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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

Alan Rosenspan's "Improve Your Response" Newsletter
June 2001
Issue #5
: Mistakes in Direct Mail


• Return from Slovenia

• Postcards from the Edge

• How to Get What You Want

• New Zealand, Re-visited

• My Personal Postcard Story

Return from Slovenia

I've just completed a series of seminars in Eastern Europe, and I'm delighted to be back.

Slovenia was beautiful (I know, I never heard of it before I went either.) The city of Ljublijana looks like a Hollywood set, with a picturesque castle on the hill, cobblestone streets, and a small river running through the main section.

Although most people spoke some English, my seminar was translated, and I remembered a very funny story. A few years ago, I gave a speech to a group of Chinese economic ministers, and my talk was translated by an older gentleman who stood by me while I spoke.

I gestured -- he gestured. I told a joke, and presumably he repeated it. But at the end of the speech, several of the ministers came to the front and warmly congratulated...

...the translator! Anyway, in this issue, I'd like to start by sharing a technique that we've been using very successfully -- and that's Postcards.

Postcards from the Edge

Letter packages almost always outpull other formats. Boxes are more innovative and attention-getting.

Can a simple postcard really be effective, and when is it appropriate to use them? Here are some examples:

1. Postcards to build awareness.

The idea is to send three postcards to the same person within a short time period. How short? A week or 10 days is best. Any longer, and the person may not remember receiving them.

The cost for the three-postcard mailing will be approximately as much as one full direct mail package -- but you create far more attention and awareness. It is a perfect way to launch a new product, or even a new company.

2. Postcards to increase frequency.

A simple postcard can be an excellent, low-cost way to extend a campaign or keep in front of a customer on a timely basis.

One freelance copywriter I know built her business by sending out postcards from every exotic location she traveled to. "I'll be back on June 3rd," she'd write, "And I'd love to do a project for you."

3. Postcards to reduce costs.

We did a test for one high-technology client where we split the list in two. Half received our full-blown direct mail package; half received a postcard.

While the postcard did not pull as much as the direct mail package, it did produce a significantly lower cost-per-response.

Our strategy then became: mail the more expensive direct mail package to highly qualified lists; mail the postcard to less-qualified lists in larger numbers.

4. Postcards to take advantage of timing.

If you have a timely offer, or news that your market has been waiting for, a postcard might be the fastest thing you can put in the mail. It may also produce the most response.

What Mistakes Should You Avoid?

There are three mistakes to avoid when you're planning a postcard campaign.

1. Postcards that Tease and Don't Tell

Have you ever sent out a postcard to "pre-announce" a direct mail package? It sounds like a good idea -- because then people will be looking for the follow-up.

It has never, ever worked for me.

If you insist on testing this, make sure the "teaser" postcard has enough information for the prospect to respond. Don't make them wait for the direct mail package.

The same is true of follow-up postcards.

2. Postcards without Visual Appeal

One of the main advantages of the postcard is that the visual and the message can work together. Almost like a billboard. Otherwise, you're just sending a sell sheet through the mail.

3. Postcards with too much information

If you need to tell a longer story, don't use a postcard. They are best when you have a simple message, or a powerful offer and that's all.

The more you cram onto it, the harder it is to read, and the fewer people may respond. Of course, there are exceptions, but generally a postcard is little more than a billboard in the mail.

Double Your Postcard. Double Your Response

Double Postcards are two cards attached with a perforation that have the name and address of the person printed on both cards.

The person simply rips the cards in half, checks a box, or moves a sticker, and then drops one of the cards back in the mail.

I gave a seminar in New York in May where one attendee reported that she got four times as many leads from a Double Postcard than from any other mailing.

Double Postcards are most effective when you have a free offer from a well-known company. But they can work for anyone. So if you're looking for a lot of leads, and you don't want to spend a lot of money, you might consider testing this format.

How to Get What You Want

Before I begin any seminar, I hand out a sheet of paper that says, "How to Get What You Want."

I began doing this a few years ago, to make sure that my seminar content reflected the needs of my audience. But it has grown to become something much more important.

The form has become a contract between me and the people who attend my seminars. I explain, "If you don't ask about it, I may not cover it. And I want to be sure that you get what you want."

I recently reviewed over 500 of these forms, and it occurred to me that even if you haven't attended my seminars, you may have some of the same concerns.

The first question I ask is this:

What is the single biggest challenge you face in improving the results of your direct marketing campaigns?

My favorite answer came at a seminar in San Francisco. One man said, "My boss!" (She was sitting right next to him at the time.)

Here are some more typical answers:

"We have the same events, products and services that we need to promote year after year. How do we keep the copy and promotion fresh and not repetitive?"

This is a real challenge for a number of different companies -- and it gets worse when you are mailing over and over to the same lists. My suggestions are as follows:

  1. Rotate the emphasis in different mailings. For example, if you are marketing a seminar, you may want to focus on the valuable content in one mailing; the networking aspect in another.

  2. Change horses from time to time. If you are working with an in-house resource, try using a freelancer.

    If you always use the same freelancer, try someone new. They may provide an entirely new and fresh look at your product or service.

  3. Most importantly, don't stop using something because you get tired or bored of it. The only reason to stop using it is when your response starts going down.

    You may also want to "rest" a package, and then bring it back a few months later.

"Creating effective and innovative direct marketing with constantly shrinking budgets."

This is a very common complaint -- and one that a lot of companies are experiencing. There are two answers to this problem.

First, you don't need a big budget to come up with a big idea. About 10 years ago, I created an award show in New England called "Direct Marketing on a Shoestring.

It honors great work produced for a tiny budget. (How tiny? One of our categories is for under $1,000.) Despite that, we get some terrific entries -- even some simple letter packages.

