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The Psychology of Direct Mail

August 14th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Marketing

You may think that direct mail is pretty straightforward. You send an offer to someone who hopefully wants it, and they respond. Well actually, when you look closely, really good direct mail uses psychology. Before designing the layout or writing the copy, taking the time to dig deeper into your audience can be a big payoff. Psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behavior in a given context. So if we want to create direct mail that the recipients can’t help but respond to, we need to get into their minds.

Let’s break down how best to profile your audience:

  1. Identify Their Pain/Pleasure Points – this is the driver of human behavior
  2. Find a Novelty – something new or unknown to them
  3. Find the Why – show them how great it can be
  4. Make it Easy – easy to read, easy to understand and easy to respond
  5. Find What Makes Them Curious – when you spark curiosity they make more of an effort

Once you have all of the information above, you can start to create designs and copy that appeal directly to your audience. In many cases we are targeting different segments at the same time, so create separate designs and copy for each segment. Let’s look at both design and copy while focusing on psychology.

Design can be broken down into five areas of focus:

  1. Instinctive – create the reaction no one can resist
  2. Opportunity/Threat – create the feel of opportunity with the offer and the threat of what happens if you don’t do it
  3. Number of Options – keep it simple, too much and it will be thrown away
  4. Patterns – eye pleasing and creating contentment
  5. Selective Disregard – this is an automatic process, make sure your design is not disregarded

Here are a few psychological tricks for your copy:

  • Position – people remember what they saw first or last, not the middle
  • Unusual – is easier to remember
  • Rhyme – people trust and remember them
  • Repetitive – the more often the message is seen the more true it becomes

If you can pull the right triggers with your direct mail design and copy you are sure to get an increase in response. Careful thought, purposeful design and well worded copy are the foundation of great direct mail. Make sure to consult with your mail service provider to make sure your designs are not a problem with the post office. You don’t want to waste your money on extra postage if you can make the changes ahead of time. If at all possible consult with a current customer or prospect on your design and copy. Their feedback can be invaluable to keep you from making costly mistakes or providing a new idea you had not thought of.

Uber Gets an A+ for Its Direct Mail and Email Marketing!

August 13th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Email, Marketing

Peggy Hatch’s favorite app is hands down Uber! It’s her private car service that is fast and easy to use. But what is also winning her over is their marketing. Check out these two recent efforts. One is a simple postcard that touts the benefits and makes a special offer. The other is an email that counters any and all objections to the service. Both are worth studying! It’s interesting to note that a digital-only service is using classic direct mail efforts in order to spread their impact in target citites — but it just goes to show that cross-channel is not only possible, but necessary in today’s complex marketing climate.

After their mailing convinces you to try the app with its services, then come the follow-up emails about safety, convenience and other topics. Do you see what they’ve done there? Cross-channel, all the way. Brilliant. The entire process moves seamlessly across the entire marketing spectrum, from direct mail to mobile to email and CRM — without batting an eye. Check out Peggy’s detailed review of these two efforts from Uber, and find out what exactly drives them to the top.

Peggy’s Detailed Review:


Why Direct Mail Won’t Die

July 30th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail

You’ve seen the proclamations over the years that direct mail is near death, along with the counter-arguments that it’s nowhere near dead. Today I share a deeper perspective of the reason why direct mail won’t die. It’s as simple as comprehension. Research reveals comprehension is better when information is consumed in print. And there’s more: millennials — digital natives, if you prefer — who today are in their 20s and 30s, prefer print.

Count me among those who prefer to read the news from a printed newspaper rather than my iPad. Books? My concentration is pitiful if I try to read an e-book. Still, I do a lot of reading — or maybe it’s more like scanning — online. I realize there are others of all ages who feel they comprehend content on electronic devices just fine. Or who at least think they comprehend the content. This research reports how students only think they comprehend as well on digital devices (the research suggests they don’t).

One might think that jumping from reading on printed pages to reading on a digital screen is a no-brainer. But biologically, reading has been an evolutionary development over hundreds — even thousands — of years, as suggested in an article in Scientific American.

