4 Direct Mail Truths HubSpot Got Wrong

HubSpot misses the mark when critiquing direct mail

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted in response to the blog post “6 Horrific Practices of Direct Mail (and What Great Email Marketers Do Instead),” which was originally posted on HubSpot’s Inbound Marketing Blog and was included in the Around the Web section of Tuesday’s Today @ Target Marketing.

I have long admired the people at HubSpot for their online marketing acumen. I routinely download and read their marketing e-books with pleasure.

But their recent analysis of direct mail—”6 Horrific Practices of Direct Mail”—displays a stunning ignorance of what works and what doesn’t work in direct mail.

To begin with, they go down the slippery slope of criticizing marketing without knowing what the results of those marketing campaigns are.

Whenever you do that, you operate largely out of ignorance. If I am tempted to say a direct mail package is bad, I will not do so unless the marketer confirms that it bombed.

Now let’s look at some specifics. You can click on the link above to see images of the mailers under discussion.

1. In their horrific practice No. 1, HubSpot shows a direct mail envelope inviting the recipient to open a new credit card.

The teaser, which HubSpot author Jay Acunzo says “blatantly violates my trust,” reads: “Time-sensitive account information.”

Unlike Acunzo, I know this ploy works, because I have used variations of it in many direct mail packages throughout the years: adding a sense of urgency increases response.

Since the offer is to open a credit card account, and the special savings inside are good for a limited time only, the teaser is not only effective—it’s also accurate and honest. Nothing about that violates my trust.

2. HubSpot’s second “horrific mistake” is the use of a plain envelope. In direct mail lingo, these are called “blind” envelopes—and they have a long history of performing incredibly well in the mail, a fact that Acunzo seems blissfully unaware of.

Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of 80 books, including “How to Write and Sell Simple Information for Fun and Profit.” Find him online at www.bly.com or call (973) 263-0562.
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  • Donna

    Bob – I agree with you – publish facts about Direct Marketing not personal preferences. Over the past few months I have seen a surge of postal promotions worldwide. Mailers must realize that a Direct Mail piece is different than a Digital piece. Keep that in mind and then start Testing, Testing, and more Testing.

  • Ioanna Wilde

    I work with both direct mail and email. My question to the HubSpot writer would be, how do his email clients collect these wonderful email lists? My guess is that the majority of them are from offline campaigns. Either in-store, customer sales bases, or hmmmm direct mail acquisition? Please tell me not rented lists, as those are the ultimate WORST in getting the trust of a potential customer.
    I agree that there is huge value to a well played email campaign, but there is even more value to building that list.

    And it’s interesting to note that his comparisons are "the worst of one industry" against "the best of another".
    How is that at all relevant?

  • Jim Hart

    This original article was so bad that the stink extends beyond the author to the people responsible for presenting it. Might be wise for Hubspot to stick to their knitting. There’s no better way to compromise your credibility than to throw out uninformed opinions on areas clearly outside of the expertise of the author. I put this one on the people who decide what goes out under the Hubspot brand.

  • Rebecca

    So I know that direct mail must get some response, otherwise it wouldn’t be as popular as it is. But I, personally, don’t even bother to read the envelope even. I quickly sort through, looking for bills or something personal, and then throw the rest out into the recycle bin. At least I did that when I lived in the states. Now I am in Central America and we don’t have mail service here. NO MORE JUNK MAIL!

    It is nice. To pay our bills we have to just go to the local supermarket and pay at the customer service counter. (very odd, right?) Pay our electricity and cable bill that way. We have to go to pay our cell phone bill at the cell phone kiosks or stores. So it requires some travel.

    I prefer doing everything online, like I did before I moved out here.

    I don’t have time for junk mail. I don’t buy anything I don’t need. And if I need something, I do my research online.

    I am an odd duck. lol.

  • 789Carrie

    Thank you for the excellent article. Many successful practices in direct mail violate principles that brand marketing puts in place. I remember reading about, testing, and increasing seminar sales by adding ugly little phone, fax, mail, and computer symbols next to our registration contact information. They may have looked dated, not in keeping with a modern forward-looking education program, but they increased sales. Every conference manager and artist had to be won over individually because it was illogical.

  • Former DM Writer

    Very much agree with Bob’s assessment of the Hub Spot post — it’s amateur hour when it comes to direct mail analysis over there and demonstrates a huge amount of ignorance about how direct mail works strategically & tactically. While the examples are from the "under the radar’ school, I have no doubt they work because I’ve seen them for years. For example, the "blind" envelope (#2) has the teaser, "The favor of a reply is requested"–that is one of the most successful teasers in direct mail history which I had watched proliferate from control to control across non-profit & profit offers over a 20-year period. Amazing. And in fact, I’ve seen many of the tactics that work in direct mail finally transferred to email when experts in direct marketing finally took over the reins from amateur marketers who evidently thought digital is different. Once you understand people, then you understand how to use direct mail or any direct channel to advantage and produce good results.

