Fall in Love With Direct Mail All Over Again

I will admit to doing a lot of reading. What can I say, I love it. I especially like to read something and find out that my own views have been verified. So, when I read the Washington Post article “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.” I was so excited! Here is someone else saying the same things about print that I say every day. Basically in summary, people prefer to read in print rather than digital.

I will admit to doing a lot of reading. What can I say, I love it. I especially like to read something and find out that my own views have been verified. So, when I read the Washington Post article “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right” I was so excited! Here is someone else saying the same things about print that I say every day. Basically in summary, people prefer to read in print rather than digital.

There are many reasons for this but the top ones are:

  • Easier to read: The eyes find the printed pages less straining to read.
  • Easier to comprehend: There are less distractions when reading print so it is easier to understand.
  • Easier to recall: Readers skim less when reading print versions so they remember more when finished.
  • Feel: Touch is a very important sense. The feeling of different types of paper stock and textures adds pleasure to reading print. You can’t feel digital.
  • Smell: Paper, ink, coatings and binding all add to the scent of a printed piece. You can even add a scent to enhance the printed piece. You can’t smell digital.

Even millennials prefer print. The best part about all of this talk about the benefits of print is that direct mail can take advantage of every single one of the reasons people love print. Direct mail can get pushed aside by marketers looking for the newest channels, but statistics still show direct mail as a very strong marketing channel.

Create direct mail that provides an experience:

  • Reading: Engage the reader with well written copy. Use bold and bulleted text to draw the eyes to important information.
  • Comprehension: Use clear and concise wording, a strong call to action and “what’s in it for me” language.
  • Recall: The most important items to be remembered should stand out. You can use italic, bold and underlining to emphasize what you need the reader to remember.
  • Feel: You can go beyond just the texture of the paper by adding different coatings. From soft velvet to rough stone, there are many to choose from. Get creative.
  • Smell: Depending on what you are offering, smell may or may not be a good fit. Try to think of creative ways to use smell to make your unique direct mail stand out.

Take advantage of the pull of direct mail, with less skimming your message resonates more. You have the opportunity to get someone to act on your call to action right away.

There is no reason why you can’t use direct mail to drive digital interaction too. QR Codes, Augmented reality and NFC all enhance the direct mail experience. The power of direct mail is waiting to drive your marketing ROI to new heights. From catalogs to flyers to samples, direct mail can handle it all and provide an excellent experience for recipients.

I Dare You: Create a Brand Challenge!

Challenging something we do quite naturally and easily is indeed the perfect challenge. We all get into ruts—some even good and well-intentioned! Challenging ourselves to reflect, relook and rethink why we do what we do (or don’t do) can be just the process we need to achieve something different, something unexpected, and quite possibly, even something more.

When I popped into my local independent bookstore this week, I saw a slip of paper promoting The 2015 Reading Challenge. Intrigued, I read through a list of eclectic reading prompts, wondering if they’d be of any interest to me because I already am a highly self-motivated bookworm, and always have been. The only prompt I need is to not read 24/7! But I kept an open mind and read through prompts like the following:

  • Read a book from your childhood
  • Read a book in a genre you don’t typically read
  • Read a book you’ve been meaning to read
  • Read a book published this year
  • Read a book you should have read in high school

I changed my mind after reading the list and realized that challenging something we do quite naturally and easily is indeed the perfect challenge. We all get into ruts—some even good and well-intentioned! Challenging ourselves to reflect, relook and rethink why we do what we do (or don’t do) can be just the process we need to achieve something different, something unexpected, and quite possibly, even something more.

These reading prompts made me think of how I gently provoke my clients when I am in the midst of leading brand tune-ups. “Look up! Look around! Look sideways!” I encourage. “What has changed in your marketplace? With your customers? With your product line? Your promotional offers? Your marketing communications? With your competitors? With YOU?” I ask. We grapple with these challenges together, always wanting to examine and understand status quo before dreaming big.

In that creative and open spirit, why not, as a brand leader, create your own Brand Challenge? Make a list of all sorts of prompts that may both ignite new brand behavior and reexamine old behavior. Review with your team and then just jump into it! Here are just a few ideas to get you started:

  • Call a customer and have a meaningful conversation about their brand experience and insights.
  • Clean out your brand closet … what do you need to let go of?
  • Take a BrandAbout field trip and visit five brands not at all related to yours. See what you learn.
  • Take a BrandAbout field trip and visit five brands very much related to yours. See what you learn.
  • Make a branding TO DON’T LIST.
  • Figure out your brand verb.
  • Take a customer service person out to lunch and LISTEN to their experiences.
  • Simplify one process.
  • Spend a day in another department.
  • Find something interesting that your brand did 5 years ago, 10 years ago.
  • Eliminate one thing that does not enhance your brand.
  • Get a reverse mentor in some area.
  • Send a thank you to someone internally.
  • Send a thank you to a customer.

