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.

The 7 Best Direct Mail Teasers of 2015

How do you engage direct mail prospects in your message? It’s a question that’s always in the back of my mind when I analyze mail for Who’s Mailing What! The easiest and hardest place to start with, if you’re mailing with envelopes, is the teaser.

Let’s put aside for the moment the never-ending debate of whether envelopes should even have a teaser. To quote copywriter Lea Pierce, “You have three seconds to live or die” as your mail is being opened.

So what makes a good one? I know, it’s a loaded question.

I compiled a list of about four dozen new teasers that engaged me right off the bat in 2015, especially once I saw that the message inside fulfilled my expectations.

In no specific order, here are seven of the top ten.

Sure, many insurance companies vow to save you money. GEICO is particularly good at this with much of its mail.

Geico_01But what got me here was mixing type sizes so that the promise really stands out, and pairing it with a QR code that can be scanned to completely bypass the message inside. Or … you know … open the envelope anyway.

2. California College San Diego
This mailer also mentions money (“the income you deserve”) in the teaser as it flatters the recipient.

CCSDThat tactic – tapping into the yearning for a better life – is pretty uncommon for college mail, even when the target audience is working adults. The letter and other components inside reassure the student that they can balance their responsibilities while achieving their goals.

3. Lifelock
It seems like every week brings news stories about financial, employment, or customer records being hacked from a variety of places around the world.

Lifelo_01Lifelock leverages fear of identity theft in this membership effort by using the teaser to noting a healthcare records attack, and then go into more detail about the crimes (and their solution) on a buck slip inside the envelope.

4. Quantum Wellness Botanical Institute
Mention a “big” institution to some people, and you’re sure to get a negative reaction.

Quantu_01To customers of a natural supplements company, “Big Pharma” is part of an establishment that opposes them.The anger that’s present on the outside becomes a sidebar on the brochure inside, which focuses instead on selling curcumin.

5. Hillary for America/Cruz for President
Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz are two pretty different people, but their question is the same.

Politui_01Maybe this will be the eventual matchup in the presidential race. In their letters, the two major party candidates lay out the challenges they each see for America and the stakes in the election as they try to rally support from donors.

6. Amnesty International
For decades, this human rights group has included generic notes in its fundraising appeals to win the release of political prisoners. This campaign is different.

Amnest_01The annual Write for Rights event is a recent development that focuses on specific cases. The black outer and the simple “WRITE A LETTER. CHANGE A LIFE” message are going to members who merely have to fill out one or all of the protest notes and return them with a donation..

7. Ocean Conservancy
I love direct mail that uses fascinations – little interesting factoids – to tease what’s inside. But this clickbait-like teaser is also irresistible.

OceanC_01I’m surprised this digital tactic hasn’t popped up more.  Here, it doesn’t result in disappointment or annoyance. The brochure inside cleverly devotes a page to each ocean fact. It directly directly supports the group’s mission to save ocean habitats and wildlife.

So, for many of these marketers and fundraisers, the mail moment for their envelope has advanced past the three-second mark. But as with everything in direct mail, A/B testing will go a long way in determining a winner.

How about you? What teasers rock your world (or your customers), even if they’re a few years old? Please, let’s talk about it in the comments below!