Deutsche Delivers

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Mail carriers in Germany better brace for a heavier load. If Deutsche Post, the country's postal service, has its way, the typical German household will soon find more catalogs, advertisements, and other come-ons in their mailboxes than ever before. Who will be sending them? Who else?

Several reasons make Germany appealing to U.S. direct marketers, posits Rainer Hengst, Deutsche Post's general manager for the United States. First, there's the "no clutter" factor. The average German receives fewer than 70 pieces of direct mail each year, while his American counterpart stacks up more than 350. And Germans spend quality time flipping through the catalogs and ads they get (thanks, perhaps, to restricted store hours that limit shopping trips). Per-capita mail-order purchases in Germany run about $528 a year, nearly 40 percent higher than in the United States.

But marketers shouldn't just slap a German mailing label on their new catalog and send it to Hamburg. "You have to understand the local market if you're going to be successful," says Hengst. That's where Deutsche Post comes in. Since 1986, foreign post offices and private companies have been allowed to handle international mail from the United States without involving the U.S. Postal Service. Through a series of acquisitions, Deutsche Post is now one of several players aggressively competing for international mail business. This year, it will tout its services in a new ad campaign targeting American marketers. One possible theme, says Hengst, plays off the idea of "local color." An ad might show a European town with everything in black and white except for one roof that's painted in mustard yellow - Deutsche Post's trademark hue.

Hengst has seen marketers make many common mistakes when selling to Germans. For one, they assume that German consumers will use a credit card when ordering by mail. That's not necessarily so, he says. Even if they own a credit card, most Germans pay for mail order by check or bank transfer. Another misstep: printing a U.S.-based return address on the catalog or other direct mail. Most Germans are risk avoiders, says Stefan Ekonomakos, an account manager for Deutsche Post, and if they feel that obtaining service from a company will be difficult, they won't order. "You better have a call center that seems around the corner - not on the other side of the ocean," Hengst explains. To help companies reach their best prospects, Deutstche Post also offers a service called Postwurf Spezial that finds addresses that best match the desired consumer profile. It can, for instance, pinpoint the addresses of 30-to-45-year-old homeowners who live in urban centers and are heavy consumers of household products. Names are not given out, but companies can customize their mailing labels by addressing it to the "Gardeners of the House" or the "Wine Lovers of the House," for example.

Navigating German law related to direct marketing can be tricky, too. One law says that direct mail cannot be disguised to look like a personal letter; another restricts the size of trial samples. German households can also stymie direct marketers by attaching "no advertising" stickers to their mailboxes. Hmm...does that work here?

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