Perform a direct mail autopsy in 6 easy steps

direct mail autopsyDirect mail is a powerful and effective medium. But it’s a cruel world out there. And sometimes, your mail dies a gruesome death.

Maybe you don’t get the response you want. Perhaps the piece doesn’t get delivered correctly. Or fickle fate steps in and, for no apparent reason, murders a mailer you’ve successfully used a dozen times.

It’s enough to make you sick to your stomach. But rather than just shrug and accept it, there are steps you can take to discover the cause of death.

Here’s how to perform a “direct mail autopsy” in 6 simple steps:

1. Analyze the results. You can’t fix a problem until you know what the problem is. So take a stiff drink and sit down with the numbers for a while.

Is the response rate low or non-existent? If it’s a two-step, is the problem on the front end or the back end? How about your return or cancellation rate? What about net profit? Crunch your numbers every which way to see if you can hone in on the problem.

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Is it smart to use direct mail for online sales?

direct mail for online salesI won’t keep you in suspense. The answer is “Yes!” It is indeed smart to use direct mail for online sales.

There was a time not that many years ago when the “World Wide Web” was a mysterious and magical place. Gurus proclaimed that everything would soon change.

Other media, including direct mail and nearly anything in print, would die a rapid death. We were destined to live in a “paperless” world. “Brick and mortar” stores would transform into “virtual” businesses.

Well, like most idealistic visions, this scenario hasn’t played out as expected. The Web has not killed real-world stores. We shuffle more paper than ever before. And direct mail, while certainly affected by the rise of online media, isn’t even close to death. In many ways, it’s stronger and more effective than ever.

People are so annoyed and suspicious of unsolicited email, they now consider direct mail to be a relatively trustworthy medium. And while SEO, social marketing, pay-per-click, and other online strategies are powerful tools, they tend to reach only those actively searching for a product like yours.

This is why smart online entrepreneurs understand that the medium is not the business. The bigger you want your business to be, the more media you must use to expand your reach. And there is no other medium that gives you more reach than good old fashioned direct mail.

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How to use the ingenious “yes/maybe” offer

yes maybe offerA few years ago, Inside Direct Mail ran an article on offers and interviewed me about one of the most clever offers ever devised: the yes/maybe offer.

If you can be a fan of an offer, then I’m a fan of yes/maybe. It’s an offer you often see with subscriptions, but I’ve used it for many different products and services.

What is the yes/maybe offer? Here’s how I describe it in my list of proven offers:

Yes/Maybe – This is another way of making a low-commitment or no-obligation offer. You’re happy to get the “maybe” response, which could be for a free trial, product information, introductory offer, etc. And if you get some “yes” responses, that’s gravy.

In other words, the yes/maybe offer lets you make an offer for those who are ready to say “yes” and for those who might want more information before making a decision. “Yes” might mean a purchase while “maybe” could be an information kit. Or both could lead to more information.

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Q&A on running good direct marketing tests

direct marketing testsTesting is at the core of direct marketing. It’s what makes direct marketing scientific and accountable.

Unlike mass market advertising, nearly every decision in direct marketing is (or should be) made by the results on a calculator.

But after working in this industry for many years, I’ve discovered that most people have a hard time wrapping their head around even the most basic testing concepts.

So let’s run through a few of these ideas in the form of question and answer.

Q: What’s the first step in any test?
A: Good testing starts with careful thinking. Before you rush into a test, take out a pen and paper and write down the answers to a few basic questions: Why am I testing? What are my objectives? What do I hope to learn? What questions do I want answered?

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Occam’s Razor: 16 obvious ways to connect with consumers

Occam's RazorWhile wading through some of the more erudite (i.e. stuffy, jargon-laden, hard to read) periodicals at the local library, I ran across an old copy of the Journal of Advertising Research from way back in 1997.

The title: “To Whom Do Advertising Creatives Write? An Inferential Answer.” The premise: Carry out an experiment to see if creative personnel have difficulty making a connection to their audience.

The result: They do.

The authors selected a group of creatives and a group of TV viewers. They showed each group television commercials and asked them to respond “personally” to those ads through a questionnaire.

In a nutshell, these agency creative people could not respond personally to the ads, only “professionally.” Their responses “very closely paralleled those of the other advertising professionals who judge advertising awards.”

