Remembering Lester Wunderman, Direct Marketing Pioneer

Credit: Wunderman

By Peter J. RosenwaldF

Lester Wunderman, who passed away at 98 last week, was a quiet giant among visionary innovators. And if the marketing universe looks almost totally different today than it did in the “Mad Men” age of the 1960s, Lester deserves the lion’s share of the credit. That he recently saw the legendary J. Walter Thompson merged into Wunderman must have given him no small pleasure.

When in 1958 with his brother and two other partners, he opened the mail order and direct mail agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, in modest Union Square premises, relatively few companies were using the mail order channel and those who were, such as “The Book of The Month Club,” were doing their own marketing. Columbia House, the club division of Columbia Records, was one of the first and for many years, the leading client.

Eras are measured and defined by the magnitude of change that takes place within them and the visionary drivers of that change, whose innovations give the landscape a whole new look. Now, after years as secondary citizens in the marketing community, direct and data-driven marketing have taken “pride of place.” Lester always said it was just a matter of time.

Quoting Publicis Groupe Chief Growth Officer, Rishad Tobaccowala on the reason, MediaPost wrote:

“… conventional brand-building media models aren’t working as well as they used to. It’s because big brands are realizing that the only way to have a relationship with and understand their consumers, is to cut out the middlemen and have a relationship with them directly.”

The essence of marketing has now come full circle from the door-to-door peddler and personal selling to mass marketing and back again to the personal selling Wunderman always championed; albeit, with technologies never dreamed about in the 1950s. In a 1967 speech at MIT, Lester insisted on giving the industry a proper name, and “direct marketing” replaced direct mail, mail order and a host of others. Invited to give a keynote speech to the then U.S. Direct Mail Marketing Association, Lester accepted — but on the condition that the association change its name to the Direct Marketing Association. It was noisy fight but Wunderman won. That he would then become the “Father of Direct Marketing” was obvious.

For over the last half century, Lester was my closest friend and my guru. His humanity went hand-in-hand with his vision. “There is nothing that will not change,” he would say to anyone lucky enough to hear him. “Nudge that change in the right direction, take chances and measure, always measure your success or failure.” Having spent considerable time with his beloved Dogon tribe in Mali, even earning the honor of becoming a tribal Chief, Lester never lost touch with what he saw as real, a primitive understanding of human behavior and a profound respect for human values.

He knew instinctively (and proved over and over again) that a one-to-one relationship between people, be they partners, friends, acquaintances, customers or prospects, had to be more enriching than any distant relationship. His endless curiosity demanded that he know as much as possible about them and as the computer gradually replaced the mechanical card systems, the possibilities to capture data and use it to better serve customers and clients exploded. As increased streams of data became accessible, clients might scream about the cost of keeping and managing it, but that didn‘t deter Lester, who coined one of his best and most lasting perceptions: “Data is an expense” he said. “Knowledge is a bargain.”

Increased knowledge became an endless quest for Lester, and it was a gospel he shared domestically and internationally. Born one summer evening over a bottle of very good wine in my London garden, Wunderman Worldwide was designed to make this knowledge and its marketing uses available to young, ambitious, like-minded marketers — first in the U.K., France and Germany and, if successful, in any countries where it might be wanted. There are now 175 Wunderman offices in 60 countries.

The road to this success was hardly a smooth one. The acquisition by Young & Rubicam in 1973 was more a marriage of convenience than of love: Y&R needed to be seen to have the direct marketing skills it lacked, even if it had a very limited passion for the discipline. WRK wanted access to blue chip clients who were beginning to seriously examine direct marketing.

For reasons never made clear to Wunderman or the industry and breaking every classic rule of branding, Y&R management created a new brand, Impiric, and folded all its non-traditional businesses under this rubric. Overnight, the Wunderman brand was erased from the door. Lester was both personally heartbroken and professionally angry seeing years of brand-building disappear on what seemed little more than a whim.

Fortunately, just a few years later when Sir Martin Sorrel’s WPP acquired Y&R, he searched for the Wunderman company and found it buried under Impiric. As confused by Impiric as everyone else, he telephoned Lester, invited him to meet and, over lunch, both proudly restored the Wunderman brand and appointed Lester Chairman Emeritus of the company for life.

