Mark Everett Johnson

While the general shift of marketing budgets from print to digital media and the resulting effect on the U.S. Postal Service is largely a troubling situation for marketers that still use the direct mail channel, the short-term reality is less mail in circulation also produces an opportunity.

Copywriting is the backbone of direct mail—just as screenwriting is the same for the movie business—but in this increasingly high-tech industry, that's been forgotten. With more multichannel campaigns, upgraded database marketing techniques and splashy self-mailers than ever before, the written word becomes an afterthought, literally ... and this is not good, for any direct marketer.

Amid the economic woes have been constant calls and predictions that mail will get smaller, slicker, cheaper. Frankly, it's a little depressing. Can you imagine the general advertising folks saying their billboards were going to be smaller, their TV ads only 10 seconds long and were opting for bus bumper stickers rather than the bus itself. In a word? No.

Copy on the front of the envelope remains the tried-and-true method for most mailers to reach prospects. It's where you find teasers, offers, deadlines, personalized data, etc.—and these approaches run the gamut, from oversize formats with scarcely any copy/images to smaller efforts that are covered with copy and have full-bleed images.

The Internet age has been both a blessing and a curse for direct mail. On one hand, there is less mail in the physical mailbox, as many marketers have reduced their volumes in favor of e-mail messaging. On the other, prospects appear to make more rapid-fire decisions about their mail.

It's sold 4 million subscriptions since first rolling out in 1995. Tactful, thoughtful and genuine-certainly fundamental to its ability to remain relevant-the Mayo Clinic Health Letter also employs many of the finest direct mail tactics to great effect and continually makes small revisions to maintain its top-dog status.

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