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  • I once had a great professor who said, “direct mail is advertising you operate”. The comprehension factor, the tactile feel of having paper in hand, plus great marketing (targeting, offer, solid creative) cause direct mail to still be a…

Our brains evolved to keep the human species alive, eat and reproduce. Reading is a new addition to the mind, biologically speaking. It took unimaginable centuries for the brain to adapt to reading text in print. And now, in just a generation or so, we’ve been introduced to reading on screens, another reading adaption for the mind.

As marketers, we need to recognize which channels are best suited for reading comprehension, and how we can effectively create Short- or Long-Term Memory that persuasively leads to a sale.

In a moment, I’ll outline comprehension effectiveness (based on my experience) of social media, email, websites/landing pages, short video, long video, direct mail postcards, and direct mail packages.

As I see it, there are three stages of comprehension:

Glance and Forget in seconds what we just saw or read (the vast majority of what happens with marketing and advertising messages).

Short-Term Reading Comprehension that evaporates in just minutes or hours.

Long-Term Memory Comprehension that can last several hours, a day, maybe a week, and in a few instances, a lifetime.

We can only stuff so much into our mind and memory. There is a place for “Glance and Forget” channels when multiple instances of “Glance and Forget” impressions build over time to create awareness and anticipation. When we want our marketing efforts to convert to a sale, we need at least the “Short-Term Reading Comprehension” stage. The most successful campaigns, I believe, will make it to the most valuable “Long-Term Memory Comprehension” stage because of telling the story and effective persuasion.

Digital and print channels can co-exist and strengthen each other. Digital is useful for the moment when a person is looking for top-line or summary information, or just a place to make a quick impression (recognizing there is an additive effect of impressions over time). Print is most useful and effective when your prospect is ready to pause, read and more deeply comprehend, leading to long-term memory and action.

My experience, and my opinion, suggests that as marketers, we can best leverage certain channels in these ways:

  • Social Media: Serve readers short, light content. Build your brand, organization and follower base. Don’t expect action beyond likes and shares (which you can’t take to the bank). But social media, in my experience, is good for impressions and building top-of-mind awareness. Keep it curious, likeable and sharable. But don’t expect purchasing action. Unless there is a click to a landing page, it’s a Glance and Forget channel.
  • Email: The best use for email is when you have built your own list of raving fans. Email results are lousy when sent to people who haven’t opted in to your message. So if you’re writing to your opt-in list of customers (or inquiries), write content to provoke curiosity that leads them to click to a landing page, leading to the possibility of Short-Term Comprehension. When the email was only opened, but there wasn’t a click, then it is a Glance and Forget channel.
  • Websites/Landing Pages: If someone searched and happened upon your website, and if the bounce rate is high, you have a Glance and Forget website. If, on the other hand, you have a landing page with valuable content and call-to-action, or CTA (for example, opting in to an email list), you have a shot at Short-Term Comprehension, and in some instances, Long-Term Memory Comprehension.
  • Short Video: A short video will likely be a Glance and Forget channel unless you have a call-to-action leading to a landing page with a CTA or opt-in to your list. When that occurs, you might be able to lead to Short-Term Comprehension.
  • Long Video (or a Video Sales Letter): When viewed all the way to the end, a long video should result in Short-Term Comprehension, and possibly Long-Term Memory Comprehension and a sale, when there is an effective CTA.
  • Direct Mail Postcard: There’s not much space on a postcard, and with so much postcard competition in the mailbox, most postcards are a Glance and Forget channel. A thoughtfully created postcard can result in Short-Term Comprehension, however. And if you have a strong CTA, you can move a postcard message to Long-Term Memory Comprehension if the person acts by either calling for information or making a purchase.
  • Direct Mail Package. The ability to deliver long persuasive copy is the value of direct mail, and is why direct mail won’t die. Let’s not kid ourselves: most direct mail is never opened and goes directly into the trash, making it a Glance and Forget channel to most recipients. But when the recipient is curious upon seeing the outer envelope, opens it, and dives into a long-form letter, brochure, or reads an insert or order device with your offer, you’ve achieved at least Short-Term Comprehension. When the creative and copywriting effectively persuades and sells, you lead your prospect to Long-Term Memory Comprehension. When you do that, you can score the sale.