That’s it. I dare you!

2 Tips to Write More Readable Copy

When was the last time you checked your copy’s grade level reading scores? American’s reading ability is declining. And you could be writing over your prospective customer’s ability to understand your message. In the U.S., average reading levels are at about the eighth grade level. But 1-in-5 U.S. adults read below a fifth grade level. And surprisingly, 14 percent of U.S. adults can’t read

When was the last time you checked your copy’s grade level reading scores? American’s reading ability is declining. And you could be writing over your prospective customer’s ability to understand your message. In the U.S., average reading levels are at about the eighth grade level. But 1-in-5 U.S. adults read below a fifth grade level. And surprisingly, 14 percent of U.S. adults can’t read according to the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy.

Grade level reading scores from high school students has dropped. It’s now at fifth grade levels, and is an ominous sign for the future.

Even the writing and delivery of Presidential State of the Union addresses are at lower grade levels in the most recent generation than in generations past. President George H.W. Bush averaged 8.6. Barack Obama averages a reading level of 9.4. Bill Clinton, 9.8. George W. Bush, 10.0. Compare these scores to over fifty years ago with Dwight Eisenhower at 12.6 and John F. Kennedy at 12.3.

Given these declining readability statistics, chances are more likely than not your copy is written above the reading ability and comprehension of your prospects and customers.

So what to do?

Two tips:

First: research and test your copy to identify the reading level of your market. For reference, TV Guide and Reader’s Digest write at the ninth grade, and USA Today at a 10th grade level.

Second: use the Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease and Grade Level test. It’s in Microsoft Word. Go to “Review,” “Spelling & Grammar,” and after you spell check your document, you’ll see readability statistics. You’ll see the number of sentences per paragraph, words per sentence, characters per word, percent passive sentences, Flesch Reading Ease (the higher the better) and ultimately, your Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level score (lower is usually better, depending on your audience).

For passive sentences, a lower ranking is better than higher. Target 10 percent or less. The passive voice is not as interesting and exciting as the active voice.

If the Reading Ease Score is lower than you want, and Grade Level score is higher than you want, isolate paragraphs and sentences to identify problematic copy. Then here’s how you change the score:

  • Use smaller words
  • Shorten your sentences
  • Shorten your paragraphs

A review of your copy’s Reading Ease and Grade Level is an essential step that should be automatic every time you write and evaluate copy.

And in the interest of self-exemplying, here is the Flesch-Kincaid score of how the copy for this blog post ranks:

  • Sentences per Paragraph: 3.0
  • Words per Sentence: 14.0
  • Characters per Word: 4.9
  • Passive Sentences: 3%
  • Reading Ease: 51.8
  • Grade Level: 9.5

My Summer Reading List Includes Facts About Direct Mail

The “dog days” of summer are about to end, so I’d better wrap up my summer reading fast. Of course, my summer reading list really is my only opportunity to delve into those volumes of research that have been accumulating, that I’ve been meaning to get to, that I really should be on top of

The “dog days” of summer are about to end, so I’d better wrap up my summer reading fast. Of course, my summer reading list really is my only opportunity to delve into those volumes of research that have been accumulating, that I’ve been meaning to get to, that I really should be on top of … to be the best professional I can be … but I just can’t shoehorn the time because of daily demands.

Thankfully, the Direct Marketing Association’s “Statistical Fact Book 2014” has provided me with invaluable Cliff Notes. The team there has done some surfing and sifting for me and my readers.

For example, did you know?

