Men’s direct mail: Fall approaches

Two weeks ago, I/my husband received fall direct mail pieces from three Men’s retailers: Saks, Nordstrom and Bonobos. I found it interesting to compare/contrast the approaches each took in messaging their fall collection to Men:

3 covers

To start, an observation on timing: When the mailings first arrived, the weather in NYC was still hot so it seemed a bit premature for sending fall marketing. However, within days, the temps dropped and all of a sudden the items featured seemed more relevant. I realize this timing is hard to nail, but it highlighted for me that particularly for Men it seems that the closer retailers can peg their fall messaging to the drops in temperature the more “wear now” and relevant/covetable the items become.

As for the 3 individual mailings —

1. Saks —

Format-wise, I found this least appealing. It was a large newspaper-like size that men would have to unfold and suddenly becomes big, showy and flimsy. Compared to Nordstrom or Bonobos, which were more compact books, the Saks mailing seemed like more “work” on the guy’s part to read it and less discreet for paging through on the train, for instance.

Content-wise, Saks took more of a basic product-focused approach, showing a few models and combinations of items on each page. There wasn’t much of an overarching message other than “LOOK WHAT’S NEW”. They did call out a few categories (graphic knits, extreme shoes) but you really had to be looking closely to spot this; the casual reader of their mailing would likely simply focus on the products themselves vs. any core messaging. This was effective in terms of showcasing new specific items for the fall with relevant brand and pricing info in hopes that the shopper would spot a particular item they are interested in. However, it seemed less innovative than the other mailers, and left me with less of a lasting impression or seasonal message once I discarded the piece.

Saks pages Saks spread

On each page, each of the products are clearly identified including the brand name and pricing information.

2. Bonobos —

Bonobos definitely has their own “voice” that they maintain consistently with their customers. It’s as if a cool guy friend was welcoming you to “his crew” and chats with you as if you’re one of the boys.  Although some could find it off-putting/frat-boyish in nature, they do a very good job coming up with witty sayings and it’s hard not to flip through their catalog without smiling or chuckling a bit.  Bonobos took a mixed approach of showing lifestyle shots (people wearing the clothes doing an activity) with product close-ups. Some of the pages where they discuss a general product category and show items up close (like the shirts pages shown below) remind me of a J.Crew catalog, as they are another retailer that fairly consistently includes product overview coupled with specific styles in a grid.  Some of the Bonobos’ styles themselves could also be seen as a bit outlandish, but they’ve identified a target guy who is willing to be a bit more “out there” and bold with their wardrobe choices and they consistently speak to him through both messaging and also the suggested outfits.  All in all, I thought Bonobos marketing was strong and took a stand/had a point-of-view, especially compared to other retailers that are more ‘middle of the road’.

Bonobos quote

Bonobos uses eye-catching phrases and saucy imagery like the above. After all, sex sells.

Bonobos lifestyle

Bonobos used fun, compelling settings that guys can relate to, like this scene that was shot in front of a pizza place at Metlife stadium (you can see the stadium name in the window reflection).

Bonbos noniron

The caption on the Non-iron shirt page: “No one likes to deal with irons at eight in the morning. And hangovers? Forget about it. That is why we created a crisp, wrinkle free dress shirt that actually fits.”

Bonobos shirts


3. Nordstrom —
Nordstrom outlined 10 fall essentials that every guy should have this year, including quilted jackets and cardigans. They highlighted various styles in a pretty straightforward way with this list and I thought it jived well with how many men shop – creating a “list” (even a mental one) of what they need for a given season or shopping trip and plowing through it to update their mental check-boxes.  Nordstrom also established sections of the catalog listed with “tabs” vertically on the right side – Essentials, Work, Casual, etc. so one could quickly flip to a section that they are most interested in and they have context of what they are shopping for. Since the “top 10” and this tabbed approach were fairly straightforward and provided navigational cues, I found it a bit confusing how Nordstrom them also peppered in product collage pages that were more typical of what you see in a catalog. I am guessing they needed to do this to take advantage and comply with the pressure from various vendors/brands who provide funding if their products appear. However, this mixed approach led there to be less consistency in the voice throughout the mailing, particularly when you compare this to Bonobos.

Nordstrom essentials Nordstrom essentials3

Nordstrom identified top 10 fall essentials for men and explored each individually which I thought was strong and clear.

Nordstrom categories Nordstrom lifestyle

Although more typical of what you see in a Nordstrom catalog, these product pages felt inconsistent with the rest of the mailer and felt more like ads, whereas the rest of the mailer felt more editorial from a magazine.

