Direct Mail Marketing and the Legend of “White Fang”


Direct-mail-marketing-and-the-legend-of-White-FangOne of the biggest problems direct mailers face is when the mailing piece doesn’t reach the intended audience. That’s a real drag when you’ve spent time and money to rent the list, create the package, print it, mail it, and paid for the postage—and then the person it’s supposed to reach never even sees it.

Sometimes that happens as the result of a bad address. People and businesses move. Sometimes the address you have hasn’t been updated. The good news is that this is pretty easy to address by running a simple National Change of Address on your mailing list (one of the basic services we provide our customers).

When you’re engaged in business-to-business mailing, however, the problem is often a different one. It’s getting past the gatekeeper. In the old days of direct mail, this person was “lovingly” referred to as “White Fang.” This person is generally a front-office person or an admin who screens mail for a CEO, a Vice President, a Director, or some other kind of executive. This person opens all the mail that comes addressed to the executive and decides what he or she needs to see—and what will hit the “circular file.”

What makes this particularly troublesome for mailers is that the executive is often the very “decision-maker” they are trying to reach. He or she is the person with the authority and ability to act. What can you do if White Fang is intercepting your mailing and deeming it unworthy of passing on?

Over the years, mailers have tried all kinds of tricks to get past White Fang. One maneuver was to put “Personal and Confidential” on the outside of the envelope. White Fang isn’t fooled. He or she is authorized to open everything—so once the ruse is exposed, into the trash the letter goes.

Clever or cute mailers won’t stand a chance. They’ll never even get opened.

A hand-addressed envelope may get opened, but if White Fang sees that it’s a mass-produced, generic letter inside, it will never reach it’s goal. And let’s face it: getting mail delivered and opened isn’t the ultimate goal. Getting a letter read and generating a response is what you want.

That means your mailing has to contain relevant, helpful information that is of genuine value to the recipient. People at the executive level want to be treated with the respect they think they deserve. Time is money to them, so you don’t want to waste it. That means getting to the point quickly and clearly, and presenting them with information that will help them do their job better, faster, or more profitably.

This may sound like a strange thing for a mailing service to say, but if you can’t communicate your unique value proposition to an executive quickly and effectively—don’t mail. You’re wasting your money.

But direct mail doesn’t have to be a waste of time and money—if you do it right. That’s why even high-tech, online companies like Google still use direct mail to drive business. But the message has to be one that the recipient wants or needs to hear. So if you’re targeting an executive decision-maker with your next mailing, keep White Fang in mind. What will your mailing need to look like, and offer to make it past that barrier?

P.S. One thing to try is to take a mockup of a mailing you’re planning to do and run it by an executive assistant to see if it passes the “sniff” test. Would it be something he or she would pass on to the boss?

Direct Mail Best Practices