The Best Direct Mail Is Influential

Is your direct mail telling a story right now? It should be! Why, you ask? Well, people respond to and remember stories. Stories build trust, and even alter our brain chemistry with cortisol and oxytocin to bring about focus and empathy.

direct mail storytellingHow is your current direct mail influencing people to buy from you? Are you getting the results you expected? What if you could increase them by changing your narrative? The normal facts-based approach is not the best way to reach people. In order to best illustrate the value of your product or service, you need to tell a compelling story. Why? Because emotion trumps logic every time.

Is your direct mail telling a story right now? It should be! Why, you ask? Well people respond to and remember stories. Stories build trust, and even alter our brain chemistry with cortisol and oxytocin to bring about focus and empathy. These are great ways to get people interested in your direct mail. No one is interested in your logic; they identify with the story and buy because of it. This is why we sell benefits with direct mail — not features.

A story is not your tagline, slogan or mission statement. Those things do not sell your product or service. A story happens in a moment of time. There is a beginning, middle and end. There are emotions involved not facts. There are people to care about. Do not just brush the surface with an idea — really tell the story. Commit to it and people will commit to your company. Keep in mind that it does not have to be heart wrenching to cause an emotional response.

So how do you find your story? Talk to customers about their experiences with you as a company and your product or service. Talk to your employees, too! You can even use your own life to find a story. Make lists of your differentiators, benefits, and changes that have happened and decisions that have been made for either better or worse. All of these can help you to craft your story. The key is to engage with your customers and prospects through the story. When your story resonates with your prospects and customers, they buy from you.

Once you have some concepts laid out, review each option along with your team to see which one stands out the most. It is a good idea to also show it to someone outside your organization to make sure they understand it and feel what you are expecting them to. If they do not, you will need to try another story or figure out a better way to tell that story. Creating your compelling story will take some time. Do not rush it. The more time you spend on it, the better story you will have.

So now that you have your story, how can you translate that into your direct mail? Obviously this will be easier with a letter format over a postcard, but that does not mean you can’t use a postcard. In fact, a visual story can start with a postcard and be finished by sending them to a landing page with your video story. There are many ways to incorporate your story into your mail piece. When reaching out for the first time, you will need to supply the whole story or a way for them to get the whole story. After that you can use bits and pieces of the story to draw them into your mailer and continue to grow the story. Have you tried using a story in your direct mail? How did it work for you?

Make Brand Waves This Summer!

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention. In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders.

A recent Sperry Top-Sider ad caught my attention with this bite-sized story:

A Man – A Boat – A Dog

A True Story

The seas were rough. A man was tossed about trying to steady his sails and struggled to find sure footing. Paul Sperry almost lost his life that day. He was a lifelong sailor and inventor, driven to perfect a non-slip boat shoe. One day after watching his dog dart effortlessly across the ice, he carved grooves—like those on his dog’s paws—into the bottom of a rubber sole. In that moment of inspiration, the legend of Paul Sperry was born.

In five sentences, the brand story of Sperry Top-Sider was succinctly and engagingly told. I believe it also unpacks two important lessons for all brand-builders:

1. What is your brand driven to perfect? A former Sperry Top-Sider ad was headlined with the words: MAKE WAVES. This innovative, problem-solving mindset is part of Sperry’s brand DNA and drives all they do. Their “passion for the sea” infuses their brand with a desire to make life better for those who love being near the ocean. Does your brand provide buzz-worthy, practical and useful solutions for your customers?

2. Where do your brand ambassadors—those creating problem-solving products and services—get their inspiration? How much time is dedicated to “moodling” and looking up and outside your industry for creative solutions? A similar story to Paul Sperry’s can be told about Martin Keen, founder of the KEEN sandals. After he perfected the design of a practical hybrid sandal and grew KEEN into a significant brand in the outdoor sporting world, he found inspiration for his second company in his barn. A rusted metal stool with a tractor seat became the impetus for his ergonomically designed Locus Seat, marketed as the “the perfect balance between sitting and standing.” Rarely is brand inspiration found in a cubicle.

This summer, why not give your brand the gift of spaciousness and see what waves you might make?

Why Advertisers Need to Think Native

Native advertising is the latest buzzword. Even venerable publishers such as The New York Times, The Atlantic and Forbes, are trying it out. Is the trend bound to fade, or is it here to stay? Despite some shoddy applications, it’s here to stay.

