Printing and Direct Mail: It's Fine for the Environment

The other day I read this at the end of someone's email:

It is perfectly fine to print this email. Paper is a biodegradable, renewable, sustainable product made from trees. Growing and harvesting trees provides jobs for millions of men and women. Working forests are good for the environment, providing clean air, clean water, wildlife habitat and carbon storage. When you don't need it anymore, be sure to put it in a bin designated for recycling, and it will come back as new paper!

And it started me wondering. Can printing and direct mail actually be good for the environment? I had to check it out.

I learned that only about 14% of the 3.3 billion cubic meters of wood consumed worldwide each year is for paper production and much of this wood comes from wood chips and other "leftovers" from sawmill operations. On the other hand, over half of the wood harvested in the world is used for fuel, mostly for cooking and domestic heating. The second-largest wood use is for lumber and plywood in home building.

Of course, some of our paper is made from trees (and not wood by-products), but not from old-growth forests. These days, tree farms are planted and grown specifically for paper, just like any other crop. As one area of trees is harvested, another is planted in a cycling, continuous-growth farm.

Thanks to these sustainable practices, the amount of forests has grown significantly in recent years. We have more forests in the U.S. now than we did 50 years ago, and about the same forestland as we did 100 years ago (U.S. Forest Resource Facts and Historical Trends). Put another way: our use of paper has convinced tree farmers that it's a worthwhile crop.

You might say that not using paper to "save a tree" is like not eating your greens to save a vegetable.

If "saving trees" isn't an issue, why bother recycling paper at all? To save landfill space. Plus, paper is easy and inexpensive to recycle. It can be remade into products like corrugated boxes, packaging, newsprint, tissue and new paper. According to the EPA, direct mail currently accounts for only 2.4% of landfill waste; and the recycling recovery rate of direct mail has grown nearly 700% since 1990.

None of us likes to be wasteful, so here are some effective ways to help the environment in your next direct mail campaign: Target your mailing to avoid mailing to prospects with a lower likelihood of response. Keep your mailing list up to date, and pass it through NCOA (National Change of Address) regularly. Ask your printer to use vegetable or soy-based inks (shameless plug: Post Haste Direct Mailing already uses these) rather than petroleum-based inks. Use recycled paper or paper produced through responsible forestry.

So go ahead and print that email. Or this blog article. And feel good knowing you're saving a tree.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

A USPS Closure in Your Area?

On July 27, 2011, The USPS filed for an opinion on closing some 3,652 post offices, stations and branches nationwide (about 11 percent of its retail network).

Texas and Illinois top the list of possible USPS closures, and Delaware is the only state with no facilities on the list.

The USPS must consider these closures because of society's changes in communications (i.e., email and bill paying via the internet), the questionable need for traditional brick-and-mortar stores, and the USPS' current economic condition.

Of course, postal union members aren't very happy about this, in addition to customers in small towns who consider the local post office a meeting place.

Wonder if your post office is on the list? You can look at a map here.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

Here's to Direct Mail

A thoroughly biased look at direct mail versus other types of advertising.

I’m going to be honest. I’ve never been fond of the U.S. Postal Service … for a number of reasons. But having said that, the USPS offers us one of the most powerful advertising tools available today: direct mail.

Let’s look at how it compares to other types of advertising:

Television – you have a 15- or 30-second spot that is on and gone so fast no one can buy anything the first time they see your ad. That means repetition, literally drilling your product into the viewer’s mind. That comes at a high cost, and is usually annoying to the viewer (another commercial?) because – let’s face it – most TV ads aren’t very entertaining. Even my must-watch TV of the year – Superbowl ads – have IMHO gone downhill in recent years.

Radio – similar to TV, typically only listened to during drive time. Radio made jingles famous, and even today that’s what many advertisers use to (hopefully) make their brand memorable. I can still recall portions of jingles: “call 1-800 something something and away goes trouble down the drain.” The trouble is, when I had to repipe my entire house, I didn’t sing a jingle to find a plumber. I hunted through some saved direct mail, did a little online research, and ended up with a great company.

Telemarketing – need I say more? Somehow in spite of legislation, telemarketers are still calling us during dinner. When my daughter was a teen, I had a way of dealing with them. I would simply hand her the phone and she would start talking. About her day, school, grades, boys, swimming, shoes, friends, the unfairness of life, you name it. Until the poor telemarketer hung up (probably with a newly renewed allegiance to bachelorhood).

I really miss having her around.

Email – Email came on strong due to its extremely low cost. But it wasn’t long before the word “spam” was created, and we all bemoaned our overflowing in-boxes. Unfortunately, legitimate emails are often lost in the avalanche of discount pet meds, little blue pills and requests from Nigerian princes.

