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In Print: Why Flat Mail Drives Flat Results and How to Fix It

1 Jun, 2011 By: Dave Duplay Response

In Print Why Flat Mail Drives Flat Results and How to Fix It When you trudge out to the mailbox, what grabs your attention? It’s probably not a boring white envelope with a few text-filled pages inside. Unfortunately, that bland approach describes the vast majority of direct mail campaigns, and the results are predictably bad: The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) reported measly response rates of just 3.4 percent for house lists and 1.4 percent for prospect lists in 2010. But all hope should not be lost. Direct marketers will spend $47.8 billion on direct mail campaigns this year (up 5.8 percent from 2010), according to the Winterberry Group, and the U.S. Postal Service says that 77 percent of Americans sort through their mail the same day that it’s delivered. Direct mail isn’t dead; it’s just antiquated. Here are five steps that direct mailers should take to greatly increase the effectiveness of their campaigns:

  1. Appeal to the senses. Your direct mail campaign is much more likely to be successful if, for example, it folds into a three-dimensional shape, has flashing lights, plays music or smells like a rose. The explanation is basic human nature. Our focus groups have found that people spend a lot more time with these types of interactive materials, which experts say may release norepinephrine, a hormone that indicates excitement and stimulation. In our research, we observed a 39-percent increase in patients’ memory recall when we replaced flat print with a sample mailing that possessed one sensory stimulant (light, sound, smell, etc.). Incorporating a second sensory stimulant boosted memory recall by an additional 19 percent.
  2. Avoid information overload. According to research conducted by Eli Lilly & Co., "A ‘less is more’ approach… may increase retention and comprehension in consumer-directed print advertisements." Its research found that people are best able to digest three or fewer pieces of information. Too much information can be distracting. Make sure that everything you distribute has a clear, concise and persuasive value proposition.
  3. Follow the latest gadget trends. You need to target users where they congregate, and that’s heavily trending in an electronic direction. Your print materials should refer your targets to the Internet, mobile apps and other hot channels so that you can reach your targets where and when they want to be reached. Furthermore, make sure that your delivery method fits the channel: an iPad app should be very graphical and interactive, whereas a tweet should be short and to the point.
  4. Make it easy for your targets. Don’t just send them a line of text with your website address — send them a branded web key. This small device fits into a computer’s USB port and takes the user directly to a pre-selected website or document. Web keys cut through the clutter and make it easier and more interactive for your targets to access content. Research has shown that people react more favorably to things they can touch and hold.
  5. Maintain security and trust above all else. This falls firmly in the "last but not least" camp. If your marketing messages don’t meet compliance regulations, or if they’re perceived as irrelevant or spam, then it’s game over. Make sure to respect all legal guidelines as well as common-sense conventions. In terms of the latter, this might mean decreasing the quantity of your campaigns while upping the quality.

Dave Duplay is the president and founder of MedTera, an integrated marketing solutions company. He can be reached at (212) 488-2130 or via E-mail at

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