Who wants a steak dinner? Analyzing a ButcherBox direct mail piece. What worked, what didn’t, and some smart lessons for your own ad copy.

Tearing into this meaty direct mail piece and sending you home with a few takeaways you can use for your own ad copy.

Before relocating back out West, I lived in Nashville, Tenn. and was spoiled by the amazing farmer’s markets and local farms I had access to. We had a killer CSA, including a meat CSA where we paid at the beginning of the season for a semi-regular pickup of various meats from Tavalin Farms.

Tavalin checked all the boxes for an ethically minded carnivore. Grass-fed and grass-finished, well-loved animals with plenty of space, and a kind family of multi-generational farmers.

They even hosted an annual picnic at the farm so we could see the farm and how the animals lived.

It was gorgeous, and I learned (maybe too much) about sheep and their birthing process on an impromptu ridealong with the main rancher Brandon.

My standards were lifted by getting meat from Tavalin, the quality and convenience were out of this world.

This isn’t meant to be a love letter to Tavalin (although hi Amy & Brandon, if you’re reading this I miss your CSA) but a teardown of the copy on a well-known competitor to the local CSA, ButcherBox.

A copywriter’s brain never turns off, so when I get direct mail pieces in my mail I’m dissecting the copy just moments after pulling it out of my mailbox.

Recently, the piece in question came from ButcherBox, a subscription service that ships you a freezer full of meat on a periodic basis.

We used ButcherBox for a while as we searched for the perfect CSA to source our meat in our new hometown.

When I learned most of ButcherBox’s beef was sourced from Australia, I canceled my account altogether. While Aussie’s tend to have notable animal husbandry ethics, my meat doesn’t need to travel that far to get to my plate.

This is when ButcherBox started sending me the fawning “we miss you” deals and direct mail pieces.

Let’s take a look at what’s working, and what’s not. Are their offers meaty enough to lure us back to the box? (Sorry not sorry about the meat puns, I can’t resist!)

Let’s dive in, we’ll start with the left box. That is quite an offer! Or is it?

Come Back And Get 8 Free Steaks! *$75 value!

We’re off to a strong start with a value-based offer.

This is a common tactic for copywriting because let’s face it, who doesn’t love a good deal? Eight free steaks are pretty tempting, especially when it’s popular cuts like a filet, NY strip & sirloin.

Most people would be thrilled to find $75 on the ground, so adding a dollar value here helps underscore what you’re getting.

The reader’s brain defaults to thinking they are “getting” that $75 and it taps into the parts of our brains that enjoy getting something for nothing.

This is why the store Kohl’s works. Their prices & sales are completely made up, but it makes us feel like we’ve saved a fortune and people go batty for that.

They’ve also chosen what is typically a high-value item, steak, for the offer. Smart. I wouldn’t be quite as swayed by a cut of chicken.

The average person thinks of steaks as a $25+ a plate meal if they dine out, so the highlighted “8 FREE STEAKS!” signifies more value than even the $75 value that’s listed.

It’s a one-two punch for the reader’s brain. “So much savings” we subconsciously tell ourselves.

You’ll often see the savings or value price spelled out in dollars & cents like this in savings-based copy.

People want to see what they get in a way that adds up and makes sense to them in a tangible way.

By highlighting the value you are guaranteed to tap into the part of your prospect’s brain that loves to save money.

We can conceptualize $75, we can see it in our wallet and know what we can get with it. This makes the offer feel more tangible and is a good anchor to add to savings based offers.

How about this for a subheader…”Our best offer of the year!”

Going in for the kill with this one, people love getting the best. It appeals to our competitive nature.

No one goes out to pick the 2nd best of anything. If it really is the best, say so.

Now, I get it, “best” is relative. Best compared to what you might ask…but let’s face it… These pieces are read in a matter of seconds before tossed in the bin.

Telling your prospect it is the best, the most popular, or in some way a one-of-a-kind special is a great way to catch their attention quickly.

If you look for it you’ll see “best” everywhere in ad copy.

Lucky for us copywriters, people aren’t looking for it so they don’t notice that every offer somehow manages to be the best…fun times.