Native advertising is the latest buzzword. Even venerable publishers such as The New York Times, The Atlantic and Forbes, are trying it out. Is the trend bound to fade, or is it here to stay? Despite some shoddy applications, it’s here to stay.

Although the term “native advertising” was coined by the venture capitalist Fred Wilson just under two years ago, the concept is neither new nor unprecedented. It covers any advertising format that is customized to the user experience of a given platform. Or, in the words of Gini Dietrich, native advertising “integrates high-quality content into the organic experience of a given platform.” A 30-second ad during the Super Bowl? Native. Sponsored stories in Facebook? Native. Paid results on Google? Native. The brilliant humor pieces produced by the Onion that overtly pitch products? Native.

All of these advertising formats work within the existing user experience of a medium to deliver messaging that enhances the experience, or at the least does not interrupt the flow of it. Where it goes wrong is when it interrupts or detracts from the user-experience in fundamental ways.

Take the controversy over the The Atlantic‘s favorable article on scientology, which was paid for by Scientology in response to another more negative story. Readers of the magazine had a hard time distinguishing that this was, in fact, bought. The tone and the format mimicked standard Atlantic articles. By eliding the distinction between paid and editorial content, Atlantic was undermining its reputation for objectivity. Users come to the Atlantic for powerful, independent thinking on society and current affairs. An ad that mimics the form of an independent piece of writing on an important cultural topic detracts from its reputation for independence. Andrew Sullivan goes even further:

“This is corporate propaganda, not journalism. Yes, it is identified as such—but on the video page, actual journalism by brilliant writers like Alexis Madrigal is interspersed with corporate-funded propaganda. You can easily mistake one for the other.”

Not all publishers need to be as careful about creating clear divisions between their editorial content and their sponsored content. Aggregators and news repackagers, such as BuzzFeed or the Huffington Post, are already taking information from a variety of sources. But even they need to ensure the quality of the content and the clarity of tags that show the content as sponsored. People don’t mind paid content if it provides useful information or entertainment value—or if the paid content resides in a context where all of the content is highly opinionated. SayMedia has thrived in this niche by providing content with strong positions on trends, tech and society. Including paid content fits right in.

The real potential for native advertising, however, is where it actually enhances the user experience in new media formats. The Onion has proudly embraced its cynicism, best stated in a column by its advertising columnist Hammond Morris, “Look, I know this may all seem somewhat untoward, and we can go through a whole dog-and-pony show here where I pretend that this column exists as a forum for ideas, and that I act as an independent voice who isn’t beholden to advertisers, and the power of the First Amendment, and blah blah, etc. etc. But let’s get real for a second here, okay? This column—nay, this entire website, this entire industry we call journalism—exists for one purpose and one purpose only: to sell ads. Lots of ads.”

It’s not just that it’s completely self-aware, it produces advertising that’s genuinely funny. The Onion has gone as far as setting up its own in-house creative group called Onlon Labs with the goal of creating funny, self-aware advertising completely in-line with the rest of the Onion‘s content.

The New York Times last week introduced a native advertising format that likewise provide useful information for its readers. The content appears as a tab in The Scoop, the Times‘ activities discovery app, and it provides information about the Citibank-promoted bikeshare program. According to the press release: “This is just one example of how we are working more closely with our advertisers to create unique and custom campaigns to help them tell their brand story in innovative ways,” said Denise Warren, executive vice president, Digital Products and Services Group, The New York Times. “The integration of Citi Bike’s robust content complements The Scoop app’s main objective—to serve as a guide to New York City. With these new features, we hope to further enhance the experience for users of The Scoop as they explore the city using their iPhone.”

Whether or not the tab gains widespread usage is an open question. But the Times did its homework. It knows how people use its media properties. It knows the information that would be useful to its users. And it knows what will compromise its underlying credibility. With that knowledge, it created a new advertising product. That’s how advertisers need to think.

The key takeaway for advertisers is you need to know how a user interacts with the medium—and that new media might have native advertising formats that completely differ from existing formats. Advertorials and space ads might make sense in a lot of contexts, but even more effective formats might open up if you just think about what actually enhances the user’s experience. That’s the promise of native.