Why Direct Mail Control Packages Fatigue

Almost every direct mail control package will fatigue at some point. The question is simply this: why? Today, I offer my insight and perspective about why winning packages slowly fatigue, and how you can get ahead of the inevitable downward curve.

Almost every direct mail control package will fatigue at some point. The question is simply this: why? Today, I offer my insight and perspective about why winning packages slowly fatigue, and how you can get ahead of the inevitable downward curve.

To understand why a direct mail control — that package you’ve invested time and money that’s now tested and wins above all others — fatigues, it’s first helpful to understand why it worked in the first place. There are a number of reasons, but there are a couple that rise above others:

  • Using the right list, you nailed the emotional hot button of why prospects respond in mass, together at this season in their lives.
  • Using the right offer, you identified the unique selling proposition that sells at this season in their lives.

Key words in the bullets above are, I believe, “at this season in their lives.” Why? Because often, as marketers we’re not always sure the buyer’s mind frame, worldview, or where they are in the season in their lives.

You’ve surely heard the cliché marketers use that says how it’s important to meet buyers where they are. Cliché or not, it’s true.

Your prospect’s state of awareness of their problem, and your solution, along with where you meet them with your copy and offer, dictates your success.

In other words, people are at some point on a continuum of knowledge about their problem and solution. Imagine a scale of 1 to 7 where a 1 represents that your prospect is completely unaware of any aspect of your product or service. Conversely, a 7 means your prospect is completely aware.

To create a winning message — whether direct mail and any other channel — your headline and lead should match the awareness on the 1 to 7 scale to be effective.

If your prospect is, say, at a 2, but your copy is at a 5, you’ll lose them because the prospect didn’t understand what you were trying to sell.

After testing various messaging approaches in your copy to “meet your prospect where they are,” let’s say you finally hit a winner: most of your prospects on the 1 to 7 scale have an awareness of 4, and your sales message aligns with that spot. You’re achieving your objectives. Time to roll out!

So you do, mailing over and over the same direct mail package, or using this message in digital channels. But in time, your prospect has seen your promotion … or they’ve caught a story on social media or TV on the topic … or they’ve read something somewhere that makes them a bit more educated and moves them up the knowledge scale.

In today’s lightning fast news cycle, in a short time — perhaps a few months — but maybe only days or hours — your market’s awareness has risen from, say, 2 to 4, or maybe even quickly from a 2 to a 7. But if you haven’t been testing different copy and creative in anticipation of this increase in awareness, you risk your message no longer being aligned with your market. If you don’t stay on top of this changing awareness and understanding, your direct mail control package or messaging in other channels fatigues, and you’ll wonder why.

In a future blog post I’ll dive into various degrees of awareness, and how you can better determine where your customers are, and where you should be. But in the meantime, here’s what you should be doing:

  1. Assess your prospect’s awareness of the problem your product or service solves.
  2. Write several different headlines and leads, with each aligning at a different level on an awareness scale.
  3. Start testing them against one another to find the sweet spot — in this moment.

Remember: if your successful headline today is a 2, you need to be testing at levels 3, 4 and higher. If you do that and find that a test is “over the heads” of your market today, tuck it away in the wings and consider testing it again when the time is right.

If you don’t identify your future “sweet spot” today, then someday, when you least expect it, your prospects will have moved higher up their awareness scale, and you’ll be resting on your laurels, thinking you’re spending money on a direct mail control winner that’s gradually slipping away.

Gary Hennerberg’s latest book is “Crack the Customer Mind Code: Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” is available on Amazon. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways and other copywriting and consulting tips, go to Hennerberg.com.

Website Design, Readability and Usability

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design. Here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Mention the concept of readability and most of us think of things like Flesch-Kincaid scores and grade levels. But there’s another side to readability that is too often overlooked: design.

As a new website is being designed, layouts are typically created for all page types. Even if dummy or “greeked” content is used, that content is styled to match the overall design and with the intention that content on the site will match.

That’s a good first step toward ensuring solid usability, but placeholder text rarely has the same range of elements as real text — the headlines and subheadlines, bullet points and pull quotes, and most critically, the links that are an important part of any website.

To combat the problem — and to keep coders from making design and usability decisions as they build out the site — here are a few points to consider when you are guiding your design team or evaluating their content-related work.

Readability: Content vs. Control

If a website does not create a distinction between editorial content and navigational controls, you will sense a problem. You may not notice it in the way a design or UX expert would, but you will notice it because the site will make you stop and think, perhaps just momentarily, about whether what you’re looking at is information to be processed or a way to move around the site.

This is rarely an issue for the main menu on a site, which are set apart from page content quite plainly and is usually consistent on nearly every page of a site. You’re more likely to run into issues with submenus and, especially, with content that doesn’t quite fit the site’s overall structure.

The latter occurs when a site wasn’t built with, say, a third level of pages in mind, and there is one small area of the site that needs that extra depth. Hardly ever will a content manager want to be bothered with calling in the designers for so small an issue, so the extra level is created as an afterthought.

Without a designer and with the inevitable focus on speed, it’s no wonder you can wind up with content that looks like navigation and navigation that looks like content.

Linking Properly

Menus always make links obvious, but there are times when it is necessary — and more appropriate — for links to appear as text within the page content. How you set these links apart is an important part of usability and a key design consideration. That said, this is a place where a designer can sometimes get in the way.

While nobody wants to see text links that look like they came straight out of 1996 — except maybe Craigslist — but from a usability standpoint, that’s a far better alternative than links that are designed to “match” the page design to the point that they are nearly undetectable. Yes, a dark gray link will match black text better than bright blue, but nobody is going to know it’s a link — especially if it’s not bold, underlined, or a different typeface.

Craig's List Screen Shot - High Readability?

There’s a lot of ground in the middle between these two options. Be sure to maximize usability first and design second.

Does It Scan?

There are hundreds of resources that will offer opinions about how long each line of text should be on your website, how large your type should be, and even whether serif or sans serif fonts are more readable. You can drive yourself mad trying to find rules to follow. Your best bet is to keep it simple.