7 Instances of Well-Intended Direct Mail Gone Bad

There are many things that can go wrong with a direct mail campaign. Before you plan your next campaign, see to it that you are not making any mistakes that can not only cost you money, but also responses. Believe it or not, bad direct mail is very common.

There are many things that can go wrong with a direct mail campaign. Before you plan your next campaign, see to it that you are not making any mistakes that can not only cost you money, but also responses. Believe it or not, bad direct mail is very common.

How Direct Mail Goes Wrong

  • List: There are many things that can go wrong with your data. You can have old, outdated information. You can select the wrong people to get the wrong offer. For example, an offer for men only, but some women are entered with the wrong gender code. These can cause problems with personalization and have you sending to people who are no longer interested, who never were interested, or are no longer at that address.
  • Call to Action: Worst case scenario is no call to action at all, followed closely by a poorly worded CTA. In order to drive response, you need a CTA that resonates with your audience.
  • Wordy: Too many words or the wrong words can get your mail piece tossed in the trash. Be concise and to-the-point. Let them know what’s in it for them and how they can get it. Details on products are a turn-off; use benefits to them to draw them in.
  • Images: The wrong images can turn people off or confuse them. Make sure you choose images that support not only your message, but also your brand.
  • Grammar: Misspellings and poor word choices are very common. You need to make sure that your copy is free of errors to get your point across correctly. Mistakes like these give you a bad reputation from which it can take a long time to recover.
  • Format: There are many USPS regulations that can cost you a lot of money if you do not follow them. When you are creating your campaign, it is best to consult with your mail service provider to find out specific details about your design idea. This can save you from paying extra postage or not being able to mail your piece at all.
  • Timing: Granted, there are differences in delivery times across the country, but there is enough information out there for you to plan on a schedule that will most likely occur. If you have a short response window, you need to make sure that the mail piece does not arrive after the window has closed. There is nothing worse than a mail piece that is trying to drive traffic to a store sale, but the mailer arrives after the sale is over. Make sure to allow yourself enough time for concept, design, print, and mail.

This is, by far, not a complete list of bad direct mail, but it does give you a comprehensive look at several key areas where things commonly go wrong. Sometimes, knowing what not to do is the best place to start planning from. Many times, the best way to stop mistakes is to allow enough time for the creative and production processes. It is also a good idea to have someone from outside your organization look over your final concept to make sure that person understands your offer and that it is appealing. Are you ready to get started on better direct mail?

Tracking Your Mail Makes All the Difference

Direct mail marketing is very data centric. Marketers are great at leveraging data about their customers and prospects, but many have never thought of leveraging USPS delivery data. The USPS has made many technological advancements over the years to enhance the visibility of mail as it processes through its plants. This allows marketers access to not only delivery speeds, but also accurate delivery dates.


Direct mail marketing is very data centric. Marketers are great at leveraging data about their customers and prospects, but many have never thought of leveraging USPS delivery data. The USPS has made many technological advancements over the years to enhance the visibility of mail as it processes through its plants. This allows marketers access to not only delivery speeds, but also accurate delivery dates.

What information does the post office have available?

1. The USPS has first scan data — the piece is processed after being dropped at the post office.

2. The USPS has out for delivery scan data — the carriers have the mail on their trucks to deliver.

Why does this information matter?

1. Delivery Speeds

The delivery speed of your mail can vary greatly. Some areas of the U.S. process mail at faster speeds than others. When you have the information about which areas are slow, you can plan to mail to them sooner. This becomes really important when you have a hard deadline date on your mail piece. It needs to get to recipients before it expires.

2. Delivery Dates

When you know the dates your mail pieces are delivered, you’re able to coordinate follow-up campaigns. Because most marketers are using more than one channel, it becomes important to know when to send the next message. Accurate in-home dates provide you with a trigger point you can rely on. Knowing when your payments are coming by tracking your business reply envelopes can also be helpful for your accounting departments.

Since direct mail is an effective way to drive people to online content, it’s usually the first step in a multi-channel campaign. Knowing that, the USPS delivery information is the key to the steps that follow it. Since timing is everything in marketing, adding the USPS delivery information can give your ROI a boost.

