Why Direct Mail Won’t Die

You’ve seen the proclamations over the years that direct mail is near death, along with the counter-arguments that it’s nowhere near dead. Today I share a deeper perspective of the reason why direct mail won’t die

You’ve seen the proclamations over the years that direct mail is near death, along with the counter-arguments that it’s nowhere near dead. Today I share a deeper perspective of the reason why direct mail won’t die. It’s as simple as comprehension. Research reveals comprehension is better when information is consumed in print. And there’s more: millennials — digital natives, if you prefer — who today are in their 20s and 30s, prefer print.

Count me among those who prefer to read the news from a printed newspaper rather than my iPad. Books? My concentration is pitiful if I try to read an e-book. Still, I do a lot of reading — or maybe it’s more like scanning — online. I realize there are others of all ages who feel they comprehend content on electronic devices just fine. Or who at least think they comprehend the content. This research reports how students only think they comprehend as well on digital devices (the research suggests they don’t).

One might think that jumping from reading on printed pages to reading on a digital screen is a no-brainer. But biologically, reading has been an evolutionary development over hundreds — even thousands — of years, as suggested in an article in Scientific American.

Our brains evolved to keep the human species alive, eat and reproduce. Reading is a new addition to the mind, biologically speaking. It took unimaginable centuries for the brain to adapt to reading text in print. And now, in just a generation or so, we’ve been introduced to reading on screens, another reading adaption for the mind.

As marketers, we need to recognize which channels are best suited for reading comprehension, and how we can effectively create Short- or Long-Term Memory that persuasively leads to a sale.

In a moment, I’ll outline comprehension effectiveness (based on my experience) of social media, email, websites/landing pages, short video, long video, direct mail postcards, and direct mail packages.

As I see it, there are three stages of comprehension:

Glance and Forget in seconds what we just saw or read (the vast majority of what happens with marketing and advertising messages).

Short-Term Reading Comprehension that evaporates in just minutes or hours.

Long-Term Memory Comprehension that can last several hours, a day, maybe a week, and in a few instances, a lifetime.

We can only stuff so much into our mind and memory. There is a place for “Glance and Forget” channels when multiple instances of “Glance and Forget” impressions build over time to create awareness and anticipation. When we want our marketing efforts to convert to a sale, we need at least the “Short-Term Reading Comprehension” stage. The most successful campaigns, I believe, will make it to the most valuable “Long-Term Memory Comprehension” stage because of telling the story and effective persuasion.

Digital and print channels can co-exist and strengthen each other. Digital is useful for the moment when a person is looking for top-line or summary information, or just a place to make a quick impression (recognizing there is an additive effect of impressions over time). Print is most useful and effective when your prospect is ready to pause, read and more deeply comprehend, leading to long-term memory and action.

My experience, and my opinion, suggests that as marketers, we can best leverage certain channels in these ways:

  • Social Media: Serve readers short, light content. Build your brand, organization and follower base. Don’t expect action beyond likes and shares (which you can’t take to the bank). But social media, in my experience, is good for impressions and building top-of-mind awareness. Keep it curious, likeable and sharable. But don’t expect purchasing action. Unless there is a click to a landing page, it’s a Glance and Forget channel.
  • Email: The best use for email is when you have built your own list of raving fans. Email results are lousy when sent to people who haven’t opted in to your message. So if you’re writing to your opt-in list of customers (or inquiries), write content to provoke curiosity that leads them to click to a landing page, leading to the possibility of Short-Term Comprehension. When the email was only opened, but there wasn’t a click, then it is a Glance and Forget channel.
  • Websites/Landing Pages: If someone searched and happened upon your website, and if the bounce rate is high, you have a Glance and Forget website. If, on the other hand, you have a landing page with valuable content and call-to-action, or CTA (for example, opting in to an email list), you have a shot at Short-Term Comprehension, and in some instances, Long-Term Memory Comprehension.
  • Short Video: A short video will likely be a Glance and Forget channel unless you have a call-to-action leading to a landing page with a CTA or opt-in to your list. When that occurs, you might be able to lead to Short-Term Comprehension.
  • Long Video (or a Video Sales Letter): When viewed all the way to the end, a long video should result in Short-Term Comprehension, and possibly Long-Term Memory Comprehension and a sale, when there is an effective CTA.
  • Direct Mail Postcard: There’s not much space on a postcard, and with so much postcard competition in the mailbox, most postcards are a Glance and Forget channel. A thoughtfully created postcard can result in Short-Term Comprehension, however. And if you have a strong CTA, you can move a postcard message to Long-Term Memory Comprehension if the person acts by either calling for information or making a purchase.
  • Direct Mail Package. The ability to deliver long persuasive copy is the value of direct mail, and is why direct mail won’t die. Let’s not kid ourselves: most direct mail is never opened and goes directly into the trash, making it a Glance and Forget channel to most recipients. But when the recipient is curious upon seeing the outer envelope, opens it, and dives into a long-form letter, brochure, or reads an insert or order device with your offer, you’ve achieved at least Short-Term Comprehension. When the creative and copywriting effectively persuades and sells, you lead your prospect to Long-Term Memory Comprehension. When you do that, you can score the sale.

Direct mail, I’ve found, is usually the best channel for converting and producing sales. Direct mail, when using persuasive copywriting and clarity of design, facilitates high comprehension and works. And that’s the deeper reason why direct mail won’t die. What do you think?

Which Costs More: Video or Direct Mail?

