By Heidi Tolliver-Walker.  WhatTheyThink.  Published: July 5, 2017

85% of people will open mail if it “looks interesting.” But what makes mail “interesting”? While we tend to talk about the elements of direct mail in isolation, the reality is, it’s not one element or the other—but a combination of elements whose results are multiplicative rather than additive—that make mail interesting. It’s important to get that combination right.

What’s the big deal about that? We’ve all seen the stats about how much people still love mail. What’s new or more noteworthy about this one? Maybe it’s the wording. What struck me was the phrase: “if it looks interesting.” It made me sit back and think. What makes a piece of mail “interesting”?

According to a recent presentation by MemJet, it’s five things:
Interesting shapes and textures
Links to online content

None of these things are new. We talk about all of these, but we tend to talk about them in isolation. Yet, studies consistently show that the benefit of the various elements of direct mail aren’t additive. They are, as MemJet put it, “multiplicative.” In other words, 2 + 2 = å5 . . . or 6 . . . or 8.

Let’s say that you want to help a client boost response rates for a piece, so you add one or two personalized elements. You add the person’s name, and perhaps images that reflect each person’s demographics. Now let’s say there is little difference in response rate, if any at all. Is it because adding these elements wasn’t enough to make the mail “look interesting”?

I see my name personalized on lots of mail. It doesn’t make it interesting. Seeing my name is better than “Dear homeowner,” but by itself, it doesn’t mean much because I see it so often. The same with demographically appropriate images. A demographically inappropriate image will turn me off right away, but a demographically appropriate one usually blends into the background. I only notice it if it’s wrong. 

What about graphics? Great graphics will catch my attention in the moment, but if the piece isn’t relevant to me, I won’t do more than admire them briefly. However, if the graphics stink, no amount of personalization, shape and texture, or online links will overcome this. The piece just doesn’t look professional enough to bother with.
Interesting shapes and textures? You bet. If the quality is there (and even if personalization isn’t), that’s a piece I’ll open it just out of curiosity and respect for the investment of the sender. But not every marketer has the budget to do that.

How about links to online content? Only if it’s content I’m interested in. But if it is content I’m interested in, I’m much more likely to respond if they’ve made it easy for me. The presence of print-to-mobile tools amplifies an already relevant communication, but it doesn’t anything by itself.

So what makes a direct mail piece “interesting” enough to pick up and actually read? It’s not one thing or another, so we need to stop focusing on these elements in isolation. It’s the right combination of elements for each specific audience that makes mail work . . . or not.  How are you testing the various combination of elements of direct mail to know what works for your target audience?

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”