In an Ad Age interview in 2010, newly anointed by WPP, Lester said:

“For me, who started one little office with my brother and myself down on Union Square, to be the chairman of a company that is global, and practicing a high state of art all over the world, I can’t tell you what a revelation, in my lifetime, [it is] to see us go from kind of the horse-and-buggy form of advertising to the Internet. It’s just miraculous. The things we know about people, our ability to make messages more relevant and timely — advertising is just more efficient than it used to be.”

Lester’s creativity and his inventions are legendary. Eager never to leave a client or prospect without something new and unexpected, many of Wunderman’s greatest breakthroughs were brilliant adrenalin-driven responses to momentary problems. With a furious Columbia House client in the WRK conference room throwing on the table “take ones” millions of which had been printed and few “taken,” Lester, coolly walked over to the conference room magazine rack, picked up a copy of TV Guide, put one of the take ones in the center (where it almost fit) and announced that at that very moment the media department was booking this position exclusively for Columbia and all the take ones would be used. That position became one of the most productive DM media buys of its generation.

The Wunderman credo never changed, whether the means of accomplishing it was consumer loyalty programs, subscription club models, newspaper inserts supported by TV spots and toll-free 1-800 customer service numbers. Get as close to the customer as possible, listen to his voice and establish a one-to-one relationship. At an industry conference when others were droning on about postal regulations, out of nowhere, Lester proposed the idea of an intelligent mailbox for each consumer, a mailbox that knew what was wanted and only permitted those special messages access. Today we call it our “inbox.”

An avid tennis player, Lester never let work get totally in the way of play and, until recently, he found time weekly to play singles with the pro from his tennis club. On winter business trips abroad, he could almost certainly be found on weekends skiing in St. Moritz or Davos and in the summer at his beautiful house in Mogins, France. About 43 years ago, when he was courting his wife Suzanne who became both his companion and muse, he interrupted an otherwise important business meeting to carefully write down the recipe for a special dressing he wanted to prepare for the dinner’s arugula salad. The important things for Lester always took priority.

Lester Wunderman was a unique gentleman in an industry not over-populated with them. Read his books, “Being Direct” and “Frontiers of Direct Marketing,” or look deeply at his photographs of the Dogon tribe — his brothers, (in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan) and talk to those direct marketing practitioners who have worked for or with him. You cannot miss his special magical quality.

We have lost a great guru and friend, and he will be sadly missed. We are lucky that his wisdom and teachings are indelibly woven into the fabric of two generations of U.S. and overseas marketers.

Lester Wunderman Rosenwald

Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald. The two of us in 1997 at the DMA Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. Lester (Right) and Me (Left).

Print Advertising’s Role In The Omnichannel Journey

Successful omnichannel marketing requires creating cohesive, seamless experiences. Although newer technologies, like augmented reality and personalized mobile marketing, have caused a buzz lately, it’s crucial not to overlook a customer engagement method that stands the test of time: print advertising.

Print advertising could spur other kinds of interactions

According to a 2015 business communications survey from InfoTrends  35 percent of respondents linked print and digital media campaigns. Around 40 percent said they used three kinds of media as part of their marketing campaigns.

Many retailers use direct mail print advertising to encourage people to take action on a company website, or social media channels. For example, Birchbox, a subscription service that sends people monthly beauty samples, boosts its sales with a strong social media presence.

Podcast: Navigating The Subscription Economy

Each box contains a brochure discussing various products inside, how much they cost, and how to use them. It also strategically advertises a hashtag for people to use as they show off their box contents on social media.

One of Birchbox’s goals is to make people love their samples so much that they buy the full-sized versions on its website. Occasionally, brands sponsor Birchbox editions (Etsy and Vogue magazine are two relatively recent examples). Brand partner companies also insert postcards into Birchbox containers, encouraging people to visit websites or social media feeds.

Brain wave studies verify print ad worthiness

Digital media is undoubtedly convenient, but scientists discovered print media still wins out in other ways. According to a study from neuromarketing firm TrueImpact, print ads required 21 percent less cognitive processing than digital media. Company name recall was 70 percent higher for people exposed to direct mail pieces versus digital content. Researchers also concluded the ventral striatum area of the brain — previously connected to feelings of valuation and desire — activated more significantly when people saw print advertisements, compared to digital ones.

