Is How-To Content in Your Junk Mail Drawer?

I took a little time the other day and went through a drawer at work where I keep a motley collection of direct mail pieces I’ve collected over the years. Some of them have made their way into videos. Some of them I used in blog posts. And quite a few I forgot I even had.

I took a little time the other day – like an hour – and went through a drawer at work where I keep a motley collection of direct mail pieces I’ve collected over the years. Some of them have made their way into videos. Some of them I used in blog posts. And quite a few I forgot I even had.

Here’s an example: I have a folder filled with “how-to” mail. These are booklets and postcards that include instructions for various things that various marketers have said we should know how to do. Kind of like The Worst Case Scenario Survival Handbook.

SiteyardHi_01Speaking of which, check out the cover of a booklet from Zapwerk, a now-defunct web publishing software provider. Besides that bit of helpful alligator advice, there are tips on “how to avoid being struck by lightning,” “how to survive an avalanche,” as well as lots of illustrations.

Blue Nile_02I found another copy of Blue Nile’s classic “How To Buy A Diamond” brochure that I wrote about a few months ago. So among other things, I was reminded of how to read palms, say “I love you” in various languages, and oh yeah, pick out jewelry the right way.

For a while — about 10 years ago — Volkswagen sent out a series of mail pieces that laid out steps for some basic life lessons, like how to fold fitted sheets. And, ummm … I still have a little trouble with that one.

VWHi_01VW also mailed a 42-page booklet called “Five Things to Build in This Lifetime.” This is pretty cool: detailed plans on how to put together a doghouse, a tire swing, a birdhouse, an Adirondack Chair and a picnic table (which I’ve already done, by the way).

VeerHi_21And then there’s my favorite, a secret society campaign from Veer, the stock photo and type website that was closed by Getty Images earlier this year.

Back in 2008, it mailed a “Members Handbook.” This was a 28-page booklet filled with rules of conduct, special handshakes, code phrases and many riddles. I still haven’t figured some of those out. But at least I got some of the typography humor.

So, what’s so great about a bunch of older direct mail pieces?

First, the copy is so strong and compelling. Curiosity kept me reading in 2016 as much as it did the first time they landed on my desk. And, putting aside the tangential content, each company promoted its own product or service in a way that would make me trust their expertise.

Second, they’re fun to read. They don’t take themselves so seriously, but present their information in a way that makes me smile, or even laugh.

Third, all of this content is simple. With the possible exception of some of the Adirondack Chair instructions, sentences are short and easy to read. Illustrations are plentiful.

Finally, all of these mail pieces are roughly pocket-size. They easily fit into your hands and were printed on good paper. That’s the power of print.

To stand out against the increasing amount of digital clutter, think about how printed content like this can humanize your brand and help you share information with your audience.

How about it marketers? Have some interesting “how-to” mail that’s worked for you, or that you’ve enjoyed? Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

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