This tactic is somewhat similar to “limited time offer” too. There is urgency to an offer like this, and they’re implying that “best” only shows up once a year.

This is it.

*cue suspenseful music*

The timing was good too, showing up mid-December the best offer of the year has a bit more pull. I’m not sure this line would be quite as compelling in January.

*Offer available while supplies last

I love copy that works double for me. This line not only makes your legal team happy & covers your ass if you do run out, but it further underscores the urgency of this offer.

“While supplies last” means that supplies might not last (duh). But much like how we love to win, we also hate to lose.

Our brain’s monkey mind gets going when we see this because we don’t want to be left out, a remnant of our evolved need in a social society to remain included (the alternative, in a hunter-gatherer world, was to die).

The same brains that evolved our need to not be left out is the brain that is reading this copy, and that’s a big reason why limited time & limited supply offers work so well.

Finally, the Pssst….

I’m a fan of how they laid this out. The Pssst… works like a “P.S.” in email and our brain naturally wants to jump over there.

They know value works, but they’re also hedging the bet on a second reason why I might have canceled my subscription.

This could be an educated guess or based on feedback from their chat team, but you can see them directly addressing customer service pain points in this box.

More deals, faster delivery, and a better-insulated box…I’d bet a steak dinner these are issues their support team hears about a lot.

Here’s the thing, consider the reasoning behind why I canceled my account.

It wasn’t because of service, which is the pain points they’re addressing in this white box, mine was because the service didn’t match my values for how I source my meat.

If you think in terms of marketing personas one of two things is happening here:

  • Either I’m their target audience and they have their persona wrong and they think it was service and not sourcing that caused me to cancel, or…
  • I’m not their target audience and they’ve found their persona (and actual customers) are more concerned about how the meat gets to them and not where they got the meat from.

Only ButcherBox can answer that question for sure, but the tagline on the front suggests it might be the first option…

Quality! Trust! Those usually work on me when I’m shopping for meats that align with my values…

High Quality Meat You Can Trust

Hmm…that sure looks like they peg me as someone who cares about where their meat is sourced and not just the savings on, and fulfillment of, my order.

Now there’s no way they can compete with my local butcher if I am dedicated to reducing my carbon footprint and not flying my meat halfway around the world.

However, I think it’s an interesting choice of copy. They’re using three different value propositions:

  • On the front, a quality & trust-based statement
  • In the main block on the back a savings based offer
  • In the white box on the back, a fulfillment, and service-based promise

These are all great options, but I’d love to ask them why they chose all three.

They each target a different angle…I know how tempting it is to cover the spread when we write copy, I have to consciously avoid it for my own copywriting.

The downside of hitting all three angles?

You’re not getting any insights on which of these three value propositions works on the people you’re mailing to.

If one of the three works, but the other two don’t, you have no way of telling which statement brought them in.

You’re missing the opportunity to learn more about your customers and validate your personas.

Yes, direct mail can be pretty spendy after all the printing, postage, etc, and that makes it more tempting to want to cover the spread in your copy to get more ROI.

I’ve seen many companies that hold off and only use really granular testing of value props for more affordable digital ads. This feels a little crazy, since you’re assuming the people who respond to digital ads are the same people who respond to direct mail pieces…

That’s a big ole assumption I wouldn’t be too confident making.

So how did they do?

Pretty good, but my one main point of contention would be to know your audience and pick ONE value proposition.

As they say, ABT (Always Be Testing), make sure you can gain insights from any ad copy you use.

As we learned, while value is important, it’s only important to me if the meat is also sustainable.

It’s a complex if-this-then-that situation.

If it’s sustainable, then the value is important. If it’s not sustainable (in the customer’s definition), then the value doesn’t matter because I don’t want it anyways.

Humans are complex, therefore your customers are complex, and it may mean you need to double down on your personas or do a bit more testing if your copy doesn’t seem to be landing.

Are you sure a discount is really what will get them in the door, or are there personal values that come first for your customers?

Remember the human and how full of contradictions and complexities they are. When you can address their desires accurately in your direct mail, you win.


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