Direct mail, I’ve found, is usually the best channel for converting and producing sales. Direct mail, when using persuasive copywriting and clarity of design, facilitates high comprehension and works. And that’s the deeper reason why direct mail won’t die. What do you think?

Target Marketing

The Right Way to Ask

January 14th, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Email, Fundraising

Everyone is sent appeal letters to donors in this holiday season. I’ve seen some nice solicitation letters land on my desk and in my email.

But there’s one thing that many people get wrong.

They don’t know how to come right out and actually ask their donors for gifts. They sort of hint about the gift. Or ask for generic “support.”

What I hate the most is an appeal letter that beats around the bush and never quite gets an ask on the table.

So here’s a great way to ask your donor for a gift. This is what to say in your appeal letter:

“I’m writing you today to …

Say this right out at the beginning of a paragraph. It puts the reader of your letter on notice that there is actually a point to your communication.

… ask you to consider a generous gift …

When you use the word “consider,” it is a bit more soft and gentle. When we do a major-gift ask, we always use the word “consider.” I like it in appeal letters too.

… of $xxxx …

You really need to put a dollar amount in your letter. All the direct-mail experts say that you’ll raise more if you ask for a specific amount. Use a larger number, not smaller.

… to help these kids …

(or the environment, the theater, the students, the elderly, the refugees — choose the word that fits your cause.) Be specific about who will be helped!

… have hope for the future (or what fits for your specific cause).”

This is your impact statement. Always include the impact of the gift when you ask for money. This makes your ask feel not about the money but instead about the wonderful work your organization does in the world.

The more specific you can make the ask, the better. And the more money you’ll raise.

Try framing your appeals this way. You’ll raise more money, I promise!

By Gail Perry | Posted on November 26, 2014

That Fancy Brochure Isn’t Going to Raise a Dime

January 3rd, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

We have encountered this before — a staff or board leader who doesn’t really understand fundraising and gets fixated on having a fancy brochure for the campaign. Of course, this is the answer to hitting a campaign goal!

Don’t get me wrong, I admire attractive materials. But what I admire more — and really respect and appreciate — is the right strategy.

In this case we are talking a major campaign — major gifts, face to face.

Our study showed that the organization needs to better articulate its message. The organization had difficulty in gathering compelling stories about its impact, and we are now helping to address that.

But frankly, after conducting dozens of studies for organizations of various sizes and sophistication levels, I don’t think one has ever come back saying that the client is a great communicator. One reason you conduct a campaign feasibility and planning study is to help refine your message. And that is a process, over time.

The good news — though overall awareness is important and we often make recommendations regarding this —is that major gifts are face-to-face, eyeball-to-eyeball relationships. That means all you have to do is articulate your message in less than 10 minutes, ask questions and be a good listener.

So a carefully crafted prospectus — one that can be tailored to each prospect as needed — is important. Remember though, it is more important that your staff and volunteers articulate your vision and share a story that moves the prospective donor and makes her want to be a part of the solution.

Make your campaign materials professional. Have them well-written and visually appealing. Know that some prospective donors will never read them and others will devour every word. It does give your staff and volunteers greater comfort in making their visits for major gifts. But don’t let the journey for “impressive” materials take the focus away from the right strategy and making inspiring visits with prospective donors.

By Jeff Jowdy | Posted on November 19, 2014
Fundraising Success Magazine

4 Direct-Mail Ideas to Try in 2015

January 1st, 2015 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Fundraising

So, maybe your direct mail isn’t working as well as you’d like. You might be tempted to take it in an entirely new direction, or even stop it altogether. However, both courses could prove costly to your bottom line, when all you need to do is try one thing that is different.

As the Research and Content Director of Who’s Mailing What!, I read A LOT of direct mail. Seriously, it’s hundreds of pieces each month. I could easily be jaded. But over the past year, I’ve seen several new twists or approaches that make me sit up and take notice. In the right hands, they can have the same effect on prospects and donors, leading to sales. Here are four ideas you might want to try if you think your direct mail needs a shot in the arm.

1. Make the Journey Personal
Maps are a pretty common element in direct mail. Whether it’s an insurance agent looking for leads, or a retail store announcing a grand opening, they’re used to show the consumer a location or an end point. But a postcard mailed by Patient First, a chain of urgent care centers, goes one step further. It uses variable data to create a detailed map with a “You are here” start point: the prospect’s home.

