Last week I wrote about a letter I received from San Francisco’s Museums of Fine Art, and why I didn’t respond.

The big mistake that letter made was it didn’t answer the #1 question in my head: Why are you sending me this?  The sender didn’t explain why she was writing to me and why she expected I would be interested in the letter.

But let’s back up a minute… because I almost didn’t read the letter in the first place.

(I say “almost” because I’m a marketing nerd and open ALL the direct mail I receive, just so I can study and critique it… but you shouldn’t count on reaching people like me!)

The problem is with the envelope. (Note: my name and address appeared in the plastic window – I removed that part)


What’s wrong with the envelope?

In last week’s post, I gave you a hint. I said that the late great Gary Halbert would be unimpressed with this mailing.

As Gary taught us, everybody sorts their mail over the wastebasket. There’s “A” pile mail (from family and friends and companies you want to get stuff from) and “B” pile mail (junk mail you don’t want).

This envelope has the organization’s name but no person’s name as the sender. In other words, it looks so impersonal. It looks like bulk mail.

When I get an envelope like that, I know it went out to hundreds or thousands of people. It makes me feel unimportant. And worse (for the organization who mailed it), this kind of envelope makes me feel like I can safely ignore the message without consequence.

When you’re reaching out to new prospects, you’ll usually get better open rates and higher response when you take more of a personal approach (and mimic “A” pile mail).

How could the Museums of San Francisco make their envelope look more like “A” pile mail?

For one, they could include a person’s name instead of just the organization’s name. That way, it appears more like a personal letter.

Here’s what Gary Halbert would have recommended:

1. Use real handwriting instead of printing the recipient’s address, so it really looks like a person (not an organization) sent you the letter. A company can do this for you. Or, you can use a handwritten font (as long as it looks convincing enough).

2. Skip the return address altogether. That way, there’s an element of mystery. (“Who sent this to me? I better open it to find out…”).

Now I admit, these last 2 suggestions are a little sneaky. In fact, in direct mail circles, this strategy is actually called the “sneak up” approach. It’s all the way on the extreme “A” side of the spectrum.

Obviously, the “sneak up” approach isn’t right for everybody.  The Museums of Fine Art would probably NOT be comfortable with this type of approach in their direct mail.

But, in my opinion, their mail piece is too impersonal and it’s probably hurting their open rates. I could have easily ignored it.

If the Museums of Fine Art wanted to improve the response to their mailing, I’d recommend they move a little bit from the direction of “B” pile into “A” pile — and give their envelope more of a personal touch.

Big Lesson: Always remember that no matter how many people you’re sending your message to, they will open and read it and choose to respond as individuals (one at a time). Treat your group communications more like 1-to-1 interactions and you’ll boost results.