847-673-0186 | Outside Chicago: 1-866-330-MAIL

On April 24, 2013

Direct Mail That Won’t End Up In The Wastebasket


When I get home at night, I almost always head straight for the Mail Room where, usually, a few neighbors will be sorting their mail.

We direct marketers love watching people react to their mail pieces and we cringe thinking of all the work and money that goes into direct mail efforts that -Boom! get flipped into the wastebasket within seconds.

Every now and then, one of the neighbors will growl something like “What’s with this junk mail?” Ouch. Arrows through my heart. Bad targeting, maybe? Poor creative? Weak offer? I can’t look.

I console myself with the notion that it doesn’t matter if 50% of the people toss a mail piece in the wastebasket. Actually that’d be great. It’d be great if only 95% of recipients threw a direct mail package away as long as half the people who kept it responded. That’s a 2.5% response rate! Hallelujah.

Oddly enough, even though we talk a lot about response rate, it doesn’t really matter much. Dollars matter. For instance, a few years ago, we developed a mailing campaign for very expensive hospital equipment made by 3M. We mailed 10,000 pieces and got two sales. 3M made a bundle of money even though our response rate was minuscule.

When we’re working on a direct mail package, we tend to think in terms of the 40-40-20 Rule: 40% of the success of your program is due to the right Mailing list(s), 40% due to the direct mail Offer and 20% to the Creative. Our Creative Director insists that it should be the 100-100-100 Rule because all three are crucial and he’s right in a way but inferior creative design sent to the right lists will always out pull outstanding creative sent to the wrong mailing lists.

Here are some ideas to avoid the wastebasket syndrome.

If you want your direct mailing to get opened, begin with the envelope. Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But look at all those #10 white envelopes in your own mailbox. Do any of them stand out? Get noticed is the first rule. Stand out. You might have to test a bit.

Arouse the curiosity of your prospects.
When I worked at Better Homes and Gardens, we offered a series of books about Decorating. I knew showing a beautifully decorated room quickly would lift response. So, I took the brochure and scaled it down and used the money we saved to pay for a glamour photo of a den on the outer envelope. Response was almost 20% higher than a white envelope with just teaser copy.

You can ask a question on your envelope and then tease them into opening it for the answer.

  • Are you doing the right things to ensure your child gets into the right college? See Inside.
  • Worried about your healthcare and not always sure you’re covered? Open this envelope for some good answers.

That kind of copy works when you know the lists you’re using, and how your product (or service) will help your target market. It is also relevant to them.


We once did a mailing to Texas for Tourism Canada. It featured a 4-color photo of a live moose with, between its antlers, a headline that read “Got any of these in Texas?” Worked extremely well.

Test a live stamp!

There’s a phenomenon called willing suspension of disbelief. It means your prospects know it’s not a personal letter from a real human being but they’re willing to pretend it is, if you do it right.

You can really make that work on your envelope by using a live Standard (Bulk Mail) stamp. Sure it’s easier to use a postal indicia, but for many people that will immediately put you in the undesirable category (and heading toward the trash).

At first glance the live postal stamp looks important and maybe touched by a real human being, so find out how much the additional cost will be from your mailing service to affix them (and ask if there are different designs available).

We’ve also tested more than one stamp and that lifts response also. Have some fun doing that. If you can afford it, you might want to test a couple of live first class stamps. I’ve seen that really pay off for upscale products and services.

Sticking with the “human” quality to your mailing:

    • Consider using a script font, because it stands out if it pertains to your product. If not, use a type font with serifs (easier to read).
    • If you have a great offer, and you should, put it on the envelope. We sent an offer for the American Motorcyclists Association with “Free Decal Inside” and that worked best. Of course, it was an extra cool decal we pictured on the face of the envelope.
    • Use headlines that are fun and engaging, like moose/Texas or even just “If you throw this envelope away, you’ll never know what you missed”.

And your ideas. Let us hear about envelopes you’ve done that “begged to be opened”. Maybe we’ll feature them here!

Contributor: Lois Geller Marketing Group

  • By kd_admin  0 Comments