It’s a bigger map than you’ll see in almost any direct mail package, measuring 2-3/4″ x 4-3/4″ on a 5-3/4″ x 11″ surface. Combined with its position above the postal indicia, it really dominates the postcard.  When you think of all the kinds of businesses that would love traffic driven to their doors — retail, insurance, financial institutions, automotive, museums and zoos, travel offices, restaurants — the power of the individualized map becomes even more apparent.

2. Call Out Your Competition
Comparing your product or service to someone else’s is a standard practice for some marketers. Car insurance companies spar over prices, and credit card providers showcase their benefits versus those offered by others. It’s done in a pretty low-key, even genteel way.

Earlier this year, though, two of the nation’s biggest telecom operators broke out the big type with identical pitches. “HAS YOUR FiOS BILL GONE UP RECENTLY? Do something about it.” screamed Comcast’s envelope. “Has your cable bill GONE UP RECENTLY? Do something about it.” shouted Verizon’s outer.

I don’t know who was first with this idea. It doesn’t matter, really. Knowing your potential customers may be facing a price increase – and naming who is responsible for it – is a terrific way to appeal to anger. Then, you can move on to describe how your product or service is better, and make an offer.

3. Make Your Testimonials Real
Testimonials from satisfied customers are a staple of all marketing. Often, though, they’re little more than a vague quote and customer ID. And often they’re shunted off to a sidebar, a brochure, or some other insert.

In recent years, LifeLock, an identity security provider, has made testimonials the center of its sales letter. It shows three case studies of “actual victims … people just like you.” Each has a photo of a customer and their particular tale of woe, an “incident” that led them to become a LifeLock member.

Using a photo of a real person, an authentic (or authentic-sounding) story, and a specific problem or issue addressed by one or more of the selling points helps bolster a company’s claims.

4. Be Iconic
If you look back at direct mail from even just a few years ago, the near-absence of any icons is pretty surprising. In our digital age, these symbols have become powerful ways to communicate, to create a link between a memory and a thing or action that it represents. Calls to action — to visit a URL, call a number, mail to an address, follow on Twitter — are becoming more common. However, marketers have to be careful not to go overboard on how and where they’re used.

In a promotion for its Simplicity MasterCard, Citi strikes the right balance by placing a block with its call-to-action — to apply for the card — near the end of the letter. For a busy consumer reading their mail over the recycling basket, it’s easily found by scanning down the page. At the same time, it’s not so distracting that it takes away from the rest of the letter.

by Paul Bobnak
December 4, 2014

10 Places To Put A Link To Your Online Donation Page

December 21st, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Email, Fundraising, Social Media, Website

Your online donation page is not the baseball field from the movie Field of Dreams.  Just because “you built it” doesn’t mean “he will come”. Your donors are not the ghost of Shoeless Joe Jackson, magically finding their way to your online corn field.

You must help your donors find your donation page. Fortunately there are logical places you can add a simple Donate Now link that will guide your donors to your donation landing page.

Here are ten places to start:

1. From a spotlight on your home page

Most online donations are generated from your home page. Block out some real estate on your home page for a specific call for donations.

2. Your website navigation

From a Google search, donors might enter your website at any page. Make sure they can reach your donation page by placing a prominent Donate Now button in your website navigation, preferably at the top right of the page.

3.  A “ways to give” page on your website

Nonprofits that want to maximize giving typically have a “ways-to-give” page on their website that summarizes different paths to giving to the organization. Make sure online giving is represented on that page.

4. Your Facebook page

Your Facebook fans are certainly potential online donors. Add a custom tab or external link from your Facebook page that drives donors into your donation landing page.

5.  From Status Updates and Tweets

If you are running a fundraising campaign, make sure your Donate Now link goes into your status updates, tweets, and other social media postings promoting the campaign. You can shorten the URL to make it fit.

6. Your email newsletter

Every nonprofit should be using email to solicit online gifts. Whether you are sending out a fundraising appeal or a regular monthly newsletter include an easy-to-find Donate Now button.

