99 old-fangled tips to goose your direct mail

old fangled mailWhen I talk to clients about direct mail, I sometimes feel like an old fart. And a bit of a nerd.

I think it’s because if you list the top 10 hottest topics in direct marketing, none of them have anything to do with direct mail. All the cool people are talking about online and social media these days. Or texting about it.

And yeah, online stuff is cool. I’m on Twitter. I Digg and Stumble and bookmark sites that are Delicious. I run a Facebook page for a nonprofit and write web copy.

I’ve been a computer geek since before most of today’s marketing geniuses were born, gol’ darnit. I go way back to the VIC-20 when computing meant writing basic code line-by-line.

And there I go feeling old again.

But even if direct mail might seem old-fashioned to some people, the truth is, it still works. In fact, even though it’s not the hot topic, direct mail continues to generate sales and leads and donations day-after-day for those smart enough to use it.

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Quick tips for writing variable direct mail copy

variable direct mail copyVariable copy is a response-boosting direct mail technique that has been around for a long time.

In the old days, you would print your piece (letter, reply, brochure, whatever) with blank spaces. Then you would run the piece through another machine to fill in the spaces with “variable” copy.

The variable copy could be a person’s name, a deadline date, a special price, etc. It looked a little ridiculous, since the variable copy never matched the rest of the printed piece and you had to leave a big space to allow for the copy dropped in.

But it worked.

Today, digital printing technology has made variable copy both easier and more believable. In many cases, you can personalize deep into the copy, inserting nearly any variable available. I use this technique whenever I can because it nearly always gives response a lift.

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7 stupid ways to screw up your direct mail

Screw up Direct MailA famous chess player once revealed to me how he wins so many games, often against far more experienced players. I had expected some arcane theory or secret formula. However, what he said was this: “I try to avoid making mistakes.”

I’ve never forgotten that bit of wisdom. In fact, I routinely give similar advice to my direct mail clients. Yes, I have all kinds of deep and well-thought-out ideas about creating effective direct mail, but the first thing I tell them is this: “Avoid mistakes before seeking brilliance.”

What sort of mistakes? After working with over 250 clients in the U.S. and abroad, I’ve seen lots of smart people making lots of stupid mistakes. But there are a few particularly stupid things I see again and again, each guaranteed to screw up your direct mail big time.

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Snap Pack Facts: part deux

Back in March, I posted an interesting interview with Ted Grigg about snap packs, the red-headed step child of direct mail.

Like so many things in direct mail, snap packs work far better than they look, in part because they look personal and important rather than flashy.

If you haven’t read that interview, read it now. Then watch this video from Ballantine Blog showing two types of modern snap packs.

I love the Ballantine Blog videos. Yes, they’re meant to promote printing services, but they’re highly educational for anyone interested in direct mail.

And you should be interested in direct mail. For those of you who think direct mail is going away and everything will be online in about 5 minutes, heed my warning: Direct mail will be with us for many, many years. It works like gangbusters and you ignore it at your peril.

You can see what I have to say about the death of direct mail at DM News.

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Soup, sand, and rancid cheese: The craziest direct mail test in history

crazy direct mail testingNine years ago, I discovered an article at Improbable Research about a direct mail test that was so bizarre, I had to share it with others. So, with the permission of the author, I posted it to my website.

It turned out to be a popular article, amusing and amazing people all over the country.

Why all the fuss? Why would so many people outside the direct marketing industry want to read an article on direct mail testing?

Because it chronicles the most audacious direct mail test in history. It started as a prank, but developed into a revealing look at how good the USPS really can be at delivering mail.

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FREE Direct Mail White Paper

direct mail white paperGetting Response in a Down Economy reveals what’s really happening in the marketplace, how your customers are reacting, and the 4 key principles you can use to boost your direct mail profits. Plus, get 32 pages packed with the powerful tips, strategies, and resources you need to cut costs and increase sales.

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USPS offers direct mail “summer sale”

USPS Summer SaleIt’s no secret that the economy has depressed mail volume and that the USPS is suffering. But here’s a bit of surprising news:

The postal service is offering a “sale” this summer. Dead Tree Edition provides the details:

To counteract its declining revenues, the U.S. Postal Service is rolling out incentives to certain organizations that increase the number of items they mail.

Postal officials are reportedly working on a “Summer Sale” program to encourage businesses and non-profit groups to send more direct mail, catalogs, and other Standard-class mail this summer. Sources say it would offer rebates of 20% to 30% for mailers that increase their Standard mail during July, August, and September of this year.

The Postal Service will reportedly file the Summer Sale proposal with the Postal Regulatory Commission this month. The PRC would then have up to 45 days to rule on the proposal.

The program reportedly grew out of discussions between Postmaster General Jack Potter and CEOs of printing and paper companies about how to increase USPS’s volumes during the off-peak summer months. It would apparently be more politically acceptable than Potter’s other idea for countering low summer volumes — temporarily reducing deliveries to five days a week.

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Direct marketing extra credit reading list

I’ve been busy recently writing articles for everything other than this blog. So here’s a short reading list for a little direct marketing extra credit.

First, Melissa Data recently published The Ultimate Marketing Survival Guide for 2009. I wrote the lead article, “Direct mail remains the king of direct marketing.” Just in case you thought direct mail was dead or that tweeting is better than mailing, this article will disabuse you of that faulty assumption.

Next, there’s a fun little article over at Copyblogger titled The 3 Secret Persuasion Techniques Every Kid Knows. You parents will relate to this one. I don’t have children, but I know they’re often tuned into persuasion better than many adults.

Feeling a little burned out? Mary Jaksch asked me to submit some tips for Write to Done in a post titled 7 Easy Ways to Energize Your Creative Powers. If you’re a professional writer, you can’t just wait for the muse to drop by. You need a few techniques for flipping the switch on creativity when you need it.

Finally, there’s one of my regular columns for DM News, one of the most recent is Problem Solver: Is it smart for an online business to use direct mail? I discuss how you can’t let a particular medium dictate your marketing strategy and ways to use direct mail to build your online business.

This should keep you busy for a while.

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How to use “official” envelopes for direct mail

There are two basic envelope strategies for direct mail packages: the teaser envelope and the mystery envelope.

The teaser envelope is just what it sounds like. It’s a direct mail envelope covered with teaser copy about the envelope contents. This makes it clear that the contents are advertising something. Often there are photos or illustrations, copy details, even a statement of the offer.

The mystery envelope by contrast, generally gives you no clue about the envelope contents. Sometimes the envelope shows nothing more than the return address and postage or looks like a personal communication. The idea here is for the mailing to not look like advertising.

“Official” envelopes are a subset of the mystery envelope. They don’t tell you exactly what’s inside, but they raise the curiosity level by making it appear as if the contents are important and urgent.

Here’s an example I received recently:

official direct mail envelope

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See how people sort your direct mail

I’ve pointed out previously that while you might spend days, even weeks, crafting a direct mail message, recipients will spend just seconds deciding whether it’s worth their attention.

Here’s a video from Pitney Bowes illustrating this simple idea.

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