Why Direct Mail still works for Political Campaigns ( or does it? )

April 5, 2018 - 5 minutes read

Direct mail: one of the pillars of successful (and not-so-successful) campaigns. For many, it is the primary means of getting a message across. However, there is no other form of political communication more affected by technology than direct mail.

Why is direct mail such a standby? Because it’s a relatively simple medium that has a “set-it-and-forget-it” quality. Once it’s mailed, you have no control of the message. It’s also one that usually needs numerous days of preparation (and at least two more for the piece to go through the postal service). Often, that meant a campaign had a relatively static mail calendar of when to release pieces, as well an approximate one-week window to react to current events. Until about 15 years ago, before the proliferation of social media, that may have been sufficient. Today, that’s no longer the case.

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So on the surface, it appears direct mail is an outdated tactic that pales in comparison to social media; especially when it comes to rapid message deployment, instantaneous data gathering, and potential reach. However, don’t take direct mail out of your arsenal just yet. With a well-crafted message, a strategic look at your demographics, and a database that allows for personalized follow-up, it can continue to be an effective tool for outreach and GOTV.

Here are three pieces of advice for great direct mail:

why direct mail matters

1. Use the Rule of Three (see what I did there?)

There is a saying that literally goes back to ancient Greece, which states, “omne trium perfectum,” or “every set of three is complete.” Since antiquity, it has been known that lists of three are important for establishing credibility without overwhelming an audience. A political text from 35 years ago called Our Masters’ Voices: The Language and Body Language of Politics, (1) discusses the use of “triads” to elicit positive responses from audiences. Anything less than three points of discussion seems insufficient; more than three weakens the power of the other arguments.

In crafting your mail pieces, make sure you list three reasons to support a candidate or a cause. List your strongest argument is first to draw in the reader, and place the point you want the reader to leave with last. Also do this with endorsement pieces; use three-well written endorsements, with pictures if possible, to feature on the piece. Add a list of additional endorsements on the other side.

2. Consider the look, the audience, and the timing

Unfortunately, no matter how great your material, many people will not read it. People are busy, are becoming more used to the quick-hits of social media, and, frankly, are polarized like never before. What that means is you need pieces that are bold, targeted, and timed.

Bold pieces allow your three main points to stand out, so even if the person doesn’t do a deep read, they will see what’s important. Make sure you use well-taken photos and larger fonts that older readers can see. Targeted pieces are directed at specific demographics, such as age, region, or occupation. It is important that said pieces address issues your campaign has researched and know will affect this demographic. (i.e. benefits cuts that affect the elderly or informing union members a steward is running for office).

Finally, release issue-specific pieces at times people will be engaged. For example, if it looks like there will be a federal shutdown due to the budget, have a piece that specifically addresses affected agencies and programs important to your demographic.

3. Use the data from your phone/text campaign

Before you mail out any piece, use the data you have collected from your phone banking and peer to peer texting to craft the message and the mail list. Since this information will be dynamic, it will be the basis for developing different target audience per piece.

More importantly, you can use your phone/text campaign for follow-up, as ways to track effectiveness, reinforce your core messages, and recruit volunteers. Finally, if you don’t have a phone or text campaign, seriously consider developing one and make it the cornerstone of your strategic planning, as this information will make other activities, such as mail and social media, more effective.

Collective Texting Starter Guide

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