7. The email signature of every email your staff sends

Every communication your staff sends is an opportunity to capture a donor. Create a standard Donate Now link that will be added to the email signature of each of your employees.

8.  Confirmation pages and thank you emails

Do your sell products online? Do you offer online event registration? Add a link in the thank you communications to encourage those constituents to also give online. You can even include it in the thank you messages to your online donors. That way it is easy for them to find your donation page when they want to give again.

9. From your direct mail letters

Instead of writing checks, more and more direct mail donors are making their gifts online. Include your donate page URL in the letters and print newsletters you mail.

10. On the signage at your events

Do you want donors to make gifts to you while at your events? Of course you do! Make it easy for them by posting your donation page URL where it can be seen. Want to make it even easier to reach? Include a QR code or a text message opt-in to deliver the URL directly into their phones for easy mobile giving.

Where else would you place a link to your donation page?

Monday, October 6, 2014
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6 Ideas for Dealing With ‘Take Me Off Your List’ Requests

December 14th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Email, Fundraising

While nonprofit organizations have many assets, the list of donors to the organization is near or at the top of the list in terms of its value. We jealously guard our donor lists because they’re not just names; they are people who have enough of a personal connection to us to have made donations — once, or over and over.

That’s why we dread the call, letter or email (or, worst of all, the personal confrontation) when a donor says, “Take me off your mailing list!” That hurts, and it can hurt the bottom line if too many donors make an exodus, as can happen if there is a public relations disaster that calls the wrong kind of attention to the cause. But the one-off requests, over time, can be just as insidious.

How do you handle these requests to be removed from the list? This may surprise some of you, but, “Duh! We remove them!” isn’t always the right answer. Given that your donor file is so valuable, a well-thought-out strategy is needed for responding in a way that both honors the donor’s intent and safeguards your asset.

Have a policy — in writing — for handling requests
Depending on the size of your organization, one or many people may be responsible for processing requests to be removed from the mailing list. Everyone needs to know the policy, from the receptionist who answers the call to the CEO who gets buttonholed at a RotaryOpens in a new window meeting. Otherwise, you risk irregular responses that can cost you income — or worse, your reputation as an organization.

Often, “Take me off your mailing list” does not really mean “take me off completely.” There’s more behind that statement, but the donor doesn’t know your lingo so he or she resorts to a broad demand, knowing that it may be killing a fly with an Uzi but at least the job gets done. Dig a bit to learn the real problem. Does the donor dislike phone calls? Does he find your magazine too expensive or time-consuming to read? Does she dislike appeal letters because they make her feel guilty? Any of these — and many other conditions — can trigger the dreaded “Take me off your mailing list!” demand.

Be ready to offer options, if appropriate
When a person has smoke coming out her ears and flames out her mouth as she shouts, “Take me off your mailing list!” there’s only one thing to do — comply.  But short of that, your listening may uncover an alternative that is less drastic but still will solve the problem. Some possible options you can offer are newsletter-only, no phone calls, quarterly appeals only, year-end appeal only or no newsletters/magazines.

There is no standard list of options; you need to create the system that melds with your fundraising programs, meets the common kinds of issues your donors have and is logistically doable. Don’t create a plan that is so complex that it is impossible to successfully implement.

Be prepared to handle the angriest requests
Sometimes the best way to diffuse an irate person is to let him talk to “someone in authority.” When the receptionist or the donor services staff member feels it would be wise, have that person pass along a donor to talk to you. This not only sends an important message to the donor, but it also assures your staff that the fundraisers really care about the donors (and about them). Over time, that gives them more confidence to talk with donors and convince them that you’re not trying to exploit them, just share with them the full story of the work you do. Your passion can trickle down through your willingness to get in the trenches when the grenades are flying.

‘Turn the other cheek’
It’s not personal. Despite what is said on the phone call or in the letter or email, the person is not angry at you. A particular communication triggered her response — and it may not even have been one from your organization! She may have gotten into a discussion with a family member who said, “All charities are just out to fleece you,” or he read an exposé in the newspaper about other organizations and decided to lump you in with them. I’ve been torn from end to end a few times in my career and it hurts, but it really isn’t about me.

