Archive for February 2009

Increase Your Direct Mail “Open” Rates.

February 26, 2009

Let’s establish three important points about direct mail:

  1. Direct mail works. It outperforms digital according to a recently published article by the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. The clear advantage over email and other electronic forms of communication is that paper is relational while electronic is transactional. At the same time, direct mail marketing integrates well with electronic media. Sending an email announcing a print catalog, for example, can increase response to the catalog and also drive more online sales. Question: Can you offer your clients an integrated campaign, or are you hopelessly lost in the word of dots?
  2. The direct mail model is changing. Direct mail started years ago with cheap postage and inexpensive paper. That combination made a low response model work. Today’s costs are much higher, but superior targeting capabilities, combined with the ability to highly personalize and customize print, produces response rates that easily justify the investment. But if you or your clients are still using the old mass communications model, don’t expect to achieve the results you want.
  3. Many companies still don’t understand direct mail. They are particularly uninformed about how recipients deal with direct mail. This lack of knowledge can result in campaigns that either under perform or tank entirely. It’s up to you to get beyond ink on paper issues and deliver the information they really need.


A Touch of Consumer Reality

There are more similarities than you might think between email and direct mail. Typical “open” rates for permission-based email campaigns fall into the 20-30 percent range. That doesn’t mean the recipient is going to do anything further, it just means that you caught their interest enough to take a glance. Direct mail is about the same. Approximately 20 percent of recipients don’t immediately use the analog delete button, otherwise known as the trash can.

Similar to an email, opening direct mail also doesn’t mean that the recipient is ready to devote the morning to considering your promotion. Experts estimate that the average person will spend about 20 seconds scanning headlines, images, captions, offers and other trigger points.

About half of the skimmers will likely abandon the mailing at this point, so you better be convincing to those who are actually interested in the offer. According to an article written by direct mail copywriter Dean Rieck for MelissaDATA, those who continue reading are seeking confirmation that saying yes is a good decision. The piece better give them that reassurance, because the number of live prospects is obviously dwindling.

How to Improve the Odds

Direct mail isn’t a medium of subtleties. So don’t get hung up on minor creative tweaks like worrying that the sky in an image is the perfect color of blue. According to Rieck, spend time and money where you’ll get the most return. Those areas include:

  • Choosing the best lists. Nothing is more important than offers and lists. Fail at either and a direct mail campaign is in deep trouble. Proven direct mail responsive lists are the best performers after house lists, but direct mailers still need to invest in testing to determine if a particular list works for them.
  • Choosing good products and services. Be discriminate in what’s offered. A company’s best products and services are definitely an easier sell. Carefully select images to support them, and encourage showing the product or service in use.
  • Working hard on copy. Keep in mind how people read direct mail and spend lots of time refining headlines and subheads. Include plenty of information for those who go beyond the hot spots. Direct mail has always been a long-copy medium, and don’t be deceived into thinking that it still isn’t. Clarity in copy counts heavily too, and that definitely includes the call to action.
  • Keeping design simple and to the point. While not belaboring the perfect shade of blue for your sky, it is critical to not clutter your key message. Clarity in design also counts heavily, enabling readers to act more quickly.
  • Making great offers. Like we said, a lot of the success will center on lists and offers. But a great offer doesn’t involve price only. Offers such as premiums, outstanding guarantees or risk-free trials can be just as important as price in motivating someone to take action. If the campaign involves a more complicated multi-step sell, offer something of value for taking the next step.

Get Hung Up on the Right Numbers

Like all direct marketing vehicles, direct mail is about accountability, measurability and return on investment. That’s part of what makes it so attractive, especially today. But in doing evaluations, encourage clients to focus on quality rather than quantity. For example, a lead generation campaign that results in 200 prospects of marginal quality isn’t nearly as effective as a mailing that yields 35 interested, high potential prospects.

Direct mailers need to measure not only short-term response rates and sales, but also how customers develop over time. People talk about lifetime value, but too few companies do a good job of actually measuring it. Find out whether your client tracks even basics like:

  • How many prospects turned into customers?
  • How individual reps performed in converting prospects to customers?
  • How long leads took to convert?
  • How subsequent year sales compared to first year sales for individual customers and the campaign group?