Depending on the service provider of your tracking, there are many options for you to view the information. Some of the most common are:

  1. Scans by SCF
  2. Scans by NDC
  3. Scans by State
  4. Scans by Date
  5. Scans by DDU
  6. Scans by 5 Digit Zip
  7. Scans by 3 Digit Zip

There’s really a lot of valuable information in these reports. One of the best benefits of this information is being able to know when there’s a problem. If you have start of process scans but they have gone no further for several days, it’s time to reach out to a postal representative to find out what’s happening. If you’re able to catch a problem quickly, you can get a resolution quickly. In turn, your mail will get delivered in a reasonable amount of time.

Consider tracking your next direct mail campaign so you can see when recipients are getting your mail and then you can send out a follow up message. Remember, the more times and ways you touch your customers and prospects, the better response you are going to get.

Have you tried direct mail tracking? What did you like or dislike about it? One thing to keep in mind is that just because a mail piece was not scanned, it does not mean that it was not delivered. This is especially true for flats. Many times flat size mail is not run on the scanning equipment, so we see low scan tracking data on this type of mail. We recommend tracking letter size pieces for better scan results.

Extended Coverage: USPS – Will It Disappear?

When your editor makes a decision to defend you in the comments section below a feature article, then the article must have hit a nerve! I talked to several mailers, and association leaders who represent them, in a feature this month in the magazine … as I should: mailers have a lot to say about goings-on at the Postal Service

When your editor makes a decision to defend you in the comments section below a feature article, then the article must have hit a nerve!

I talked to several mailers, and association leaders who represent them, in a feature this month in the magazine … as I should: mailers have a lot to say about goings-on at the Postal Service (and not-goings-on in Congress) leading some mail marketers to re-evaluate the medium. I’d say it is a timely premise—particularly with the recent exigent postage hike on top of the inflation-indexed hike.

Far more was offered than I could include in the feature. However, “Marketing Sustainably” has a bit of room and—with my editor’s permission—allow me to share a few more observations.

Let me be clear, every mailer I talked to wants the Postal Service to succeed. The prescriptions may vary. What may be unclear is how it will succeed…

Always the Postologist, Charley Howard of Harte-Hanks had these points to share on a future path:

“If the Postal Service is allowed to manage its own healthcare, get the pre-retirement funding relief from Congress that it is due, and get Congress to back off on leaning in on operations, I believe that we would have a USPS that is both viable and competitive. We should close post offices that only see 1.5 people a day, limit some mail delivery to five days (keep the parcels moving) and have the USPS become more sensitive to pricing. These outcomes require enabling legislation—and that’s a big ‘if’ and certainly not likely in an election year, never mind by 2020 or 2025.”

“I believe the leadership of the USPS, Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe in particular, has made the right decisions to try and save the post office,” says Paul Ercolino of U.S. Monitor. “Cost cutting, Network Rationalization and five-day delivery are all controversial decisions, but they are essential if the Post Office is to survive in the coming years.”

Hamilton Davison of the American Catalog Mailers Association spoke about innovation—but still sees challenges because of the process of oversight:

“Innovation on the revenue side, or improvements to [the Postal Service’s] cost structure, will only occur if it is given the freedom to experiment free from regulatory or political concerns. While it is right and proper that the enormous market power of the Postal Service not be unchecked, it should be given greater freedom in advancing markets or improving its cost structure without undue concern about these regulatory and political pressures. Management today is handcuffed in too many areas. Barriers to experimentation on a modest scale must be removed so the USPS can demonstrate pathways for greater innovation that can then be rolled out system-wide under the review of a regulator. Getting the regulator involved in early stage exploration of potential innovation is much more cumbersome.”

And Joel Quadrucci of Quad-Graphics spoke to mail’s role in a multichannel, digital-savvy world:

“We live in a multichannel media world, and print is—and will continue to be—a critical marketing and communications channel,” he said. “Print is especially powerful when connected with other channels. Direct mail is a critical channel because of its ability to drive action to numerous other media channels. Direct mail and digital marketing channels will move forward hand in hand, with direct mail creating a compelling call to action and digital marketing channels giving consumers a way to act.”