  • In 2013, direct mail spending in U.S. reached $44 billion, while teleservices topped $41 billion. Digital media spend (search, display, other) came in at $44.2 billion (Winterberry Group, 2013). Talk about a direct marketing triumvirate!
  • While today might not be the “Golden Era of response rates,” some marketers—such as retailers—are seeing dramatically higher response to their direct mail than in the 1980s (USPS Household Diary Study, 2013).
  • Also according to the USPS Household Diary Study, those earning $65K per year or more evaluate their mail “useful,” “will read” or “will respond”—up virtually across the board when compared to 1987.
  • According to DMA’s own research, cost-per-order and cost-per-lead costs for direct mail are in line with print and pay-per-click, not all that more than email, and significantly less than telemarketing. I’ve always maintained that those few pieces of direct mail are marketing gold when compared to the 5,000 ad messages we’re exposed to each and every day.
  • Who’s your best customer, USPS? According to the USPS Revenue, Pieces and Weight by Class of Mail and Special Services, direct mail accounted for 39.9 percent of total mail volume in 1990—and topped a record 56.2 percent in 2013.
  • Catalog mail volume actually increased in 2013 to reach 11.9 billion—the first recorded increase since 2006.
  • Yet there’s less overall competition to worry about in the mailbox: Households received an average 8.9 pieces of Standard Mail per week in 2012—down from 13.8 pieces in 2008. That seems like an opportunity for any brand that wants to have a high-touch engagement.

I’m a multichannel, integrated marketing fan. But sometimes in our digital, mobile age we forget, or overlook, or even dismiss the value of printed communication in the mailbox. I’ve been busy reading my mail these summer months, too.

Direct Mail Benchmarks From DMA

In my years following the direct marketing field, one of the resources I’ve most appreciated is the Direct Marketing Association’s annual roundup of direct and interactive marketing statistics, the DMA Statistical Fact Book. Each year, this compilation of research studies—this year, 40 prominent sources—offers benchmarks and other metrics related to nearly a dozen categories. Examining direct mail-related data, here are a few stats from this year’s edition that jump out at me. Did you know

In my years following the direct marketing field, one of the resources I’ve most appreciated is the Direct Marketing Association’s annual roundup of direct and interactive marketing statistics, the DMA Statistical Fact Book. Each year, this compilation of research studies—this year, 40 prominent sources—offers benchmarks and other metrics related to nearly a dozen categories: Internet, mobile marketing, social media, catalog, consumer demographics, direct mail, direct marketing overview, email, nonprofit and USPS information.

Examining direct mail-related data, here are a few stats from this year’s edition that jump out at me. Did you know:

  1. The mean cost per order or lead for a letter-sized direct mail piece sent to a house file is $19.35, and the same sent to a prospect or total file is $51.30. —”DMA Response Rate Report,” 2012.
  2. More than 12.5 million consumers purchased prescription drugs via a mail or phone order. —Experian Simmons “National Consumer Study,” 2012.
  3. In the food category, 16.8 percent of coupons redeemed originated from the Internet, home-printed; another 6.6 percent originated from direct mail. —Valassis/NCH Marketing Services, “Coupon Facts Reports,” 2013.
  4. The salary range of marketing analytics directors with 7+ years’ experience was $119,300 to $131,500. —Crandall Associates, 2012.
  5. 54.5 percent of U.S. Households read, looked at, or set aside for later reading, their letter-sized enveloped direct mail pieces in 2011. For larger than letter-size envelope mail, 67.2 percent did the same. —USPS “Household Diary Study,” 2012.
  6. Mail order companies have the highest percentage of pieces addressed to specific household members—97.1 percent of their direct mail, while Restaurants have the least—16.2 percent. —USPS “Household Diary Study,” 2012.
  7. The response rate for credit card mailings in 2012 was 0.6 percent—down from 2.2 percent in 1993, but up from 0.3 percent in 2005. —Ipsos/Synovate Mail Monitor, 2012.
  8. In 2012, 54.2 percent of total value of U.S. Mail is attributable to direct mail advertising across all classes. —DMA/USPS “Revenue, Pieces and Weight by Class of Mail and Special Services,” 1990-2012.
  9. In the U.S., direct mail marketing spend held steady at $45.2 billion between 2011 and 2012. It stood at $43.8 billion in 2009. —Winterberry Group, 2013.
  10. After peaking at 19.6 billion catalogs mailed (in the U.S.) in 2007, only 11.8 billion catalogs were mailed in 2012. —DMA/USPS “Revenue, Pieces and Weight by Class of Mail and Special Services,” 2012.
  11. Of 11,743 catalogs in the U.S., 94.1 percent of catalogs have an online version—MediaFinder.com, “National Directory of Catalogs,” 2012.

No wonder the 200-page DMA Statistical Fact Book is—year to year—among DMA’s best sellers in its bookstore. It’s available for purchase via DMA’s online bookstore. The cost is $249 for DMA members and $499 for non-members: https://imis.the-dma.org/bookstore/ProductSingle.cfm?p=0D45047B|4DA56D9737FF45DF90CA1DA713E16B80

Happy reading!