The good news is that there is lots of affordable software available to help track and measure the success of campaigns. But no software will not help you or your clients set good objectives or strategy.

Want Expert Advice?

Bauer Associates can provide all the strategic, tactical and creative support you need to develop—or help your clients develop—direct mail campaigns. For more information, email Print Strategist Larry Bauer.

You can connect with Larry Bauer on LinkedIn. Or follow him on Twitter.

By Larry Bauer

A Dozen Direct Mail Do’s & Don’ts.

February 26, 2009


It pays to learn the basics of direct mail, because mistakes are expensive. When you’re investing in lists, copy, creative, printing and postage, you don’t want to blow it. Run you next direct mail campaign against this checklist for better results.


  • Invest in targeting and learn how different levels of personalization and customization can impact ROI.
  • Suggest unique format sizes that conform to postal regulations.
  • Use postage stamps as opposed to a printed indicia whenever possible.
  • Consider an off-color envelope unless white makes a graphic explode from the paper.
  • Emphasize key elements like testimonials, guarantees and order forms.
  • Test lists, offers, price points, copy, creative and formats as opposed to trusting intuition.
  • Create a sense of urgency with deadlines, extra incentives, etc.
  • Communicate benefits—early, often and clearly.
  • Take advantage of the space direct mail gives you to provide vital information—but do it tastefully.
  • Commit to a regular mailing schedule—every six weeks for current customers is a good starting point.
  • Write copy from a peer-to-peer perspective—especially when approaching top executives.
  • Have objectives and calculate return on investment.


  • Design the piece and then have the writer fill in the “Greek” copy blocks— strategy, writing and design are most effective when done as a team.
  • Think that envelope teaser copy is appropriate for every mailing—it might never get out of the mailroom on B2B mailings.
  • Shortchange the amount of time spent on a cover letter—it’s still the most important component of a direct mail package.
  • Buy cheap creative or, worse still, buy creative from any source that does not know direct mail—and we mean really knows direct mail.
  • Hesitate to pull out all the stops—dimensional mail, express mail, high-value information incentives (white papers, survey results, etc.)—if the audience is senior managers.
  • Forget that a good list and a good offer account for 80 percent of a campaign’s success.
  • Neglect to create a strong, clear and visually obvious call to action.
  • Fail to break up long copy with bullets, graphics, call-outs or plain old white space.
  • Make it hard for recipients to purchase or respond—give lots of options.
  • Forget to put yourself and several “seeds” on the mailing list.
  • Fail to publicize direct mail campaigns—take extras to trade shows, include PR contacts on your mailing list, etc.
  • Try to do things internally if you don’t have the skill set.

Personalization Improves ROI. Study after study shows that personalization improves response—often dramatically. For example, an InfoTrends study indicated personalized direct mail resulted in:

  • 34% faster response rates
  • 48% percent more repeat orders
  • 25% average order value increase

But plastering a recipient’s name all over a direct mail piece isn’t what we mean. That’s old hat and only marginally effective. Help your clients learn more about their customers and show them how to use that information to create promotions that communicate one-to-one. We all know there is no lack of print technology available to help execute programs at whatever personalization level their database capabilities can support. Make your own direct mail a shining example of today’s print technology can do.

By Larry Bauer

Avoid Direct Mail Design Doom.

February 26, 2009

brando-250Folks in the business, like me, are generally the most critical of what works for direct mail and what doesn’t. While some designers will be focused more on what they can do to win their next award, the better ones realize that awards given for design rather than results are not what’s most important. Successful results for our clients and their customers is the ultimate goal.

Now don’t mistake that for a license to create something completely cluttered and too busy to be legible, too ugly to leave out in the open or too poorly printed to be taken seriously. Even the ubiquitous used car salesman needs to be taken seriously and trusted long enough to make the sale.

In a nutshell, you have three goals to achieve in mere seconds:

  1. Grab attention/look legit.
  2. Engage.
  3. Compel to act.

That’s it. How you accomplish these goals is up to you, but you can learn from those who’ve come before.

