The mathematical formula for crazy direct mail ideas

If you’re like a lot of people I’ve talked to recently, your marketing is in a slump. And you’re fresh out of ideas.

This is especially true for direct mail. The down economy has frightened people out of testing anything new over the last couple of years.

In fact, some of the people calling me have said they all but stopped mailing. Now that things appear to be getting better, they’re scrambling for testing ideas.

I’ll give you the same advice I’ve been giving them:

1. Resurrect your control. Take your best mail piece and get it back in the mail. See if it still works. As I’ve argued in my Getting Response in a Down Economy white paper, none of the fundamentals have changed. So there’s at least a 50/50 chance that what worked before will work again.

2. Look at your results. If your control does well, test it once more just to make sure. Then ramp up your quantity. If your control dies, perform a direct mail autopsy.

These are your first logical steps. And you should do them before you do anything else.

Okay, but what if you’ve already done this and you’re looking for a way to break the mold and get a little crazy? What if you’re ready to start thinking outside the box?

Here are a few crazy direct mail ideas you may want to test this year:

Affix a sticky note to your outer envelope. The sticky note has been used for years inside direct mail packages, generally on the letter. But since 2005, the USPS has actually promoted using repositionable notes on outer envelopes. It’s a sure attention-grabber.

Insert a sheet of bubble wrap into your envelope. Traditionally, this has been used when there’s a fragile object enclosed. But I’ve seen a lot of mailers use this even when there’s nothing but paper inside. It gives an envelope thickness and arouses curiosity.

Test your direct mail package without the brochure. Yes, you read that right. Remove that beautiful, 4-color brochure and see what happens. Sometimes (but not always) a direct mail package will work as well or better without it. It puts more focus on the letter and reduces the printing costs and, possibly, the postage costs as well.

Print your postcard with a die cut. The problem with postcards is that everyone uses them and they all look alike. You need a way to stand out. So, if you run a pizza shop, maybe you show a pizza on your postcard with a die cut on the edge that looks like someone took a bite.

Try multiple letters. You could add a standard lift letter. Or you could enclose a second full-size letter that serves a specific purpose. A mailing I received from an animal rescue charity enclosed a sealed envelope with a second letter and photos of abused animals.

Try multiple reply forms. This one really sounds crazy, but is it? I consulted for a publisher some years ago who used several reply forms, each a different color, each with a variety of publications listed in random order. I thought they were nuts, but the reply forms worked. For lead generation, you could enclose separate “yes” and “no” reply cards. For multiple products, you could insert a small order form for each.

Try multiple envelope windows. Who says you can have only an address window? You could have another window revealing the offer. Another revealing a bonus. Direct mail master Rene Gnam taught me that there are no limits on windows. He once created an envelope with 7 windows! Windows visually and psychologically pull people inside the envelope.

Break up your catalog into lots of inserts. Spring Hill Nursery does this at least once each year. Each insert features a flower on the front and another on theĀ  back. One sample package in my file includes no less than 30 inserts. It’s fun to flip through them. And selecting flowers is easy, because you can just set aside the flowers you want.

You’ll notice that all of these ideas follow basic mathematics. In each case, you add, subtract, multiply, or divide: Add a sticky note. Subtract your brochure. Multiply your reply forms. Divide your catalog.

This simple formula can lead you to many other “crazy” ideas as well. Just think about what you can add, subtract, multiply, or divide.

That’s not really all that crazy is it? What have you tested lately?

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