Perhaps that’s because certain aspects in print ads (the texture of an enlarged piece of food, or the brilliant colors of a sunset positioned behind a vehicle, for example) aren’t always as apparent on a smartphone, tablet, or computer screen, as they might be when people come across larger magazine ads.

Print ads assist in generating data about interactions

Marketers explore various ways to determine the return on investment (ROI) for their campaigns. Using a QR code on a print campaign and tracking how many people scan it is one possibility.

Many marketers ask people to quote words or phrases (like offer codes) while ordering things by phone or through Internet forms. But what if people mishear those alphanumeric codes because of the announcer’s enunciation?

The Daily Zeitgeist” is a podcast covering recent news and events. Many of the ads the hosts read ask people to enter the offer code acronym “TDZ” when buying products online.

They give as much clarification as possible when announcing the letters, but it’s tricky because all of them sound similar. Plus, not all podcast hosts speak as clearly as the pair involved with that show.

Podcast: Radio Advertising, Then And Now

Print advertising gives added advantages by letting people read codes on a page for clarity — and refer to them later for accuracy.

Some marketers might even have different codes for each magazine displaying a print ad, too. These codes can be tracked by device (if someone enters the code on mobile, vs. desktop, etc.) With this method, it becomes increasingly easy to find out which omnichannel marketing methods work best.

Print advertising provides ongoing inspiration

Print advertising could display beautiful landscapes that make people finally start planning long-delayed vacations. It could also give people the pushes they need to make good on promises to redecorate their homes. This is a reality Swedish retailer IKEA knows well.

Anyone can download the company’s full catalog digitally, but IKEA still prints physical catalogs, too. That decision helped create a billion-dollar brand.

The catalog pages typically feature examples of how people use products in their homes. And, as people who visit IKEA stores learn, going into one of the brand’s showrooms at a physical store is almost like walking into a fully-functional home – complete with beds, kitchen tables and desks.

Airbnb does something similar with its print magazine, which they send to their hosts. It features content about  experiences people enjoy when they travel, as well as content to help readers make the most of their excursions.

Print ads enable product samples

Even the most memorable videos or brand-focused social media posts can’t demonstrate exactly how a product tastes, feels and smells. However, print ads can – if they feature free samples. Beauty magazines commonly feature print ads with perfume-infused paper, or single-use packets of lotion attached to them.

Aveeno ran a print ad encouraging people to send a text message to a shortcode to get a free sample. It’s possible to use that method through non-print advertising too, but those ads wouldn’t allow immediately providing samples when people turn to a page in a catalog or magazine.

Print isn’t dead. It’s just evolving

These principles and case studies demonstrate how print still has an effective and well-deserved place in today’s omnichannel marketing mix. The most successful instances encourage people to interact with brands through other touchpoints, increasing brand recognition and customer loyalty.

Using Direct Mail to Reach Students

direct mail

Over the years, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Direct mail is dead.” But is it really? According to the latest stats from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), you should hold off on saying “RIP” to direct mail for the time being.

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Direct Mail or Email? Stamp or Swoosh?


Remember that “swoosh” sound emails used to make when you sent them? It has enduring appeal to fans of all things vintage. But wait? When did emails become vintage? Vintage is folding up a piece of paper, putting in an envelople, stamping the envelope, and asking the postal service to deliver it.

The truth is, even in these days of machine learning, predictive analytics, and programmatic, email remains one of the most important channels for B2C and B2B marketers; and direct mail hasn’t gone anywhere either. What’s the state of play with these two standbys, and how do they measure up?

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Multichannel Campaign Delivers $10M in Sales Opportunities

Have you ever received direct mail that impressed you so much, you took to social media to share the piece? Well, Carestream produced a 10-inch paper model of its Touch Prime Ultrasound System and sent it to 1,400 radiology administrators in North America as the company was trying to break into the ultrasound market. In the video linked below, check out the mini model and hear more about the multichannel campaign that delivered sales opportunities worth more than $10 million.

Multichannel Campaign Delivers $10M in Sales Opportunities for Carestream

How to Execute A Direct Mail Campaign

Many marketers are great at generating direct mail ideas and building creative and strategy, but when it comes to execution, it fails. Why is that? For the most part it is because there are no educational opportunities for execution, only for strategy. So how can you combat that to execute an excellent direct mail campaign?