Here’s how I learned to respond to these barn burners: “Mrs. Smith, my name is Pamela, and I am personally removing you from our mailing list. You may get a few more letters from us because of lead time, but after that, you will not get our mail. You have been removed, and if you have any more concerns, you can call me, Pamela, directly and I will help you.” If it’s a phone call, try to smile as you speak. But always, whether it’s in an email reply or on the phone, give the donor assurance that you are doing as requested.

Make sure you cover all bases
You’re just asking for another irate phone call if you don’t put that donor name in a file that you use to purge any rented or exchanged lists in the future. While occasionally a once-angry donor will response to an acquisition mailing, too many others will consider the letter a personal betrayal. Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the $35 contribution you may get.

Last Sunday, a day this old dog still considers set aside for family and church, I received a phone call. It was a local community theater; I had attended one show there several months ago. Since then, the theater has called and emailed excessively. I have asked the folks there not to call, and a Sunday afternoon call was that proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. I didn’t scream and rant (really!), but I did say, “Remove me completely from your list.”

It didn’t have to come to that. If only someone had listened to me earlier …

September 25, 2014
By Pamela Barden
Fundraising Success Magazine

3 Trends in Direct Mail Design

December 11th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Marketing

Given the continuing uncertainty over the future of how the USPS conducts its operations, it may seem a little counterintuitive to see bright days ahead for direct mail. But the development of some recent creative trends, as evidenced by mail cataloged in Who’s Mailing What! (the most extensive database of direct mail and email in the world), shows this is a medium that is alive and quite capable of learning new tricks.

1. Full-Color Envelopes
Take the usage of four-color. It’s an approach that’s been on an upswing for several years, as technological advances in the printing process make it more affordable than ever before, regardless of run size. In most major categories, bland black-and-white is slowly giving way to illustrations and photographs that appear more professional and aesthetically pleasing than was possible just a few years ago.

The change is most evident on envelopes, where color is increasingly full-bleed to the edge, and often on both sides. When combined with engaging teaser copy, this mail really stands out and screams to be opened, even in a mailbox that’s a little less crowded than before the Great Recession.

2. Icon Graphics
Another design trend across all sectors of mail is the deployment of icons. Especially for a younger audience, the use of graphics that mimic those from their screens of choice (desktop, tablet or mobile) is a natural and welcome development. For the most part, they’re deployed for the same reason they are online: to prompt action.

For many mailers, icons have become an important part of every reply form and call to action, prompting recipients to go online, make a phone call, etc. Some companies have also used them to quickly illustrate and remind a prospect of the options that are available.

3. Advanced Personalization
Advanced personalization is another tactic that is gradually being rolled out. According to a 2012 Vertis survey, when asked, “Which of the following makes a difference to what direct mail you open?” 66 percent responded “customized name.”

Beyond including a prospect’s name, using personally targeted data and imagery on a mailpiece can make it seem special and unique. There are so many possibilities: geography, buying or donation history, age, gender, etc. But can personalization always be counted on to spur response? A few cautions are in order. First, data, whether big or small, must be absolutely accurate. Second, the leveraging of the information to make an offer has to be relevant to the customer. Without these two conditions, a prospect is likely to shrug off the attempt as just another clever, but possibly epic, “fail.”

September 1, 2014
By Paul Bobnak



All Hail the Mighty Buckslip

December 8th, 2014 | No Comments | Posted in Direct Mail, Marketing

Face it: “Lumpy” envelopes get attention. An envelope with something unknown inside of it raises our curiosity and gets us to open it. Every time.

We also know direct mail packages are made up of various components that, together, tell a story and drive the recipient into taking action. A typical mailing might include: the outer envelope, a letter, brochure, order card, a BRE, and oftentimes, a buckslip—a small insert that may highlight a particular offer or deliver a final message supporting the entire mailing.

So, imagine our surprise when the Who’s Mailing What! team recently discovered the buckslip to be the star of several high-profile mailings … and not the lowly support player.

Capital One, AT&T, and Barclays Bank (to name a few) are printing the buckslip on a heavy 4-color card stock (170#) instead of the usual 40# paper. You simply can’t ignore these inserts — and all of them carry home the “big message.”

By Peggy Hatch
September 2014