I recently had a client, who happened to be a first-time candidate, question the effectiveness of direct mail advertising. She was convinced that direct mail was only effective with older voters (ages 65+). In today’s world of smartphones and tablets, she argued, people under the age of 65 are no longer conditioned to rely on snail mail, much less pay attention to direct mail.
She couldn’t have been more wrong about the impact of political direct mail, and fortunately I was able to convince her before she made a potentially fatal mistake for her campaign by ignoring mail as a communication tool.
So let’s break some of this new “conventional wisdom” about the impact of direct mail. Contrary to what some may think, the numbers show that direct mail is scanned or read more now than ever before. In a world with so much other distraction, direct mail is becoming more effective not less.
The numbers bear this out. According to the U.S. Postal Service’s “Household Diary Study,” 79 percent of households at least scan their direct mail daily and 55 percent report they read all of their direct mail daily. That’s compared to 47 percent in 1987.
These numbers hold across all age and demographic groups except for high-income households where scan and readership rates are even higher. Even Millennials still trust and read direct mail—research from Money Mailer found that 90 percent of Millennials find direct mail to be reliable and 87 percent actually like getting information from retailers in the mail.
Two big reasons for these numbers are that the widespread use of email (how many of you get all or most of your bills by email now?) has reduced the amount of mail in your box (according to the USPS the average household only receives two pieces of direct mail per day), and more sophisticated targeting ensures the direct mail individuals are receiving is actually relevant to them.
Less mail in the mail box obviously makes direct mail pieces stand out more (especially if they are well done) and it’s just common sense that people are more likely to read direct mail if they find it relevant to them.
A smart direct mail program can make your voter contact direct mail even more effective. Here are 5 tips I utilize and recommend to make your direct mail program smarter:
1. Go Big
The biggest piece in the box grabs people’s attention and that’s the ultimate goal of direct mail. That’s why I always recommend 8.5” x 11” mailers. It’s typically only two to three cents more piece to design and print an 8.5” x 11” compared to a smaller 5.5” x 11”. That’s a small price to pay to ensure more people notice your mail.
2. Use Flats
I use the trash can/kitchen counter rule: Most people read or scan their mail between their mail box and the trash can or the kitchen counter. They never really look at it again. Make sure your direct mail is easy to read and designed to convey its central message in the time it takes to get from the mail box or the kitchen counter. There’s a good chance you can get them to read or at least scan both sides of a flat mailer during that time but a much lower chance they’ll open up a folded piece.
The only time I use voter contact mail that must be opened is in very special circumstances when the extra space is a must have and you have a real hook to get people to open it. Even then I make sure that all of my key points are contained on the exterior of the mailer.
3. Pictures and Imagery Make the Mail
One of the first things most folks will notice on your mail is the photography. It’s essential that you have appealing imagery. Don’t skimp and use pictures the candidate’s friend or staffer made with their smartphone or 10-year old camera from the attic. Bring in a professional photographer and take at least twice as many photos as you think you’ll need.
Photos and imagery are one of the things that will catch and keep your audience’s attention. Your content can be top notch, but if your imagery is not many people will never even notice the content. And avoid cookie-cutter mail at all costs. Your target audience is smarter than you think and quickly discards cookie-cutter pieces.
4. Target and Make it Relevant
With the abundance of voter data available today there’s no excuse for failing to precisely target the audience of your direct mail. Relevancy is a must for ensuring your mail is read. Unless you’re setting out with an extremely small audience, develop a plan to divide your audience in as many ways that make sense (be careful not to go too small making your per piece printing cots unreasonable). Then focus on the specific messaging that works with that audience and utilize imagery that has specific appeal to those folks.
5. Coordinate Your Direct Mail and Digital Advertising Programs
This is perhaps the number one way to maximize the effectiveness of your direct mail program in today’s world. Both direct mail and digital advertising allow you to microtarget specifc groups of voters with precision. Make sure your target audience is the same for both mediums and keep your messaging and imagery the same or very similar. Then time your direct mail to ensure that it hits on (or at least very close to) the day the digital advertising ramps up.
“The Little Book of Bigger Returns” (Royal Mail Group Ltd. 2011) shows that for businesses an integrated direct mail and digital campaign improves the effectiveness of online campaigns by 62 percent and improves ROI by 20 percent. The same is true for political direct mail campaigns.
Stick with direct mail. It works. In fact, in today’s world, direct mail works better than ever if you implement a smart program.