And the authors concluded that even though the creatives’ job was to “translate strategy into (a) meaningful message,” they did not in fact communicate with consumers, but with other advertising people.

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Divide and conquer to boost direct mail results

divide and conquer direct mailDivide et impera is a Latin saying that translates to divide and rule or, more commonly, divide and conquer.

While the term generally refers to political maneuvering or military strategy, I use it when talking about direct mail envelope packages.

Here’s why …

I see far too many direct mail packages that include pieces randomly, with each piece carrying the same information. The brochure will seem to be an illustrated version of the letter. An insert will make the same points as the brochure. The lift letter will repeat the offer in the same words as all the other pieces.

It makes you wonder why the mailer chose an envelope package format in the first place. Why pay to have all those pieces printed, folded, inserted, and mailed when they all do the same thing?

Each element of a direct mail package has its own purpose and its own strengths.

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Garden club sticks to proven direct mail format

proven direct mailMost experienced direct mailers know that a direct mail package generally outperforms other formats.

The National Home Gardening Club certainly knows that and have been using a big, colorful envelope package for years.

Because I’m an avid gardener, I’ve received this package many times. It arrived in a green and yellow 6” x 11.5” envelope with two windows, one for the address and one to show my name printed on the membership card inside.

I love the teaser: “We’re looking for people to test gardening tools (and keep them free!).” The back of the envelope shows several possible tools and says I have to do a scratch off inside to find out which I’ll get.

Inside, I find a huge, 4-page, 10.5” x 15” letter with a pack of seeds and a pack of plant food glued to the top of the letter. This is a crackerjack technique because it does so much.

It adds bulk to the package, makes a sound when the seeds move, draws my eye to the letter, covers the Johnson box to create curiosity, and stimulates involvement as I remove the seed packs. Wow!

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Write direct mail envelopes that get opened

write direct mail envelopesThe direct mail envelope is both the easiest and hardest part of every direct mail package.

It’s easy in that there’s just not that much space to fill with copy or design. But it’s hard in that there’s so much riding on what you say or don’t say.

The envelope determines whether your direct mail package gets opened or trashed.

Before I give you some envelope writing tips, let’s get one thing straight.

You should not expect an envelope to position your product. You should not use it to show off your design skills. Its job is not to entertain or amuse. You are not required to cover it with clever copy to impress a client.

Aside from holding together the contents until delivered, an envelope has only one job: to get opened.

Here are few ways to do that.

Follow headline rules to write teaser copy. Generate interest with a provocative statement. Provoke curiosity with a question headline or incomplete statement. State a problem on the envelope and suggest the solution is inside. Teaser copy acts like a headline and leads people to read the letter.

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Stop clowning around: 3 reasons jokes don’t sell

People don't buy from clownsWill cracking jokes help you sell?

Considering how often advertisers and agencies put on the fool’s cap and prance about in an attempt to evoke giggles, laughs, and outright guffaws, you would think the answer is “Yes.”

However, we in the direct marketing business are almost always warned against clowning around.

John Caples, in How to Make Your Advertising Make Money, states the generally accepted rule of thumb for most direct marketers, saying simply, “Avoid humor. What is funny to one person is not funny to millions of others.”

But I think Claude C. Hopkins said it best. “People don’t buy from clowns.”

However, while this is accepted at face value by the bean counters, creative people often don’t believe it, since they are by nature inventive, curious, and suspicious of any so-called rule.

Confronted with the dictum “Don’t be funny,” the doubting creative genius will nod in agreement to avoid an argument. However, he or she is secretly thinking, “Yeah. It didn’t work for you, because you didn’t do it right. You’re boring. You’re not funny.”

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3 irrefutable proofs: people-centered ads win

people centered adsI’ve been seeing some pretty crappy advertising recently and it’s all crappy for the same reason. All of it tries to make a point with clever concepts rather than benefits and relevance.

It made me think of the following article I wrote a while back. Some of the examples may be a bit dated, but the point is still valid.


There’s a saying: Dumb people talk about people. Smart people talk about ideas.

This might be true in some areas of life. But in marketing, it’s flat out wrong.

In fact, I’m going to show you why people-centered ads are very smart indeed, much smarter than abstract concept-centered ads.

And I’ll prove it by taking you on a tour of my local grocery store, the experimental lab of evolutionary biologists, and my own advertising swipe file.

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