AT&T mailing a big success

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HOW AT&T USED DIRECT MAIL TO PROMOTE ITS WIFI SOLUTIONS Objective: Arrange sales meetings with top hotel chain executives about AT&T's WiFi solutions for hotel properties. Strategy: Use a two-phase direct-mail campaign featuring an expensive, high-impact dimensional mailing sent to a select group of decision-makers. Results: Nine percent of mailings resulted in sales meetings.

According to a 2010 hotel guest index satisfaction study by J.D. Power and Associates, hotel guests rank wireless Internet service as the most important amenity they require before checking in. AT&T Inc. recently aimed to impress that fact on hotel chain decision-makers with a campaign in support of the company's WiFi solutions.

The campaign, launched in November, was supported solely with that venerable analog standby, direct mail. It featured an emerging technology called “video in print,” however, for a powerful cutting-edge feel.

“I know that digital is the future, but I get a ton of e-mail in my inbox every day,” said Jennifer Young, lead manager-marketing communications at AT&T. “With our direct-mail campaign, we wanted to break through the clutter with a high-impact piece that prospects would appreciate and would pass along to colleagues.”

AT&T's campaign was well-suited for a direct-mail program for another reason: The number of high-level decision-makers focused on implementing this type of product is extremely small. For AT&T's campaign, the target list was no more than 75 individuals at major hotel chains nationwide, who needed to be reached with a compelling, dramatic message about buying propertywide WiFi systems or replacing existing systems with an AT&T alternative.

“AT&T's goal was to get a sales rep in front of these people,” said Laura Yarbrough, account supervisor with Rodgers Townsend/DDB, St. Louis, the Omnicom Group agency that spearheaded the campaign. “The client was thinking postcard or letter, but didn't have a budget or timeline. Strategically, we took a step back to think about the audience.”

Also challenging Rodgers Townsend and AT&T was that these high-level decision-makers are usually shielded from vendor overtures by a variety of gatekeepers. The mailed item had to be so dynamic that it would break through any initial resistance while going on to interest the final recipient.

The program became known as the Power Button campaign and consisted of two mailed elements. The first was of a real WiFi locator device, complete with a personalized sticker attached saying, “Locating WiFi at [insert chain name here].” Sales reps followed up with calls to check on the item's receipt and request a meeting.

A second item, targeted at nonresponders to the first mailing, was a custom dimensional piece consisting of a cardboard mockup of a netbooklike computer, but with a surprise: Instead of a working screen, it featured video-in-print technology that, when opened, played a 2-minute video customized for each hotel brand.

The production cost of each piece, including video, was about $700.

To amplify the importance of the pieces, the items were sent via FedEx next-day delivery and required the signature of the recipient. Each mock netbook was enclosed in a fancy sleeve, adding to its exclusivity.

“The video-in-print technology is quite new,” Young said. “I knew that if I got a FedEx package with a cool video, I'd say, "This is great!' ”

Sales followed up by phone within two or three days of the mailings, and also used special e-mail messages in support. Multiple efforts to contact recipients were made.

“Sales was engaged 100% of the way,” Young said. “We had weekly meetings about the campaign and where we were in the process. Sales was aware of all drop dates and followed up in the most appropriate ways.”

As a thank-you for agreeing to a meeting with sales, prospects received an actual netbook computer.

ROI for the campaign was strong. The program not only greatly exceeded the typical 2% response rate of most direct mail campaigns but also resulted in an actual face-to-face meeting ratio of 9%—that is, seven meetings with key hotel decision-makers.

“It blew the typical response rate out of the water,” Young said, adding that the campaign also dramatically raised the AT&T profile within the hospitality industry.

“Without question, this campaign is on track to become our most successful program,” said Alex Calle, advertising manager at AT&T.

The WiFi installation campaign will be adapted this year for other verticals, such as restaurants, coffee chains, stadiums, arenas, colleges and big-box retailers.

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