Mr. Postman...Bring Me a Dream
Like a sign from Mother Nature fueling hopes for a bountiful harvest, the United States Postal Service’s (USPS) recent Postal Accountability and Enhancement Act bodes well for businesses in the new year. The first major change to the Postal Service since 1971, the act was signed into law on Dec. 20, and links future rate increases to the Consumer Price Index, thus ensuring predictable price increases tied to the rate of inflation. In addition, the law gives the USPS more flexibility for pricing competitive products, and reconstitutes the existing postal rate commission into a regulatory body with greater authority and responsibility. Now, distributors can get the party started by spreading the good news and capitalizing on emerging mail trends, as well as market research findings, to help customers grow and prosper through direct mail.
Mail Clicks With Consumers
How effective is mail in connecting with target markets in this golden age of technology? USPS research reveals that consumers—even heavy Internet users—still consider mail to be highly relevant and significant, and possessed of a tangible quality found lacking in their electronic communications. Titled “Mail and the Internet,” the report (found at www.usps.com) also showed that mail, when used in conjunction with digital media, has a substantial impact on driving commercial Web site traffic, particularly when the mail and e-mail have the same look and feel to facilitate campaign consistency. Additionally, including Web addresses on all mailed communications and phone numbers on every Web page ensures the best results.
By and large, distributors won’t have to spend time convincing customers of direct mail’s value. The focus during sales calls will more likely be on the best direct mail package format and copy content to resonate with recipients and induce them to take responsive action. Inside Direct Mail magazine’s monthly MailWatch report tracks mailing practices throughout the marketplace, examining what works and what doesn’t for mailers in particular industries. Briefly reviewing some 2006 MailWatch findings can help in preparing to meet with prospects.
Within the banking industry, for example, the preferred direct mail vehicle continues to be the traditional, #10 envelope package. Changes are being made, however, in the type of offer companies are making. In the past, banking services—including savings, checking and money market accounts—have used contests awarding cash prizes to drive responses more often than other financial sectors. Now, the contests are giving way to more offers for premiums.
Associations and membership groups are not as prolific in their direct mail efforts as, say, the financial and insurance industries, but the packages that are sent out are typically envelope formats, as opposed to self-mailers. Most appeals for professional organizations are forms-based and meant to look official. They rely heavily on personalization and an invoice-style reply form to drive responses, and utilize labels, notepads and other low-cost goodies to draw prospects into the packages.
For the travel industries, four-color process and self-mailer formats rule. And while there typically has not been much reliance on premiums to drive response, there was a noticeable increase in premiums this past summer, including offers for reduced rates at hotels, as well as gift certificates for personal services, restaurants and local attractions. The travel industry also tends to avoid obviously personalized communications, and prefers self-mailer formats over envelope packages. This reflects not only the tendency to use travel catalogs to communicate marketing messages, but also the limits envelopes can place on using effective, attention-grabbing graphics which are destroyed when recipients open the mailing.
When it comes to the publishing sector, the amount of mailers and the use of personalization continues to increase. More advanced uses of personalization include variable text on magazine wraps, and text seen through die-cut windows on envelope packages. However, publishers—traditionally favoring playful stickers, fun die-cuts, big-benefit copy and large unfolding brochures featuring large photo spreads—are responding to economic pressures by switching to more subdued tactics that focus on the products. Now, instead of gimmicks, the mailers are filled with stronger copy that creates a connection between the product and audience, showing how a product fits into the desire for value and individuality.
Two trends increasingly observed in direct mail from merchandise firms are the greater use of personalization and sweepstakes. From trips to cars to cash prizes, merchandise marketers are upping the ante on their offers to add another layer of intrigue to mail packages. There has also been a return to more standard-size envelope formats. In the past, this group has opted for odd-sized envelopes in more than 70 percent of its efforts. There has also been a resurgence in the use of sweepstakes and contests to drive responses.
Open, Says Me
Even a little research can go far in learning what traditionally has worked for a market sector, and possible changes being made to improve response rates. It indicates knowledge and interest and can help distributors capture future business opportunities with customers. In addition to the USPS’s Web site, information can be found at www.whosmailingwhat.com. Visitors can even order copies of direct mail packages from the more than 150,000 mailings and catalogs in nearly 200 categories housed in the Who’s Mailing What! mail archives.
Related story: Checks in the Mail