Mail Openers

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In the world of direct marketing, getting prospects to open their mail is half the battle. Surprisingly, the odds are quite good that consumers will open their mail — if it's packaged in an appealing way and the timing is right. In fact, three out of four adults (77 percent) regularly read their direct mail, and 59 percent of adults have read it in the past week, according to a recent survey.

Even the 23 percent of adults who never read their direct mail may not necessarily be rejecting the letters out of disdain. “Half of those [people] just don't have the time,� says Scott Marden, director of strategic marketing at Webcraft, a Lawrenceville, N.J.-based direct marketing service firm, which released a report on the effectiveness of direct mail in July. The telephone survey of 2,000 adults, conducted in April and May 2001, set out to help marketers identify those consumers who are most likely to open and respond to direct mail. The study's first round of results addresses direct mail from the financial and insurance industries.

Understanding which consumers are most receptive to mailings is key. “Start with the 9 percent of America that reads every piece [of mail] they receive,� says Marden. This group is composed primarily of women (59 percent) and people with household incomes under $30,000 (46 percent). Then there are the people who read only mail that is related to products that they've already been eyeing to buy (16 percent). The majority of that group is also women (61 percent) and almost a third (28 percent) hail from the Midwest. For these prospects, making sure the mail reaches them when they are most receptive to it is critical. For instance, almost two out of three (61 percent) readers of finance-related direct mail say that timing is one of the top three factors that influence their decision to tear open an envelope. The other two influencing factors are whether or not the mail is personalized or has an appealing appearance.

Because so many people want to transfer credit card balances at any one time, finance-related direct mail actually has one of the highest response rates of all direct marketing efforts, says Marden. In fact, four out of 10 multiple credit card users say they read their finance-related direct mail. These folks are also prime targets for other marketers using the medium: 82 percent of multiple credit card users say they read direct mail from all marketers at least some of the time.

Credit card companies hoping to increase their customer base should also look at which demographic groups are most likely to be receptive to specific types of offers, says Marden. For instance, 39 percent of seniors (which the study defines as age 72 and older), and 38 percent of “young/olds� (ages 56 to 71), say that “no annual fee� is the language that most appeals to them when selecting a credit card, compared with 32 percent of Gen Xers (ages 25 to 36) and 28 percent of Gen Ys (ages 18 to 24). Gen Xers, Baby Boomers and Gen Ys, on the other hand, care slightly more about getting a low annual percentage rate on purchases, stated as the most appealing pitch by 39 percent, 37 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

As for insurance companies that use direct mail as a medium, consumers with changing needs make the best prospects, says Marden. Two-thirds of all adults surveyed — including 75 percent each of Gen Xers and of adults with incomes between $30,000 and $50,000 — say they would find it helpful if insurance companies mailed them information about insurance following major life changes, such as marriage, the birth of a new child or grandchild, home purchase or retirement.

Then there are those who automatically toss direct mail directly into the trash. Mail chuckers are more likely to be men (56 percent), between the ages of 56 and 71 (21 percent), and with household incomes below $30,000 (42 percent). For this group, Marden advises to forget about direct mail, and instead, get yourself some stylish, even slightly avant-garde billboards, suggests Marden. Chuckers tend to want to be entertained, unlike direct mail readers who want less flash and more substance.

For more information, call Scott Marden at Webcraft, (732) 951-4801.

It's in the Mail

One in three Boomers (32 percent) read direct mail from insurance companies.

Total Adults Gen Y

Gen X

Baby Boomers


Percentage who currently have life insurance 75% 57% 74% 83% 78% 68%
Percentage who read insurance direct mail 28% 25% 24% 32% 20% 22%
Percentage who want their insurance company to be accessible 24/7 22% 31% 22% 21% 20% 21%
Percentage who would consider buying health insurance directly from the company via the Internet, the phone or direct mail without seeing an agent 15% 19% 21% 18% 12% 6%
Source: Vertis Customer Focus 2001: Direct Marketing Survey
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