Although I don’t mind occasional email marketing from some businesses, I get annoyed if they over-email me. I’ve also found myself thinking “gee, this didn’t cost them much to send. Do they really value me so little?” Sometimes cheaper and faster are not the advantages people think they are

Direct mail – It’s colorful, carefully targeted, less expensive than radio and TV, and it won’t interrupt dinner or your favorite show. You can touch it, save it (for when you actually need a plumber), act on it now or later. You can respond by phone, internet or mail. And it pairs beautifully with email for a one-two marketing punch.

For those who say direct mail kills trees, consider this: trees are grown and harvested much like any other crop, and tree farming has become a huge industry in the U.S. In fact, there are more trees on our earth today than we had 200 years ago. You can't get much greener than that.

So go out and direct mail. Because it works.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

Meditation May Build Your Brain

When my daughter Lauren was in fourth grade, she had to propose and conduct a science experiment in school. Her choice was "Will gingko bilobo improve memory in older people?"

You know who she recruited as one of the (ahem) "older people." The next week I found myself popping ginkgo and playing the electronic game "Simon Says", which is how Lauren tracked my memory progress. The first week I was embarrassingly bad, following Simon to only six steps. But by the end of the eight-week experiment, I had improved to a personal best of 22 steps. Was it thanks to the ginkgo? Maybe. But I was still misplacing my car keys.

Now comes a new study that claims 30 minutes of meditation per day actually grows the gray matter associated with memory, sense of self and empathy.

The findings appeared in the January 30, 2011 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging. M.R.I. brain scans taken before and after the participants' meditation time found increased gray matter concentration in the hippocampus, an area important for learning and memory. At the same time, there was a reduction of gray matter in the amygdala, which is linked to anxiety and stress. A control group that did not meditate showed no such changes.

Britta Holzelm, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and the study's lead author, said the participants practiced "mindfulness meditation," a form that was introduced in the U.S. in the late 1970s, and has roots to ancient Buddha meditation techniques.

Previous studies have also shown that there are structural differences between the brains of meditators and those who don't meditate, but this new study is the first to document changes in gray matter over time through meditation.

And although Dr. Holzel cautions that these are preliminary findings, they're good enough for me. This afternoon I'm going to drive to a meditation center and learn the practice. That is, if I can find my car keys.

Nonprofits to be included in QR code-postage discount

Sorry for the legal wording - this just came in. I'll add more when I get more information. Basically, the USPS will extend the 3% QR code "summer" discount to nonprofits as well:

The Commission finds, consistent with the Easter Seal case, that the Postal Service has not articulated a rationale to justify the differential treatment of nonprofit Docket No. R2011-5 - 9 - mailers in this promotion. 656 F.2d at 761. The Commission directs the Postal Service to make the discount available to nonprofit mailers that comport with all the other program requirements. The Commission understands that the impact of the inclusion of nonprofit mailers may be negligible, given the short lead time before the promotion, but reiterates the principle that the Postal Service must provide sufficient justification, pursuant to 39 U.S.C. 403(c), to exclude nonprofit mailers from a discount or rate on a product that has a nonprofit rate. Id. at 760-61.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

How to Use QR Codes in Direct Mail

Quick Response (QR) codes are becoming popular in direct marketing campaigns as a call to action, but the trick for many marketers is how to use them effectively, rather than as an afterthought.

According to a 2010 report by ScanLife, there was a 1600% increase in overall QR scanning from 2009. The company found that the top reasons to scan barcodes are: price comparisons (81%), product reviews (63%), and to receive special offers (63%). (Click here for the complete 2010 report.)

Even the USPS is getting in on the action, promising a 3% discount in postage rates for companies using standard or first-class rates, and incorporating a QR code into their mailpiece.

What is a QR code?

It’s a 2D barcode, which means that data is stored in two directions and can be scanned vertically or horizontally. (UPC codes, on the other hand, are 1D and can only be scanned in one direction.) QR codes can have any sort of information embedded, such as URLs, photos, videos or text. The codes are readable with any smartphone, but a free QR reader app is required.

How can you use QR codes?

The obvious answer is to drive more business to your website, but don’t just send your respondents to your company webpage. At the very least, set up a mobil-optimized website with analytics, which will give you the ability to track and update your campaign. Consider providing brief, easy-to-understand directions of how to use the code and a URL where users can download a QR code-reader for their phones.

Here are some more ideas you can incorporate into a direct mail/QR code campaign:
  • Add a QR code to a newsletter that will send people to an online page of testimonials.
  • Link to a free ringtone, song, movie preview, or podcast.
  • Point to (good) online reviews of your product or service.
  • Provide more information about the product or service you’re marketing. Realtors, this is a perfect place to showcase a house.
  • Direct your reader to your company’s social media sites.
  • Use QR codes linked to your organization’s donation page to give your reader another way to give.
What to watch out for:
  • Above all else, make the code content relevant to what you’re selling.
  • It’s tempting to cram a lot of information into a QR code, but remember that the more information you have, the denser the code will be, and the more difficult it will be for a mobile device to scan.  In these samples, we used our Facebook page URL as-is on the left, and a shortened URL on the right.

