Dear Sir, Send Me Better Junk Mail

January 28, 2009

Dear direct marketer:

I recently became a homeowner, and I couldn't be happier with the purchase. Yes, after years of bunking down in apartments, duplexes, and rented houses—not to mention one brief stint in a converted garage (thanks, Ma!)—I get to come home to my own place. I've found, however, that owning a home presents unique frustrations, problems that go beyond the expected and have implications for what I do for a living.

I'm talking about the inordinate amount of junk mail I'm getting. I kid you not, in two weeks I've received enough printed drivel to account for a solid five percent of lost Brazilian rain forest. Apparently, I don't have enough life insurance, homeowner's insurance, appliance warranty protection, alarm monitoring, or—and this one's my favorite—pet insurance.

Where have all these mailers gone? In the trash (recycling, actually, but that doesn't sound very tough). I've previously discussed such wasteful (and harmful) marketing practices in tourism, but I didn't quite expect to see so much junk in my own mailbox. In a slow economy, how can one justify blanketing consumers with bad copy, poorly printed form letters, and ill-conceived calls-to-action?

Target me, but don't insult me.

I'll allow that some of the offending companies in my case did do a bit of market parsing. After all, you obviously did enough homework to know I'm a new homeowner, right? Sorry, that's not good enough for me.

That's particularly true when the direct mailer I open screams "You may not have enough [insert product/service] to protect your loved-ones!!!" Implying that someone is a lousy husband, wife, or parent isn't the best way to attract customers. Good copy should connect with people on an emotional level—but not necessarily scare or insult them.

Make it look nice, and I might read it. Honestly.

Don't send me something that looks like it was printed on a circa-1984 dot matrix printer with a failing ribbon. That goes double for anything containing clip art. Conversely, don't overdo design when it doesn't fit the product or service.

One aspect of effective design is aligning visuals with content and purpose. This is why a brochure for a funeral home shouldn't feature all-caps typography and perforated coupons. Design your direct mailer to be clean, attractive, and relevant, and I'll look at it.

Remove the roadblocks between us.

One of the mailers I got contained four pages. The first page held the pitch and closed with "Simply answer a couple of basic questions on the enclosed form, and we'll ... " The form, as you guessed, was the remaining three pages. Moreover, it asked for my name, SSN, height, weight, cholesterol count, blood type, and religious denomination. All that for pet insurance.

Make it easy for me. Allow me to get away with a short form, and pre-pay the postage. Better yet, refer me to a website where I can quickly fill out an online form and, while there, learn more about what you have to offer.

If you insist on cramming my mailbox full, try following those suggestions. Amazingly, you might find your response rate climbing above 0.7%.

Sincerely,

Occupant