Do the Unexpected in Direct Mail: The Opposite

Marketers often ask me if there any new tactics or creative approaches in their specific industry’s direct mail or email. That’s a tough one to answer, even with what I know about each sector. So, I sometimes recommend that they carefully evaluate what their competition does, and then do the opposite.

Marketers often ask me if there any new tactics or creative approaches in their specific industry’s direct mail or email. That’s a tough one to answer, even with what I know about each sector. So, I sometimes recommend that they carefully evaluate what their competition does, and then do the opposite.

Let me explain.

If you were a fan of the classic TV series “Seinfeld,” you’ll remember that advice was the premise for an episode called “The Opposite.”

GeoOppPerennial loser George Costanza turns his life around and finds success — at least for a while — by “doing the opposite” of every instinct in his body.

The whole premise of Who’s Mailing What! is to see what others are doing in direct mail and email, then “steal smart.” But you can be just as smart by not following the crowd.

Here’s a great “opposite” design tactic that I’ve seen:

GraphicsAm_01Usually, most conference and seminar marketers promote a show or workshop using self-mailers with lots of grids, blocks upon blocks of copy, pages of bullet-pointed benefits … and that’s pretty much it.

But conventions by definition are where people get together.

A mailing like this from the Printing Association of Florida – for the Graphics of the Americas show — is the opposite of what most other marketers do in that vertical.

This spread has lots of photos that show people learning, buying and selling, and engaging. You know — all of the things you do at an actual trade show or conference. The photos can be a bit unpolished, unposed … because they’re real and authentic.

And here’s a control from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine with a great teaser on the front above an image of a beautiful Dalmatian mix:

PCRM_01“She is suffering … And mailing you a nickel won’t help.”

The letter inside picks up the theme.  “Some groups will mail a nickel to their letters to get your attention … we’d rather use that nickel to save a dog like Queenie.”

It makes a case for support without offering premiums, either on the front end or back end. In other words, it’s the opposite of what many other nonprofits rely on in their direct mail to build membership and drive donor acquisition.

This isn’t all that radical a concept for this vertical. Oxfam America has had an appeal in the mail for over 10 years — one of our Grand Controls — that says the same thing once you get to the letter.

Think through your marketing. Do you really want to your direct mail to be thrown immediately into recycling because it looks and reads just like your competitors? Or can you stand out by being really different?

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