Post Haste Mailing Facebook
page using a shortened link

Post Haste Mailing Facebook
page URL as-is

  • Keep your code at least 1”x1” for easy reading.
  • Don’t link to the homepage of your website unless it’s optimized for a mobile device. And don’t ever link to a flash site – mobile phones don’t read flash.
  • You don't have to make your code black. Any dark color will work (you're looking for good contrast), and even many medium hues. But the key is to ...
  • Test your QR code before printing.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

Charitable Giving Trends in 2010

The 2010 Cygnus Donor Survey is available, and shows improving trends for nonprofit giving.

The survey, which was begun in 2009 by Cygnus Applied Research, Inc.,  looked at how donors were contending with the severe economic recession. The findings became so important (not to mention interesting), that the project has continued as an annual snapshot of philanthropy and a forum for donors to express their views.

First the good news:
  • Giving increased in 2010. 41% of respondents gave more to charity last year than in 2009, while 39% gave the same. The trend towards giving more was especially evident in younger donors and those earning the highest incomes.
  • More than half of those surveyed supported the same number of nonprofits in 2010 as they did in 2009, but 26% supported more and only 15% supported fewer.
  • 48% of those surveyed gave at least one gift in response to a direct mail appeal.
And now the shifting trends:
  • Younger donors are giving to fewer charities than older donors.
  • Donors are conducting more research before making a gift.
  • Support is shifting to favor local charities.
  • Donors are choosing charities that provide measurable results.
  • Finally, donors are reducing support for charities that over-solicit (that is, sending another appeal before acknowledging and thanking the donor for the previous gift).
And we saved the best for last: 79% of donors expect to give the same - or more - this year, while only 7% said they would give less.

How will you use this information? For the complete survey visit

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit us online at, email us at or follow us on Twitter @Chris_and_Bill.

Direct Mail Fundraising – Tips to Improve Your Letter Writing

Fundraising letter writing tips to incorporate into your next direct mail campaign

With direct mail use up this year, nonprofit organizations are increasing the use of direct marketing for fundraising. And the key to a successful fundraising campaign is a strong letter. Having said that, few nonprofit organizations can afford to hire a professional, and it usually falls to one of the staff to write the letter.

But with a few tips and a little practice, you can write an effective fundraising letter that will capture your reader’s attention … and open their wallet.

Direct mail writing isn’t the “proper” writing we learned in high school. If your initial attempts seem that way, you’re trying too hard. You want your writing to come across as conversational and warm.

1. Write as if you’re talking to a good acquaintance. Use the words “I” and “we,” but use the word “you” even more often.

2. Use simple, straightforward language and short sentences. Feel free to use anecdotes and stories to engage your donor in your organization’s work, but don’t exaggerate or fabricate information.

3. Tell your donor how much to give, and what it will provide. Donors like to feel as if they’ve paid for something concrete: Ms. Smith, your $25 donation will provide one family with clean drinking water for a year.

4. Use subheads. Especially on longer letters, subheads are an important way to break up multiple paragraphs of text. Plus, most readers may skim the letter copy, but will definitely read the subheads.

5. Underlining or bold type – used sparingly - will capture your donor’s eyes. You can use it to draw attention to important information or a call to action.

6. Create a sense of urgency by asking your donor to send in their donation before a specific deadline. Because if you don’t, they probably won’t ever do it.

7. Don’t forget the P.S. Nearly every reader will look at a letter’s P.S. (see our blog on the direct mail eye study here), so you’ll definitely want to restate your request.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit or email us at:

Marketing Your Company With Postcards

Postcards are the workhorse of the direct marketing industry, and companies are turning to them now more than ever. And why not? A postcard is like sending a mini billboard through the mail. They're simple to create, and can put your company right in front of your intended audience for very little money.

Why should you consider postcard marketing?

1. Postcards can generate website traffic or sales leads at a low cost. Four-color printing is inexpensive these days, and you can create a card that your client ends up keeping for months.

2. Postcards are eye-catching, and are the best-read direct mail pieces.

3. They create instant brand awareness, and can be included almost anywhere in a direct marketing campaign. For instance, use them as a save-the-date card in advance of a beautiful invitation to a fundraiser. Or send them after a sales letter to spur response.

3. Postcards are easy and quick. There's no envelope to design and very little copy to write. You can have a new postcard campaign out within a week.

How to create an effective postcard:

1. When designing your card, keep your message as brief as possible. State clearly and simply what you can offer your customer, or how you can help.

2. Use a catchy headline. Make sure it's interesting and easy to read at first glance.

3. Choose your image wisely. It should support the accompanying headline, be interesting and make the reader want to flip the card over.

