4 Old-School Direct Mail Tactics That Still Work

Some direct mail techniques have been around for decades. Here are four tried-and-true tactics and why they still drive response.

Here at Target Marketing, we talk a lot about how direct mail is coming back, thanks, in part to new technologies and print techniques that make it more personalized, relevant, and valuable to the customer than ever before.

I’m a big believer in all of these developments. I’m convinced that they are critical to engaging newer, younger audiences in really interesting ways.

But at the same time, I have to marvel at how some formats that have been around for decades, and were once much more commonplace, still show up in the mail I review for Who’s Mailing What! every day.

Here are four tried-and-true tactics that I’ve seen recently, and why they still work.

1. Yes-No-Maybe Reply Stickers
UPMC direct mailThis involvement device was a common practice for many publishers selling subscriptions to magazines and newsletters back in the day. Developed by John Francis Tighe, it’s pretty simple: you give the prospect 3 options on the reply form, with a sticker for each.

This direct mail piece for UPMC, a healthcare system, shows “YES” and “NO” showing through the extra envelope window. The “MAYBE” sticker on the letter is visible only by opening the envelope.

This practice lets you easily segment people who need a little more convincing.

2.The Outer Quiz
Harvard Heart Letter direct mailAsking questions – or getting a prospect to think of a true or false response – gets them to stop and consider the content or the features of the product or service and how they can benefit.

Whether it appears on an inside page, or as here, on the outer for Harvard Health Letter, it helps initially qualify the prospect. In this case, the reader is confronted with some information that may be true. Because it involves health, it’s a good way to push them inside to get some answers. This works for money issues as well.

3. The Interoffice Envelope
Southern Missions direct mailThis envelope design was introduced in the 1980s by Greg Dziuba for Book-of-the-Month’s Fortune Book Club. It often appeared in B-to-B efforts, as it grabs the target customer’s attention and makes a strong connection with customers working in an office environment.

Some fundraising appeals by Sacred Heart Southern Missions, a social ministry, have used this Kraft “Inter-Department Delivery” envelope for over 10 years. The last “deliver to” name here is “Fr. Jack”, with an “URGENT” notation in the comment column.

In the letter inside, Father Jack Kurps relates how a memo in a routing envelope revealed to him a dire need for replenishing funds his organization needs to aid the poor. The tactic, and the message, work together to put the reader in the shoes of that priest.

4. The Photo Lab Envelope
Dissolve direct mailJust as office memos generally travel electronically now, so do pictures. But when you have them printed on higher-quality equipment at a drug store, you still get them in a special envelope.

Dissolve, a stock footage agency, mailed photos from its collections in this envelope. They’re styled like vacation snapshots on heavier stock paper, which adds some heft to the direct mail package.

You can call any or all of these approaches “gimmicks.” But the fact that they persist shows that they still work at getting attention, and ultimately, driving response. They’re worth a test, at least.

3 thoughts on “4 Old-School Direct Mail Tactics That Still Work”

  1. I have used #1-3 many times often with good results. #4 somehow not. But these things all work. Yet not one millennial marketer in 100 today knows them.

    1. The quiz method as a landing page is becoming popular online. Surprisingly, this is the first time I’ve heard of the inter-office memo. I think that would be great for corporate b2b mailings.

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