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The Harte Hanks Blog

The Sin of Assumption: Alternatives to the Restoration Hardware Failure

Tweet about RH direct mail failureOne of the biggest sins in the marketing world is to assume that you absolutely know your customers. That your customers will never change and that you are assured a successful campaign working from your old ideas of what the customer wants and needs. Restoration Hardware recently released a direct mail campaign that delivered 17lbs worth of catalogs to each customer’s door–an assumption about consumers’ wants that cost them dearly.

Unexpected (?) Reaction

Instead of receiving this gift of information, customers began unsubscribing from Restoration Hardware’s mailing list and raising alarms calling the campaign a crime against environmental awareness. Here are some reactions to the campaign on Twitter:

Obviously, we can call this a bit of a stumble on Restoration Hardware’s part. Even though the company took steps to play down the environmental panic by releasing a website called Our Source Book Sustainability Initiative, the damage was done.

At some point, Restoration Hardware disconnected from their customers, not to mention the world itself. Today, companies are taking pro-environmental stances and organizing green initiatives, not sending out 3,000-plus-page catalogs en masse.

Alternatives: Add Some Direct Mail Technology

Don’t get me wrong–direct mail campaigns still have their place in the marketing world, and Restoration Hardware had the right idea. There is something definite about holding a piece of correspondence that you pull out of your mailbox rather than reading something from your email inbox. But there are many ways the decor company could have exposed customers to the same content without the huge paper waste.

Custom QR Code

For example, the company could have sent out just one catalog, or even a single postcard, with a custom QR code leading to a personalized URL with ongoing offers. Because of the associated data collection, these offers could change each time the consumer interacts with the mail piece, maximizing engagement. If they wanted to go a step further, they could print the QR code on a re-positionable sticker that the customer could stick right on her fridge or next to her computer for easy, repeat access.

Augmented Reality

Another option? Get creative with augmented reality. Send a brief catalog that encourages readers to scan any item they’re interested in to see complementary items and accessories. Say you scan a sofa. The site would pull up matching throw pillows, blankets, artwork, end tables…you get the picture. There are plenty of technological solutions available that allow you to not only expose your mail recipient to LOTS of information, but also carefully target that information and encourage engagement.

Less is More

Restoration Hardware may have been a bit overzealous with this latest direct mail campaign, and they have paid for it through negative feedback and criticism. There is a lesson to be learned through this debacle: customers do not want to be bombarded with mail when a smaller piece could do the job. Integrating digital elements to the direct mail campaign would get the job done–and encourage repeat engagement–without pounds of paper and showing up at your door.

Next time, the company ought to push aside their assumptions, take a quick pulse of the market, and consider all the ways in which technology has enabled BETTER direct mail without all the waste.

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