4. Repeat after me: use only ONE idea per card. By focusing on one topic, you can develop it clearly and make a strong offer.

5. Be sure to tell your reader what to do next, and make it as easy as possible for them to respond. The easier you make it, the more likely they will be to take that next step: buying from you.


For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

Whoopsie - USPS Uses Wrong Statue of Liberty on Stamp

The USPS accidentally used a picture of a replica Statue of Liberty that stands in front of the Las Vegas New York-New York hotel, instead of the one in New York Harbor on its new forever Liberty Stamp.

Linn's Stamp News first broke the story. You can read it the entire article here.

The face on the stamp has different hair and the eyes are more sharply defined. The stamp was issued in December 2010.

Red-faced USPS officials say they regret the mistake and will try to prevent such errors in the future.
The new USPS Liberty Stamp
 is actually a photo of a Las
 Vegas replica.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

Postal Discount For Mailpieces With QR Code

The Postal Service filed for a three percent discount in July and August, 2011 for any commercial mailpiece that contains a QR code.

The USPS is using the promotion to highlight the integration of direct mail with mobile technology. The discount will apply to first class and standard letters and flats. Nonprofit mail is not part of the promotion.

To qualify, mailpieces must include a two-dimensional mobile barcode inside or on the mailer that is readable by a smartphone. The code must be used to market, promote or educate.

You can read the complete USPS notice here.

For more information on Post Haste Mailing Services, visit, or email us at:

PRC Releases Opinion on Eliminating Saturday Postal Delivery

The Postal Service recently submitted its five-day delivery proposal to the Postal Regulatory Commission (PRC) for the second time after conducting additional research on Saturday delivery. 

On Thursday, March 24, the PRC released its opinion on the proposal, which included the following:
  • The USPS overstated its estimated annual net savings by $1.4 billion, and gross cost savings by $1.0 billion
  • Full savings might not be achieved until the program has been in place for three years
  • 25 percent of all First-Class and Priority Mail will be delayed by at least two days
The PRC also commented that eliminating Saturday delivery will remove a key differentiator between the USPS and its competition - independent shipping companies that either do not offer Saturday delivery or add a surcharge for it.
Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe released his response to the PRC that same day. He claimed that the cost savings estimates outlined in the Postal Service’s proposal were based on extensive research, outreach to customers, consultation of postal experts, analysis of mail volume trends, and more. Donahoe said he is looking forward to reading the  PRC’s full report and stressed that the opinion is advisory only. The Postal Service will continue to encourage Congress to approve the proposal.

You can read the PRC's opinion here.

Sending a Booklet? Where To Put Your Tabs

If your marketing plan includes mailing booklets, you already know they must be sealed somehow, either with glue or wafer seals. Maybe even a lot of wafer seals. Rarely can you slap a tab in the middle of your flyer and call it good. Now you practically need a Ph.D. in Tabology.

Take letter-sized booklets, for example. They need three tabs, but the placement can be one of three ways. Unless of course you've mistakenly oriented your address block the wrong way ... then God help you, no amount of tabbing will help. You will be damned forever and your children taken away.

But don't worry. Bill and I are here for you. We put together this newly updated cheat sheet that will tell you where to put your tabs.

2300+ Post Offices to Close in 2011-2012

The following is an excerpt for the latest Kiplinger Letter:

More than 2,300 U.S. post offices will close their doors in 2011 and 2012. The financially stressed U.S. Postal Service will close offices with expiring leases or high-maintenance issues, using authority that the service already has. In addition 16,000 local post offices (roughly half the nation's total), will be reviewed for closure as a cost-cutting measure. 

Faced with a $20-billion net loss over the past four years, USPS wants Congress to approve elimination of the service's least profitable branches. But despite budget woes, that's still a long shot - no member of Congress wants to lose a post office at home.

In other cost-saving measures, Saturday delivery will probably go in 2012.

The USPS has been working on bringing in new business: It's expanding a pilot project that teams them with UPS. The partnership allows consumers returning parcels via UPS to drop these packages at local post offices or in mailboxes. UPS picks them up at the post office and completes the return. Also, a greater partnership with eBay will double their current business with the online company.

Pet Peeve of the Week

It's Monday, I'm one hour short of sleep thanks to daylight savings, and feeling cranky. Being in direct marketing, I know I'm tuned in to visual design and quality of mail pieces more than the average person, but really. Two pieces I got last week showed lack of basic follow-through. 

I got a brochure in the mail on Friday. It was beautiful - full color, spot UV... but guess what spoiled the effect? The address was smeared. And I mean smeared. I had to give kudos to the postal carrier for figuring out it was intended for me.

This poor travel company had paid pretty good money to produce a gorgeously printed direct mailer, and didn't realize that not everyone can inkjet an address without smearing issues. It ended up looking..sloppy.

