If you haven’t visited Postcard Mania’s treasure trove of case studies, you’re missing something special. This running list of 16 case studies has lots of marketing lessons that are worth the look. In this post, I want to focus on the marketing lessons from one of my favorites, After Five Tuxedo Rental.

The After Five case study is the first one in the list. The tuxedo rental company, located in East Baton Rouge Parish, Louisiana, uses direct mail for customer acquisition. When After Five switched to Postcard Mania as its postcard provider, it made two noteworthy changes to its designs:

  • It switched its front image from a stock photo to a more upscale, artsy layout.
  • It switched from a simple map on the back to the map plus marketing copy.

Currently, about 60% of the weddings After Five does are from postcard mailings.

While Postcard Mania doesn’t tell us what percentage of its clients’ business came from postcards before making these changes, this is certainly an impressive number. The implication is that these creative changes were part of the reason for its success. It makes me wonder how many other print customers out there could see significant improvement to their ROI by making similar changes?

Stock photography, in particular, can be a deceiving thing. While it’s a quick way to get professional looking photos (and is a quick “go to” for many clients), it can also work against them. Stock photos can look too slick and canned, and in an age when customers are looking for brands to be authentic, that slick, canned look can be a turn-off.

Slick, generic stock photography can also be a drawback for customers (like After Five) whose markets are local. If your customers are going after a local audience, they don’t want to look like a big corporation. Local customers like seeing pictures of people, places, and locations that they recognize. In these cases, using a local photographer might be more effective, even if it costs a little more.

These creative changes likely played a big role in After Five’s success. When was the last time you offered to do a quick review of your clients’ layout and design and see what well-intentioned elements might actually be working against them?

Another thing that stood out for me was the discussion about ROI. As the case study points out, After Five determined that weddings are its primary market and stopped sending promotional mailings for proms. At first, that might seem like crazy bad business. Why would a tuxedo rental company stop promoting its products to such a huge market? Because it did an ROI analysis. For each wedding scheduled, After Five rents multiple tuxes. For proms, it rents only one. Consequently, the ROI from its wedding mailings was significantly higher than from prom mailings. Now After Five is focusing on its sweet spot. When you look at it that way, it’s not so crazy after all.

Are your customers doing ROI analyses from their direct mail campaigns? Are they looking to see which markets are most profitable? Or are they so focused on getting more business that they are not distinguishing between more profitable customers and less profitable ones? Are they are spending time chasing the wrong business rather than investing in gaining the right (more profitable) business?

These are some of the micro-lessons, but there is a broader lesson for print providers, as well. We’re in a challenging market, and anything that doesn’t produce results gets cut. If your customers aren’t getting good results from direct mail, it’s on the chopping block. So when you help customers find their sweet spot, they get better results. When they get better results, it preserves their direct mail budget and even increases it. So case studies like these are important to analyze, not just to help your customers win more business, but to help you protect your direct mail business and maybe even win more of it, too.