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Mind the Gaps: Jump-Start the Year with these Direct Mail Retooling Ideas

With 2008 budgets in place and sales goals set, it’s time to think about using new tools to increase responses and strengthen customer relationships, whether you use direct mail to sell direct, generate leads, or drive Web site or retail store traffic.

With continuing technological changes lowering costs, expanding capabilities, shifting audiences (today’s 65-year-old female baby boomer is not the same 65-year-old you wrote copy for 15 years ago), and the constant morphing of mailbox contents, direct marketers have more opportunities than ever to jump-start mail response.

Some of the ideas I offer may not seem new. We’ve all heard the dreaded “We tried that before, and it didn’t work” comment. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that these ideas won’t work now and won’t become breakthroughs in 2008.

Never try something just because it’s new or clever, or because your printing salesperson says it’s a great idea. Always have a strategically sound reason for what you do and test against your control to confirm. With that in mind, here are eight retooling ideas to consider in the new year.

Prospect within Your House List

It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations do not have systematic referral programs. Customer-referred prospects convert at a higher rate with a higher average order than most first-time “triers.” Referral programs are a must for Business-to-Business, Business-to-Consumer, and non-profit mailers. If you don’t have one, put this on your to-do list for 2008. Along those same lines, it’s cheaper to reactivate inactive customers than to prospect for new ones—and don’t forget those leads that didn’t convert. Test formats, offers, and benefit messages to see what it takes to turn them into customers.

Never Send a Mailing that Doesn’t Ask for a Response

This is a key difference between direct marketers and those who “do mailings.” Direct marketers ask for and expect a response. My favorite example is an insurance company that does an annual mailing disclosing the company’s privacy policy. True to form for many insurance mailings, this one looks so boring and impersonal that there’s no reason to read it, but the company pays postage to mail it. If I were on that company’s marketing staff, I’d include an eye-catching insert that engages readership and generates policyholder involvement by requesting opinions, referrals, or something else that creates a dialogue and prompts response.

Check out

This USPS Web site is a great time-saver for uncovering information about mailpiece addressing, design, ZIP codes, zone charts, and more. For example, you can click on the “Mailpiece Design” link to access contact information for mailpiece design analysts in your area.

Stand out in the Stack

Direct mail has always been visual, tactile, and three-dimensional. Today, it’s constantly morphing and changing as a result of new technologies and new applications for existing technology. Consider testing:

  • Translucent vellum outers—with sleeves or traditional envelopes—to showcase the contents of your mailing. These carriers double the “wow” factor.
  • Postcards with a built-in retention piece such as a credit card-thick postcard with a pop-out gift card. They are unique, tactilely appealing, and encourage retention.
  • Cloth envelopes stand out in even the tallest stack of mail. These carriers beg to be opened and reused.
  • Credibly handwritten fonts are particularly appropriate on greeting cards or other mailings that require verisimilitude to maximize their openability and effectiveness.

Double the Impact of Your Postage Investment

Include “Preferred Customer Only” promotional offers on account statements or bounce-back offers in outgoing shipments. These are effective tools for strengthening relationships with customers, generating additional sales, and getting more from every dollar you spend on postage.

Engage Readership and Retention with Personalization

While a personalized letter once meant including the recipient’s name in the salutation, creative possibilities now abound. For example, you can send a letter with a personalized magnet embedded into it, not glue-tipped onto it. You could use customer data to provide a “personally meaningful” magnet to remind recipients of oil changes or dental exams, for instance. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity, but have a strategically sound reason for all that you do.

Use Dot Whacks or a Different Outer Envelope for Follow-Up Mailings

Keep the mailing contents the same, but change the color, size, die-cut window shape, or texture of the carrier. You might also consider adding a dot-whack sticker with a strong teaser. This is a cost-effective way to provide a double-whammy follow-up. Be sure to track your results!

Please Recycle!

The Environmental Protection Agency has found that direct mail accounts for only 2.2% in weight of the total municipal solid waste generated in the United States, so we’re not the landfill culprits that many make us out to be. A 2005 USPS study also showed that 85% of U.S. households read some or all of the direct mail they receive. This is good, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t continue fine-tuning our targeting skills while encouraging recycling.

Studies also indicate a perception that direct mail isn’t recyclable. We need to be part of the education process. The Direct Marketing Association, Envelope Manufacturers Association, and Magazine Publishers of America have launched the Please Recycle campaign to encourage recycling of envelopes, cartons, and packaging products. To learn more about the program and use of the Please Recycle logo on your mailpieces, visit

Excerpted from Mind the Gaps—Jump-Start the Year with These Direct Mail Retooling Ideas by Pat Friesen, January 1, 2008 ( ). Pat Friesen is President of Pat Friesen & Co. She can be reached at (913) 341-1211, via e-mail at, or by visiting .