About a week ago I received an envelope for a solar panel installer. The envelope had my name and address in teeny tiny type and the postal sorting instructions was enormous! It looked kind of like this:

*******AUTO**5-DIGIT 92101
Chris Hartman
1000 Main Street
Anytown, CA 99999-9999

Do they really expect me to buy something from them? I didn't even open the envelope.

Then there's a "broker" we do work for occasionally who's trying to save money by printing white labels and sticking them on his clients' postcards. Labels? Really? The last time we affixed labels was in the 1990s. I wonder how long his clients will stay with him when they start getting returned cards with ugly white labels haphazardly stuck on?

Okay, I'm done with my rant. I know not everyone cares about how a direct mailer looks as much as I do but it's definitely frustrating seeing some of the work that's out there.

Care to share your pet peeve?

Great (and not so great) Customer Service

In business - as in life - situations arise and the outcome is based on how you react to them. I had the opportunity to witness two extremes of customer service, and thought they were interesting to compare.

This Spa Wasn't Relaxing

For a couple of years I frequented a spa on the coast near Santa Barbara. It was a small place, with a few nice treatments. The owner seemed like she was interested in her clients' opinions, as evidenced by a survey she sent out (via email) asking for comments and recommendations for additional treatments. Anyone who replied would receive $25 toward services.

I filled out the survey, taking about 30 minutes to do so, and put some real thought into it. After all, they were giving me $25, and I felt I should earn it.

Imagine my surprise when I called to book an appointment and learned the $25 gift certificate had to be used within one week of the survey's email date. In the space of one minute I went from warm and fuzzy feelings toward the spa to feeling taken advantage of. Instead of listening, the owner talked over me, insisting that the "use by" date was in the email (it was - in teensy 7-point type at the bottom) and that it was my job to read it.

Her attitude practically shouted that she had no interest in keeping me as a client, and remains one of the worst customer service experiences I've ever had. Not only will I never do business with this place again, but I tell my friends who not to see when they need a massage.

Lesson learned for my company: Be kind. Listen. You don't have to be right all the time.

On The Other Hand...

When we were in Hawaii on vacation not too long ago, my daughter Lauren bought a cute sterling silver toe ring. While she admired her newly decorated digit, I read the guarantee on the receipt. If the toe ring ever broke, Lauren could return it with the receipt and the company would send her a new ring.

Obviously Toe Jamz believes in its product and stands behind it, but honestly, who breaks toe rings?

Turns out Lauren does.

Of course, by the time she broke it she had also lost the receipt. Nevertheless, she packed the broken parts in an envelope with a note of explanation.

Ten days later a brand-new toe ring arrived with a note from the company president, who hoped Lauren would enjoy wearing the ring.

Now that's great customer service. Toe Jamz not only upheld its guarantee - without a receipt - but included a personal letter from the president of the company.

Lesson learned here for my company: be flexible. Listen to your customer. Even though you may be right, you'll probably have a customer for life if you accommodate them. Toe Jamz does.

Can you beat either of these stories? Good or bad, let us hear it.

The Things That Were Mailed

OK. I'm going to admit something. When my kids were young and acted up, I threatened to "mail them to their grandmother." I would get a stamp out of the drawer, lick it and stick it on their forehead. From their continuing antics, it was clear they didn't believe me. But now I find out that it wasn't an outlandish idea at all.  But first a little background:

Parcel post became available to Americans at the start of 1913 as a way to encourage economic delivery in rural America. Farm families - most of whom were poor - were excited about the new service because it meant they would be able to ship and receive eggs, live chicks, seeds, tobacco and food inexpensively and reliably.

Parcel post literally became an overnight success. Even urban dwellers took to ordering through the mail,  giving rise to such iconic mail-order companies as Montgomery Wards and Sears. Suddenly, everyone was shipping something.

May Pierstroff was mailed
via Parcel Post in 1914.
In the book "Reaching Rural America - The Evolution of Rural Free Delivery," authors James and Donald Bruns describe some unusual parcels handled by the Post Office:

"May Pierstroff was a 'package' that was sent via parcel post. The four-year-old blond was mailed from Grangeville, ID, to her grandparents (across the state) in Lewiston on Feb. 19, 1914. The total charge, calculated on the basis of mailing chickens, was 53 cents. This fee reflected her weight - 48 1/2 pounds, which was just 1 1/2 pounds shy of the 50-pound chicken limit."

According to the authors, May was mailed because the postage was cheaper than train fare. The mailman on duty at the time delivered May safely to her grandparents' front door.

Of course, postal employees demanded the public not mail children, but the practice continued. That same year, postal workers in Stillwell, IN accepted a parcel post box marked "live infant." They delivered the box to South Bend, IN, where the baby's divorced father received and opened it. Postage on the box was 17 cents.

