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!

A Great Match: Diamonds and Direct Mail

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Candy and flowers are easy. But jewelry … not so much. So I turned to direct mail for some ideas.

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and you know how that goes. Candy and flowers — they’re easy. But jewelry … diamonds  … not so much. This year, I wanted to get something different for my beloved, so I turned to direct mail for some help. Along the way to finding something that she’ll really like, I also found some examples of good marketing practices.

The first brand name I thought of was Blue Nile, the world’s biggest online seller of diamonds. Back in 2000-2001, long before content marketing became a thing, these folks were actually doing it. Blue Nile mailed a 40-page booklet targeting clueless guys (ahem  … me) with advice on “how to carve a turkey,” “why you should buy a tux,” and yes, “how to buy a diamond.”

Blue N_01I pulled it from the files of Who’s Mailing What, and it was exactly as I remembered. Lots of copy, kind of cheeky, with nothing too technical, just a good starting explanation of the four C’s of diamond selection: cut, color, clarity, carat weight. No pricing that might scare off buyers even before they’ve had time to digest what they’ve learned. For some people, the easygoing tone, minimalist graphics, and simplified information are enough to begin looking around on a website, but I wanted more.

Next, I looked at a mailer from Mitchells, an independent family of retail stores out of Westport, Conn. that prides itself on exceptional customer service. Mailed in 2011, this guide to “Our Diamonds!” is a giant 10”x13” brochure printed on heavy soft gloss paper that shows off its wares in crisp black-and-white and 4-color photos.


One page includes a 3”x6” diagram of the “Anatomy of a Diamond.” It’s good information to show; you can almost imagine one of Mitchells’ salespersons carefully taking the time to personally explain the details to you in one of the stores. There’s no pricing for anything here either, but given the store’s upper income demographic, that’s another detail best left to the salespeople. The company’s expertise is highlighted throughout the brochure via quotes, photos and service descriptions.

With some background now in hand, I poked around the website for Diamond Nexus, a Wisconsin-based online retailer, before signing up for its email. The incentive — a chance to win a ring — was pretty persuasive.

Immediately, a pop-up address form was launched, asking “Would you like a FREE catalog?” I filled it out and four business days later, I got a polybagged copy of the company’s Winter 2015 direct mail catalog.


It measures 7-1/2”x10-1/2”, 60 pages, on heavy stock paper. Sharp color images of diamonds, rings, and jewelry are scattered throughout. And there’s pricing! But what really sets the catalog apart, and sparked my interest initially, is its focus on the company’s unique selling proposition (USP). All of its diamonds are manufactured, or “grown” in a lab, not mined. The ethical and environmental reasons for this business choice are explained over a few pages at the front of the book.

DN_02They’re followed by several pages of photos and highly-detailed charts describing how its diamonds are made, sized and certified, and how they differ from the mined diamonds of their competition. At the same time, a “No Regrets Guarantee” is offered to offset any worry that the customer may have about the purchase.

The great thing about the content provided in all of these direct mail packets is that it fit each of its audiences so well. Getting the customer to like and trust your brand — whether it’s with offbeat humor, terrific customer service or different ethical standards — can be an approach that stands out in a crowded field and creates lifetime customers.