Jennifer Miller (Creative Director), Matt Lorenz (Art Director), and Alan Hyams (Senior Copywriter) have a collective 40 years of experience in direct mail. They sat down to discuss the thinking behind the direct mail packages they craft for TrueSense Marketing’s Salvation Army clients. This is part three of their three-part series.
- Jen: Let’s focus our discussion on the reply device. This is a really important component of a direct mail package, because it’s the piece that the donor fills out. What should we keep top of mind when we create reply devices?
- Matt: Making it easy to read for the donor. Let’s assume our donor is 65 or older. She’s not going to be able to read 7-point type. So you need a strong headline, a reiteration of the offer, and readability.
- Alan: The challenge is, there are disclaimers we are legally required to place on reply devices. This is where Matt can use his skill to get everything where it needs to be, but still keep it easy to read.
- Jen: Not just easy to read, but also clear directions about what to do, right?
- Alan: The whole direct mail package is asking donors to give. In every element of the package, you’ve been trying to seal the deal and get a donation, and you really don’t want to provide an impediment right at that point where a donor is getting ready to give. It has to be clear.
- Matt: That simplicity and ease of use ties into their brand integration, too. I have truly felt blessed to work with The Salvation Army. They’re passionate, compassionate, uplifting, brave, trustworthy, positive, and humble. The brand itself, the visual part of it is so clean. We work that into our direct mail whenever possible.
- Jen: Alan, you brought a few direct mail pieces here in the room. Let’s dissect these.
- Alan: I tried to pick a few things to illustrate a few different points. Here is one of our controls that is a small-letter format, and it’s really simple. The urgency here is that this goes out in the summer when donations typically dry up — not just for The Salvation Army, but in general. People are on vacation and it’s not really the giving season. It’s short, but also powerful and effective.
- Matt: That package proves you don’t have to create something complicated or expensive for it to resonate with donors. And this package does quite well.
- Alan: Here’s another package — a simple #10 package with a letter and reply device. No bells and whistles. It’s a general services appeal for The Salvation Army. The control uses a graphic on the letter — just a small visual detail. This was our control for a long time. Then, we tested a photo and a different headline on the letter against the control.
- Jen: A compelling photo paired with a compelling headline. Very simple test.
- Matt: That test beat the prior control package. That’s the importance of testing, though. You can never say that photos will universally win against a control every time. That’s why you test.
- Jen: I notice you’ve got a direct mail piece that has printed handwriting font on the outer envelope. That font is probably inside on the letter, too. Why do we use handwriting fonts?
- Alan: It makes it look hand-touched. I think people kind of know that there are fonts that can do this now, but I think it still registers as something that has been hand-touched and personal to help it stand out.
- Matt: It calls attention to the package.
- Jen: Is it possible that handwriting is a novelty today? Just in general, you don’t see handwriting as often as you used to. Remember when penmanship was a class in school? I think the fact that handwriting is a lost art helps call attention to a direct mail package as well.
- Alan: It also adds urgency, because I think that with the handwriting, there’s a subtle suggestion that this was ready to go out, but somebody went and added something to it, hand-touching it and emphasizing something.
- Matt: And it’s a great part for scanability. If I’m looking quickly at my direct mail, then I’m deciding whether I’m going to keep it, open it, or throw it in the file box. Standing out in the mailbox is key. Something that looks hand-touched will stand out.
- Jen: And, of course, we have results that prove that, too. So, we started our discussion talking about the art of direct mail, such as fonts, formats, and messaging. We talked about the science part of it a little bit with testing and offer specificity. Now, let’s end it on the heart part. What’s the one thing you enjoy most about being creators of direct mail for The Salvation Army?
- Alan: In addition to writing these appeals, I’ve also been able to visit different Salvation Army Corps around the country and meet the people who have been helped. The Salvation Army has helped so many people. It’s been quite nice to know that as I do my job, I’m helping to raise funds so they can continue Doing the Most Good.
- Matt: I totally agree. I’m a family man. I’ve got two children. Seeing these stories of families who are struggling touches my heart every time. I’m trying my hardest to make sure that those donations come in.
- Jen: For me, I would say talking directly to Salvation Army staff as well as interviewing people who are helped allows us to bring a realistic, on-the-ground perspective to our appeals and to our storytelling. That makes what we create more authentic and real. Because we know that when we do that, we touch donors’ hearts and motivate them to make a gift or stay engaged.
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