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.

The Best Brand Gift Ever!

I know you are a YES person. A DIY person. A BRING IT person. A CAN DO person … excellent at all you do—conscientious, responsible, dependable, overachieving. No doubt, it’s how you got where you are. All wonderful qualities. So this Christmas, perhaps the last thing you need or want is something from “The 12 Days of Christmas.” What you just might need this month is 12 days and ways to say NO.

I know you are a YES person. A DIY person. A BRING IT person. A CAN DO person … excellent at all you do—conscientious, responsible, dependable, overachieving. No doubt, it’s how you got where you are. All wonderful qualities. So this Christmas, perhaps the last thing you need or want is, as the song says, some version of “12 drummers drumming, 11 pipers piping, 10 lords-a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids-a-milking, seven swans-a-swimming, six geese-a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves or even a partridge in a pear tree.” You don’t need or want more stuff. You want a meaningful, long-lasting, brand-enhancing and life-affirming gift. Something useful and practical.

What you just might need this month is 12 days and ways to say NO.

The deal is that no one can give this gift to you. It’s a selfie. There’s no outsourcing this skill to a personal shopper, no concierge service that can do this for you. It’s a true DIYer.

As YES people, the word NO is an infrequent part of our vocabulary—in our brand lives and in our personal lives. But I have found that the happiest and most productive people have given themselves the gift of NO. They have learned to make NO a natural part of their DNA … both in and out of the office.

So, before you head out of the office to start holiday celebrations, why not raise a toast to that little two-letter word NO and see if these bits of inspiration may encourage you to treat yourself (and the brand you lead) to this very important present:

1. The gift of a new discipline … making no an art form. Missy Park, founder of Title Nine, echoes the power of no. “In my book, saying yes is over-rated. Fact is, it’s easy to say yes. No difficult choices, no disappointments. Ahh, but saying no. That is the real art form. There’s choosing to say no which can be wrenching. There is choosing when to say no, which is often. And then there’s saying it graciously, which is very hard indeed.”

2. The gift of throwing in the towel … the towel that really doesn’t matter. I greatly admire Bob Goff. He’s an author, an attorney and founder of Restore International, a nonprofit human rights organization. He wisely shares: “I used to be afraid of failing at something that really mattered to me, but now I’m more afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” With that in mind, Goff makes it a habit to quit something every Thursday. It liberates him for new things. What can you be simply done with?

3. The gift of margin … build in white space … everywhere! Dr. Richard Swensen, a physician-futurist, educator and author, advocates for purposefully creating mental, emotional, physical and spiritual breathing room in our full-to-brimming professional and personal lives. He calls it margin—like the white space around pages of books. He counsels that we need it more than ever. Appropriately saying NO gives us more white space.

4. The gift of focus … just say no … perhaps three times or more! Steve Jobs, Apple’s brilliant and passionate founder, shared this: “Focusing is about saying no. You’ve got say no, no, no. The result of that focus is going to be some really great products where the total is much greater than the sum of the parts.”

5. The gift of eliminating even more non-urgent and unimportant time fritters. Stephen Covey, author of “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” cautions us to be careful of defaulting too often into what he calls Quadrant 4 of his time management matrix … the place we naturally drift after spending lots of time in urgent and crisis modes: trivia, busywork, mindless surfing. Just say goodbye to all the nonessentials.

6. The gift of stopping … count the ways. Jim Collins, author of “Good to Great,” encourages us to create STOP DOING LISTS. That’s right … enumerate all things you are no longer going to do. Start by simply saying no to his Venn diagram of three crucial things-activities that are you are not deeply passionate about, that you feel you are not genetically encoded for and things that don’t make much economic sense.

7. The gift of holding back … a permission slip for more B+s. Must everything be done to an A+ perfection level? Pick and choose those activities that really warrant this kind of energy. Challenge yourself to not be an honors student in all you do. Award-winning author Anne Lamott had to remind herself in midlife that “a B+ is just fine.”

8. The gift of less … hit that delete key more often. Do we really need (or have time to read) all those subscriptions? Must we? Find satisfaction in architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe “less is more” philosophy. Go ahead—delete, unsubscribe, edit, curate. Whatever you have to call this process, just do it.

9. The gift of simplicity … now. Years ago naturalist and poet, Henry David Thoreau warned us: “Our life is frittered away by detail … Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Alan Seigel updates that sentiment for brand leaders in his book: Simple: Conquering the Crisis of Complexity. Perhaps it’s time to give yourself and your brand the gift of a serious simplification process.

10. The gift of benign neglect … just ignore it! Do we really have to have a multiplatform constantly clean inbox? Who cares? What’s the point? Mani S. Sivasubramanian, author of “How To Focus – Stop Procrastinating, Improve Your Concentration & Get Things Done – Easily!” writes: “Information overload (on all levels) is exactly WHY you need an “ignore list.” It has never been more important to be able to say “No.”

11. The gift of checking back in with yourself … so, what matters now? In her book “Fierce Conversations,” leadership development architect Susan Scott suggests people change and forget to tell one another. That is true. Sometimes we even forget to tell ourselves. What has changed for you or your brand? Your energy level? Your tolerance? Your interests? Your competition? Your customers? What needs revisiting so that your yeses are truly yeses and your nos are truly nos?

12. The gift of a do-over … recycle your mistakes. We’ve all made the mistake of saying yes when we should have said no. Jot down a few of those do-overs on a post it note. What were the learning lessons? Keep that note to yourself handy.

‘Tis the season for gift-giving. Be kind to yourself and to your brand and make the practice of gracious NO saying not only a year end gift, but a long lasting part of your DNA.