Secrets of the Mailroom Trash Can: 3 Lessons for B2B Marketing

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Secrets of the Mailroom Trash Can: 3 Lessons for B2B Marketing

There’s a giant trash can in the mailroom of my office building in Cleveland, Ohio. Every day, it fills up with discarded business mail.

Sometimes I peek in the can to see what my fellow tenants have thrown out, and it’s quite revealing.

Trash-Can-with-MoneyHere’s what I’ve observed as a casual mailroom trash inspector, and three valuable lessons from this experience for business-to-business marketers who want to develop a smart marketing strategy.

What Business Executives Don’t Want in the Mail – and Don’t Get

So what’s in the trash can at the Gemini Towers in Cleveland?

  • Unwanted direct mail: As a direct marketing consultant, it pains me to see how much of the trash is unwanted B2B direct mail. I’ve watched people stand at the trash can and throw direct mail out before they even leave the mailroom. Either the executives to whom the mail was addressed were the wrong recipients or the mail didn’t have enough value to warrant delivery. In both cases, the direct marketers who sent it received zero return on their direct marketing investment.
  • Unwanted business magazines: There often are dozens of copies of discarded business magazines. Most are controlled circulation publications that must no longer be of interest to the recipient. But this may not be the recipient’s fault. I’ve asked to be removed from the mailing lists of several B2B publications, but they keep on coming.
  • Bad personal addresses: A large volume of discarded mail is sent to people who no longer work in the building. Business executives change jobs often, especially during a recession, but that’s no excuse for poor list hygiene, especially if you’re mailing to your own customers or prospects.
  • Bad business addresses: Even more surprising is mail sent to businesses that are no longer in the building or even in business. I still receive mail for the previous tenant in my suite, even though my marketing consulting firm has been at this location for nine years.

Three Lessons for Your B2B Marketing Strategy

Here’s what B2B marketers can learn from this informal mailroom trash can review:

  1. Mailing list cleanliness is next to godliness. The best business databases and the smartest business marketers invest heavily in keeping their data current. If you send direct mail to bad addresses – individuals or businesses – it’s the equivalent of tossing your money in the trash. Clean up your data or hire a professional direct marketing data management company to do it for you.
  2. Subscriber numbers for controlled circulation publications should be taken with a grain of salt. If you’re running advertising campaigns in controlled circulation B2B magazines, look for publications that can verify subscriber data with a BPA audit. Even then, recognize that some portion of the subscriber list (perhaps a significant portion) may be relatively disengaged from the magazine. One way to gauge the value of a B2B publication to readers and advertisers is to compare the number of paid ads to the number of house ads. If the former doesn’t far outnumber the latter, spend your ad dollars elsewhere.
  3. Direct mail that isn’t obviously and immediately relevant to the recipient will always be viewed as junk mail. Every piece of direct mail you send to a business executive has to register as a message worth reading  immediately or it’s a goner. Engage the recipient on the mail panel with relevant content that focuses on their most important business interests. Create direct mail that looks like official, must-read business communication. Or use a unique, interesting format that demands attention and gets readers inside.

If you apply these three lessons to your B2B marketing, you’ll be well on your way to a smart marketing strategy. And you just might be able to avoid showing up in my mailroom trash.

  • Deborah Maher

    As a commercial artist and graphic designer I’ve spent my whole career wondering why the direct market publishers I worked for spent so much time and energy on the design and printing of direct mail pieces and almost no time updating their long established mailing lists. Great points!!

    November 15, 2010 at 10:40 am
  • Craig

    Another great post!

    I have an associate that has purchased a mailing list with 10,000 names on it. This will be used to send a postcard with [hopefully] relevant information to the recipients. How does one verify the quality of the mailing list now that it has already been purchased? Is the only way to hire a data management company, as you suggest above? Are there alternatives?


    November 15, 2010 at 10:53 am
  • Angie

    Okay…. I’m not trying to be sarcastic or snarky. I guess I’m just surprised by the responses on this post. I don’t know why…. Having been on the receiving end of junk mail all my life, none of this strikes me as profound. It’s kind of sad, actually, that anyone would be interested in reading or browsing the *junk mail* of others.

    Now… For half a decade, I used to work for a major auto manufacturer’s legal department. We weren’t idiots. We shredded EVERYTHING that might be evenly remotely interesting to someone who might be browsing through the trash.

    And I’m sure this is standard policy everywhere….which would explain precisely why junk mail would be all you’d find left.

    January 15, 2011 at 10:08 pm
  • Susan Abbott

    Wow, great observations, and also scary in many ways.
    Who knew the rest of the world was ruthlessly going through their mail the same way I do?

    A good reminder that immediate relevance is all that counts. Whether it’s paper or digital.

    Thanks for a clever take on this.

    April 17, 2011 at 11:02 am
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