Overcoming hurdles in the Direct Mail Response Funnel
Direct mail marketing has an established and well-tested set of design techniques, processes and steps to maximize effectiveness. Within the Intermediate phase of the overarching process lays the Direct Mail Response Funnel. The marketing sales funnel consists of four sequential steps taken by every recipient: Open, Read, Keep & Respond. Let's take a look at the first step –Open.
It may feel like a splash of cold water in the face, but the honest truth is that many direct mail letters are never opened. If that discourages you, cheer up. You're in good company. The situation is no different with other marketing media. Let me list a few examples:
When television ads are played, many people go to the restroom, head into the kitchen, watch three or four minutes of another television program or TiVo the ads into oblivion ahead of time. Radio's precious drive time ads are often avoided by drivers who immediately switch through other stations or even switch from AM to FM and back again after listening to a song. Billboards are ignored by drivers who glance the other way. Digital marketers aren't exempt either: PPC ads and retargeted ads are often ignored. Email that is marked as junk or spam doesn't even get a glance from the recipient. The list goes on and on.
Whats the first hurdle to overcome in getting your message through and establishing contact? Generate interest and peak curiosity.
Direct mail is unique in that your marketing communication piece has actual, physical contact with an individual for at least a few moments. This is a very powerful benefit. In the case of direct mail letters, it is vital to remember that a simple yet key decision is being made by the recipient: Should I open the envelope or not?
Envelopes are not neutral and careful consideration should be given to them. For example, a 2012 study1 demonstrated that financial services firms who placed their logo on the envelope experienced a lower open rate. A business should not assume that its brand strength guarantees higher open rates because they put their logo on the envelope. Rather, it's possible that a simple windowed envelope without a logo or message may create more interest or intrigue by the recipient.
This is because every recipient engages in observational learning and innately goes through a haptic experience to determine whether he or she should open a letter. Not only do they scan the envelope for visual cues, they consciously and subconsciously feel for weight and many slightly twist the envelope to determine whether there is something inside that may be important. This is one reason why sending a credit card-sized insert is often effective in increasing the open rate.
In the case where the letter is being sent to a business, an administrative assistant may be tasked with screening the mail for a business owner or executive. The absence of external cues for the screener to use when deciding whether to forward or toss the letter may actually improve the open rate by the intended recipient. Administrative assistants are not typically authorized to open private letters and they don't want to be chastised for failing to allow important mail to get through. So, in many cases, an unmarked envelope will be more effective than one that is clearly identified as advertising. Speaking from experience, one of our company's nationwide clients prefers postcards, but often sends them in unmarked, white windowed envelopes to business owners because of this very situation. As a result, they have tracked higher response rates.
It's not typically feasible to survey recipients of your direct mail letter campaigns and ask if they opened your letters. However, you can improve the likelihood of achieving higher open rates by simply giving proper consideration to the first hurdle in the Direct Mail Response Funnel.
1 Feld, S., et al., The effects of mailing design characteristics on direct mail campaign performance, Intern. J. of Research in Marketing (2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.16/j.ijresmar.2012.07.003.