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Is Your Direct Mail Misunderstood?

Are your direct mail pieces engaging with your audience or are you talking over the audience? Do you use lingo that only people in the industry understand?

Acronyms can quickly get you into trouble when people do not know them; especially in the age of texting, your acronym may be misinterpreted. What is obvious to you will not necessarily be obvious to them. This is a big problem if your audience is confused; the chances of you getting your important message across are significantly decreased. Basically, you have turned your direct mail piece into trash.

For the best results, create direct mail that is clear and concise. You have just a few seconds to be understood and engage them to read more rather than toss your mail piece in the trash.

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9 Promotional Items to Use in Your Next Direct Mail Campaign

If you feel like your mailing results are on a downhill slide, you may need mix things up a little bit. Now is the time to send out a mailing that is really different.

One of the most critical aspects of your direct mail campaign is getting prospects to open and read your message. Unlike email campaigns, where you can actually track the number of people who open your message, it’s impossible to determine exactly how many times your direct mail piece is opened. However, there are proven ways to make your letter or package more attractive. Using a creative piece that stands out and attracts your prospects is one of them.

It’s surprising what the post office will let you to mail. Really, you can mail things like coconuts and bottles without putting them in a box! Just slap a mailing label and stamps on them. And when it comes to things that you do put in a box or envelope, the sky’s the limit. (I’m not kidding, you can even mail bees!) Use the right messaging on the outside of the package, and people will eagerly open it to get what’s inside.

Of course, there are postal restrictions on things like harmful materials, firearms, tobacco products, and alcohol. But if you’re just mailing some fun items you shouldn’t have a problem. Still, it’s always a good idea to check with the post office while you’re still in the planning stages of your direct mail campaign to avoid any nasty (and expensive) surprises.

There are companies that specialize in producing imprinted promotional products that you can easily incorporate into your direct mail campaigns. If they are useful and clever, people will keep them long after they toss the original letter, and will be reminded of you every time they use the product. If you can somehow tie in the gift item with your business or the theme of your campaign, all the better.

Consider using promotional items in your next direct mail campaign.

1. Imprinted objects. You can imprint your logo and contact information on a variety of everyday objects. For example, you can send printed magnet cards with some kind of useful reference information(like measurement converters). And people can always use bookmarks. You can make the bookmark even more valuable by putting a ruler on the edge, and making the whole thing a magnifier. Imprinted pens are another very popular promotional item. Even with all of today’s technology, people always use pens and like getting them free. If you’re a dentist you can send a toothbrush. A dry cleaner can send a lint brush. You can use copy like “make customers stick to you,” or “measure your success,” or “make your mark,” or “clean up your act” to tie in the gift with your business.

2. Microfiber products. Microfiber cleaning cloths for electronics make a highly valued gift. Imprint your name on the item tag, and use copy about “clean up your competition.” Or what about a microfiber sunglass pouch? This is something your prospects will really use.

3. Seasonal items. Take advantage of the season. For example, in the spring send imprinted seed cards or sunflower-shaped jar openers. Near the holidays send collapsible bows or other gift packaging. Is football season coming up? Sports schedules make great gifts to the right group of prospects.

4. Calendars. Did you know that the average home has four calendars? Or that most business people have two to three calendars within easy reach of their work area? According to research people refer to calendars four or five times a day. That means they could potentially be reminded of your name and your contact information four times a day, for an entire year! And people will appreciate receiving them since otherwise they’d have to go out and pay money to buy calendars. Your imprinted calendar provides continuous, ongoing advertising for many times less than you’d pay for a daily newspaper ad (that your prospect might not even see).

5. USB Flash Drives. These are surprisingly inexpensive, and they are very impressive. Put your sales message on a flash drive, and just out of curiosity prospects will plug them in to see what you have to say. Or send a blank drive they can put whatever they want on, and if they send it to someone else, you’ll get double the mileage on your mailing.

6. CDs or DVDs. Even cheaper, but just as effective as a flash drive is a CD or DVD where you present your message.

7. Food gifts. A fun idea is to send some kind of food item, like a fortune cookie, some home made chocolate chip cookies, some jam, and so on. Make sure the item is professionally wrapped and labeled, and that you don’t send anything perishable.