  • Martyk1026

    Great article and rebuttal to the Hub Spot piece. Both had their points, but I found the original article too dismissive of what we know are tried and true DM methods. For example, I can understand the criticism of the blank envelope, but there is almost no chance that one will not be opened. The real challenge is to have compelling enough creative to communicate quickly and incite someone to action once the envelope is opened. I also agree with the position that money-back guarantees remove risk and encourage the audience to act rather than infer that there must be some defect in the product. No need to rehash it all. Mr. Bly’s points are well taken.

  • LawDirectMktng

    What he (Bob Bly) said! I agree with everything you said. In particular, "Never let personal preference get in the way." Direct marketing is about testing. What you think shouldn’t matter. What you prove does.

  • enicastro

    Great job of taking this "marketing genius" to task. In this case he richly deserves it.

  • Walter Kryshak

    My company would be out of business if we relied on the response rates of email and mobile marketing. Direct mail, is far superior in explaining and convincing prospective customers to sign up with us. Email and mobile marketing raises awareness, and that’s all. They’re far less costly to produce and distribute, and the (lack of) results explain part of the reason why. We might not even use that media in our marketing mix, but our clients want it. What kind of review did you expect from an email marketer? Direct mail marketing is part science and part art. Email and mobile marketing is a nice-to-have but doesn’t get you much in response rates.

  • Thomas (Tom) Smith, III

    @Bob This is a very good example of marketers today not understanding the fundamentals of integrated marketing and the nuances of different media. There are benefits to all channels of marketing. However, the message must be consistent across the channels and the channels must be used appropriately.

  • jslogan

    Great rebuttal Bob! I do a fair amount of direct mail for my clients and have witnessed how it remains highly relevant and effective in today’s market. All points you raised match my experience. Two things strike me when I read the article you cited: 1) while all direct mail is mail, not all mail is junk mail 2) just because something is old doesn’t mean it doesn’t work and something that’s new isn’t immediately better.

  • http://RichardPotter Richard Potter

    I totally agree with you, Bob. I read the original posting and was dismayed at the total lack of hands-on knowledge of what works in direct mail. My mantra has always been “Empirical evidence beats opinion every time.” Thanks for taking the time to take the poster (or is it “poseur”?) to task — I considered it but figured it would take more time than I was prepared to spend. And having one more ignorant mailer to compete with (if they ever mail), the better It makes my task that much easier. 😉

  • WorthingtonLevy

    Bob, you are right on the mark. Companies are filled with armchair marketers now, and what’s worse, they have Master’s and PhDs which makes them think that their opinion about things like direct mail actually count for something. I have presented to DMA audiences and college extension classes for years, and there is always some bozo who insists that they know mail doesn’t work — so I ask them how it is that we (who know what we’re doing) continue to use mail to make millions of dollars for our clients, while their digital group struggles along trying to get someone to visit and hang out at their website. Never mind, buy there. The latest one was someone saying that offers are crass and diminish brand value. Ho hum. While ignoramuses like that continue to loathe direct mail, we can win customers away from their clients and companies, for our own clients… using mail!

  • Paul Henry

    Strangely enough this post has probably helped improve the reputation of DM. The resposes to it from many experienced marketers show how flawed it is, and that a well researched highly targeted DM campaign still brings in results. Cynics, who gleefully read the post nodding along to every badly thought out sentence, will surely have noticed the furore it caused and may now rethink thier stance on DM.
    So well done Hubspot…anyone who read your post and has followed the many comments since can no longer dismiss DM but should now embrace it as part of a complete marketing mix

  • fleshandbrand


    Thank you for writing this. While I agree that Hubspot has its strengths, we must remember that they have an agenda to fulfill like every other company. Fortunately, an overwhelming number of commentors disagreed with the post, because they use DM and know it works. The ironic thing is that some of the author’s points are based on the time-honored and tested psychological principles of copywriting, like his point that a five star email contains a clear, accurate, and attention-grabbing email subject line. There are DM sales letters that accomplish this so well that they generate sales several years later (but I don’t need to tell you that, do I?).

    I unsubscribed from Hubspot a few months ago because they were clogging up my inbox with random blog posts and offers, not to mention they emailed me 2-3 times per day. I am a copywriter and run a for profit business, so why was I getting emails and free products about how to improve my non-profit business (and other unrelated subjects)?

    It’s sad that the article didn’t talk about how combining online and offline marketing using proven methods is the best way to build a business. Real marketers don’t slam other methods (especially without proof) because they think their "old school"; real marketers are only interested in what works, period. And they only want to educate their customers on what works too, instead of feeding them propaganda.