After better than a century of consistency (more or less), what works best in direct mail is changing. This can be disheartening to us oldsters who had hoped to learn the rules just once and be done with it. But whatever you do, don’t jilt direct mail for an exclusive relationship with the electronic media.
The catalyst for this post was a note from a friend and former associate:
“We’ve started to get DM prospecting pieces around here that are executed weakly, but get opened because we don’t see much DM … Most of the mail is opened by skeptics who claim that they would never open DM, but they do … I’ve also read some anecdotal stories about a DM comeback.”
I suppose fairness demands pointing out that if “skeptics who claim that they would never open DM” are opening the stuff, maybe it isn’t so weak after all. Of course, the acid test isn’t what gets opened, but what gets acted upon.
To my friend’s first point, yup, direct mail use is waning. Diminished competition in the mailbox gives weaker stuff a better shot.
But there’s another factor in the success of alleged weak stuff. We who have been in the biz for eons tend to weigh all direct mail against the Gold Standard, that is, the Classic Package: mailing envelope, sales letter, lift letter, brochure, business reply card. It became the Gold Standard because, for over a century, nothing could beat it.
Alas, the Classic Package is losing its Gold Standard status.
The power of the Classic Package resided in its resemblance to what people loved getting in the mail: a letter. There was no faster nor exciting way to receive personal communication from afar. Maybe it contained news, flirtation, a check, a photo, who knows what! Since it arrived but once a day, the anticipation was delicious. People looked forward to tearing into the envelope and discovering what wonders a letter on any given day might bring.
Newer generations grew up in a different world. News, flirtation, check, photos, and who knows what arrive via email or text. And since they arrive not just once a day, but every minute all day long, well, so much for eager anticipation.
By “newer generations,” I’m not referring only to my not-yet 10 years old, iPad-adept grandkids. (Who, incidentally, are cuter than yours.) For many up to about age 35, the classic package piggybacks on a fading or never-existed association. The romance just ain’t there.
Yet marketers who jilt direct mail for a diet of electronic media-only may be shortsighted. Tangible mail has tricks up its sleeve that email and texting cannot pull off.
Here’s a partial list of what direct mail can do that email and texting cannot:
- Direct mail is not so easily deleted unexamined.
- You cannot do the mega-powerful lumpy mail with email or text messaging.
- You cannot enclose freemiums with email or text messaging.
- You cannot enclose samples, swatches, etc., with email or text messaging.
- You can use direct mail without fear of blacklisting by a server. This is especially useful for prospecting, not to mention for existing customers who forget they signed up to hear from you.
- Direct mail lets you take advantage of textured papers.
- Direct mail never has a problem with unloadable images.
- Direct mail can be as big (or small) as you want it, whereas electronic media are always confined to whatever size the monitor happens to be.
- Recipients can store mail in plain sight for future action.
- Direct mail always arrives. No passive system diverts it to a spam or junk file.
- Often people deal with email and text messages while doing other things. People go to the mailbox on purpose and look over each piece with deliberate, focused attention.
Among younger folks there are more and more instances where the cost of a Classic Package is unjustifiable as compared with a postcard or self-mailer. But don’t rule out the Classic Package. And don’t rule out postcards, self-mailers et al simply because many in the industry used to disdain them. Today all of the above work.
That is why the RESPONSE Agency suggests the Classic Package only as circumstances and numbers warrant. When other direct mail formats or electronic media are called for, we recommend as much. (And, I might add, we’re pretty darned good at all of the above.) We are not for tradition. We are for what works.
Admittedly, part of me sighs wistfully as use of the Classic Package ebbs. The Classic Package is an art form that I love. Fortunately, there are still plenty of age 35+ people with spending money who readily respond to the classic package. Which means that we at the RESPONSE Agency get to have fun in all media. The occasional Classic Package is still part of the mix.