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How to Get Your Direct Mail Read

Direct mail spending will reach $59.6 billion in 2006.  Remember the following as you formulate a campaign:


  • People tend to respect – and respond to – authority.  Serious, official and authoritative features in a direct mail piece establish credibility and distinguish it from spam.  Authority figures command attention and respect.
  • Humans are naturally curious, and inclined to touch and explore.  Dimensional mailings have risen in popularity because of this. If a level of interactivity can be integrated into a piece, your mailing moves a step closer to capitalizing on this human curiosity. Using a non-traditional container, or simply getting creative with flat containers, also gets your mail noticed and opened.
  • Gatekeepers make very deliberate assumptions.  Assistants to high-level decision makers don’t want to be blamed.  Thus, they usually deliver something perceived to be important.  Mail tailored specifically to the recipient is one way to convey importance, but there are other effective strategies as well.
  • People look at whom, and where, mail is from.  The upper left and right sections of a piece are indispensable for this purpose.  Typical upper left executions include usage of sender titles, famous names (if a well-known person supports the sender organization) and printing the sender name beneath the address.  Flattering the recipient can also get results. 
  • Typical upper right executions include bulk rate stamps, indicia that resemble a postal meter mark, multiple stamps, and creative cancellation marks.  Even envelope color deserves consideration.
  • Recipients gravitate to certain words.  While ‘free’ is still the most popular word in marketing, first names, and words that promise news, may also have impact.
  • “No” can often mean “tell me more.”  One way to get past “no” is to invite the recipient into your offer with inducements.  Sometimes, a conversation must precede conversion.
  • While it may seem counterintuitive, trust is higher for long copy.  Additionally, mail pieces that also act as coupons are good at producing reflexive responses.  The following words also lead recipients in this direction: because, easy, improved and quick.
  • People are most interested in themselves.  Again, flattery is instrumental.  Consider copy that discloses information, makes one feel superior, and shares good news.
  • People make decisions for rational and emotional reasons.  It has been proven that the avoidance of pain is a more powerful choice driver than the achievement of pleasure.
  • People feel obligated.  If recipients feel that the mailing has provided a benefit, most try to repay what has been done for them – usually by responding.
  • People want what they cannot have.  Exclusivity and privacy speak directly to this desire.  A common strategy is defining time limits for the offer.
  • People do what people like them (and people they like) do.  “Find out why…” is a useful approach in mailings with this theme.  Lists and testimonials (from similar people or someone the target might like) are also valuable.

The material above was inspired byand adapted froma presentation by Nancy Harhut, Senior Vice President, Managing Director, Hill Holliday Relationship Marketing.


Don’t Waste Direct Mail Dollars

The most common mistakes in direct mail are:

  • Irrelevancy
  • Mailing to a dead person
  • Addressing mail to a person who doesn’t live at that address
  • Undeliverable as addressed
  • Unknowingly duplicated mail

This is not just an NCOA issue.  Old addresses disappear after 48 months, and roughly 30% of the people who move each year never file a change-of-address with the post office.  It also doesn’t make sense to send direct mail to:

  • Parolees on work release
  • Prisoners
  • Recipients in nursing homes
  • Unqualified recipients
  • Wrong gender

Make sure you:

  • Assign gender codes
  • Compare quantities against expected volumes
  • Document rejected records for possible later resolution
  • Edit incoming records based on business rules
  • Reformat so that all sources are standardized

The USPS NCOALink Database is a good resource, and is useful for checking files (including suppression files) quarterly, though secondary change-of-address sources should also be considered as a supplement.

NCOALink offers another chance to find a ‘mover,’ and uses less restrictive matching algorithms. The information is usually compiled from magazine subscriptions, catalog companies, insurance companies and other DCOA-exclusive sources with self-reported change-of-address information.  NCOALink reaches back more than five years, which is important for files with older address information.

Also, explore more advanced address element correction that either corrects or provides missing address information that CASS-certification software cannot provide. Advanced element correction can also make problem/undeliverable addresses into addresses that will take maximum advantage of USPS automation.

Why data hygiene is worth the effort:

  • It typically reduces undeliverable mail by three to five percent
  • Cost savings from eliminating wasted mail can be redirected into acquisition

The following chart illustrates potential savings:


Percent Wasted Mail
Savings per Million Pieces
Example: 50 Million Pieces

The material above was inspired byand adapted froma presentation by Richard Tooker, Vice President, Solutions Architect, KnowledgeBase Marketing.

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