An advertising expert urges operators to use this strategy, now making a strong comeback

Feb. 13, 2024
When implemented properly, the use of direct mail (the kind that requires a postage stamp), can be a powerful business development strategy for office coffee service operators, according to Marty Cooper, a senior advertising executive.

In last month’s Best of OCS column, we focused on a business development strategy I presented in our first Automatic Merchandiser Vending & OCS Nation podcast of 2024. It was all about renewing your focus on the three R’s – retention, referrals and revenue – well-suited for office coffee service as well as convenience services operators. In the podcast, I also talked about the resurgence of direct mail, which I used heavily as an operator, usually in the form of postcards.

Does direct mail still work?

The mere mention of direct mail generated some feedback from listeners along the lines of “I haven’t thought about using direct mail for years – does that still work?” Marty Cooper – a veteran advertising executive who has held senior marketing, advertising and communications positions for Disneyland, Universal Studios and Playboy Enterprises and served over 200 of his own clients after years in the corporate world – said that B2B direct mail is working today because it is not as common as it was before social marketing took over. Ongoing postage rate increases have also discouraged the use of direct mail. These factors all mean less competition in the postal mailbox and a greater chance of being noticed.

Patricia Cowan, owner of RainMaker Sales Support, has also become a believer in the power of direct mail. She said her company is providing more direct mail support to her clients than ever before. With so many emails in their inboxes every day, prospects are tuning out the digital bombardment. “After we send direct mail, we get positive feedback. Some people tell us they haven’t even seen a business card in years. So, when they receive a letter in the mail, it gets their attention,” she said.

Defining characteristics for a successful direct mail campaign

Cooper identified some defining characteristics associated with a successful direct mail campaign. “First of all, you need to understand the wants and needs of the target audience,” he said. “Creativity is also important. Frequency also needs to be considered. For best results, no less than three mailings.”

How many message points should the direct mail piece deliver? Cooper said there should be no more than two. He also put emphasis on another fundamental aspect of direct mail. “Because direct mail is so expensive, you need to have a highly targeted list, rather than a generalized larger list,” Cooper said. “Arrange a test of the messaging and audience. It’s always a prudent financial decision to test two or even three approaches in a small way before embarking on a whole campaign,” he added. Cooper suggests working with or for list acquisition.

Direct or clever?

We have all seen advertising that is incredibly clever, sometimes so clever, it leaves us asking, “What is the product being advertised?” One question relating to B2B direct mail – is it better to be direct or clever? “Sometimes one, sometimes the other,” Cooper said. “It depends on the audience, the product or service, the competition’s strategy and what feels right. The cleverest piece of advertising I ever saw was a billboard for Ford cars. The board showed a stack of hot cakes and the following line: ‘Selling like Fords.’ Just a few words, but clever. It made you think, it made you smile; that’s being clever with a purpose.”

Some examples of a vending/OCS campaign

As a convenience services operator, I used direct mail on a regular basis, often targeting specific business types. In a direct mail piece to car dealerships, the postcard cover read: As a car dealer, when is the last time you received a rebate?

In a direct mail piece to office environments, my most successful campaign featured postcard copy that read: Headache relief for the office manager.

Cooper said it is important to keep an eye on your creative team to make sure they haven’t fallen in love with the look of the advertisement, more than the content itself.

Mandatory: QR codes promote engagement

The use of QR codes on postcards and other direct mail pieces are increasing in popularity. Cooper noted that using a QR code is a great way to send a message beyond the direct mail piece. It can open the door to a collection of photos, a video file, an audio file, special offers or simply act as a gateway to a key, relevant page on a website. The use of QR codes promotes interactive engagement between the advertiser and the prospect.

Cooper said their use is mandatory today, “unless you are selling burial plots or walk-in bathtubs to senior citizens.”



Bob Tullio is a content specialist, speaker, sales trainer, consultant and contributing editor of Automatic Merchandiser/ He advises entrepreneurs on how to build a successful business from the ground up and specializes in helping suppliers connect with operators in the convenience services industry – coffee service, vending, micro markets and pantry service specifically. 

Subscribe to Automatic Merchandiser's new podcast, Vending & OCS Nation, hosted by Tullio and designed to make your business more profitable.

Tullio welcomes your feedback. He can be reached at 818-261-1758 and [email protected].



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