Official-looking direct mail works better than you think

official-looking direct mail

“There are no pictures.”

“The copy is too short.”

“It violates our brand guidelines.”

“It’s so damned ugly!”

These are just a few of the objections you’ll hear if you ever suggest testing an “official” direct mail piece like the one shown here.

However, to those who know better, official-looking mailers can be pure gold.

I received this piece recently and had one of those “Oh, you got me” moments.

Since I specialize in direct mail, I’ve seen every trick in the book. And 99.44% of the time I can spot a marketing piece a mile away no matter how well-crafted.

But it was the end of the day. I was tired. And the direct mail part of my brain had shut down. So when I saw it in the mail pile, I responded like an ordinary human and opened it.

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The dos and don’ts of marketing to today’s seniors

marketing to seniorsThere’s a moment you dread. You know it’s coming. You know you can’t do anything about it.

You want to think you’ll be calm and rational when it happens, but the cold shock of reality will almost certainly catch you off-guard.

I’m talking about the day you get your first “senior” mailing.

It could be an invitation to join AARP. It could be a catalog of pain relief products. Or maybe it’s a mailer with a picture of a gray haired couple on the front.

Whatever it is, it’s something for seniors and you’re not happy about it one little bit.

At first, you assume it’s a mix-up. That envelope can’t be for you. Not yet. No way. But it’s addressed to you. And a quick glance at the birth date on your driver’s license confirms that you’re not exactly a teenager anymore.

That’s when you feel a twinge of anger. “How dare they mail this to me! Do I look old or something? I’m not old. And even if I am, they don’t have to throw it in my face like that.”

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The 3 hot buttons of political fundraising letters

anger, fear, revenge for political fundraising Anger.



It sounds like a promotion for a summer blockbuster movie, but it’s actually a formula for political fundraising.

Some might think this is cynical. However, if you’ve ever done any serious work in politics, as I have, you’ll know a few truths:

Most people have little interest in politics. Of those who are interested, only a few will ever do anything other than talk. Getting people to take action, such as making a donation, requires that you hit their hot buttons and hit them hard.

Which hot buttons seem to always work best? Anger. Fear. Revenge.

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Truth 101: a primer for direct marketing professionals

true or falseTelling the truth can be dangerous business.
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand.
If you admit that you can play the accordion,
No one’ll hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Those are lyrics from a song performed by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in the movie Ishtar, one of the worst (and sporadically one of the funniest) comedies ever made.

Whatever you think of the movie, you can’t argue with the message of that song. Telling the truth can be dangerous business, especially if you work in direct marketing.

It’s dangerous because clients with crappy products expect you to lie, and telling the truth can get you in hot water with people writing the checks.

But I prefer to think that telling the truth is good for selling and for the whole direct marketing industry.

Think about it. Have you ever wondered why some people are direct mail responsive and others are not? Why some buy from catalogs, the Internet, or home shopping shows, and others wouldn’t even consider it?

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Inspiring direct mail envelope samples from my great big stack of stuff

The down economy has killed a lot of the fun and creativity of direct mail in the last few years.

But if my phone is any indication (the plastic is melting from all the calls), the economy is getting ready to roar back to life.

So I thought I’d dive into my big stack of stuff and pull out some envelope samples to give you a little inspiration and maybe help you summon the courage to test something beyond yet another postcard or cheap self-mailer.

These are in no particular order. I just rifled through my sample file and pulled out anything that struck my fancy today. I’ve made each envelope sample as big as I could, so the proportions are not accurate here.

Here’s a classic direct mail envelope for a recipe book. Lots of color and excitement with a token showing through a window to encourage involvement.

direct mail envelope sample 1
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I wish all catalog copy could be written like this

Duluth Trading catalogThe J. Peterman Company has long been hailed as the reigning king of catalog copy. And I’ve been a fan ever since I bought one of their “anti-gravity” shirts.

But they have some serious competition from the Duluth Trading Co., which you might describe as J. Peterman for the working class.

Here’s an example of their masterful copy from the April 2011 catalog, which I received just last week:


FIRE HOSE: America’s most heroic fabric. So durable, so surprisingly comfortable, you’ll wonder why we were the first to use it in clothing. It’s the same great 100% cotton canvas that once wrapped rubber fire hoses, responding to call after call, dragged up and down stairs, pulled through windows, yanked around sharp corners. We located a supplier for that cotton canvas and specially washed it to make it soft and comfortable. Then, we treated it to resist stains and water. Supreme toughness and supreme softness in one fabric. Now that’s something to get fired up about!

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How to brainstorm the BIG IDEA step-by-step

creativity in direct marketingBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 6 -

We’ve covered a lot of territory in this series:

The three levels of creative mastery, good creative traits, bad creative habits, releasing your natural creativity, and inspiring your creative staff.

In this final installment, let’s look at one of the most widespread and powerful creative techniques ever devised. When used properly, it can produce more and better ideas than any other process.

It’s called brainstorming. And it’s based on the concept that two heads (or three, or four, or more) are better than one.

Many would argue that you can’t create by committee. I agree. Writing, designing, and other creative acts are best performed by individuals. Creative execution by committee invariably regresses to the mean. The results are weak and watered-down.

However, brainstorming is not about creative execution. It’s about idea creation. And it is almost always more productive as a group activity.

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8 ways to turn your creative staff into idea machines

creativity in direct marketingBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 5 -

Okay, let’s summarize this series on creativity so far:

In Part 1, we listed three levels of creative mastery.

In Part 2, we covered the traits of highly creative people.

In Part 3, we looked at bad habits that can limit your creativity.

And in Part 4, we discovered how to release your natural creative genius.

Now we’ll take the next logical step. If you’re in charge of a creative staff, we’ll see if we can find a few ways to help them be even more creative.

First, lets have a little plain talk about creativity and your staff. This may be a little painful.

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10 easy ways to release the creative genius inside you

creativity in direct marketingBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 4 -

If you’ve been reading this series from the beginning, you’ve learned about the three levels of creative mastery, the traits of highly creative people, and bad habits that can limit your creativity.

Now, let’s pick up where we left off and see if we can discover a few basic ideas for shedding bad creative habits and building new habits that can turn you into a creative genius.

The important point to remember is that everyone has creative abilities. It’s a natural and necessary part of being human. The only difference between the creative geniuses and everyone else is that creative people use and develop their creative skills.

Usually this is not a conscious effort, but a natural result of their personality and upbringing. However, everyone can energize their creative powers and release the inner genius, including YOU.

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Look out! Here are 16 bad habits that will crush your creativity

bad creative habitsBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 3 -

Previously, we’ve discussed the 3 levels of creative mastery in direct marketing and the common traits of creative people.

Now let’s talk about some bad creative habits.

First, a simple question: Why aren’t more people creative?

Well, you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that people are generally pretty lazy. There’s a natural human inclination to do things the easy way.

And let’s face it, most things in life don’t require too much creativity. So for the average person, there’s really no motivation for the extra effort.

The truth is, most people who display higher levels of creativity have simply learned this behavior by chance. Perhaps their parents or friends did creative things. Or maybe certain random events inspired a different approach to life.

It doesn’t matter how you become creative, of course, but there’s a downside to this randomness. Because if you can pick up good creative habits, you can pick up bad creative habits, too. And you usually don’t know which is which until they’re deeply ingrained.

But bad habits can be broken if you are determined to do so. The first step is to identify these behaviors so you can start making productive changes.

Here are some of the more common bad habits that hamper creativity in direct marketing.

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