3 Ways to Use Negative Thoughts in Direct Mail

Whether used subtly or like a sledgehammer, getting a prospect to worry about the worst-case scenario is often all that’s needed to override any objections.

Here are three quick ways to use a negative approach before presenting a positive solution

If there’s one thing I hate to be wrong about, it’s direct mail.

I admit I’m kind of a perfectionist when it comes to knowing who’s used what tactics or strategies successfully, and when.

And that fear — of something going wrong — can itself be a pretty powerful way to motivate action in direct mail. The most successful and common copy driver — see our special report on all of them — employed by marketers is fear.

Whether used subtly or like a sledgehammer, getting a prospect to worry about the worst-case scenario is often all that’s needed to override any objections.

Here are three quick ways to use a negative approach before presenting a positive solution.

1. Paint Them a Picture
Jefferson Health
Everyone thinks they’re careful, or try to be. But pride goeth before the fall, sometimes literally.

Here’s an image from a self-mailer for Jefferson Urgent Care in Philadelphia. Notice that it didn’t have to be grisly to get your attention, and make a point.

The message is: know where to get immediate help, for “life’s little emergencies.” This mail piece included a map showing the location of the hospital’s urgent center, and a magnet with its hours.

2. Challenge an Assumption
Advanced Biosolutions
Your prospect may feel content. They think they have all the facts needed to make a good decision about what car they drive, foods they eat, etc. But you can point out a flaw in their thinking.

The teaser on this envelope from Advanced Bionutritionals, a supplement manufacturer, plays on that. “Boost Your Nitric Oxide Levels With L-Arginine, Right? Wrong!”

The letter inside talks about how “popular advice” was wrong, thanks to newer research studies it cites. It then promotes its product as an alternative. The marketer successfully used this exact argument for its product for several years, in both direct mail and email.

3. Use Social Proof
aig_01
Many insurance providers build their marketing on negative thinking. But AIG takes it to another level with its mail for Travel Guard. Here’s an example.

The woman on the front panel of this self-mailer says of travel insurance: “I don’t think I’ll need it.” But inside, 4 case studies – “nightmares” – unfold across three panels. These aren’t mere quotes, but full paragraphs. Each horror story (e.g., medical emergency) deals with a specific policy need satisfied by the company’s plan.

People want to avoid them, but bad things happen. It’s important then, that as much as you can acknowledge them, not to use them to overwhelm customers. Your brand should evoke more positive feelings. Offer solutions that are more about creating a positive experience.

The bottom line? Test both positive and negative approaches. After all, what’s the worst that can happen?

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 Great Direct Mail Copy Drivers (Besides the Top 7)

I’ve been thinking about emotions more than usual lately. Maybe it’s the type of direct mail I’ve been reading lately that sparked it. Swedish direct marketing entrepreneur Axel Andersson and Seattle direct marketer Bob Hacker identified the seven key copy drivers that persuade people to buy a product or service, or to join a cause.

I’ve been thinking about emotions more than usual lately. Maybe it’s the type of direct mail I’ve been reading lately that sparked it.

Or maybe it was all of the great discussion around Carolyn Goodman’s webinar that my colleague Thorin McGee wrote about the other day. In case you missed it, she talked about the emotional buy-in of some voters during the current election season.

Swedish direct marketing entrepreneur Axel Andersson and Seattle direct marketer Bob Hacker identified the seven key copy drivers that persuade people to buy a product or service, or to join a cause. They are:

guilt, flattery, anger, exclusivity, fear, greed and salvation.

For years, I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of which of these appear in the long-term controls I track for Who’s Mailing What! Flattery and greed are the two most commonly used. They figure prominently in Denny Hatch’s The Secrets of Emotional, Hot-Button Copywriting, a report that focuses on the seven great ones

But there are other drivers that also deserve a moment in the sun. In another book, Hatch identified twenty-one additional motivators that can also lead to action. Here are three of them, with examples of how I’ve seen them used in the mail.

1. Love
Danbury_01

I’m surprised that I don’t see more mail that really taps into one of the most basic of human emotions. But some marketers, like Danbury Mint, are good at it. This mailing for a “Midnight Spell Necklace” spells it out on the front of the outer: “this holiday season Romance Her Heart with a gift from yours.”

