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Postcard Readership – Increasing Readership and Response

Post Cards: Improving Initial Readership

by Jeffrey Dobkin

This is the first article in a series of three articles on increasing post card readership and response.

Abstract: Direct mail post cards make sense in today’s bludgeoned economy. They’re cheaper to print than a full direct mail package, and post cards are easier to handle, and less costly to mail. Like most Direct Mail Campaigns, Post Cards can be tremendously effective at generating maximum response from your target market if created correctly.
Here’s how…

Face it: most people sort their direct mail over the trash can.

This process works fast, like flipping channels on tv. Or better yet, think back: you’re a kid and a friend is showing you baseball cards for possible trades: gottem gottem needem gottem gottem needem gottem. 200 cards, 50 seconds. Todays direct mail… Post Cards… Same thing: Direct mail credit card offers, direct marketing magazine subscriptions, direct selling insurance solicitations, and junk mail penny stock hawkers all get the briefest attention before being trashed.

But wait, there’s more! Post card marketing adds another dimension to the view-and-toss direct mail sorting process. Create your card right, and post card readership can be quite high, instantly. Because – it’s all right there, right in front of the reader—in his hand.

Post card readership is defined by how great the direct-selling copywriting and graphics are for your card. So the fate of your direct mail post card starts in the hands of the creator, which I believe is you, isn’t it?

I call it “Initial Readership;” a term I coined, well… just now, to explain what happens the moment a reader glances at your direct mail post card that has just landed in his hands. This defines the 2-seconds readers spend upon their initial glance at your post card: one second on headline and topic, one second on copy and the blink of an eye on graphics — unless they’re really dazzling.


Glance readership of a post card is like seeing the headline of an ad in a newspaper (remember them?): you only get a second or two to capture the attention of a fleeting reader, before they continue on to the obits, the comics or the TV page. Or is that just me?

Failure. Post card readership reviews can be fast and brutal and end in the briefest of time; failure resulting in the sudden spiral of your direct marketing mailpiece directly downward into the circular file below. And your money following suit. Ouch.

Success. Or, you can instantly get an extremely high-rated review and have your post card placed in the highly coveted pile of “read later with the rest of today’s important mail.” It’s your choice. Right now, you’ve got to ask yourself, “Am I feeling lucky?”

Rule Number 1. Write and design everything in your post card for the first two seconds.

When your recipient gets a good look at your post card, you get the immediate opportunity to pass or fail. So… what’s it gonna be? Coveted pile, or circular file? Yea, or Nay? Success, or failure? Prosper, or fludghum? OK, I might have made that last word up, but you get the idea, and the reader’s decision is immediate. Your choice.

The bright side: For us on the creative end of direct mail, it just can’t get any better. Buy the right mailing list and get your post card into the correct reader’s hands: I’ll get him to read it. Your direct marketing agency will too… and if they can’t, find another agency – plenty of good ones out there. Or call me – writing post cards is a favorite pastime of mine, like monopoly or tractor racing – but it pays better. A well written and well designed post card can enjoy exceptionally high readership – and get exceptionally high response.

OK, so your potential reader is now standing there with your wonderfully written, dazzlingly designed, properly prepared post card in his hot little hand and that, my friend, is great alliteration. It’s where the rubber meets the road. Or hit the road, or something about the road. I forget——I have Alzheimer’s. But… at least I don’t have Alzheimer’s!

Rule 2. You need to force the reader to read your post card.

How? Compelling headline. Followed by intriguing subheadlines. Brilliant body copy and great, great graphics. Spend a little more time (and money) here and what happens? Yes, the coveted “read later” pile. As in paragraph 6a above, subsection 254: The reader brings the card to his desk, and with no other option handy, reads the card you forced him to read.

Now, some nitty-gritty of how to do it.

“Instant readership” is based 100% on your headline hook, appropriateness of subject to your audience and dazzling layout. It’s followed shortly by the value created in your offer, if they get that far. Wrap all these elements in sparkling printing and nice paper and now your direct mail post card presents itself in a glancing, fast 2-second visual bite.

Direct mail post cards are the visual versions of the sound bits you hear on MTV or promos for the evening news; which, come to think of it, appear to be written by the same writers. Designing for instant readership has the singular objective of drawing the reader into the post card, no more, no less.

On the immediate receipt of your post card, each reader has his or her own mental preference files that compels him or her to stay tuned into your card, yet some commonalities exist. Wait. Wait just a moment. This gender thing of saying “Him or Her” all the time has got to go—it’s too clunky to keep saying “him or her, him or her,” – so let me clear this up once and for all. I’ll just place everything in the male gender until I get complaints from, well, you know… Hey, do you know how many men it takes to change the toilet paper roll? No, me neither.

