When creating a direct mailing promotion, a key roadblock facing marketers is to overcome mail recipients' reluctance to read the material. For postcard mailings, this is not too difficult as most people that pull it out of their mailbox will at least take a few seconds to see what the postcard is about. However, getting people to read becomes more challenging when the direct mail piece is contained within an envelope that must be opened. To encourage the opening, marketers look to such creative options as colorful envelope designs and using persuasive wording, such as "Limited Time Offer Included Inside."

Another method to entice opening is to include something inside that is evident when holding the envelope. For instance, including an item that provides extra weight or presents a slight lump or solid feel to parts of the envelope. People feeling that there is something different with the envelope, may be inclined to take a few seconds more to evaluate whether to open. Marketers hope this extra time will increase the recipient's curiosity and lead to higher open rates.

Depending on who will be receiving the mailing, the item included must be chosen careful so that the person who opens the envelope feels their time is not wasted. Marketers also need to make sure what is included is relevant to the recipient and, especially, not something that will annoy them.

Well, here is an example of a mailing promotion that includes an item that may be annoying to its recipients. As noted in the picture included with this blog post, leading pharmaceutical firm Biogen sent out a direct mailing to people who have been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). The mailing included a booklet that encourages MS patients to respond to a series of questions and make notes related to the issues presented. To help them make notes the mailing included a small, flat yellow pen, which gave part of the envelope a slightly firmer feel.

The issue with this promotion is the pen. A key physical symptom for many MS patients is the inability to grasp small items, such as this pen. Consequently, for many people with MS receiving this promotion, they are certain to come away annoyed and wondering if the company behind the promotion is really sensitive to the physical issues facing the people they are targeting with their products.

Historically, if an entrepreneur is looking for the best option for being successful in a store-based retail business the best option is to join a franchise operation rather than trying to start a retail outlet from scratch. As we discuss in our Retailing tutorial, a franchise is an agreement by one party (the franchisee) to operate, for a fee, a business that has already been established by someone else (the franchisor). As we note, one important advantage of such an arrangement is that the franchisee often gets a running start in attracting customers since the business has already been established by the franchisor. Consequently, there likely already exists some name recognition in the area where the franchisee's retail outlet will be located. Additionally, a franchise buyer can receive training in operating the business, thus flattening the business learning curve.

Also, those who are successful running a franchise can be rewarded by being approved to buy additional franchises to the point the some franchisees can own hundreds. For instance, many of the most successful franchisees own over 100 individual franchise locations.

Unfortunately, the idea that a franchise is a good way to get into retailing may be fading. According to this Wall Street Journal story, while the number of people buying into a franchise system has increased, the number of problems arising with franchise owners has escalated. One of the key issues is that the number of businesses listed as a franchise operation has skyrocketed. However, the quality of these new retail options has sometimes been difficult to determine. In many cases, doing due diligence when acquiring a franchise (which is highly recommended) has also become a problem as many franchisors are not entirely forthright with information.

For anyone interested in franchising, this story includes good information on what needs to be researched before committing to buying a franchise. It also lists important information sources that should be consulted.

Golf is a great sport with benefits that include having the opportunity to be outdoors, taking in great scenery, offering a spirit of competitiveness, and, for some golfers, allowing for the development of business relationships when clients are included in their foursome. Yet, despite the positive value obtained from spending a day on the links, the sport appears to be dropping in interest. There are many reasons for this with cost outlays and time commitment being at the top of the list.

The decline in popularity of golf has now reached the point where some believe the industry is at the Maturity stage of the Product Life Cycle (PLC). Moreover, if that is the case, then golf could be on the verge of a major retrenchment. However, we are getting a little ahead of the PLC curve on this one. Whether this decline is a brief drop or really the beginning of a serious and irreversible decline remains to be seen.

Though, one thing is clear - sports retailers no longer see golf as a money maker. This can be seen in this BusinessWeek story that reports on how a major sporting goods retailer, Dick's, is scaling way back on golf products. This retailer has experienced significant golf-related losses including having to take a write down of over $2.4 million on the equipment it sells and layoff all of its in-store golf pros. This is despite their sponsoring of a Senior Tour golf event.

But, again, it may be a little premature to suggest this is a dying business. It would seem the rise of another major golf talent, similar to what Tiger Woods offered, could once again resurrect this industry.

Throughout our Marketing Tutorials and Blog Posts, we repeatedly stress how crucial it is for marketers to have a firm grasp on understanding what their customers' needs really are. While this is one of the most important issues facing marketers, it is far from being an easy assignment.  For instance, for those operating in high-tech fields, predicting what customers want has historically been a challenge as needs change very rapidly often because customers did not even know they had a certain need until a new product is offered (e.g., cellphones, tablet devices).

But even less technical industries need to be on guard for changing needs, though these tend to happen on a slower pace than in high-tech industries. For example, food manufacturers may see consumers change their consumption habits but the change generally occurs slowly over many years. However, no matter what industry, marketers must be aware of what is coming and begin to move in the direction of the changing needs.

To help prepare for change, marketers immerse themselves in a wide-range of research techniques by gathering data from both internal and external sources. For example, marketers may develop their own customer surveys and ask customers directly what needs they may want satisfied in the future. Another internal option may involve closely tracking any changes in the purchasing patterns of identifiable customers, which can be done easily if customers use purchasing or loyalty cards, or other trackable measures.

For external sources, marketers may spend money to acquire specialize research that a third-party research or trade group conducts for an industry. Another external source may be reports produced by reputable news outlets, such as discussed in this story from USA Today. It paints an interesting picture of what the food habits of American consumers may be like in five years. The information contained in the story is based on comments by food experts from around the country. While this is likely not an example of highly scientific research, the comments offered should give companies operating in the food industry, including food producers, restaurants and grocery stores, something to discuss when they begin to talk about what their customers will want in the next few years.

A few weeks ago we discussed how difficult it may be for marketers to determine whether a perceived change in customer behavior is a real trend or just a passing fad. While spotting trends and adapting to them can yield important competitive advantages, reacting too quickly can be potentially risky. A company that adjusts its marketing strategy to address what they believe is a real change to their market may be making a big mistake if the trend is only a blip and does not pan out in the long run.

For this reason, the issue addressed in this NBC News story is one that some marketers would be wise to take time evaluating before reacting by changing their strategy. It discusses what may be a growing market for customers who dine alone or order takeout for their meals. The initial thought that may come to restaurants and other foodservice marketers is that the research presented in this story is signally that a behavioral shift is occurring and changes are needed.

For instance, for dine-alone customers who eat at restaurants, eateries may consider: making changes to store layout to provide more comfortable seating for single customers; offering access to several electrical connections to allow customers to plug-in multiple electronic items; or providing more adaptable plates and food containers that enable customers to place food around different parts of the table rather than just on a single large plate. For takeout customers, ideas may include: expanding the takeout menu including offering food options that may differ from what dine-in customers see; or encouraging or even rewarding the use of reusable food carrying bags which the purchaser brings with them, thus helping reduce the cost of takeout packaging.

However, it is also important to note that some foodservice companies will not want to change even if the increase in dine-alone customers is more than a fad. As we mentioned back in April, the space and time taken up by single customers may not be worth the expense and may limit the opportunity to generate higher revenue by servicing tables with multiple customers.