8. Product Samples. Do you sell artificial turf? Send a sample. Do you do custom cabinetry? Send a sample of your high quality materials. Use your imagination.

9. 3-Dimensionals. If you’re willing to try something really new, you can follow marketers who mail out fun pieces that recipients have to assemble themselves, or can fold into a toy. How about a message card that changes color in the light? Or one where the message magically appears when you hold it under running water? You may have to do some research to find a vendor who can create something like this for you, but it will certainly get noticed.

Making sure your envelope gets opened. 

If you’re going to the expense of putting something appealing inside your direct mail package, make sure your prospect knows there’s something exciting inside. That means putting that message on the envelope:

  • The most obvious thing is to clearly state “Gift Inside!” or “Labor Saving Device Inside!” or “DVD Inside!”
  • Make sure the envelope feels bulky. Just that can make it irresistible to some people.
  • Use interesting, eye-catching postage stamps. First-class stamps give more legitimacy to your package. For “decoration” you can buy cancelled stamps and/or foreign stamps in bulk from a stamp dealer.
  • Put seals, official stamps and other interesting graphics on the envelope.

Putting together a direct mail campaign costs money. If you can do something to get your recipients from throwing your money in the trash before they even open the envelope, you can make the most of your investment. The ideas we talked about here should help. But do research your prospects so you know what will appeal to them. You don’t want to send something that will not be appealing, that doesn’t make sense, or worst of all, may be offensive.

Then, as always, test your results. Do the returns you get from your “creative” campaign justify the extra cost and effort? If they do, keep up with it. If they don’t, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on it altogether. Maybe you just haven’t found the right formula. Keep trying new ideas and testing the results.

Don’t be afraid to try some of these creative ideas. They could very well help create more business for you!

3 Reasons Paper Lives On

Direct mail used to be the way marketers looked for customers. But the advent of digital has empowered marketers to track every mouse click and find new ways to drive prospect down the funnel, from first look to final sale.

Still, none of this has fully displaced paper-based marketing — paper continues to linger. Here are three reasons why.

Slow decline

First, let’s look at the numbers. Yes, direct mail has declined; however, it’s been ambling down a gentle slope rather than falling off a cliff. According to the Data and Marketing Association (DMA), it’s been slipping by 1.9% annually since 2005.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) continues to move mountains of paper, too. There were 10.6 million catalogs mailed in 2015, according to the DMA, and 2.5 billion coupons were redeemed that same year.

Marketers also need to consider response. A 2016 DMA study found that 5.3% of house-list recipients respond to a direct mail piece; 2.9% of prospect-list recipients do the same. Compare this to an online display (0.9%), e-mail (0.6% for house/0.3% for prospect), social media (0.6%), and paid search (0.5%) and the results aren’t as enticing.

How touching

So, what makes paper so good?

“It’s tangible,” says Mary Cahalane, principal of Hands on Fundraising LLC — a direct mail consultancy for nonprofits. “You can feel it, fold it, even smell it.”

Cahlane says people are “drowning in e-mail” and that their attention spans have waned shorter. Against that backdrop, it seems like direct mail has another thing going for it: passive persistence.

“You can hold on to [paper] a little bit longer,” Cahalane notes.

Indeed, this lag time offers longer engagement and more time for a piece’s message to sink in and generate a response. A study by the USPS found that people who viewed paper mail ads were more likely to have an emotional response one week after receiving the materials.

Even a direct mail piece’s texture and quality can elicit a response. A separate study found that touching sandpaper can raise empathy and possibly prompt a donation. In addition, Cahalane says using a glossier, heavier stock can convey that the message, and the recipient, are important. Marketers can also take advantage of nicer paper to plug their wares commercially in upscale magazines that pitch higher-end products, as this article suggests.

One part of many

Despite all of this, paper-based direct mail is not a standalone approach. It works best within a system and can supplement or complement digital marketing. A piece of “snail mail” can prompt a consumer to check out a website or make an online donation. The best part? “You are not going to get a virus out of opening a piece of mail,” Cahalane says.

Whatever route a prospect takes to progress through the funnel, a piece of paper can act as a starting point.