The next year, a state worker mailed six-year-old Edna Neff from Pensacola, FL to Christiansburg, VA. The girl's parents were separated and the mother on hard times. A Pensacola probation officer had temporary custody of Edna, but couldn't afford the train fare for her and an accompanying adult. So she mailed Edna to the girl's father for 15 cents.

The USPS finally announced on June 13, 1920, that it would no longer accept children as parcel post. Still, in 1922, possibly as testament to the continuing hard times for many in America, a C.O.D. (cash on delivery) package was sent to an undertaker in Albany, NY. Inside was the body of a baby who had died of natural causes. The unknown and undoubtedly desperate parents had sent her in the hope she would get a decent burial. She did, thanks to "the kindness of strangers". Her headstone reads "Parcella Post."

A light-hearted photo of a mailman and baby was taken when the USPS announced it would no longer accept children as Parcel Post.

Understanding How People Read Your Direct Mail - Part 2

This is part two of our blog on Professor Siegfried Vogele's eye study: how readers look at direct mail. Today's post is on letter content.

Direct marketers know that we'll get better results when our prospect reads our letter. Duh, right? Unfortunately, readers don't do as we'd like, which is to read every golden word. Second best: seek out the "hotspot areas" of your letter and load your most compelling copy there.

In a nutshell, your reader will first look at their name (hopefully you've personalized your letter), address and salutation, then will go to the end of the letter to see who signed it, and from there to the P.S.

You can easily take advantage of this research to improve your own direct mail campaigns. Let's look at each area in the order your reader views them:

1. Your reader's eye pauses first on their name and address. What can you do with this knowledge? Make sure your data is clean. Correct any misspellings - the biggest way to turn off your reader is to spell their name wrong. After all, if you're marketing to a donor who has been faithful in gifting through the years, your job is to make sure their name is spelled right.

2. Then, they look to see who signed the letter. An interesting side note: when the signer's name is difficult to read, Prof. Vogele's team found that the eyes tended to go to it repeatedly, and body language indicated a negative response. Although it helps to have a printed name underneath, try to avoid signatures that are messy and unreadable.

3. After the signature, readers typically take in the P.S. Nine out of ten readers will look at your P.S. before moving back to the top of the letter. So this hotspot is where you should restate your reader's benefits or your offer. Don't write a tome, though. Keep it to two or three lines.

4. Your reader's eye will now move back up the page to any illustrations you may have in your letter. Drawings and pictures are another hotspot where you can be assured your message will be seen and read. The important fact to remember is to use illustrations (and captions) to stress benefits rather than your product or service. Also, put the largest of your illustrations at the top of the letter, to draw your reader's eye upward again from the P.S.

5. As the eyes skim downward, they will pause briefly at any highlighted or underlined text. While you don't want to go crazy with underlining, you  can use it to draw attention to important benefits, your offer or call to action.

Knowing where to put your most compelling copy will undoubtedly increase your response rate...and profitability.

Understanding How People Read Your Direct Mail is Key to Higher Responses

Want better response rates on your direct mail campaigns? Incorporate Professor Siegfried Vogele's findings in your next campaign.

Using a series of eye-camera studies, Professor Vogele, dean of the Institute for Direct Marketing in Munich, Germany, captured and analyzed the movement of a subject’s eyes as the person opened and read direct mail.

What he found are “hot spots,” areas where the reader’s eyes pause for a few seconds. Direct marketers can use this information to put their most compelling copy in these hot spots, which should improve their open- and response-rate.

Prof. Vogele’s study is extensive, and I'm breaking it up into two posts. This first post covers how a reader views the outer envelope. On average, a reader give us only seven seconds to convince them to open the envelope. But interestingly, most of those seven seconds are spent looking at the back of the envelope as it's being opened. So while the front gets first attention, the back gets longer attention.

To take advantage of this, consider putting information or photos on the back of your envelope. Here are the professor's findings:

Envelope front

1. Your reader's eye fixes first on their name and address. So teaser copy should be nearby.
2. The gaze then moves to the return address in the upper left.
3. Then across the envelope to the stamps, meter mark or indicia before turning the envelope over to open.

Envelope back

4. On the back, the reader's eyes go first to the upper left, quickly checking out any pictures or copy.
5. The eyes then jump to the upper right as the envelope is opened. (Most people open envelopes from right to left, with the eyes following the finger movement.)

But don't stop here. Your letter has hot spots to be taken advantage of too. Learn where they are here.

10 Easy Steps to Improving your Direct Mail

I love how-to lists. I want to learn (in 10 easy steps!) how to look younger, run farther, improve my memory and make more money. You might say I want it all, in 10 easy steps.

Having said that, here's my contribution for improving your direct marketing campaign. You won't become younger or faster, but your company may make more money if you adopt some of these ideas.

