4 Old-School Direct Mail Tactics That Still Work

Some direct mail techniques have been around for decades. Here are four tried-and-true tactics and why they still drive response.

Here at Target Marketing, we talk a lot about how direct mail is coming back, thanks, in part to new technologies and print techniques that make it more personalized, relevant, and valuable to the customer than ever before.

I’m a big believer in all of these developments. I’m convinced that they are critical to engaging newer, younger audiences in really interesting ways.

But at the same time, I have to marvel at how some formats that have been around for decades, and were once much more commonplace, still show up in the mail I review for Who’s Mailing What! every day.

Here are four tried-and-true tactics that I’ve seen recently, and why they still work.

1. Yes-No-Maybe Reply Stickers
UPMC direct mailThis involvement device was a common practice for many publishers selling subscriptions to magazines and newsletters back in the day. Developed by John Francis Tighe, it’s pretty simple: you give the prospect 3 options on the reply form, with a sticker for each.

This direct mail piece for UPMC, a healthcare system, shows “YES” and “NO” showing through the extra envelope window. The “MAYBE” sticker on the letter is visible only by opening the envelope.

This practice lets you easily segment people who need a little more convincing.

2.The Outer Quiz
Harvard Heart Letter direct mailAsking questions – or getting a prospect to think of a true or false response – gets them to stop and consider the content or the features of the product or service and how they can benefit.

Whether it appears on an inside page, or as here, on the outer for Harvard Health Letter, it helps initially qualify the prospect. In this case, the reader is confronted with some information that may be true. Because it involves health, it’s a good way to push them inside to get some answers. This works for money issues as well.

3. The Interoffice Envelope
Southern Missions direct mailThis envelope design was introduced in the 1980s by Greg Dziuba for Book-of-the-Month’s Fortune Book Club. It often appeared in B-to-B efforts, as it grabs the target customer’s attention and makes a strong connection with customers working in an office environment.

Some fundraising appeals by Sacred Heart Southern Missions, a social ministry, have used this Kraft “Inter-Department Delivery” envelope for over 10 years. The last “deliver to” name here is “Fr. Jack”, with an “URGENT” notation in the comment column.

In the letter inside, Father Jack Kurps relates how a memo in a routing envelope revealed to him a dire need for replenishing funds his organization needs to aid the poor. The tactic, and the message, work together to put the reader in the shoes of that priest.

4. The Photo Lab Envelope
Dissolve direct mailJust as office memos generally travel electronically now, so do pictures. But when you have them printed on higher-quality equipment at a drug store, you still get them in a special envelope.

Dissolve, a stock footage agency, mailed photos from its collections in this envelope. They’re styled like vacation snapshots on heavier stock paper, which adds some heft to the direct mail package.

You can call any or all of these approaches “gimmicks.” But the fact that they persist shows that they still work at getting attention, and ultimately, driving response. They’re worth a test, at least.

I’m a Black Widow … What Spider Are You?

Over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a growing Facebook trend—an increase in those annoyingly stupid quizzes. What flower are you? What actress would play you in the movie version of your life? What Rolling Stones song describes you? What else is surprising is that there is a marketing method behind this madness

Over the last couple of months, I’ve noticed a growing Facebook trend—an increase in those annoyingly stupid quizzes.

What flower are you? What actress would play you in the movie version of your life? What Rolling Stones song describes you? Are we so bored with our lives that we have to take a quiz to help us with self-actualization?

It always surprises me how many of my seemingly intelligent friends participate in these time-wasters. And I’m not sure I care that if my neighbor were a flower, she’d be a Lily … or if my sister were a dog, she’d be a lab.

What else is surprising is that there is a marketing method behind this madness.

As Americans, we love games, trivia, puzzles, quizzes—anything where we can demonstrate our superiority or prowess. I’ll admit that The New York Times Crossword puzzle is sometimes the sole reason I purchase a newsstand copy of the Times (and if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you already know that I’m obsessed with Words With Friends).

It should come as no surprise that smart brands have figured out how to turn this obsession into a marketing opportunity. Long before Facebook came into our lives, magazines used quizzes to entice readers to purchase—right from the front cover that screamed to us in the grocery check-out lane: “Are you a good kisser? Take this quiz and find out!” Cosmo turned the quizzes into an art form starting in the early 1960’s.

Online quizzes are simply a means to a financial end for popular quiz-maker Buzzfeed. They’ve figured out how to use the data to help brands market things to you.

When you take a quiz about “American Idol,” for example, you’re not just telling the network that you’re a viewer. By connecting the dots to your profile data, now the network knows your age range, gender, marital status and other habits like favorite alcohol, or food—and that can be a goldmine.

But Facebook isn’t the only one to cash in on quizzes to drive advertising sales, LinkedIn is also guilty. Recently we created a digital banner campaign for a B-to-C client that ran on LinkedIn for a few weeks. We tested different messages and offers, and our clicks (and subsequent registration) data was good, but not great. Then we leveraged their quiz option.

On LinkedIn, you create a single question with multiple response options, and the collective response results are posted in real time. After the targets answers the quiz, they are then exposed to the results—and to your banner ads—and the results were impressive. Much higher number of clicks, and a much higher percent of clicks, and a much higher number of registrants—all at a much lower CPC. Now that’s an ROI that makes much more sense to this marketer.

If a reader has figured out how to really leverage the Facebook quizzes for marketing gain, I’d love to hear about it.

And, for the record, if I were a city, I’d be …