The other day, I received a letter in the mail and I didn’t respond.  And in today’s article, I want to explain why I didn’t respond.

Business owners and marketers spend a lot of time trying to get people to respond, but they spend too little time addressing the many reasons why people don’t respond. If you want to increase response, you also need to plug the holes in your bucket.

So, I got this letter from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Let me show it to you, so you can see what it was like for me to receive this letter in the mail…

Here’s the envelope (my name and address appeared in the plastic window – I removed that part)



Here’s the letter:




I realize it’s probably hard to read the text in the image above, so here’s how the letter begins:

“Be the FIRST to experience phenomenal works of art… and get two museums for the price of one.”

“When you’re a member of the Fine Arts Museums, you can be among the first in the Bay Area to experience remarkable exhibitions…”

OK, so what’s the problem here?

No “Reason Why”

Whenever you receive mail from somebody you don’t know personally, what’s your first question?

That’s right. You want to know “Why am I getting this?  How did they get my name?

The Fine Arts Museums did NOT answer that question. They ignored Robert Collier’s famous advice to “enter the conversation in the prospect’s mind.” Instead, they just launched into their offer without connecting it to me and my personal situation.

Here’s what the Fine Arts Museums could have written to me if they wanted to convince me (personally) to read their letter and then respond to their membership offer…

“Why am I writing to you?

I was comparing records with my friends over at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in Manhattan and they said you were a member there a few years ago. I looked you up and saw that you recently moved to San Francisco, and you haven’t joined our museums.

Also, a little birdie told me that your parents were recently visiting you in San Francisco — and they visited our museums and LOVED them but you still haven’t been once…

And I want to fix that, right now.  I’m writing you today to give you a special offer on our membership.

Here’s my offer to you: Join as a member today and you’ll be able to visit our museums as many times as you like over the next 2 months for FREE.   I’m willing to make that offer because I know that once you see all the amazing exhibits we have, you’ll want to keep coming back again and again, month after month, year after year.

After all… Don’t you want your 2-month old son Ian to be exposed to fine art so he grows up to be a perfect little cultured gentleman?”

If they had written that to me, I’d probably be a member right now.

Now, obviously, I was having a little fun there. There’s no way that the Fine Arts Museums could have known all of that about me or my parents, etc. But they could have said something to tie the letter and membership offer to me personally. After all, there IS a reason why they’re writing to me, isn’t there?

They’re not writing to every name in the phone book or else they’d go broke. They got my name and address somehow, and they think there’s a good reason why I’d be interested in their offer — otherwise they wouldn’t be spending the $1 to send this letter.

And for these reasons, they should explain why they’re writing to me and why I should take advantage of their offer.

Big Lesson: As advertising man John E. Kennedy explained over 100 years ago, you should always reveal your “reason why” — why you’re contacting your prospects or customers, why you’re making a special offer, why there’s a discount, why there’s a deadline, etc. — in order to decrease skepticism and increase engagement with your message.

I don’t want to be too harsh. The letter wasn’t all bad. There was a special offer for new members (although it could have been stronger).  But, for me at least, this letter didn’t do its job.

It didn’t sell me. Instead, it left me wondering why I got the letter. It left me alone to try and sell myself on why I should join. If I was going to sign up, I had to connect the dots. And that’s too much work — I’ve got too much else going on in my life to sell myself on signing up for this.

Maybe I’ll visit and join at some point… But I’ll go when I want to go, not when they want me to go — and that means, from a direct-response standpoint, this letter failed (at least for me).

I’ll tweet this out to the social media folks over the Fine Arts Museums (@deyoungmuseum@legionofhonor) and see what they think of my direct mail tips. Maybe the social media people will talk to the direct mail people and they’ll consider some of my advice here.  I’ll be watching to see what they send me next… :)


P.S. Can you spot any other major “mistake” or weakness in this mailing or reason why I might not have responded? I’ll give you a hint: the late great Gary Halbert would not be impressed… I’ll follow up with another article next week to reveal my other big suggestion for boosting response from this mailing.