1. Build relationships by trying to really help people rather than just selling to them. If you make an effort to be helpful, people will respond. When writing copy, write about how your product or service will benefit your client. Instead of saying "Our new energy bar has 25 grams of protein!" try "After a hard workout, one Energeeze will restore muscle mass more efficiently than three glasses of milk!"

2. Be truthful. Relying on tricky techniques (fake express mail envelope, fake invoices, deceptive offers) may work well for you ... at first. But treating your clients like they're ignorant is bad for long-term success. If your product or service is good, act like it. Back up your claims any way you can, with a guarantee, testimonials, anything that proves you're believable.

3. Speaking of guarantees, use them. Guarantees show you believe in your product or service, and are willing to stand behind it. This in turn helps to lower the perceived risk your reader feels when considering your offer. For a good guarantee, use simple, straightforward language without asterisks and teeny print: "Our socks are guaranteed to be blister-free or we'll happily refund your money."

4. You've heard this one before, but it bears repeating. Offer something FREE whenever possible. People love to get something for nothing - especially in this economic climate. It may be a free sample, free upgrade, free research article or a free consultation. Come up with something and offer it for free, because you'll almost always boost your response.

5. Target your message, and tweak it for various audiences. For instance, if you're selling paperclips to engineers, you'll want to highlight the fact that your titanium paperclips are virtually indestructible, and can securely hold a .263-inch stack of paper together. If you're marketing your paperclips to musicians, you'll want to emphasize that they come in a variety of shapes to make page-turning easier, and colors so they're easy to see.

6. Appeal to your reader's emotions. People tend to make decisions with the right side of their brain (emotionally) first, then justify it with the left (logically). For instance, I really want the cute dress I saw online, but I'm hesitating because it's so expensive. The accompanying copy assures me that the quality (silk, fully lined) makes this an "investment piece" that I will wear for years. Sold. I just needed to justify spending that kind of money. So appeal first to your reader's emotions, follow up with justifying logic, and you'll close the deal.

7. Have a time limit. Psychology and sales experience show two interesting facts: The longer a decision is postponed, the more likely it is that the decision will never be made. Conversely, the sooner you can "force" a decision, the more likely it is to be in your favor. So create urgency with a specific deadline, and your sales will typically go up.

8. Offer a choice of payment. Different prospects prefer to pay in different ways. Consider credit cards, personal checks, installment payments, purchase order, Paypal. If your reader wants to buy but can't pay for it the way they want, you lose out.

9. Keep it up. In direct marketing, not everyone will buy from your initial offer. In fact, most won’t. The key is to keep communicating with the people who do not respond to your offer. There could be a variety of reasons why they didn't: They may not need your product just then. Money could be a temporary issue. They may be preoccupied with family stresses and unable to consider your service at the moment. That doesn't mean they won't want what you're selling at some point. Savvy direct marketers know this, and continue sending communications. Studies have shown that the majority of people will buy after the 5th exposure, yet most marketing stops after the first.

10. Don't forget to use a P.S. One of the "hot spots" of direct mail, a P.S. is virtually guaranteed to be read. Use it to reiterate your offer or call to action.

That's it. Now go forth and conquer your direct marketing 10 easy steps!

How to Write an Effective P.S.

More than just an afterthought, the P.S. is one of the most important parts of a direct marketing letter. Nine out of ten readers will read the P.S. first, making it a "hot spot" of your letter. Here are a few tips and ideas for writing a powerful P.S.:

1. The P.S. is where you will restate your product's or service's benefits, the offer, or a specific call to action. Do NOT introduce a new idea here - you'll only confuse your reader.

2. Make your P.S. stand out: hand write it and print it in blue ink for added visibility. But do it neatly so your reader doesn't have to struggle to read your handwriting.

3. Consider reinforcing your offer by including a graphic. Or you could include a testimonial from a good customer. Anything that restates your strong message.

4. Emphasize your product or service guarantee. 

5. Repeat how to contact you - provide your phone numbers, fax numbers, E-mail address, business address. Make yourself easy and convenient to do business with.

6. Use your P.S. to point your donor to your website to make an online donation or purchase.

7. Finally, keep your P.S. short - to an average of two or three lines. This is not the place to rewrite War and Peace.

P.S. These ideas for writing a powerful P.S. will work for you. We guarantee it!

      Now I've Heard Everything

      Over the 26 years Bill and I have been in business, we've mailed a lot of different things. There was the time we mailed helium balloons (inflated and inserted in a box so they would float out when the recipient opened it), chocolate bars (a tough job to stay away from), and countless amounts of confetti. But this item takes the cake. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune comes this story:

      Stacey Champion of Minnesota brought a box to her local post office, asking to mail it to Georgia. She warned postal workers to be careful, but assured them that she was shipping a toy robot.

