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I got hit over the head with two terrible pieces of marketing today, and I just had to share them both as a way to highlight what NOT to do. The first was an e-mail from my local Nissan dealer and the second was a sales letter from a local Allstate Insurance agent. There are some solid marketing lessons to be learned by taking a look at these two campaigns.

Let’s dive in.

Context is King

Nissan Dealer EmailYesterday morning I received an e-mail from my Nissan dealer. It was titled:

We Need to Buy Back Your Nissan!

The e-mail went on to offer a $1000 coupon for “Trade-In Assistance” and detailed a whole slew of other offers. In large blood red letters it detailed that this was part of the “Preferred Customer Program.”

Here’s an excerpt from the e-mail:

Right now, we’ll buy-back your 2011 Nissan Armada and you can trade-up to a brand new Nissan, which can LOWER YOUR CURRENT PAYMENTS SUBSTANTIALLY!#

Did you catch that part? My 2011 Armada. Oh! You mean the one I bought less than SIX MONTHS AGO?

Are you kidding me?

What a disconnect. Let’s combine those two thoughts into what was rolling around in my head after 5 seconds of looking at this e-mail.

“We need to buy back your brand new vehicle that you just bought from us” is what this e-mail said to me.

When I saw the title of the e-mail I seriously thought there was a major problem with my Armada and that it needed to be returned and swapped out for a new one. What a TERRIBLE impression to give to a new customer. Why in hell would you ever put a new customer into a marketing database that is pushing trade-ins? Don’t you have better data on your customers? Both Nissan and this particular dealer spend a good deal of time, effort and expense desperately trying to create a favorable brand impression. This e-mail squandered it.

I love our car and remain very happy with our purchase. But this e-mail puts me back at square one for our next purchase, despite being happy with the product. It’s sad really, and represents a squandered opportunity.

I would like to chalk this up to a simple mistake, but I simply cannot. As I went through a month or more of prep work shopping for this car, I saw nothing but shoddy marketing. I had an AWFUL experience with nearly every dealer I encountered, regardless of brand.

One quick example should illustrate the point: The other Nissan dealer in town sent me no fewer than 5 automated e-mails within a one hour period of my initial inquiry via their web site.

Obviously this is not an exhaustive survey of the entire auto dealer segment. Nevertheless, as an industry I was (and remain) SHOCKED at how bad these dealer marketing programs are.

Marketing Mistake #1 – Place the wrong marketing message in front of the wrong prospective customer at the wrong time.

The Fix: Segment your customers and prospects with care and be highly selective in what messages get communicated to each.

Integrate Your Marketing with Care

Later in the afternoon afternoon I sat down to open my mail. The letter that caught my attention was a standard #10 envelope that was hand addressed. I open it, assuming it’s something important (The old trick of hand addressing a standard sized envelope so it will be opened still WORKS).

Inside that envelope was not one missed opportunity – but TWO!

I mean, I opened the damn envelope! Now’s your chance to hit me with something beautiful, something customized, something targeted!

What I saw was none of those things. Not in the slightest. Here’s the letter (you can click it to see a larger version).

Direct Mail from Allstate Agent

The first thing any quality marketing piece will convey to a user is “what’s in it for me.”

“Come and visit us in St. Charles!”is anything but a compelling headline. I suppose it could qualify as a call to action that provides some information (whoever sent this letter is located in St. Charles), but my first reaction is “Who am I visiting and why would I wan to visit you.”

But for the photocopy of an Allstate office I never would have known this was related to Insurance without reading it. As bad as the rest of the letter was, the thing that stood out most for me was the HUGE QR code at the bottom right of the letter. Since I’ve yet to personally see a compelling QR code implementation, I just had to click on it. And this is what I saw:

QR Code Mobile Site

When I first looked at this site on my iPhone, I was shocked at how bad it was. Tiny input fields. Near invisible secondary branding identifying the actual agency involved – and nowhere on this page is the word Allstate even present. Amazing. And what’s with the dual color screen? Talk about a usability nightmare.

But my issue is much bigger than that – and it goes straight to the heart of my issue with QR codes.

This QR code was put on a piece of paper mailed to my home.What do most people have easy access to in their homes? Oh yeah, COMPUTERS! PCs. Laptops. iPads.

Why in the world would I prefer to snap a QR code on a phone and be taken to this poorly designed mobile intake form site rather than type in a common sense landing page url and be brought to a full page, stylized version of this intake form? And yet…and yet NOWHERE on this mailer is there a url of any type. None.

I understand QR codes are a hot topic for many marketing firms, but this is just another among thousands of poorly thought out campaigns. I know there are excellent case studies for QR code usage. I believe QR codes are on the verge of experiencing death by a thousand cuts. Every time a user clicks snaps a code and lands on a site like this, you lessen the chance they will every snap a QR code again – ever! So please use QR codes (and any tactic) with care. You hold the future of QR codes in your hands.

This is just not a very well thought out campaign (at least from an integrated marketing standpoint).

Marketing Mistake #2 – Match the conversion channel to the marketing channel.

The Fix: Include a common sense landing page url for easy viewing on PC in addition to QR code within sales letter. Brand the mobile landing page better.

How would you improve these campaigns?

So quick question for you. How would you improve these efforts? What has your experience been with QR codes?

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Sean McGinnis

Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct
Sean McGinnis is Director, Digital Marketing at Sears Parts Direct. He is also a (digital strategist, blogger, consultant ) and public speaker. You can find Sean on