3 Great Ways to Pose a Question in Direct Mail (and 1 Note of Caution)

Sometimes you realize that something’s escaped your attention. Take the direct mail that I read. I’ve made lists, but not for mail that asks questions.

Sometimes, even when you think you’re a very detail-oriented person, you realize that there’s something else that’s escaped your attention. Take the direct mail that I read every day. I’ve made lists of all kinds of features that our Who’s Mailing What! database doesn’t capture, but I never started one for direct mail that asks questions effectively.

I could think of a few examples off the top of my head, almost all of them in teasers. But I had to do some serious digging through my file folders to begin to get a handle on what works well in creating reader involvement, and eventually, inspiring action. And although I’m not close to being done, here are some early observations on what I’ve found.

1. Appeal To Emotion

This is a no-brainer. It’s pretty common across all verticals to leverage one of the seven main copy drivers (guilt, flattery, anger, exclusivity, fear, greed and salvation).

Volvo mail

Here’s a postcard from Volvo that taps into fear of hitting a runner moving across the front of your vehicle. “Are your brakes ready?” it asks.  The promotion is for a multi-point brake inspection, so that your car is “ready for whatever comes your way.”

I have to mention this. A membership renewal effort from the Republican National Committee begins with a question that’s good at inspiring some guilt: “I don’t want to believe you’ve abandoned the Republican Party, but I have to ask … Have you given up?” This letter is a long-lived Grand Control, in the mail for over 15 years.

2. Make the Reader Curious

You have some information to provide about your product, your service, or your nonprofit. To attract the attention of the prospect, you can make them want to know more.

CROH_01This teaser question from Consumer Reports on Health, “Do you make these 10 common mistakes about your health?”, is a variation on one originally written by Max Sackheim for a mail order course more than 80 years ago: “Do You Make These Mistakes In English?” It’s been copied by lots of others, mostly unsuccessfully, over the decades.

Other examples:

“Why does my cat do that?”  —CatWatch
“Honey (and Vinegar) Can Do WHAT?” —FC&A Publishing
“Can these students save America’s national parks?” —Student Conservation Association

3. Make ‘Yes’ Easy

Good yes and no questions are a lot harder to formulate than you might think .You should avoid wording your question so that a weak “yes” or a flat-out “no” stops the prospect from reading further.

You want your question to be focused. You want it to be so cut-and-dried, so  rhetorical, so obvious that the reader buys in enthusiastically with a “yes,” and continues reading, and agreeing with your pitch.

WomensHealth_02This is a good example from a mailer for Women’s Health: “Want to look better naked?” Considering the audience, this is a leading question that works.

The bottom line is that questions should always be geared toward one goal: getting the prospective customer, member, or donor to seek the answers (or at least begin to) from the direct mail piece in front of them.

Are there good questions in direct mail that you like? Please feel free to share in the comments below.

3 Common Direct Mail Questions and Answers

Direct mail can be a complicated and intimidating marketing channel if you are not familiar with it or have encountered problems in previous campaigns. Don’t let that stop you from using it.

MailboxDirect mail can be a complicated and intimidating marketing channel if you are not familiar with it or have encountered problems in previous campaigns. Don’t let that stop you from using it. Here are answers to three common direct mail questions and concerns that can help you not only avoid issues, but have confidence that your direct mail will provide you a good ROI.

1. What Do I Do if My Data Files Are Not Current?
There are a few ways that data files can be cleaned to give you a fresh list. The first is to update addresses for moves. This can be done before mailing with the USPS NCOA (National Change of Address) data file. Your list is run against the USPS file and any move addresses are appended to your file.

In some cases, people move and do not update the post office with their current address. In those cases the records are flagged and the addresses can be removed.

Many times an outdated file will have people on it that are no longer living. In order to correct that problem, your data file can be run against the national deceased file.

This will provide you with all the people that should be removed from your mailing.

2. How Do I Keep My Postage Costs Down?
The first thing to do is to make sure that the design of your mail piece is USPS compatible. If it is not, you will have to pay postage surcharges. If you need help with the USPS regulations, contact your mail service provider and they can guide you.

The next thing to do is to make sure that you are only mailing to addresses that have been CASS/DPV validated, so you are sending to good mailing addresses.

Finally, choose your mailing list wisely. Only send to people that are interested in your specific offer. You can save the rest of your list for the next campaign that is a better fit. Sending an offer to someone who is not interested is more than just a waste of postage and printing, it can aggravate the recipient and have them think twice before buying from you again.

3. How Long Will My Mail Take to Deliver?
Since the post office has made so many changes over the last two years we have seen drastic changes in delivery times.

The worst recorded times were last spring. At that time, the post office really stepped up to the plate, admitted a problem and took measures to fix delivery times.

On average, the delivery times we are seeing for letter size mail are: First Class Mail to the other side of the country in five to seven days, Standard Mail in seven to 15 days. This can vary depending on the amount of mail at each post office along the way.

The closer the recipient is to the origin post office, the faster they will get the mail. In many cases, in order to speed up delivery of standard mail we will drop ship the mail to a post office closer to recipients. The cost of the shipment is usually offset by the postal savings when submitting mail to a local SCF (Sectional Center Facility).

Direct mail is a great way to reach recipients — even millennials like to get mail. Using the information we have discussed you can create direct mail that is cost effective and will contribute towards your ROI.

The three key factors that you must plan for in direct mail are the list, creative and call to action. Taking the time to create a formal marketing plan that includes direct mail is vital to your response rate. Do not send out direct mail without a plan, a way to track it and how you will follow up. Do you have a great direct mail story? I would love to hear it!