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Achieving Involvement: Wiles and Devices for Lifting Direct Mail Response

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One of the definitions of “involve” is “to bring into a situation from which escape is difficult.” That’s exactly what we want our direct mail packages to do. We want to hook the recipient to open the package, keep his/her attention, and show that the only means of escape is to place an order.

How do we do that? Part of the answer is copy. It must start on the outer envelope and continue inside. If, after the Johnson box or opening paragraph of the letter, the prospect is not nodding his head and saying “Yes, this sounds like something I want to find out more about. I’ll read further,” you’re not likely to get the order. Sometimes brilliant copy – the psychologically involving kind that Bill Jayme wrote — is enough to carry the entire burden of beginning and maintaining involvement.

But there’s more… a lot more in our arsenal. Just as we want to involve the prospect’s mind with strong copy, we want to get the prospect’s body – especially his/her hands – involved. In this sense, direct mail is no different from what we want to happen with our internet market – we look for the hand to click there; here we look for lifting, affixing, scratching, separating, inserting.

Beyond the prizes, sweeps mailings work because most are physically involving. You have to find the magazines you want and put the stamps onto the card… then put your prize numbers on the card… then insert the card into the reply envelope.

Let’s look at some of the devices circulators use to achieve involvement and some guidelines for optimizing response.

STICKERS are undoubtedly the most popular device now. Rule #1: It’s a mistake is to have both the sticker and the place for affixing it on the response form. While the response form is the “Moment of truth” (a Hemingway phrase, not mine), you want to lead the prospect through the package.

Look at this recently received package from Utne Reader. The outer envelope has a choice of three stickers. The creative assumption is that anyone who is a real prospect for this magazine will be smart enough to know of these stickers is to be removed and put somewhere, so there is no instruction.

The return portion of the order form has, of course, a place for the “Free Issue” sticker. The stub portion of the order form smartly refers to the choice of stickers.

(show outer envelope and response form)

It’s more traditional to use “Yes”/”No” stickers, and this package from Reason executes it well. If you’re willing to pay for the “Nos”, you’ll wind up with more “Yeses.” Here, we encounter Rule #2: Somewhere else in the package, where there are no stickers or places to put them, tell the prospect to respond by affixing the sticker. Reason does this with a handwritten note right near the signature at the end of the letter. Handwritten notes in a different color ink are, of course, involving on their own.

Retro Involvement

Leave it to Reason, the conservative magazine to bring back another involvement device – what we call the “Fancy” or “Snap” address label. Of course the addressing is ink-jetted directly now, but the lined effect is carried off well. For some reason, the way the label is ruled and space is fascinating to the recipient.

(show stickers on OE, right side of response form, lower quarter of back page of letter)

While stickers that say either “Yes/No” or “FREE” or ‘FREE ISSUE’ seem to be the norm, some publishers make the stickers specific to their product or premium. Here’s a recent Consumer Reports package. While we would have liked to see the stickers for the two free guides on one of the other pieces, they’re nevertheless dramatic representatives of the premium. Rule #3: Use response devices to differentiate your magazine from others.

By the way, Consumer Reports has always been expert in employing a different kind of involvement device – the “Which is better?” quiz and comparison.

(show order card top and bottom plus quiz sheet)

On this double postcard for Selling Power, instead of the usual “FREE ISSUE” we opted for “Turn on the Power.”

(show address side of card only)

The Gratuitous Sticker

Now let’s move onto a different kind of sticker, one I might call the “gratuitous” sticker. This is not to be applied to the response form. It’s just there – as an attention getting device, or freemium.

The controls for a number of the Harvard Health Publications feature a sheet of 16 yellow “happy face” stickers. No one quite knows why this works, particularly with well-educated audiences who are serious about their health, but has it ever! You have to merchandise this on the outer envelope.

This particular package also has traditional stickers. “Maybe” is a much more intriguing option for the consumer than “No.” To understand what “Maybe” means, you have to read the offer copy again… and that’s good.

(show happy face stickers, plus left side of order card)

Some Other Ways to Involve Prospects

“Billboard” packages have their own fascination and involvement. You have to remove the double postcard from the clear pocket. Interesting, isn’t it, that “Health News” which rented my name from the Harvard Men’s Health Watch list also uses a happy face in its package. That’s no coincidence. And it’ s not a coincidence that a renewal series we just created for Harvard Men’s Health Watch uses stickers on a number of its efforts.

(show part of Billboard – at least 2/3 from bottom up)

You’ll note that several of the packages shown have L-shaped response devices. There is physical involvement built into this – the prospect can’t stand the incongruity and so must separate the smaller return portion from the larger stub. Even if your response form can’t be L-shaped, if you have a perforation on it – requiring the prospect to do something before returning the order, that helps. It’s one reason I like to run editorial freemiums on the keeper portion.

If You’ve Got the Scratch

Die-cut tokens seem to be dead for some reason. That’s okay. But I’d love to see some new tests using scratch-offs or rub-offs. You add the mystery element to the physical involvement when you run copy underneath the surface of the scratch off. This copy could reveal a premium (or extra premium), how many free issues the prospect can get, etc. I was lucky enough to mail a scratch off package at Business Week in the early ‘80s and it was a control for quite awhile.

Lee Marc Stein heads his own direct marketing strategy and creative services firm. The consultancy contributes to its clients’ profitable growth through sound marketing and test plans, creative development and execution, database and media maximization, and customer nurturing programs. Lee works with all size companies in both consumer and business markets. Contact Lee at 631 724-3765, lmstein@optonline.net, or through http://www.leemarcstein.com/.

Lee Marc Stein Answers Direct Marketing Questions: Click Here For Free Answers

Achieving Involvement: Wiles and Devices for Lifting Direct Mail Response
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About Lee Marc Stein
Lee Marc Stein heads his own direct marketing strategy and creative services firm. The consultancy contributes to its clients’ profitable growth through sound marketing and test plans, creative development and execution, database and media maximization, and customer nurturing programs. Lee works with all size companies in both consumer and business markets. Contact Lee at 631 724-3765, lmstein@optonline.net, or through http://www.leemarcstein.com/.

Lee Marc Stein Answers Direct Marketing Questions: Click Here For Free Answers WebProNews Writer
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