Post Card Instant Readership & The first round of sorting

So right on the top section of your post card, as in all highly responsive direct mail, your headline needs to be great. If you have a “good” headline, no! NO! That just won’t work. Strangely, “good” is actually not good enough. You need something more than just good, you need “exceptionally great!” Create this one line correctly, viola – instant readership on a maximum level. That’s how important this single line is.

The first work-order of the day is to create an unbelievably great, maximum-interest headline so the reader is instantly hooked into staying in the copy and continues reading. So…

Rule 3. The goal of the headline: keep the reader reading. Nothing more. Nope. No selling.

Rule 4. Invoke The 100-to-1 Rule:

Since your post card headline needs to be G-R-E-A-T, use the Jeff Dobkin 100-to-1 rule for creating G-R-E-A-T headlines (as found in Dobkin’s book, Uncommon Marketing Techniques): write 100 headlines, go back and pick out your best one. Oh, you like this idea! Plan to use it? OK, it’s copyrighted. Send me Ten Bucks. And you’re getting away cheap. OK, jest kidding. Just send $5 bucks. Make that a Starbucks Card — they were going to get it anyway.

Rule 5. The founding principle of high readership: Headline = G-R-E-A-T, or else.

The objective of any direct marketing or direct mail headline is to grab the attention of the reader and yank him so far into the copy that if he throws your direct mail piece into the trash, he’ll come back later and route though the trash to dig it out. Yes, and a really great headline is when the reader digs it out of the trash even though he dumped his kitty litter in there on top of it.

Rule 6. The headline is NOT the time to sell your product.

The reason? The first glance is a pivotal point in your presentation because the reader has no investment of time in your direct mail piece and so no commitment to read further.

Initially, your recipient isn’t intrigued by whatever you’re selling, at whatever price; because he hasn’t seen your electrifying offer, hasn’t seen any of your product benefits, and hasn’t followed your compelling story line for 10 paragraphs and wants to see how you close the sale, or how your storyline finishes.

So right now, at this first glance – nothing: no commitment, no involvement – right now you’re just another blah blah of direct mail; a piece of paper with no message, no heart, no soul. Man, these first 2 seconds are critical. And without any involvement, your reader is ruthless.

If the headline sucks at first glance the card can be tossed without regret. Kindly recall the reader has lots of other mail, and has years of practice at “getting fast” at his standing-there-over-the wastebasket first sorting time. You need to instantly connect and deliver: survive this cut OR your direct mail piece suffers death by wastebasket. Cruel. And buried along with your post card, your money. Whoa… Crueler still.

Rule 7. The rule of readership survival.

The rule of readership survival as it relates to the first glance of your direct mail post card: it’s the critical changeover point where unless your headline and graphics are G-R-E-A-T, your loss of readership stops your post card from being your “investment” and shifts it to an “expense.” What’s it gonna be — Pass? Or failure? Good headline. Or great headline. Good graphics. Or awesome graphics. Your choices.

The second round of sorting

Ok, enough blah blah about Instant Readership of post cards. Like my first wife said about our marriage certificate, let’s just get past this. Oh well; I thought we had a pretty good week. Evidently she didn’t think it went that well. But opinions are like smelly feet — everyone has their own. I then discovered while only some women may marry you for your money, they all divorce you for it.

OK, so you and your post card made the first cut. Congratulations, y’old direct mail guru. Great graphics, hellatious headline, compelling, convincing copy; opulent irresistible offer. Having survived the first cut following the “Instant Readership” rules, your card now sits comfortably at the reader’s desk with the rest of the “important” mail. Nice. But you’re not out of the woods yet. Check your balance sheet.

This “Second Look” opportunity gives your direct marketing post card the luxury of more time — now that the reader has taken it back to the comfort of his office, a comfortable chair, a couple of beers, some good smoke and a little more time to invest in reading it. Or is that just me? Anyhow, to survive the first glance means the reader has made the decision he has an interest in whatever you’re hawking, or at least in what you have to say. Congratulations. Welcome to Level II.

Jeff Dobkin will now take your questions.

This is the first part of “Instant Readership” — A 3-article series on creating effective direct mail post cards, written by Jeffrey Dobkin.

Continue to Postcards – Increasing Readership II

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Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeffrey Dobkin

Dobkin is a speaker (blah blah blah, yip yip yip) and a marketing consultant (marketing plans, pr, market strategy, plan analysis: audits and review, media review) who happens to be an amazing writer (corporate literature, articles, brochures, ads, collateral, annual reports, technical material), specializing in direct-selling print and web (DR Ads, catalogs, TV scripts, web copy) and direct marketing material (letters, direct mail, mailing packages brochures, catalogs, web copy and did I mention post cards?) He’s also pretty darn good at analyzing catalogs, ads and campaigns and direct mail packages. He has written over 250 articles and 5 books on direct marketing. He can be reached at 610-642-1000.