“The entire world of logistics is evolving along with retail,” Quadrucci continued. “More and more consumers are opting for the convenience of shopping online. We already see it with Amazon building distribution centers all over the country with the goal of facilitating same-day delivery of its products. The USPS could play a pivotal role in this evolving world of logistics; it is has many strengths. But in order to be competitive with alternative delivery systems, it must address its current challenges head-on.”

Clearly marketers must stay engaged with the Postal Service—and with Congress—as we tackle these challenges together. The Postal Service clearly has my support, too. Now if I could only sate Denny Hatch.

PMG Fights Congress on Postal Reform

The U.S. Postal Service reiterated this past week—in hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—just how crucial it is that Congress undertake reforms that are necessary for the USPS to accrue the savings to restore its fiscal state. There should be no “half measures,” Postmaster General (PMG) Pat Donahoe stated

The U.S. Postal Service reiterated this past week—in hearings before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee—just how crucial it is that Congress undertake reforms that are necessary for the USPS to accrue the savings to restore its fiscal state.

There should be no “half measures,” Postmaster General (PMG) Pat Donahoe stated.

First, PMG Donahoe questioned draft “discussion” legislation being devised by Rep. Darell Issa (R-CA) to enable USPS management’s bold efforts to “right size” Postal Service costs and infrastructure to volume trends. As Direct Marketing News reported on July 17:

“The draft did not appear to meet the full approval of the PMG, however, who is adamant that any new legislation remove the U.S. Postal Service’s obligation to prefund employee health and retirement programs. Issa’s plan calls for future payments to be made on an actuarial calculation that will reduce the Postal Service’s annual $5.7 billion prefunding payment, which it defaulted on last year.

“‘We are seeking the authority under the law to control our healthcare and retirement costs. We can completely eliminate the need for Retiree Health Benefit prefunding if we can move to our proposed solution,’ Donahoe said, addressing Issa directly.”

The Postmaster General maintains that being allowed to set up its own healthcare coverage for retirees programs would lower premiums paid by employees, while delivering up to $8 billion in savings annually. Donahoe also is asking Congress to return $6 billion in USPS “overpayments” to the Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS).

At this juncture, Rep. Issa’s discussion draft does not include provisions for enabling these savings in full, and the Postmaster General says time is running out-or more defaults will be in the offing. (The next default on payments likely will occur this September, Reuters reports.)

Next, the Postal Service is seeking Congressional approval—and likely Postal Regulatory Commission approval as well—on a five-day delivery plan for residential mail delivery, and the estimated $2 billion in savings it estimates it would achieve there. The false start earlier this year—USPS unilaterally announced its five-day delivery intent beginning August, and Congress promptly shot those plans down the following month—doesn’t mean that five-day delivery is dead. On the contrary, USPS management believes such savings are crucial toward keeping delivery costs in line with volume and revenue: First-Class Mail volume, in particular, continues its decline, despite an improved U.S. economy.

Some of my contacts in the mail industry say that five-day residential delivery is probably (1) inevitable, (2) something direct mailers can adapt their production and transportation schedules to live with, and (3) perhaps necessary for long-term USPS viability, as the PMG reports. While postal unions—and their supporters in Congress—are still not for it, the need for cost-cutting and right-sizing USPS delivery infrastructure remains. Alternate proposals for achieving $2 billion in savings (or revenue from new and existing product lines) so that six-day Ddelivery can remain so far remain elusive.

All in all, PMG Donahoe wants that $20 billion onto the USPS bottom line to come from somewhere—and he knows it can’t come from higher postal rates, not at least until the Postal Service is more lean.

As the PMG told Congress this past week, “The Postal Service continues to face systemic financial challenges because it has a business model that does not allow it to adapt to changes in the marketplace, and it does not have the legal authority to make the fundamental changes that are necessary to achieve long-term financial stability.” (Reuters, July 17).

Harte-Hanks has published an informative discussion of current postal reform efforts, and I encourage interested readers to take a deeper dive: http://www.harte-hanks.com/postology/Harte-Hanks_PostologyReport_2013_July.pdf

We’ve been waiting for Congress to act in a serious manner on postal issues since 2006-if not before. How much longer?

Postal Delivery: Which Will It Be—5 Days or 6 Days?

