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Direct Mail CSI: What killed the letter?


There was a frantic knock at my office door. I opened it to find an old friend from the industry. He was looking shakier than Kanye’s PR firm.

“Direct mail is dead,” he gasped.

“Nonsense, Richard,” I reassured him. “We both know direct mail still works. It’s a must for multichannel campaigns.”

“No!” he persisted. “This direct mail package is dead.”

He thrust a battered envelope at me. “We had no response to this letter.A bomb…a train wreck…it jumped the shark. What did we do wrong?”

I invited Richard and his clichés in and set the envelope gingerly on my desk.

“Here’s an idea: Let’s perform a little Direct Mail CSI on this letter. Honestly, it can’t be all that bad.”

I was wrong. It was worse. Fortunately, the clues were easy to spot.

Clue #1: Sold the reader short
One of the big advantages of direct mail is that you have room to tell a complete story.
If you structure information well, you can draw the reader in, keep them engaged and
move them toward “yes.” But Richard’s letter told a different story. It sacrificed vital information for brevity’s sake.

“We needed a quick read,” Richard persisted. “That’s what clients really want today.”

I respectfully disagreed. “What clients really want is response. But this isn’t merely a case of too many words. There are some direct mail best practices that could have saved this letter.”

“Such as?”

“For starters, break up the content with multiple subheads and bullets. And don’t forget the right rail. This letter doesn’t have one.”

Crime scene notes: Richard’s mailing was indeed missing the right rail, that narrow box on the side of a letter that’s commonly seen in successful direct mail examples. It’s an ideal way to present key points in a scannable format. That’s key because the right rail allows a harried reader to get the information they need fast. This can include primary benefits, the call to action and offer an expiration date.

For those who demand more information to guide their decision, the body of the letter can dive into the details. That way, you can appeal to the quick-read mindset without sacrificing critical information.

But that wasn’t the only telltale sign of a direct mail crime. There was a missing person here:
The customer.

Optimize direct mail for maximum response. Sign up today for this free webinar. Clue #2: Mistaken identity
“Who was this letter sent to?” I asked Richard.

“This mailing is for our existing customer list. It was an upsell piece,” he replied.

“And I’m guessing you have some data on those customers?”

Richard shifted proudly in his chair. “Naturally. We have their names, addresses, past purchases and any downloads they might have made. Believe me, we keep up on their
activities with us.”

“That’s smart,” I responded. “But this letter doesn’t reflect your relationship with those customers. It could be a prospect mailing. It’s missing meaningful personalization. You did the right thing by compiling that data. This is the place to use it.”

Crime scene notes: Richard’s team had made a common error and it proved disastrous. One of the best practices that is overlooked in many direct mail examples is the use of relevant personalization. Customers expect your communications to reflect your relationship with them. And you can use hard-earned data to make your mailings more relevant. Suggest additional products based on their purchase history; drive them to a new download on a topic of interest; alert them to a new release from a brand they like. The potential for strengthening CRM is definitely there. That’s why relevant personalization matters.

Clue #3: The missing motivation
“Richard, I don’t see a response device here. Can you discuss the thinking behind this?”

Richard gave me the withering look he reserves for hapless interns. “C’mon man, it’s 2015.
Who mails back anything?”

“Some people still do mail the response device back,” I countered. “But, honestly, that’s not the point here. You include a response device because of what it says.”

“It says we wasted money.”

“On the contrary, the response device says, “An action is needed from you.” It puts your customer in the mindset of response, even if they don’t actually mail it back. It’s one of the strongest direct mail best practices because it motivates people to act online, via the phone or by mail. Even in 2015.”

Crime scene notes: Richard’s missing response device was a mistake. But so is a response device that isn’t clear on the action you want your customer to take. For that reason, it pays to restate the offer. In many instances, it’s the primary reason people have decided to reply.

It’s also helpful to leverage icons. Remember, people are visually inclined. So use response icons like a phone, web arrow or envelope to capture the reader’s attention and draw them to your call to action.

The investigation was over. Richard and I stared at the sorry remains of the direct mail package in awkward silence.

“I guess this letter really was a crime after all,” he sheepishly admitted. “Guilty as charged.”

“Relax. It’s not a major offense. Let’s call it an unfortunate misdemeanor and let you off
with a warning.”

Now that we’ve finished the investigation, it’s time to learn the proven direct mail best practices that can optimize your programs. That’s where Jacobs & Clevenger comes in.

J&C is offering a free webinar on optimizing your direct mail for maximum response. This highly informative session shows how to implement the top 10 direct mail best practices that impact performance and results, guidance on how much information should be incorporated to generate response and many actionable tips and techniques to improve your programs.

Direct Mail Best Practices

Topics: Direct marketing

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