What are the economics of producing and distributing a direct marketing video? And, how does it line up with costs for direct mail? If you’re a traditional direct marketer who has lived and breathed marketing costs, then running the numbers should come naturally. For this discussion, we’ll use direct mail as the comparison because historically it’s the distribution channel of choice

What are the economics of producing and distributing a direct marketing video? And, how does it line up with costs for direct mail? If you’re a traditional direct marketer who has lived and breathed marketing costs, then running the numbers should come naturally. For this discussion, we’ll use direct mail as the comparison because historically it’s the distribution channel of choice for direct marketers.

We’ve created a “Video Budget Checklist” that helps you itemize cost comparisons of creative, production and distribution between video and direct mail. If you’d like a copy, email me using the link in the left column. It’s free for our readers.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it)

Direct mail can come in all sorts of configurations. Low-cost postcards. A simple package of a letter and flyer inside an envelope. Or more expensive with multiple enclosures such as a letter, fold-out four-color brochure, lift note, order form, reply envelope and outer envelope. Sometimes the outer envelope is a custom size or has an oversize window, or there are expensive die-cuts on cards or tip-on elements that are outside of typical print configuration.

The fixed costs to create each of these packages by employees, agencies or freelance creative teams are pretty broad, from several hundred dollars to well into the five-figures when using proven, top-flight direct response creative professionals.

A wide range of configurations can apply to video production, just as it can to direct mail.

You can pop out a 45-second video using your Webcam or flip-camera and post it on YouTube. You just have to ask yourself if the poorly lit, distracting background, muffled or echoey sound of that presentation exemplifies your organization. Alternatively, the video could be purely voice-over with words scrolling along on the screen. Or you can make it visually more alive with photography images or stock video footage. At a more costly level, you might shoot testimonials or interviews in a studio or shoot on location to demonstrate your product. Of course, length impacts cost (just as the number of components impacts cost in direct mail). There are a lot of variables that go into video production, just as there are for direct mail.

The point is this: Start with a budget you’re comfortable with, talk with writers (ideally writers experienced in both direct response print, online and video), develop a video script and storyboard, and work with a skilled video editor. Don’t just be wowed by special effects on someone’s demo reel. Dig in and learn what results were produced from some samples or case studies. You might just want voice-over with images on screen. (See our last blog post for an example of a 3-minute video and details of how we adapted it from a direct mail package.)

If your personality is a draw, you can record yourself on a small camera that can fit in a pocket with a lav microphone for under $200, total. Make sure you have good lighting and background. Or spring $500 or so and get a green screen and lights. That’s the equipment we use to shoot our video for this blog. Be aware, assembling the right equipment and editing software is the easy part. Knowing how to use it all to your best advantage comes from training and practice—or hiring a pro.

Distribution Costs
For direct mail, you have list costs if you’re renting names, data processing, printing, lettershop and postage. The cost can range widely. If you’re testing in small quantities, you’ll pay more per piece.

Knowing the volume of prospects or prior customers to mail, the marketer calculates how many responses are needed to make a specific profit (or break-even) objective. Translate that number into a required response rate to meet your objectives—your allowable marketing cost—and presto, you can use the test of reasonableness to see if the numbers pan out.

For video, your distribution cost is driving viewers to your landing page. You might email your customer file, or rent a list, and give the reader a compelling reason to click to your landing page to watch the video, possibly opt-in for more information, or attempt to convert to a buyer then. You will need to include the cost to set-up the landing page and related items.

We suggest you begin with a budget where your objective is to create a video for the amount of money it would cost to produce a moderate to elaborate direct mail package (although video production on the cheap is possible—and might work).

Then compare the cost to print and mail a direct mail package versus that of emailing (whether it’s to customers at a low cost to email, or rent an email list at a higher cost). And add in the cost for developing your landing page. Chances are your cost per contact will be less for email and the landing page, but as we all know, it all comes down to the cost per sale or lead so bring your focus back to this metric.

One example worth mentioning is that of the Dollar Shave Club. Perhaps you’ve read about it. A big success for a 1:34 video that reportedly cost $4,500 and after a few days generated over 12,000 orders. The video has now been viewed over 4.6 million times.

Bottom line: just as you’d run the numbers to see if it makes financial sense to use direct mail, you need to run the numbers for video, too. And you just might be surprised how favorable the numbers look to reach out and explore video.

P.S.: Just out: comScore has released its April 2012 online video rankings data with a few notable metrics:

  1. 181 million U.S. Internet users watched nearly 37 billion online content videos in April.
  2. 85.5 percent of U.S. Internet audience viewed online video.
  3. The duration of the average online content video was 6.4 minutes.

How to Convert a Direct Mail Package to Online Video

Today we demonstrate how to convert a successful direct mail package into an online video. You’ll see how copy style translates and morphs from print to the spoken word, and how to integrate aspects of the original print design features in this video. Our criteria for this instructional video included these three

Today we demonstrate how to convert a successful direct mail package into an online video. You’ll see how copy style translates and morphs from print to the spoken word, and how to integrate aspects of the original print design features in this video. Our criteria for this instructional video included these three elements: A package we had originally written and designed, multiple enclosures (letter, sales sheet, lift note and order form) and a proven response generator.

When it was first tested, this direct mail package lifted response 35 percent over the control. On that strength, it became the new control and was mailed every month for three years, ultimately sent to over 21 million consumers.

This instructional video explains our process to convert this direct mail package to a short, but fully produced promotional video (under three minutes), scripting, voice-over persona, design elements, along with commentary about specific choices and plans we made while developing the video.

So while we’re light on words for you to read, you can digest this post in this in-depth video.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)