152: How Vacation Souvenirs Sabotage Your Direct Mail Strategy
No matter where you vacation, there’s a really good chance you can buy postcards somewhere along the way—probably on one of those spinning metal racks. I can’t speak for you; but the big, glossy pictures always look better than the photos I take.
A vacation postcard says a variation of one of two messages: “Look at this fantastic place that I’m enjoying without you!” or “I’m in this happy place, and it made me think of you.” The recipient doesn’t know which of those very different thoughts you are sending until she reads your scribbles on the blank side.
Thankfully, the postal carrier delivers every postcard with the message side first. He flips through a stack of pieces with the addresses facing him before delivering your mail address-side-up.
In turn, most Americans pull that mail out of the mailboxes with the stack oriented the same way. We also overwhelmingly tend to flip through the stack address-side-up. It makes sense. If we share an address with roommates or family members, we’re looking to sort by recipients. If we’re adults, we’re separating bills from personal mail and junk mail, keying off visual clues as to the identity of each sender.
Since the mailer panel of the postcard is what gets seen first, read first, and sorted first, you’d think that we’d all call that first impression the front of the mail. I do, but I’m considered a weirdo for doing so. Most people call that the back.
I blame vacation postcards for that. In souvenir racks, the big picture side makes the first impression for that card to get purchased. To the purchaser, that’s the front.
The same applies to the marketers with whom I work. Since they’re buying the postcards, they see the side where they can fit the most content as the front.
The problem comes, though, when we treat the mailer panel as the back—the place to sling whatever doesn’t fit on the full-bleed side. It’s a problem because direct mail grants us only between a half second and three seconds to appeal to the recipient who is sorting their mail. In that short moment, we don’t have the relational appeal of a hand-written note. In that lightning flash, we have to capture attention that interrupts the sorting or at least gets our piece directed into the “to-read” stack.
In practice, the mailer panel should be the flashy side. It should be the panel with the big picture and the short headline. Everything else should fall to the reverse side or to our website. Anybody not interested by our primary “sizzle” photo and intrinsic message isn’t a likely buyer or client. Anyone interested but not motivated to flip the card over or go to our website isn’t a qualified prospect, either.
No matter where you vacation or how you tell folks about it, advertise your business and wares as if you were far from a souvenir shop. Work on simplifying and maximizing your first impression. Put the result of that effort next to the recipient’s address—the text almost everyone reads first.
Image purchased from iStockPhoto.com