Direct Mail: Often Imitated—Never Duplicated


Direct-mail-often-imitated-newver-duplicatedIt’s been said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. But it’s also easy to be cheesy—or at least to be perceived as nothing but a knock-off. Las Vegas is full of Elvis impersonators. Sometimes it’s just good, tongue-in-cheek fun. And other times, it’s downright pathetic.

Unfortunately, when it comes to direct mail, some businesses and organizations can’t resist the temptation to imitate the efforts of others. And if one business has success with a mailing approach, you can bet that another business will pick up on it and try it.

Let’s be clear: it’s not wrong to take a look at a mailing that works and try to figure out why it worked. As a matter of fact, that’s smart. But there’s a big difference between doing that and simply copying what someone else has done—and hoping to ride on the coattails of their success.

Part of the problem with imitating what someone else has done, is that the focus is often on only part of what caused the effort to succeed. It’s easy to look at the glitz or glamour or creativity of a mailing and think that’s what made it successful. But there’s more involved. If you really want to duplicate the success, you’re going to have to dig deeper. If you see a campaign that was successful, ask yourself the following questions.

  •  Who was the audience? Direct mail experts have long claimed that a direct mailing owes approximately 40 percent of its success to the list—the audience that receives the mailing. Before you take the same approach with your mailing, ask yourself if your audience is really similar. Will the same approach really work with your list?
  • What was the offer? This piece of the direct mail puzzle accounts for another 40 percent of a mailing’s success. Just copying the look of someone else’s mailing won’t guarantee your success. Is your offer clear? Is it appealing? Is it what your audience wants?
  • Is this the image you want? The direct mail you send out helps to establish and reinforce your brand. If someone had raging success with an outrageous, off-the-wall mailing, does that mean you should? What if you’re a financial services company, or a mortuary? Doing an outlandish mailing might get you noticed, but it might also confuse—or even turn off—the people you’re trying to reach. Make sure your mailing is consistent with who you are.

It’s great to be a student of direct mail and to observe what others are doing. We encourage clients to keep a file of direct mail efforts that produce great results. But don’t just imitate what you see. Dig a little deeper to figure out why they were successful and whether or not the same approach will work for you. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery—but it rarely duplicates success.

Direct Mail Best Practices