When is Direct Mail Too Personal?

I’m a direct response evangelist! I love all aspects of direct response marketing. But when is direct mail too personal?

In particular, I am a die-hard direct mail advocate. But when is direct mail too Personal?

Direct mail, as a communication and sales channel, is highly targetable, highly personalize-able,  highly predictable, and highly measurable. And on top of that, it involves putting ink on paper! What could be better? And I also love online marketing. And most specifically online marketing that is integrated with offline marketing. Best of both worlds! But direct mail can be too personal at times.

And when it comes to direct mail fundraising I am an even bigger fanatic for all the same reasons listed above.  Plus you are raising money to change lives, which makes it really cool.

But what I am not a fan of is mechanical, impersonal, cliché ridden, tactics that come across as —- well mechanical, impersonal and cliché tactics… that make me feel stupid, scream at me to do something, shame me into taking action, or simply take me for granted.

Now let’s back up for a minute. There was a time when a certain style of direct mail tactics worked really, really well. Does anyone remember Publishers Clearing House or the direct mail offers to get 12 vinyl albums for one penny? These tactics worked big-time.  If they didn’t work people wouldn’t have used them. Thats the great thing about direct response — you can measure its effectiveness very easily, which means you can stop doing what doesn’t work and do more of what does work.

In any event, society has evolved. Our expectations have changed.

We no longer are drawn to direct response tactics that are impersonal or mechanical. We are in a new era when people crave authenticity and transparency and perhaps most importantly people want to be respected and not treated like they are stupid. And sometimes direct mail is too personal.

Fast forward to today. There is a huge backlash against a certain presidential candidate for using direct mail tactics that are actually too personal, but also come across as too “direct mail like” and “overly mechanical” and worse yet “shaming” the recipient.  My biggest complaint is the overuse of what to me feels and looks like a tacky approach; or a condescending approach. Regardless of that though – most  outcry is over the inclusion of what is considered private information – a neighbors voting record. For most, including me, this was over the top.

I don’t want to overly dissect the mailing. What I want to point out are two things:

1 – It is extremely important to use tactics that don’t come across like a shallow, overly mechanical tactic. People just get turned off. It’s that simple. People want to be treated like a human being and with respect, not like a mindless individual that is going to be swayed but some flashy direct mail package.

2 – It is equally important to be very cautious about using personal information, not first name and last name stuff, but information that might creep someone out – like the voting history of your neighbor. People are sensitive to this in a big way.

Use caution when planning your direct mail, and all your direct response tactics for that matter, and make sure you follow three simple rules:

1 – Keep it human and transparent.

2 – Don’t do anything that is overly mechanical; try to keep it simple.

3 – And be very sensitive to how you use personal information.

The mailing Ted Cruz did recently has created a huge backlash and started a viral negative campaign against the tactic. The response was fast and unrelenting on Twitter in particular.

When is Direct Mail Too Personal?

When is direct Mail too personal? This seems to be approaching that threshold!



When is Direct Mail Too Personal?

The backlash on social media was fast and furious!



And then within hours a major article in The New Yorker broke and highlighted the entire story.

I am sure the candidates intentions and heart were in the right place. The pressure on fundraisers and the political advisors to raise funds, get out the vote, and promote the candidate are daunting. And as the effectiveness of direct response recedes it’s tempting to try tactics that are more and more outrageous or provocative simply to grab attention – but the downside, if not done well, can have the opposite effect.