I just had a great exchange with my letter carrier while at my mailbox today. Of course, I brought up the likelihood of five-day delivery come August, to which she gave a candid response, “Well, we’ve been losing money.” That’s why it’s easy to be indignant when some members of Congress, perhaps predictably, jumped onto the current appropriations bill with mandates for six-day delivery. Yet, one has to ask, where are the means for real relief from some of the costliest demands of the 2006 postal reform law?

I just had a great exchange with my letter carrier (as I sometimes do) while at my mailbox today, and I wonder how many times a day my carrier is interrupted in her work, as I interrupted her, to politely chit-chat. Of course, I brought up the likelihood of five-day delivery come August, to which she gave a candid response, “Well, we’ve been losing money.”

Most Americans—and maybe even some carriers—don’t know the full story—or any story—about how the United States Postal Service endures pre-funding retirement benefit mandates from Congress, as well as other cost-drivers that have nothing to do with the digital age, electronic bill payments and multichannel communication trends. Nor do they know that both The White House and Congress spend these mandated monies on their own programs, even as the federal deficit spirals.

That’s why it’s easy to be indignant when some members of Congress, perhaps predictably, jumped onto the current appropriations bill (a continuing resolution to fund the government beyond March 27) with mandates for six-day delivery. Yet, one has to ask, where are the means for real relief from some of the costliest demands of the 2006 postal reform law? Making the Postal Service stick with Saturday delivery isn’t the action we need Congress to take.

Is it really enough, or correct, to just counter USPS management efforts to cut costs and right-size the network? Why not delve deeper into the ills that Congress and the Administration—both parties involved here—have heaped onto the Postal Service’s bottom line? Why not revisit real postal reform? How many more years must the Postal Service get squeezed, and default on payments, before Congress and the Obama (or next) Administration take seriously its cause, its future, its sustainability?

Late last month, National Public Radio discussed, in a piece regarding postal services around the globe, how these services are coping with lower demand of an increasingly electronic society: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=172932914

It’s funny how much of “Socialist” Europe already has privatized its posts (not that citizens or businesses are the better for it). On the other hand, it’s very serious to say our quasi-public U.S. Postal Service still runs the most efficient ship of all, universal delivery at a fair price, despite its tethers to political whims …

… and despite my “stealing” of expensive carrier street time! five-day or six-day delivery is a concern for many mailers—but it’s really not the most important postal operations issue that needs to be addressed.

5-Day Delivery: Cost Cutting or Congressional Gambit?

As a citizen and a close follower of postal goings on, I realize the United States Postal Service and Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe ultimately are not to blame for the 5-Day Delivery announcement which transpired on February 6. Postal customers, labor unions, direct marketers and Americans in general have reasons to be angry—or at least very concerned—as to what is really going on here

As a citizen and a close follower of postal goings on, I realize the United States Postal Service and Postmaster General Patrick Donohoe ultimately are not to blame for the five-day delivery announcement which transpired on February 6. Postal customers, labor unions, direct marketers and Americans in general have reasons to be angry—or at least very concerned—as to what is really going on here.

We all know that it is Congress and the White House—as a whole, not any lawmaker in particular—that largely caused the Postal Service’s recent default and current fiscal mess. Their inability or unwillingness to stop the mandating of 75-year pre-funding of USPS retiree benefits, and the subsequent raiding of those funds for the federal government’s own spending sprees elsewhere, deserves much of the blame.

Cost-cutting and diminishing services to U.S. citizens have been forced on the Postal Service, because a “fiscal cliff” already has arrived at L’Enfant Plaza.

Yes, there are other macroeconomic issues in play at the Postal Service—the digital migration of First-Class Mail, electronic payments and the Great Recession’s most recent effects and after-effects, for example. All the same, forcing such draconian budget mandates on the Postal Service is a serious miscalculation that was (unfortunately) included in the 2006 postal reform law. No other federal agency is held to the same pre-funding benchmark, and even fewer responsibly financed and accountable private pension schemes (there are still a few around) ever look to seven decades to the future.

This needed fixing five years ago, when the economy started to teeter and such rosy views of postal finances quickly began to sour. Here we are in 2013, and we’re still waiting for Congress to act.

The White House hasn’t been helpful either.

Now we’re faced with five-day delivery come August—and we’re left wondering if it can be stopped, reversed, prevented or mitigated, even if Congress and the White House were able and wished to intervene.