I will be curious to see how these mailings are followed up or integrated with the email strategy from each retailer. I’ll be watching for if the emails are consistent with the voice and products showcased in direct mail, or if different teams develop and execute the messaging independently of one another.


Plus Size Prominence

It often seems that retailers are afraid to message that they offer plus sizes, for fear of it diluting their overall brand and women’s offering. I think this attitude has changed over the past several years but still largely persists.

So, when I saw messages from Rent The Runway and Modcloth last week touting their plus size offering, I stopped and took note.

Rent The Runway sent a dedicated email announcing that they now carry plus size clothing. It also seems they put efforts into media outreach about this news, with coverage appearing in the Huffington Post, Fashionista, InStyle, NY Mag’s The Cut blog, and more.

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They introduced this offering with an email “RTR Plus – You asked, we listened” showing that this was at the request of customers and they are trying to understand their members needs.  When you click through the email, you are taken to a page with all of the plus size styles, and ability to filter sizes 14-22.

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I would imagine/hope that once people shop Plus, they cater their future experience to the sizes that they know of these members, making it more prominent and not so tucked away.

As for Modcloth, it was incredibly interesting to see that their print mailing included on women of all shapes and sizes as models.  I have rarely if ever seen a retailer incorporate plus and regular together in the same creative, but from everything I can recall Plus is generally treated as an entirely separate section of the site/marketing experience.

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On Modcloth’s site, they incorporated the same imagery from the catalog, and their size filters in the left-navigation go up to size 30, as well as a clickable link to navigate directly to the Plus size offering.

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In summary, I found it interesting that two retailers focused on young 20-something women included and focused on Plus in a prominent manner on their site and through their marketing. I compliment both retailers for doing so in a tasteful way that likely makes the Plus size audience feel good about shopping at a “normal” retailer while simultaneously not turning off their Missy size consumers. There’s definitely a delicate balance between proudly offering extended sizes and promoting a Plus size offering to the right audience without seeming irrelevant or a turn-off to smaller size customers. In my opinion, both RTR and Modcloth achieved this balance in a commendable way.

Direct Mail: Coach vs. Banana Republic

On the same day last week, I received two very similar pieces of direct mail, one from Coach and one from Banana Republic. Each of them had their merits and drawbacks, and I found it interesting to compare the two across a number of dimensions:

Coach offer:

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Banana Republic offer:

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Coach vs. Banana Republic

Offer: The $100-off in the Coach offer sounds very compelling and like a significant savings. Granted it’s off a $300+ purchase, whereas the Banana Republic offer didn’t have a hurdle, and %-wise the Coach offer turns out to be less than 35% (like the Banana offer), but from a quick read, $100-off sounds very generous. Winner: Coach

Presentation: The Coach offer came in a sealed envelope so it felt more premium vs. a postcard-type mailer folded in half and sealed together from Banana Republic.  Winner: Coach

Layout: The Coach offer had minimal text to read, and a beautiful graphic product image.  The Banana Republic offer was much wordier (and no one reads!)  Winner: Coach

Exclusivity: The “By invitation only” wording in the Coach piece sounds exclusive. Banana Republic also made efforts to build exclusivity (“Our very best customers”, “Enjoy the perks of Luxe”) but due to the overall wordiness of the piece this is easily overlooked.  Winner: Coach

Rarity of discount: As a brand, Coach rarely offers discounts. Therefore, this offer feels more unique, like you aren’t always getting offers like this. In Banana’s case, it seems that every week I am receiving another email with another 30-40% off offer, so this didn’t particularly feel special or as if I will miss my chance if I don’t use it, and was easier for me to disregard.  Winner: Coach

Personal connection: Both offers were signed by the brand president to add a personal touch. Winner: Tie

Follow-up information: The QR code on the Coach piece is silly in my opinion. This real estate could have simply been used to include a bolder URL to visit, which is a lot less work on the reader’s part. (Otherwise you have to have a QR code reader app installed on your phone, know to open it, take a perfect photo to capture the details of the QR code and THEN visit the link it is directing you to.  Whereas a URL is very simple to type into a mobile or desktop browser).  I preferred how Banana Republic provided shoppers with a tear-away card that has details on the back and they can stash in their wallet if they wish. Winner: Banana Republic

Urgency: Since Coach gives you most of the month to use this offer, there is less urgency created to rush and do so today.  The Banana Republic offer was good for a shorter window of time (only good for one weekend) so it adds urgency. Winner: Banana Republic

Overall: So, although both offers had some positive aspects, overall, I thought the Coach offer was much more compelling. How about you?