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Creative Court: How to judge direct mail communications, Part 1

Posted by Randy Mitchell on October 7, 2014

If you’re involved in direct marketing, your judgment day will come.

Maybe it will happen at a conceptual review or when you serve on an awards show panel. But sooner or later, you will be called on to judge a direct mail package and hand down your verdict.

When your judgment day comes, how will you respond? It’s no easy task to stay objective with so much at stake. It’s also extremely difficult to keep an open mind to unexpected approaches.

For some of us, judgment day happens every day. New concepts are developed, creative work is executed at various stages, and it all requires unbiased feedback. That’s when you learn there is a set of key considerations you can use in order to offer an effective and impartial verdict.

To help you preside over your day in Creative Court, here are some pivotal questions to ask when you are judging direct mail communications.

“Does the approach capture attention?”
The mailbox is a battleground. If the communication doesn’t stand out, it will get tossed out. So when you first look at a direct mail concept, put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. That means dramatically shifting your mindset. Approach the piece as if you have no background knowledge about the communication, little interest in it and no time to waste. Despite those formidable barriers, did the package break through and spark your interest? Consider the format, the design and the message. Maybe it engaged you with a bold visual and compelling story. On the flip side, perhaps it leveraged a clean, official look and an urgent message to demand your attention. Both are top direct mail techniques and can be effective in breaking through the clutter. What’s definitely not going to work is to simply blend in with everything else. Once the package has your attention, we can move on to next critical question.

“Will the package get opened?”
Some direct mail packages look stunning. The photography is dramatic, the typography is refined and the overall visual approach is worthy of the Communication Arts Design Annual. In short, they get your attention, and that’s step one. Unfortunately, if that beautiful direct mail package is not relevant to the prospect it will still go directly into the nearest recycling bin. This may seem like a harsh reality, but you have approximately seven seconds to engage your prospects with your direct mail communications. In order to get them to actually open your piece, it has to have a truly relevant appeal that resonates immediately. That means the design and messaging are both meaningful and motivating. They speak to your prospect on their terms and compel them to literally open up to your ideas. If the direct mail accomplishes that, DM Best Practices 1 you’re one step closer to a transaction. But once you get your prospect inside, the challenge only gets tougher. Which brings us to our next question, your honor.

“Is it truly personalized?”
Personalization is one of the most revered direct mail techniques because it’s proven to work. But here’s a key distinction: Truly effective personalization goes far beyond the prospect’s name and address. Once again, it’s all about relevancy. And that applies to B2B and B2C communications. To help you judge if the package is truly personalized, here are some examples. For an automotive mailing, personalization starts with the customer’s vehicle itself. That includes the make, model, model year and even the service history and Vehicle Identification Number. For a retail mailing, the personalized copy might reference a target’s past purchases and offer new recommendations based on that previous customer behavior. If you’re targeting small business customers, remember that they tend to believe their company is unique. The communications should be personalized to reflect their specific industry, acknowledge their pain points, and offer tangible ways to help them become more productive and profitable. Those are just a few examples, but the intention is clear. When you judge a direct mail package, remember to see if the personalization works hard to enhance the relevancy to the prospect or customer.

Judgment day is not over yet. But this blog article is. Never fear; we’ll pick right up in Part 2 and discuss a few more key considerations and top direct mail techniques to help you effectively judge communications.

Now that Creative Court is in recess, this might be the perfect time to improve your own direct mail response rates. 

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Topics: Direct Marketing

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