Second, I think too many companies make the mistake of trying to mail something to everyone. A better idea is to do better stuff and send it to a smaller group of people. It almost always results in a higher response.

And if it pays out, you can always mail the rest of your list afterwards.

The next question on my form is:

What three specific things do you expect to gain from today?

Here is the most popular answer:

"Gain a better understanding of the basics of direct mail."

When I first started doing seminars, I eliminated a great deal of material because I assumed most people already knew it. Big mistake.

I am always astonished at how many people are not familiar with some of the basic rules and techniques of direct marketing, and keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

Even the experts who attend my seminars appreciate the "refresher."

My third question is this:

What would exceed your expectations?

This, by the way, is a great question to ask your customers. They may ask for something outrageous -- but then again, they may ask for something that you can easily provide.

Here are some things that people have written on the form:

"Seeing samples of direct mail pieces that worked well"

Case histories are an important part of any seminar, because they bring the information to life. As a working creative director, I am able to share things I've done recently, and explain the reasons behind it.

"I hope to learn from other's mistakes"

The seminar wouldn't be much fun if I only showed success stories, So I also share the things that didn't work -- and that can be even more valuable to attendees.

My favorite example is a lead generation package I did for INVESCO Funds.

I wrote a brilliant six-panel brochure on Sector Funds, a certain type of investment. It answered every question you could possibly have, and provided a wealth of specific information.

It failed miserably.

Why? Remember I said it was a lead generation piece?

After someone waded through all my copy about Sector Funds, they knew just about all there was to know. They could chose to invest, or they could choose not to. But the very last thing they needed was our offer -- a free "Guide to Sector Funds."

Finally, I open it up to all kinds of questions. My last section on the form is:

Everything you always wanted to know about direct marketing, but were afraid to ask.

"I'm not afraid to ask anything!" wrote one woman. "Good for you!" I answer, because asking questions is one of the most important things you can to do to get a big idea.

Another woman, worried about her job, wrote, "Do you think direct marketing will ever go away?" I hope not!

Here are some other questions I've received:

"What do you do when people hate you because they are sick and tired of getting mail from you?"

There's only one answer to this question, and I use a story to make the point. "I have a friend named Robert, " I tell them, "Robert calls me up when he wants to borrow my car; when he needs money; whenever he has a problem..."

"Is Robert really my friend?"

If the only time you talk to your prospects and customers is when you want to sell them something, they won't be your friend. And they won't like receiving your direct mail.

On the other hand, if you add value; or give them something; or ask their opinion; or try to help them; they may even enjoy hearing from you.

Here's another question:

"How can we accurately track results from our promotional efforts?"

This is a growing problem. Most companies have a web site and most direct mail packages direct people to that site. There are two problems with this:

  1. There is usually no way to capture their names. So you never know how many people actually responded to your direct mail.

  2. When your prospects get to your website, they can be overwhelmed. "What should I look at first?" "Where can I find what I need?"

The answer is to create a special splash page or micro-site for each direct marketing program that you do. It captures the name (and also any other information such as "where did you see our web address" and manages their experience.

And here's one I've been getting a lot recently:

Why are "stealth" packages the only thing that seems to work right now?

"Stealth" or blind packages usually have no message on the outer envelope, and sometimes not even a company logo.

They usually work because the prospect can't tell what's inside -- it might be important! -- and so they are "forced" to open it. One of the reasons they are working so well is that they are still fairly unique.

It's certainly worth testing. But as more companies begin using this technique, it will begin to wear out.

What do I want from my seminars?

First, I want people to be as enthusiastic and excited about direct marketing as I am. If you're not stimulated by what you do -- by getting people to respond -- by coming up with innovative ideas and solutions, please go into another field.

Second, I want people to know more about direct marketing. There are certain very basic principles and techniques that every direct marketer should be aware of.

That's why some companies think direct marketing doesn't work -- they're just not doing it right.

Third, I want to inspire people to think more creatively. Because everyone can when they put their mind to it.

In the creativity tests and challenges we do, I am always inspired by the creativity of the answers. People love being creative, and I love giving them the opportunity.

But what about you?

I'd also like you to get what you want.

So if you have a specific question about direct marketing, please e-mail me at and I'll do my best to give you a thorough and professional answer.

New Zealand, re-visited

In July, I am returning to New Zealand to do consulting and seminars.

I'm being brought over by Robbins Brandt Richter, a former DM Agency of the Year, who just recently won the New Zealand Post account.

Mary Robbins, President, is a direct marketing luminary (yes, she actually does glow) and you may have heard her speak at various DMA Annual Conferences.

New Zealand Direct Marketers are among the best in the world I judged their award show a few years back, called the RSVP's, and I was amazed at the creativity and the remarkably high response rates.

I'm looking forward to bringing back ideas and techniques I can share with you.

My Personal Postcard Story

The first time I ever used postcards was when I was back-packing in Europe many years ago.

I took along all the supplies I would need for my three month trip, including my American Express Card, which I used only for emergencies such as "dinner."

I knew I couldn't pay them until I got back. But I didn't want American Express to be alarmed. So I sent them postcards from every city.

"Greece is beautiful," I wrote, "I just ate at a wonderful restaurant overlooking the Acropolis, and used my American Express Card. It came to 120 drachmas, but don't worry -- that's only about U.S. $12. I'll pay you when I get back. Cheers, Alan Rosenspan."

American Express was not amused.0

Have a wonderful summer...

We'd Love Your Comments

Please feel free to forward me your comments and suggestions on the newsletter or any of the topics I've touched on here.

You can reach me at:

Alan Rosenspan & Associates
281 Needham Street
Newton, MA 02464

Tel: 617-559-0999
Fax: 617-559-0996
E-Mail: Please visit:

Forward or Backward, and a Few Words About Privacy

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Thank you

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