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

Postcards from the Edge
by Alan Rosenspan
My favorite comedian Steven Wright tells a joke about a friend who sent him a postcard.

On the picture side, there was a beautiful shot of the planet earth as seen from outer space.

On the address side was the message, "Wish you were here."

And that's the subject of this article.

Are Postcards Really Effective?

Letter packages almost always outpull other formats. Boxes are more innovative and attention-getting. Can simple postcards really work, and when is it appropriate to use them?

Here are some examples:

  1. Postcards to build awareness. We've used this technique a number of times and it's always been successful.

    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.

    We did a campaign for a software company named Dataware, where each postcard focused on a different client of the company -- all big, recognizable names.

    We used the technique for PictureTel videoconferencing, with each postcard showing a different case-history, versioned by industry.

    And for New England Funds, each postcard had a different headline from our campaign, "Where the best minds meet."

  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.

    We did a teaser postcard to announce the latest version of a software product from Lotus -- just to buy time while we created the big, complicated, expensive direct mail package.

    We actually got more sales from the postcard than from the direct mail package that followed.

Timing is everything.

What Mistakes Should You Avoid?

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

A. 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.

When you use the three-postcard technique, the temptation is to "build" the campaign. "By the time people get our third one, they'll really be excited!" you say.

Not likely. They may not even realize they've received three. But some people would have responded to the first or the second one, if only you had given them the information they needed.

B. Postcards without Visual Appeal

"Why should we confine our message to just the back of the postcard? Why not use both sides?" you may ask.

However, one of the 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.

C. 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

There's a terrific book published in 1992 called Million Dollar Mailings.

The book features 71 of the most successful mailings of all time. But they aren't fancy award-winning packages. They are proven, tested mailings that have produced millions of dollars in sales.

There is an entire chapter devoted to Double Postcards.

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.

In fact, Double Postcards are so easy to respond to that they can sometimes create problems for the company that uses them.

For example, many magazines use them to get subscribers, but then find that the "pay up" rate is low. Other companies may not be prepared for the volume of response that they get.

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. I've seen recent ones with stickers and even a hologram.

But 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.

Three Innovative Postcard Ideas

My friend Bob

I received a series of mysterious postcards that were printed in a handwriting typeface. They were from "Bob."

The first one had Bob decked out in a loud Hawaiian shirt in front of the Eiffel Tower. The quintessential ugly American.

The message read "Dear Alan, Paris is awesome. The food, the museums, the people. Having the time of my life! Haven't had to call the office once. Can't believe how relaxed I am. Say Hi to everyone for me. I'll write from my next stop! Bon voyage, Bob."

Who is Bob, and why is he writing to me?

Next I received one of Bob in front of the Acropolis in Greece, and then the Taj Mahal in India. The last postcard -- from Florida -- revealed the story.

Bob wrote, "I never would have had time for this trip if I hadn't contacted Logogram to handle all my promotional items, fulfillment and direct mail. Check them out at!"


The Hairy Postcard

Aquent is a freelance talent agency in Boston that places copywriters, designers and even production people with their clients.

Naturally, you'd expect them to be very creative about their own mailings. But what can you do with a simple postcard?

They sent out the world's "hairiest" postcard -- a postcard with an orange fur-like substance on one side. It felt really, really weird and was one of the most unusual postcards I've ever received.

The other side asked, "Are your design and production projects getting a little hairy?"


The Involving Postcard

In my opinion, the very best postcards of all time were done for Smartfoods popcorn by their agency, Herring Newman.

The campaign consisted of several postcards with strategic die-cuts that served as an involvement device. When you put your fingers up against the die-cut on one side, it gave the other side a whole new meaning.

One postcard read "Fishing by Moonlight." Another said, "Beach Bums." (Please see the photograph to appreciate how they worked)

The copy was also terrific. The first postcard read, "Greetings from Beantown! We made it! Just had a frosty at your favorite bar. Actually found my old dorm room. It's co-ed now. Tried my key. It still works! Boy were those two surprised! See ya, Ken. P.S. Sending you a souvenir."

The next card read, "...Yo! Spent today in Beantown. Went to a wild party last night near Bunker Hill. I still can't see the whites of my eyes. P.S. Did you get your souvenir yet?"

Then, a few days after that, the souvenir arrives. It's a sample of Smartfoods popcorn. And there's a third postcard that reads as follows:

"Hey, this is me at work. This is what I do when I'm not partying or fishing. I make Smartfood brand popcorn. Instructions: Open bag... chow down...wipe hands on pants. Just kidding, use somebody else's pants. How come you never write? I'll make it easy. There's a card in here some where. Just fill it out and drop it in the mail. Let me know what you think."

The enclosed survey makes it a lot of fun to get on the Smartfood data base. For example, it asks, among other things, "I like Smartfood Popcorn better than... a root canal... eating itself."

And it doesn't just ask for your name and address. It says, "If I wanted to send you a million dollars where would I send it?"

This wildly entertaining campaign created enough demand to put Smartfood in most grocery and convenience stores in America.

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.

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