We ran our own direct mail test – and here’s what we learned

 In Direct Mail

Clients are often surprise that we, as a predominantly digital firm, still encourage direct mail as an effective medium. But it’s true we do find direct mail to be effective, especially when paired with other forms of communication. However, not just any mail piece is going to mobilize people to engage with the brand, organization, or campaign that sent it. Like any marketing strategy, direct mail has to engage with its audience, and it has to do so well. If it doesn’t, recipients will throw it away without a second glance.

A mail piece is a small amount of real estate to convince your recipients and readers to contact your organization, buy from your brand, or vote for your candidate. It’s hard to determine what will be effective before sending a mail piece out. But we wanted to know what works and what doesn’t. So we tested it.

Earlier this year, we sent out a piece of direct mail to let candidates and groups know about our data, digital, and design work. Our team designed four different pieces with varied features so we could see what is most effective in terms of engagement with us. Of course, our results may not specifically apply to your work, depending on your brand, campaign, or organization but the underlying principles can apply to any context. Here are a few best practice we learned from CMG’s own internal mail test:

1) Tell a story.

When we talked with people who received our mail, one thing that came up again and again was a story about how we helped our friend and former client Jon Hoadley win his election. We only wrote about Jon in one of our four mailings, and we found that most of the recipients that contacted us received the version with his story.

Telling stories is consistently more effective than facts and figures and sales pitches. Stories engage people’s imaginations and emotions, and it’s those things that motivate people to act much more than facts and figures. We illustrated our digital and political know-how by explaining through a story how we helped Jon win his election a few years ago, and got some new clients thinking about how we could help them, too.

Of course, not every brand is going to have the same kinds of stories as we did. But no matter what you want to communicate, engaging your recipients’ emotions and imaginations captures their attention and mobilizes them to engage.

2) Don’t (always) speak for yourself.

While each version of our mail discussed our work with clients on digital, one version featured quotes from three former and clients. A few recipients who spoke to us mentioned how our endorsements helped to convince them to call.

Endorsements let our audience know that we’d made a difference for other clients before, and we could for them, too. By letting others speak for us, we captured attention and gained trust that we wouldn’t have had if we’d spoken for ourselves entirely. Whether you’re selling a product, performing a service, or trying to spread the message about a candidate, endorsements are a great way to build trust and show legitimacy.

3) Be personal.

Along with changing the content of what we sent out, we also sent out two different forms of mail: oversized postcards and letters. We found the letters performed much better than the glossy postcards in terms of recipients who reached out to us.

It’s hard to say exactly why there was such a difference in results from one format to the other, but it’s likely that personalization had something to do with it. Though both pieces were clearly sales pitches from a business, the letter is much more personal and looks less like a solicitation.

This isn’t true for everyone. While people are used to seeing (and probably throwing away) business solicitations, postcards tend to work well for political mail. However, we think that being personal is effective no matter what. Engaging constituents, voters, customers, and clients on a personal level is much more effective, and much harder to ignore, than a personal touch.


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As CMG’s Crafter of Strategic Communication, Amy Libka combines strategy and creativity to help clients communicate as effectively as possible. She is passionate about clear, effective communication, and enjoys crafting messages that help individuals and groups achieve their goals. She specializes in creating content and managing digital advertising campaigns for a diverse group of clients.

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