It’s no breakthrough that emotions are the key to consumers’ hearts (and wallets). What may come as more of a surprise is that digital marketing is not the most powerful tool for harnessing consumer emotions—direct mail is. Of course, quality still counts and poorly executed direct mail will still find its way into the trashcan. The secret to an impactful direct mail piece is copy that taps into emotional drivers of consumer behavior.
In 2009, global research agency Millward Brown conducted an influential neuroscience study evaluating how the brain responds to physical marketing materials. Their findings revealed that despite the rise of online marketing, direct mail has more emotional impact than digital advertising messages.
According to the study there were two key findings:
So how do you harness all that potential emotional power? You frame your direct mail campaigns around copy that presses consumers’ emotional hot-buttons.
Two direct marketing gurus—Axel Andersson of Sweden and Bob Hacker of Seattle—identified key emotional copy drivers that influence consumer behavior, which direct marketing consultant Denny Hatch unpacks in his book, The Secrets of Emotional, Hot-Button Copywriting.
These copy drivers tap into some of the most fundamental motivators of human behavior. Any one of them can serve as the foundation for a campaign that uses emotion to forge a direct link between your value proposition and the needs and desires of your customers. This link can then be used to invoke action, maximize customer interaction with your campaign and increase response rates.
Fear is one of the most primal motivators of human behavior. People will often invest more effort into avoiding something they fear than they will into attempting to attain or achieve something they desire. As Don Draper states in the pilot of Mad Men, “Advertising is based on one thing: happiness. And do you know what happiness is? It’s freedom from fear.”
To capitalize on fear, a direct mail piece must first identify a specific threat (germs, missing out, wrinkles) and then assert that this product/offer/service is the best solution. Acting now is your best chance of preventing this impending threat.
“Advertising is based on one thing: happiness.
And do you know what happiness is? It’s freedom from fear.”
-Don Draper, Mad Men
We all want more. More money, more time, more luxury, more savings, more friends…you name it, consumers want more of it.
Greed is an easy emotion to invoke in a direct mail campaign. Identify what your business offers that your customers desire more of, then position your copy to appeal to this desire. Make sure to include a promise of exactly how your business will help the recipient attain more and what action(s) they will need to take.
There are two primary strains of guilt in advertising: guilt that you’re not doing enough for others, and guilt that you’re not doing enough for yourself. Guilt marketing plants a seed of doubt that you’re falling short or causing harm, then offers a quick-fix action to relieve the guilty feeling.
Guilt often appears in fundraising mailers that first present you with a problem (shelter animals need saving, children need clean drinking water) and then make you feel personally responsible for contributing to the solution.
Guilt can also overlap with fear, inducing worry that we’re not taking enough care of ourselves or our loved ones with messages such as “Are you giving your child the best healthcare?” or “Is your afternoon snack making you fat?”
You want people to take action? Get them riled up about something. Whether you’re reminding them of a daily nuisance (“you’re sick and tired of overpaying for razor blades every month”) or opening their eyes to an injustice, anger is a passionate emotion, and passion creates a sense of urgency that can be a powerful motivator of action.
Getting your customer wound up about something and then giving them an outlet for that emotion is a highly effective way to channel their energy into taking your desired action.
5. ExclusivityWho doesn’t like to feel special? Included? Part of the club? Stating that an offer is being extended only to your most valued customers, providing an option to opt in to an “insider’s” newsletter for special deals, or stating that there are only a limited number of something available are all ways to add an element of exclusivity to your offer, suggesting that it is high quality and in high demand. When we feel we are being made an offer that not just anyone can redeem, we’re more likely to take advantage of it.
6. SalvationIf it’s true that humans will go to great lengths to avoid the things we fear, it’s also true that we will go to equally great lengths to have someone else neutralize the fear for us so we don’t have to face dealing with it ourselves. Salvation appeals offer easy solutions to consumers’ worries and fears, sweetening the deal with either convenience, cost-savings or expertise.
Advertisements founded on flattery build up a consumer’s self-image before making the sell, catering to the notion that the consumer is a person of discriminating tastes, someone who deserves only the best and knows quality when they see it. The key is not to overdo it at risk of seeming insincere and making the consumer distrustful of your offer.
Flattery can also work in the reverse, tearing down a consumer’s self-image in order to make the case that only this product or service will help them become the person they want to be. Reverse flattering pervades beauty and weight-loss advertising.
8. Instant Gratification
We live in a world of the quick fix, where instant gratification isn’t just a desire—it’s an expectation. Messages that suggest immediacy are well-received by consumers who value convenience and instant gratification.
Using quantifiers like now, today, and within 24 hours will boost their sense of time or supply and, in turn, increase their desire to take action. Keep in mind, however, that online audiences are becoming increasingly sophisticated and can quickly recognize “manufactured urgency” when they see it.
Rather than just killing the cat, it might get people to break the seal instead.It’s in our human nature to crave information that fills the curiosity gap, the discrepancy between what we currently know and what we would like to know. And we often go to great lengths to get it. Craft your headline in reverse based on the knowledge of your target audience. Think: what pain points or sought-after benefits can your mailpiece address?
Your outer envelope, often referred to as the headline of direct mail, should be positioned to fill the curiosity gap so your reader feels confident in that by opening it, they will get something useful out of it.
There’s a reason why “Throwback Thursday” has crept into our collective vernacular.A strong purchasing factor for millennials, nostalgia transports us back to a simpler time where our problems carried less weight and the hustle and bustle of modern life fades away. Instead of waiting for the next great thing, the reassuring thing about the past is that we already know the outcome. Longing for the past makes us feel good—and making people feel good is always a winning strategy.
By default, direct mail reaches back through the generations. Consider your target audience’s age range to pick an era they can identify with that invokes a sense of trust and those telltale bittersweet pangs. Words like “home,” “90s,” “childhood” or a specific moment in pop culture can lay the foundation for a sentimental bond with your product.
Once you’ve crafted your emotionally-driven copy, download this 12-page direct mail guide to stay on top of the latest USPS postal rates, mailpiece layout guidelines and more.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in June 2016 and has been updated with enhanced content.