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Direct mail disasters: Learn from others’ mistakes

Posted by Randy Mitchell on July 16, 2014

The writer meant well and undoubtedly spent many hours carefully crafting the copy. The designers did their best to make certain the layout look great. And the marketing manager came up with a pretty compelling offer. But despite all that, the direct mail package was a disaster.

What happened? Well, there is a long list of potential pitfalls, but for the sake of this article, let’s examine three glaring errors that are often seen in direct mail examples. Then we’ll consider the flipside: We’ll cover direct mail examples that got it right and learn why.

Ready or not, here comes the first recipe for disaster.

DISASTER #1: The buried offer
No one intentionally decides to bury the offer. Or, if they do, they need to go back to Direct Marketing 101. But sometimes companies assume their product or service has to play lead. That’s not always the case, especially if customers are well acquainted with your product and what it can do for them. Other times the creative team balks because they believe the offer gets in the way of the concept. So they relegate it to a closing paragraph, the response device or just a mention in a subhead. That’s how a direct mail disaster happens. To put it plainly, top direct marketing agencies know the offer goes front and center. Period. End of story.

SOLUTION: Make the offer prominent on every element
Direct mail example: FirstEnergy Solutions Summer Savings Acquisition Campaign
FirstEnergy Solutions wanted to drive new enrollments for its electric generation service. But electricity is a low-involvement category, so the target audience needed to be engaged in order to show interest. Jacobs & Clevenger had a solid solution. We created immediate interest and a strong sense of urgency with a 50% off summer discount. The offer was prominent on every element in the direct mail package. It also helped shape the “Summer Savings” concept. This potent combination captured the attention of the target and drew them in. Then we educated these prospects with important facts about electric generation service and switching providers. As a result, Summer Savings worked extremely well. It was one of the campaigns that helped J&C drive more than 500,000 new enrollments for FirstEnergy Solutions. See for yourself. Check out the portfolio case study.

DISASTER #2: The forgotten facts
There’s a perception that people don’t read long copy in direct mail. That’s simply not true. People won’t read endless paragraphs of copy. That’s why top direct marketing agencies break the paragraphs up into bullets and include multiple subheads to make them easy to scan. The truth is people want to know the facts and figures about a product or service before parting with their money. More to the point, why leave compelling facts out? If you think someone needs the information to make the purchase decision, or the facts make your story more believable, find a way to work it in or your response rate will suffer.

SOLUTION: Focus on the facts to educate customers
Direct mail example: NOKIA and Honda Multichannel Automotive Campaign
NOKIA wanted to educate Honda owners about the importance of a navigation system map update. To bring this campaign the timely and topical importance it deserved, J&C created an editorial approach. We developed brief articles with compelling facts and figures about driving challenges such as traffic jams or the lack of parking. Then we educated drivers on how updating their maps could help overcome these pressing challenges. The facts told a compelling story and Honda drivers got the message. Response to the mailing was 31% higher than the control. To see the full campaign, visit our portfolio case study.

DISASTER #3: Incomplete information
It may seem counterintuitive in today’s hectic world, but your customers want to do their homework before making a decision. If you don’t give them the information they need, they’ll seek it out it elsewhere. That becomes a disaster when those prospects find the information they need through a competitor.

SOLUTION: Well-informed prospects become educated customers
Direct mail example: FirstEnergy Solutions New Product Launch
Direct mail gives you the real estate you need to tell a complete and compelling story. You can also provide online resources for prospects that need even more information before they commit. That’s precisely what J&C did for a new electric generation product from FirstEnergy Solutions. In this case, information was pivotal because this was an entirely new way to purchase electricity. It was a product called PriceControl that required a 7-year commitment from prospects. That lengthy contract meant our target needed to know all of the details first. J&C developed a campaign that explained the premise of PriceControl and how customers could lock in their price for the full term. We also offered comparison charts that made it easy to understand the short and long-term benefits of PriceControl. It was information-rich and highly effective. The campaign drove more than 30,000 new enrollments for PriceControl. You can see the full campaign in our portfolio case study.


How can you make sure your next mailing doesn’t end up a disaster? Here’s a very smart place to start. Sign up for J&C’s personalized webinar: Optimizing Your Direct Mail for Maximum Response.

You can also read our blog entry “Anatomy of a Direct Mail Letter” for successful direct mail strategies.

Topics: Direct Marketing

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