B-to-B marketing doesn’t have to be stuffy. In fact, as Mlicki often proves, the best efforts are sometimes those that produce a smile.
Business-to-business campaigns are sometimes accused of taking themselves too seriously in their marketing pieces, pontificating about mission statements, intoning about the extraordinariness of product features or congratulating themselves for winning largely obscure industry awards.
Jason Mlicki just wants them to lighten up. President of the eponymous Mlicki, the marketing veteran and his shop have garnered a well-deserved reputation for creating whimsical, sometimes edgy direct marketing campaigns that knock the stuffiness out of B-to-B traditionalism. Campaigns for its clients and itself are as unpredictable as they are effective, the pieces leveraging everything from nostalgic touchstones like a vintage toy picture viewer to startling imagery of circus clowns to old-school, fuzzy rearview mirror dice. “If you put something creative and dimensional on the desk, prospects are more likely to want to hear what you have to say,” says Jason, whose father, Ron, founded the company in Ohio in 1972.
And while the company utilizes a range of channels for its quirky campaigns, Jason says direct mail is the medium his company regards as most effective. “With advertising, you blast everyone under the sun,” he contends. “But if you do direct mail right, you know it’s going to get opened by the decision maker.”
At a time when businesses can ill afford to squander marketing dollars, Jason says his staff emphasizes laser-like focus in campaigns, and crafts each to ensure maximum relevance and appeal to recipients. He says dimensional mail has been one of the company’s most effective tools in this effort.
“Dimensional pieces work well,” he says. “A gatekeeper will throw away half the mail that comes into a corporation — but not a big box.” The outsized and awkwardly shaped packages, he says, almost always wind up getting past the assistants and aides and onto the desk of the intended target. Furthermore, many recipients hold on to posters, booklets and trinkets as mementos, even after the campaign has ended. Mlicki also tries to use the package itself as art, employing translucent envelopes, oversized flat pieces, bright colors and a focus on “clean simplicity” in the design.
When deciding on specific dimensional pieces, the Mlicki creative team eschews “expected” tchotchkes like mugs, letter openers and mouse pads. Instead, they rely on toys, art and humor to make mailers stand out. “Business-to-business mail is usually so stale and straightforward,” Jason says. “I get so much here myself, and nobody seems to think I have a sense of humor.” A common mistake clients make is to assume that B-to-B mailers have to be more serious than consumer campaigns, Jason points out: “But your customer is still a consumer; they don’t disconnect from media and society at 8 a.m. on Monday.”
Jason realizes that dimensional pieces can sometimes be costly, so to increase affordability, Mlicki usually sends out small, highly targeted mailings of 800 or fewer pieces about 10 times a year. Because of the relatively small number of mailings, the company can afford to spend as much as $10 to $15 on each unit, including the actual production costs for the more complicated pieces. Jason chalks this up as the cost of doing business for B-to-B marketers. “If you’re trying to get a meeting with a CEO, you’re not going to do it with a black-and-white flyer off your inkjet,” he says.
Jason says his company takes time to explain to customers that the expense often pays for itself, since even a single contract won by the direct mail pieces can offset their costs. By way of example, he references a mail his company sent out recently on behalf of a client that sells top-of-the-line lab equipment. “It’s a five-figure product,” he says. “You’re not going to sell it with a ‘5-percent discount’ offer mailer.”
Instead, Mlicki crafted a campaign that emphasized the equipment’s ease of use. The company created a tongue-in-cheek, single-page guide that offered a fictional “one click” solution to minor quotidian annoyances like caring for the family dog and gassing up the car. Each task was illustrated as a foldout cartoon and showed a finger “clicking” the image. A second image showed the task instantly completed. The back of the 8-by-10-inch mailer showcased the client’s “one click” piece of lab equipment. “The lab workers called to get more copies of the piece. They loved it,” Jason says of the mailing’s response. “[With] something like that on the wall, they’ll remember you when it’s time to make a purchasing decision.”
Mlicki also recently spearheaded a branding campaign on behalf of an integrated retail credit and marketing company. For this one, Mlicki mailed boxes containing large red dice strung to a mock rearview mirror, which featured the words “No time to look back” across it. Below the mirror was information about how the company could help clients. The package was also accompanied by a branded publication that identified 100 fast-growing retailers.
Doing It Themselves
Such engaging direct mail pieces were exactly what Ron Mlicki envisioned nearly 37 years ago when he launched the company. Jason says his father dreamed of offering great design to help build unique brands, and constructed the 10-person company to reflect this goal. Ten years ago, Jason joined the firm and began focusing on brand strategy and interactive media. (Ron no longer works in the day-to-day operations.)
Given the company’s philosophical roots, it’s little wonder that some other memorable campaigns haven’t been for outside clients, but rather for itself. Not long ago, for instance, it began introducing the firm to prospects with a cute multimedia campaign called “What’s a Mlicki?”
The campaign identified particular business personality types and represented each with a friendly little monster. To top it off, Mlicki mailed out children’s toy picture viewers to contacts, with each device containing a picture disk that featured the monster avatars. The campaign also directed recipients to the company Web site, where they could find interactive information about the monsters, their habits and their diets. The thrust of the campaign was to let potential clients know that, no matter their business or their aims, Mlicki could tailor marketing to meet their needs.
“About half of the prospects loved it and went to the Web site,” Jason says. The firm won two contracts and landed a meeting with a high-value prospect as a result of the campaign. “Our goal for direct mail is to get to the next meeting, the next presentation,” he continues. “This got us a meeting with the largest company in Ohio.” Meanwhile, the two projects the company won covered the cost of the mailer. “And seven months later, I was still seeing the picture viewers on desks.”Pages: 1 2 B-to-B Marketing, Dimensional Mail, Large Business, Medium Business, Small Business