      When the box began to move and make noise, postal workers got suspicious and opened it. Inside was a four-month-old Poodle-Schnauzer mix. After placing the pup in a city kennel, the USPS turned the matter over to the police, who charged Champion with animal cruelty.

      According to a police spokeswoman, the puppy "was supposed to be a birthday gift for a family member." Noting that the pup could not have survived the trip, she added, "it would have been kind of traumatizing to get a dead puppy."

      After being charged with animal cruelty, Champion demanded a refund of the $22 priority mail fee she had paid, claiming the package had never been delivered.

      The USPS denied her request.

      Five Easy Tips to Improve Your Fundraising Letter

      1. It may be obvious, but be sure to ask for a specific gift! Don’t assume your donors know what you want them to do...make it clear to them. And, give your donors a choice on how to give. Include a reply envelope for gifts via mail, and list a secure website for web-based donations.

      2. Keep your list clean. Run it through NCOA at least quarterly, and correct the addresses of donors who’ve moved. For years I received fundraising letters (the nonprofit shall remain nameless) at my house addressed to “Roger Crimpton, or current resident.” Neither my husband nor I are Roger Crimpton, and we've lived at that address more than 15 years. This is wrong on many levels. First, this nonprofit didn’t care enough about Roger Crimpton to find out he had moved. Second, even if he DID live there, it’s insulting to add “or current resident.” In effect that's saying “We’re not really interested in you as a person. We just want to get this letter to a warm body.”

      3. Don’t call your donors “Friends.” If you’re not personalizing your fundraising appeals, you’re missing out. If someone has been giving to your organization for years, you’re insulting them by not calling them by name. For your next appeal, test the power of personalization on half your list, and compare the pull rates.

      4. Be specific. Donors want to feel like they’re making a difference: Tell the story of a person your organization has helped. Describe how your contributor’s gift provided a scholarship for a needy student. Paint a picture of the beautiful wilderness your organization is helping to preserve. A recent study found that the “Millenial” generation (people between the ages of 20 and 40), especially, wants to know specifically how their gifts will benefit the organization’s constituents.

      5. Be on time. Timing is everything in direct mail. Are you marketing at the best time of year? Do you have plenty of time to prepare your mailing or are you rushed? Most importantly, if your campaign has a specific “reply by” date, have you allowed your donor enough time to respond?

      What do you think? What's your favorite fundraising tip?

      Five Marketing Resolutions for the New Year

      A new year gives us the opportunity to evaluate and reset our priorities. With that in mind, here are our top five resolutions for maximizing your 2011 direct mail campaigns.

      5. Get to know your buyer. If you want to improve the return on your marketing investment, you must know your buyer. You may already know their age, income and gender, but can you paint a clear, concise picture of this person? What are their attitudes, lifestyles, affiliations, concerns, fears and motivations? Seriously consider taking a survey among your clients. It can lead to more targeted advertising.

      4. Get personal. Personalized mailings always out-perform generic mailers. Of course, not everyone has the budget for this, so consider adding a personalized tagline on the envelope (or front of the self-mailer). It’s an incredibly low-cost way to get your reader involved and boost your response. Here are a few examples – 

      Give yourself the gift of time
      Does an extra three hours per day sound good to you, Chris?
      Help this baby seal today
      Chris – you can save this baby seal for less than the price of a cup of coffee.
      Congratulations – you’re accepted!
      Congratulations, Chris – you’re in!
      Save money with solar power
      Solar power can save Post Haste Mailing an average of $300 per month

      3. Test. Did envelope A out-perform postcard B? Which list pulled stronger? Analyze your results and know what works.

      2. And repeat. Study after study (after study!) shows improved response after a series of mailings. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither is a direct marketing campaign. Remember - with each mailing you’re building your visibility with your potential clients.

      1. Call Post Haste Mailing Services for help. We know what works, will help you improve your ROI and (best of all) make it easy for you. (Hey, can you blame us for throwing in a little self promotion?)

      Bill and I hope you have a happy, prosperous 2011.

      McCain: Suggests "Going after" the USPS to help balance the budget. Say what?

      “The Post Office- a model of inefficiency- horse and buggies in days of when Internets and communications have basically replacing it more and more uh we have to go after the sacred cows”
      McCain added that he could solve Social Security “on the back of an envelope”.

      Here's the full interview. McCain's comments are at 8:20.

      Marketing Resolution for 2011

      A brand new year is like a blank slate. We can do anything with it. Hope and optimism abound.

      During the Great Recession, many companies cut back on their marketing and advertising. Which is exactly what they shouldn't have done.

      Consider this: if you're cutting back on advertising, your competitors probably are too. What better time to highlight your business than when you have the spotlight all to yourself?

      Resolve to begin your marketing campaign in 2011. And we can help. Just call us at 858-513-7740 for a free consultation.