Design Tips

Even if you’ve done everything right, decent response rates can still be tough to snag. So let’s assume your list is dead-on, your offer is proven and your brand is strong. What else should you be looking out for to nail that extra response rate beyond the “barely surviving” 1-2% rates experienced by many direct mailers? In no particular order:

  • Avoid stock images that are already used and seen everywhere. Look for the unique and if you can afford it, create unique imagery that no one else will ever have. And make sure it supports your brand’s personality. I received two direct mail post cards, each with a man wearing a dress shirt and tie, same camera angle. Not even the same photo, but I laughed anyway and saved them to show you (after which, they ended up in the trash receptacle).
  • Invest in a quality product photo. Don’t include a product photo that’s taken off your website or shot poorly. Make sure the product is clear and details are visible if needed. If it’s food, make it drool worthy.
  • Don’t use paper that’s wimpy. Makes you look wimpy and cheep, like a poorly fitting suit or worse yet, a limp handshake. Ick!
  • Do use bumps in enclosed envelopes. They significantly increase your open rate. Just make sure your envelope is sturdy enough for the bump so it doesn’t break through. And particularly if it’s a large mailing, be certain to check out mailing costs.
  • Snipes, bursts, intercepts—a designer’s nightmare. Yeah, designers hate these because they’re ugly. Yes, they are truly ugly. But in the right situation, under the right light, with the right neighboring elements and the right message, an intercept can be the right thing to do. Just don’t use it to say something lame. Make it purposeful and make absolutely certain it supports the primary goal of the direct mail rather than confusing the message.
  • Keep your direct mail focused on a single goal. You’re not creating a catalog here. Get to the point quickly and don’t be too wordy (or graphicy) about it. Time is of the essence. You have mere seconds. Seconds!
  • Make sure the format of your direct mail is appropriate to your goal. Small ticket item? Consider using a post card. Selling a $500 watch? Better send a brochure with a lifestyle message and ditch the intercepts, keep it classy. Looking for donations? A cover letter is in order along with a good story about where the money’s going.
  • Don’t ignore your brand’s personality and look. Just because it’s ‘direct mail’ and we previously told you not to worry about the color of the sky, you can’t abandon your brand’s personality either. And I’m not just talking about the logo. If your brand is as classy a brand as, say, Tiffany’s, you’d better not skimp on quality. Fail to print the right turquoise or remember to focus on what sells (i.e. sparkle) and your mailing is sure to go south. However, if you’re brand is kitschy by nature, include that kitschy look in your direct mail.
  • Don’t convolute your product with a misleading or meandering story. Stay on point and be clear and concise.
  • Don’t forget the incentive. Whether direct or implied, make sure it’s there. Is it 15% off the first purchase? Is it a gentle reminder not to forget a holiday like Valentine’s Day or Father’s Day coupled with an offer? Direct mail is not the best tool for corporate or brand awareness, but it is perfect for timely incentives.
  • Be careful if using teasers on the cover with the complete thought on the inside. Doesn’t mean it can’t be done, but it’s hard to do well. Most folks won’t take the time. In fact, eight out of 10 trash advertising mail instantly. The remaining two will take only a few seconds to make a decision. If it doesn’t peak their interest, in the trash it goes. If it doesn’t appeal to them viscerally, in the trash it goes.
  • Don’t underestimate a good design’s ability to create a positive gut reaction. But steer clear of designers who want to make your text too small (unreadable in the hallway light) or writers who think they’re writing general advertising copy.
  • Scanning trumps actual reading. Make your direct mail scannable. Once you’ve landed folks with the key points they’re looking for, feed them the details. And remember, your headlines matter more than your body text in direct mail, but you still need body copy that provides necessary information in a clear and concise manner. Make every word earn its space.
  • Too many screamers (that’s exclamation points to you writers). Looks cheesy and desperate. Don’t do this!!!!! (Yeah, that.)

Whether your direct mail is 3-dimensional or flat, making sure your strategy, design and offer fit the targets is the best way to improve your ROI.

By Julia Moran Martz

Upcoming Newsletter Topics.

February 26, 2009

Just a few of the topics we’re working on for future newsletters:

  • Developing effective taglines.
  • Using research to improve your bottom line.
  • Choosing the right personalization strategy.

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