Before you decide not to try postcards, you might want to speak with a peppered moth.
In pre-industrial England, the best way for a peppered moth to avoid bird-food status was to inherit light coloring, park on a lichen or tree, and blend in. But as factories arose, the attendant pollution began killing off lichens and blackening trees. Against this changed background, peppered moths with dark coloring suddenly flourished.
In much the same way that factories altered the English landscape, the Internet has altered the marketing landscape. And just as a changed forest brought out a natural advantage in dark-colored peppered moths, this new marketing environment seems to bring out a few natural advantages in direct mail postcards.
This may require a bit of mental adjustment for marketers who, like me, were raised on the sanctity of the “classic package.” While we conceded certain uses for postcards, often in our experience they didn’t measure up against a trusty envelope loaded with sales letter, brochure, lift note, order form and reply envelope.
But, as I wish my friend Keith Goodman, vice president of corporate solutions at Modern Postcard, hadn’t reminded me, I am over 50. “Envelopes don’t evoke nostalgia for the rising generation as they do for us boomers,” he says. “The new generation grew up hearing from friends and relatives via instant messages, tweets and e-mails. They still love getting mail, but it doesn’t have to show up in an envelope anymore.”
Meanwhile, the advantages of postcards in an Internet era keep piling up. For instance:
1. Instant gratification. In an online world, people expect information and entertainment on the spot. This happens to be a major strength of postcards, since they require no download time. A well-executed postcard telegraphs your message faster than the fastest-loading website.
2. Economy. If you follow the news, you probably know that economic troubles are afoot, but it doesn’t take a recession to enjoy saving money. With postcards, you avoid the costs of printing, addressing, matching and inserting multiple pieces.
3. Natural immunities. Postcards reach their intended destination. Unlike e-mail, they aren’t subject to spam filters, opt-outs or blacklisting.
4. Versatility. The Internet makes it possible for postcards to succeed in areas once deemed beyond their reach, such as fundraising and mail-order selling. Postcards are proving adept at capturing interest and then sending people on to websites where they can complete transactions.
5. Relevance. Don’t be fooled by the shift of personal communications to instant messaging, tweeting and e-mailing. Direct mail advertising remains a powerful force. In fact, a U.S Postal Service survey shows that 74 percent of Generation X and 68 percent of Generation Y direct mail receivers read retail advertising mail.
After recovering from being reminded about my age, I asked Keith for tips on making direct mail postcards work their hardest. He suggested a test that you can do yourself: After collecting your mail for a few days, spread it across the kitchen table. Note the pieces that stand out at a glance. Chances are it will be the largest ones (“Bigger is better,” he assured me) and those with the most easily, instantly assimilated graphics.
It’s not time to abandon the tried-and-true classic direct mail package. It still works, especially for people raised on letters in envelopes. But when targeting Generations X and Y — who grew up with the Internet — it may be time to take a new look at postcards.
If moths can adapt, so can we.