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Postcards, Self-Mailers or Letters – What Gets The Best Response? An Age-Old Question With a Younger-Age Answer!

By Keith Goodman, VP, Corporate Solutions, Modern Postcard

Any direct marketer has probably asked this question several times in their careers and rightfully so. Selecting the right format is a critical factor in the success of a direct mail program, second only to the list in influencing the outcome of a program.

The answer depends on a few things: foremost, who are you targeting and what is the message? If you’re targeting senior citizens with an investment offer, an envelope package would probably work best. However, if you’re targeting 30-50 year olds with an offer to visit a new beachfront resort, a postcard or self-mailer would probably be most effective. It all depends…no single package format will work for every DM campaign.

A major transition has taken place over the last 10 years from traditional letter formats to postcard / self-mailer formats. The main driving force behind this has been one of the largest generational shifts of our lifetimes. The shift from the Silent Generation to Baby-Boomers happened about 20 years ago and now we are transitioning to the Generation X’ers as the key consumers in our economy.

Now let’s apply the behavioral differences of a Baby-Boomer and a GenX with regards to direct mail:

  • Most Gen X’ers never wrote letters as a child, they grew up with email.
  • They have no emotional attachment to the letter format, unlike Baby Boomers who grew up writing and receiving letters.
  • An envelope is a barrier to open for many younger and middle age consumers while postcards and self-mailers are already open.
  • Younger consumers are much more “image oriented” than older consumers and tend to respond much better to high impact graphics vs. heavy copy oriented pieces.

There is still a need for envelope packages. As I had mentioned previously, envelopes still tend to pull well when dealing with older audiences that still have an emotional attachment to the format. In addition, when working with financial, medical and other confidential information, it is critical to use a closed format such as a letter or secure self-mailer.

To illustrate this shift, I have included a new response survey performed by the US Postal Service that shows, by percentage, how people are most likely to respond by format. As you can see, postcard and self-mailer formats, outperform all other formats. At the end of the day, the only real way to tell if a postcard, self-mailer or letter will work for your program is to test. Never stop testing. The best piece always wins!

If you would like to look into testing highly target postcard and self-mailer programs for you next campaign, please contact me for a review of your current programs and some ideas on how Modern Postcard can help you increase your response and ROI.

Keith Goodman, VP Corporate Solutions, a 20-year veteran of direct mail marketing, has helped companies such as IBM, Hughes, Avery and Amway increase the profitability of their direct mail programs. He's spoken at hundreds of seminars and conferences around the country, helping thousands of people get better results and greater ROI for their marketing dollars.

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