The brochure inside tells of a Polynesian legend that says a black pearl was meant to be a sign of “eternal love”. In the necklace, the pearls “add mystique and glamor to the woman who wears them.”

2. Better Health/Physical Well-Being
CROH_01

This can take many forms, depending on the audience. Maybe it’s a gym, a weight loss program, fitness equipment, or or a diet supplement. In this case, it’s content delivered by a newsletter, Consumer Reports On Health, in a magalog.

“Healthy or Not Healthy?” the headline asks, then teases “21 myth-busting facts to help you feel younger, stronger, healthier.” Fascinations (i.e., fascinating facts), phrased as questions, dangle just enough information to get the reader to turn to the pages inside for the answers.

3. Patriotism
BVA_01

Conveying a sense of national pride has strong appeal across the political spectrum. For example, it’s long been a staple for some non-profits to talk about helping those who have sacrificed so much for the security and liberty of their fellow Americans.

From a recent letter for the Blinded Veterans Association: “They put their lives on the line for our freedom and they deserve more.” “We invest a lot in military personnel,” it continues, “it’s time we all stepped up.” One note of caution: it’s important to maintain a proper tone of respect and good taste to avoid sending an inappropriate message.

There are other copy drivers worth considering, but regardless of what ones you use, either alone or in some combination, make sure that they support the rest of the elements of the mailpiece. To quote Bob Hacker, “If your letter isn’t dripping with one or more of these, tear it up and start over.”

3 More Direct Mail Ideas (+1 Bonus) to Drive Local Business

I heard from an old friend a few weeks ago who, in a roundabout way, asked me for some free marketing advice. This is kind of rare for me, and I asked a lot of questions. When she told me that Facebook was just not working well enough for her, I think my next words were: “direct mail.”

I talked with an old friend a few weeks ago who, in a roundabout way, asked me for some free marketing advice for her housecleaning business. This is kind of rare for me, and I asked a lot of questions. When she told me that Facebook was just not working well enough for her, I think my next words were: “direct mail.”

Now, I like housecleaning, but I know a lot of people don’t. There’s a really good market for this kind of work. I showed her how the Cleaning Authority does a terrific job detailing its services in a very simple self-mailer.

Then I remembered my blog post on copy and design ideas for using direct mail to drive local business. I listed seven of them then, but in talking with her, I came up with a few more, thanks to mail that comes into Who’s Mailing What!.

1.Tap Into Emotions
Salvation_01
This one is so obvious that I can’t believe I missed it the first time.

To make a personal connection with a prospect, your direct mail should use copy (and images) that generate an emotional response. Although there are many motivators, the seven main drivers of action are: fear, greed, guilt, anger, exclusivity, salvation, and flattery.

Over the years, I’ve seen all of them used in local offers, whether mailed solo or as part of a co-op package. Salvation seems to be the most common, as in this example.

2. Ask A Question
Question_01
This is an easy way to involve a prospect in your promotion. Providing the right answer helps customers to self-qualify for your services. In this case, it’s helped along by a bullet-pointed checklist that backs up the impulse to take the offer … or at least think about it.

3. Use Testimonials
Testim_01
The voices of satisfied clients can be quite powerful. Existing customers can talk about their own experiences, in their own words. For prospects, reading the opinions of other people that are similar to them the most, maybe even their own neighbors, can make the offer more relevant. Using a photo of a real person, an authentic story, and a specific problem or issue addressed by one or more of the selling points helps bolster a company’s claims. Add social call-outs adds even more credibility.

BONUS: Include The Magic Word
Free_01
That magic word is “free.” Or even better, “FREE!” This is pretty simple. Free estimate. Free inspection. Free bonus. Free item. Free membership. Free Service. Free dessert. The possibilities are endless for offering something of value.

Direct mail is highly measurable and cost-effective, when done well. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources available to help. I also pointed out to my friend that many of these tactics can be applied to the online world. When I last checked in with her, she was working with a local marketer on a direct mail plan, as well as her Facebook and the rest of her online presence. She should be turning away business in no time.