Should You Rely on Design to Boost Your Direct Mail Response Rates?

I love a good challenge. A client of mine came to me the other day with a good one. He, an employee of a NY-based university, said that the school was about to begin soliciting alumni for donations. The school had done this twice before but had less-than-impressive results. Could I help him?

I really appreciate when clients think like this. So much of agency marketing work relies on coming up with smart ways of executing communication solutions. This, however, was a situation where we got to be a part of the process—where we were able to help find the solution, not just execute it.

In direct mail, there’s a concept known as the 40-40-20 rule. That is, 40 percent of direct mail success depends on a well-planned mailing list, 40 percent on a compelling offer, and 20 percent on creative work. Unfortunately, I’d say most direct mail actually operates more at 15-15-30. (And yes, I know that math isn’t right.)

Before I continue, let me say now that we really love this client. This has nothing to do with marketing naïveté (well, maybe some) or competence levels. These are smart people who have only just begun this process––they’re just not sure of the best way to approach this. And that’s where we come in.

We told them to look closely at their audience: Who are these people? When did they graduate? Where do they live now? Have you heard from them since? By segmenting their list into manageable demographics and psychographics, they can better target their potential customers. People are not interchangeable, and they shouldn’t be treated that way.

Next, consider the offer. What would it take for you to open a #9 envelope? What would make you take action? If you hadn’t heard from your alma mater in 20 years and suddenly it began asking you for money, how would you feel? And thus, what incentive would it have to offer in order for you to contribute your hard-earned dollars?

If you’re looking to improve the effectiveness of your direct mail campaigns, take a look at this ratio. Eighty percent of it has nothing to do with your creative. One shouldn’t, however, shortchange the creative. This final 20 percent is crucial to conveying your message. It determines how that message is constructed and how effective it is at grabbing one’s attention. Don’t saturate, clutter, or distract the viewer in any way. Humans have the attention span of a fish, it seems. Keep their eyes on the prize.

Author: Eric Swenson

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One response to “Should You Rely on Design to Boost Your Direct Mail Response Rates?

  1. Pingback: How Do You Make a Onetime Donor a Longtime Donor? | utterlyorange

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