Direct Mail: A Window to the Human Mind

By | July 29, 2010

By Nancy Harhut, Chief Creative Officer, Wilde Agency

You want a window into the human mind? Look at some direct mail pieces. How people respond to them — or don’t — can tell you plenty. That’s because direct mail is all about psychology. It’s understanding what makes people behave the way they do.

Take outer envelopes. What will make someone open one? The smallest of details can tip the balance. Is there a return address? Is it accompanied by someone’s name? Is that name pre-printed? Or was it “added on” just before going out? Then there’s your color choice. Paper stock. Postage type. Type font. All this before the headline and visual (if you even have them) register.

When you think about it, the odds are hugely against us. Everyday, people are bombarded with more and more advertising messages. Then they come home from a long day’s work, stand over the wastepaper basket, and sort their mail. We have mere seconds to deploy enough knowledge about human nature to get our packages opened.

And yet, everyday great new direct mail pieces emerge. Some of the best work in the industry is being done today. Our targeting methods are more efficient. Our options are greater. And our creative people are more talented. But the big difference, in my opinion, is that we know more about what makes people tick today than we ever have. And that’s key. Because in order to capture your prey, you first have to think like them.

Social scientists and behavioral economists have shown that human beings have developed certain automatic or reflexive behaviors. They’ve identified:

  1. Compliance triggers
  2. Loss aversion
  3. The principle of reciprocity
  4. Social proof
  5. The pull of the magnetic middle

And numerous other influencers to human behavior. Take what they’ve learned and apply it, where appropriate, to your programs and communications—which helps make your customers and prospects more likely to do what you’re asking them to. Want to learn more? Register for my August 4 webinar (Why people do what they do – an how marketers can use it to their advantage) and find out how to harness human behavior triggers in your direct marketing efforts.

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