Famous Last Words: Direct Mail Redux?
For more than 35 years, my wife, Peggy, and I have been saving our direct mail for inclusion in the giant Who’s Mailing What! Archive of samples in more than 200 categories—consumer, business and nonprofit. I believe this extraordinary collection is the mother lode of American direct mail research. Students of the medium can find true marketing gold in the almost 1,000 of Axel Andersson’s Grand Controls—mailings that have been received in the archive for three or more consecutive years, which means the marketers sending them out have cashed (or are cashing) in big. Marty Conroy’s “Two Young Men …” effort for The Wall Street Journal was a control for more than 18 years and generated an estimated $1 billion-plus in subscription revenue.
When Peggy and I ran the archive and newsletter out of our house in Stamford, Conn., we kept the mailings in file drawers. Now thousands of them can be downloaded from the archive as PDFs at whosmailingwhat.com.
Direct Mail Is Alive!
“The Next Wall About to Fall: Direct Mail” is the title of an article by Diego Vasquez in medialifemagazine.com. He trotted out all the old shibboleths that direct mail is expensive and gets trashed, whereas e-mail is filtered, so recipients only get the stuff they want.
I don’t buy it. Spam gets through, and we are being inundated with the stuff—along with the personal and business correspondence we have to deal with. For example, whenever I go to my Yahoo and AOL inboxes, I am in my delete mode—delete everything unless it’s obvious that I must deal with it.
Further, subject lines—the equivalent of the envelope teaser in direct mail—are words only, often smarty-pants and uninspired, with no design. For me to open e-mail, either the sender or the subject line has to grab me by the throat, or it’s gone. Remember, your e-mail is one click away from oblivion.
In addition, many direct mailers are migrating to e-correspondence, because it’s quick, cheap and you can measure response almost in real time.
Less Mail—A Lot Less
“Overwhelmed by delinquent debt and facing a new law that will almost certainly make credit cards less profitable, banks sent out only about 500 million credit card solicitations in the first quarter, half as many as in the last three months of 2008,” wrote Alex Mindlin in The New York Times. “That is fewer than in any year since 2000.” (Hey! 2000 was a great year for direct mail!)
We noticed a falloff in mail at home. “For the first time in years,” Peggy said on the first day of June, “I carried a full month of junk mail into the archive in a single shopping bag.”
Should You Test Mail Now?
Some timely considerations:
• Nobody likes an empty mailbox, and with mailers cutting back, a really good offer to the right person in the mail has a good chance of being noticed and opened.
• “Of all practical advertising media, only direct mail offers a sufficiently large canvas for telling a complex story.” —Bill Jayme
• “Of all the formats used in direct mail, none has more power to generate action than the letter.” —Dick Hodgson
• “Any package containing a letter will generally pull greater response than a package without a letter; extensive testing has proved this to be true in most cases.” —Dick Hodgson
• “Success in direct mail is dependent on the following ratios: 40 percent lists, 40 percent offer, 20 percent everything else.” —Ed Mayer
• The success of a direct marketing project is 30 percent offer, 20 percent lists, 20 percent package cost and 20 percent creative. If you pay too much, you can never recover.” —Bob Hacker
• Finally, why go into the mail? Postage is the most expensive element, and the USPS had an unheard of summer sale—30 percent rebate on postage if eligible.
Denny Hatch is a freelance direct marketing consultant and copywriter, and author of the e-mail newsletter, Denny Hatch’s Business Common Sense. Visit him at www.businesscommonsense.com or www.dennyhatch.com, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.