a few mouse clicks away. As the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe of Michigan’s first business to use these technologies, she’s making a splash in her organization.

Go Green(er) and Save Money by Turning Hard Copy Readers Into Online Visitors

Almost any entity can benefit from these marketing approaches. Ask Michigan State University (MSU) AgBioResearch. Its mission? “To engage in innovative, leading-edge research that combines scientific expertise with practical experience to generate economic prosperity, sustain natural resources, and enhance the quality of life in Michigan, the nation, and the world.” AgBioResearch encompasses the work of nearly 400 scientists in six colleges at MSU: Agriculture and Natural Resources, Communication Arts and Sciences, Engineering, Natural Science, Social Science, and Veterinary Medicine. That’s pretty lofty stuff. How can direct mail help?

AgBioResearch disseminates its vital work through a sophisticated web presence, quarterly newsletters, and its free semi-annual magazine, Futures. Futures is aimed at the non-scientific public, and issues focus on topics ranging from food safety to Michigan’s bioeconomy. AgBioResearch wants to reach as large an audience as possible, but it’s dedicated to preserving the earth’s environment, too. It felt it could reach both goals by delivering more content online. But how could the organization spread the word when it had less than 4,000 mail addresses and no customer email database?

After turning to F.P. Horak, AgBioResearch decided to incorporate QR codes into the inserts that accompany each issue of Futures. Knowing that the magazine had a high readership rate of 77 percent, they hoped to turn these hard copy readers into online visitors. The system will allow users to scan the QR code and enter their contact information on the corresponding website. The result is three-fold: the audience discovers another, greener way to access AgBioResearch information, and AgBioResearch captures data to build a robust database that allows it to improve and green its future marketing and communication efforts in the future, all while bringing more visitors to the website.

How did they entice readers to respond? By offering a gift of Michigan-grown products as a reward, of course.

“We started our efforts with a website reconstruction as a strong foundation for outreach through various media, including YouTube and RSS newsfeeds. But we wanted to drive more traffic to the site. This effort will help us find out how responsive our customer base is to reaching our content through QR codes,” says Val Osowski, communications manager for AgBioResearch.

Osowski points out that QR codes help her keep track of how printed pieces are being used. That’s because every time someone accesses electronic resources via QR codes, unique information contained in the code tells her which publication helped bridge the gap between print and web media.

“It’s kind of an experiment,” observes Osowski, realizing that not all of her target audience is completely familiar with smartphone technology and the unique communication capabilities it provides. But she sees the upside for her organization.

“We often see something we find interesting, plan to look it up online later, and then forget. QR codes allow a passive person to take action right now.” That brings more users to the AgBioResearch website wherever they encounter its QR code and helps capture data for more effective, greener communication.

Sorting “junk” mail just got a lot harder. And that’s good for your business if you use direct mail. A modern approach to this reliable standby integrates the full palette of technological innovations made possible by databases, the web, and smartphones. With all of these technologies permeating the general public at a rapid pace, your ability to reach each potential customer in a personal, unique way has never been greater.

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