Will the reported $2 billion in said-savings really transpire—and make a difference? Has anyone considered the economic trade-offs? We all know many weekend advertisers that relish a spot in the mailbox on Saturdays—and this generates a lot of commerce. Can it all be simply pushed to a Friday?

The reality is that the Postal Service, as much as it seeks to manage itself as a business, remains a quasi-public institution, a part of our Constitution, and subject to both cycles of Congressional meddling and Congressional relief, the latter now being in short supply.

It’s quite amazing that the Postal Service is as efficient and as affordable as any postal service in the world, public or private—delivering communications to our homes six days a week. Still, it must deal with political representation that well may be intended, but which only seems to punt from crisis to crisis—or worse, after each crisis has rendered its most devastating effects.

Here we are in a downward cycle … again. This time our daily mail—and direct mail advertising along with it—is being expedited, by Congress, to the dilemma faced by dying daily newspapers in stagnant metropolitan markets—going, going, gone, at least on Saturdays.

Except this is our Postal Service, belonging to the citizens of the United States on paper. Is this squeeze on hardcopy communication inevitable—and our only choice? Or will some in Congress and the Obama Administration wake up to the fact that the Postal Service is a secret weapon for many brands (and political candidates), as well as a service to its citizens, and, therefore, do all their Constitutional best to ensure a viable future here?

By the way, I LOVE this recent piece in Esquire—required reading for our lawmakers: http://www.esquire.com/print-this/post-office-business-trouble-0213?page=all.

Some Email Industry BS We Should All Be Wise to by Now

Quick! Which email service provider has the best delivery rate? Don’t know? Neither do I. Let’s try and find an answer. According to a list put out by ranking firm topseos, Pinpointe On-Demand has the best delivery rate of 10 email service providers it ranked for January. Let’s just cut to the real problem with Topseos’ rankings list—that it mentioned ESPs’ so-called “delivery rates” at all.

Quick! Which email service provider has the best delivery rate?

Don’t know? Neither do I. Let’s try and find an answer.

According to a list put out by ranking firm topseos, Pinpointe On-Demand—as topseos referred to it—has the best delivery rate of 10 email service providers it ranked for January.

The company name is actually just Pinpointe, but let’s not quibble.

No, let’s just cut to the real problem with Topseos’ rankings list—that it mentioned ESPs’ so-called “delivery rates” at all.

ESPs don’t have delivery rates. Or they shouldn’t anyway.

Why? Because every major lever that affects whether email gets delivered to people’s email boxes is under the list owner’s control.

Email inbox providers’ spam filters have traditionally relied on three major metrics to determine whether or not email coming from a specific sender is spam: the number of spam complaints, the number of bad addresses a mailer tries to reach and the number of spam traps they hit.

And these days, ISPs are reportedly increasingly looking at engagement metrics—clicks and opens, for example, or lack thereof—to weed out unwanted mail.

All of the above-mentioned metrics are directly attributable to the sender’s behavior, not the ESPs’.

Yet, some email service providers tout their so-called delivery rates in their sales pitches.

For example, Constant Contact claims its delivery rate is 97 percent. But when one reads why its delivery rate is so high, it becomes clear

“We hold our customers to high standards with good email marketing habits and practices,” says a headline on the page touting Constant Contact’s delivery rate.

There is nothing wrong with Constant Contact touting high standards.

And this isn’t to say an ESP has nothing at its disposal that can affect delivery rates. For example, an ESP can affect deliverability by throttling-or sending the messages at a slower rate—so ISPs are less likely to block them.

Also some ESPs have better support structures in place than others. As a result, delivery rates can reportedly vary from ESP to ESP. But it’s not the ESPs’ delivery rates we’re discussing here. It’s the senders’ delivery rates.

This may sound like a ridiculously minor quibble. But referring to email delivery rates as the ESPs’ shifts responsibility for behavior that helps ensure high delivery rates from where it belongs—the sender.

Senders of commercial email must continuously be made aware that the responsibility for ensuring high email delivery rates lies mostly with them and there’s not an ESP in the world that can magically overcome the deliverability consequences of sloppy email address acquisition practices and poor list hygiene.