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Play by the 3:33 Rule for Direct Mail Success

Marcus Johnson

You just launched a big direct mail acquisition campaign. Close to a million pieces are fanning out to carefully segmented audiences in areas where your research indicates high concentrations of verified prospects. Will it be a hit or a miss?

Grab a stopwatch (or your mobile phone with its many timing apps) and let’s consider.

When your direct mail package arrives in recipients’ hands, the clock starts ticking down three minutes and 33 seconds (3:33). A handy mnemonic device, the 3:33 rule neatly describes the amount of time a prospect might potentially take to stop, look at, and consider your offer.

Why the 3:33 Rule?

This time-tested and proven formula says that you have:

  • 3 seconds to stand out in the mail and grab someone’s attention;
  • 30 seconds to engage and entice them to open the envelope to see what’s inside;
  • 3 minutes during which your prospect will decide whether or not to respond to your call to action.

Some analyses of this formula focus on the outer envelope (OE) as the key component. But, really, if every part of your package isn’t working together and doing its job, your pitch will go nowhere. Let’s break it down.

Three Seconds: Judging the OE

Yes, the OE matters. A lot. As discussed in a previous blog post, your audience will judge your direct mail by its outer envelope. It is the first impression that keeps someone from making a snap decision to discard your direct mail package.

That’s why we recommend changing up the look of your OE across your mailings. Consider everything from size to paper stock to color. Don’t forget about adding a message (or not). And personalizing. Competition is fierce in the mailbox, and whatever aspect of your direct mail design gives you an edge is fair game.

Thirty Seconds: In or Out?

If your prospect has decided to spend 30 seconds of quality time with your OE, what will it take to get them inside? Could be any one thing or combination of aforementioned things, from feel to size to color to messaging to mystery.

You’ll do well to consider whether to telegraph on the OE that the direct mail package is from you (this may be wise if the recipient knows you, your brand, or your product) by including your logo, an offer, or some short message.

Or you can keep the sender (you) a mystery. Sometimes the latter approach is more effective at getting someone to open your direct mail package, especially if your mysterious OE looks like it might contain important materials. Using a simple phrase, such as “Updated documents enclosed” or “Open immediately upon receipt” can trigger someone’s curiosity. You can also hint at an offer (“Save $100 now!”) to tempt those hard cases (e.g., people who say they absolutely never open direct mail—even though they do if they’re curious enough about what’s inside).

Three Minutes: Make Your Case and Trigger a Response

If you’ve made it to the three-minute mark, good work. Your prospect is inside your package and (you hope) at least skimming your letter, brochure, or other important communication.

This is where you make the sale, trigger the inquiry, and pad your response data. The reason you’re having some success, of course, is that you’re not wasting your prospect’s time. Your offer/benefit is clearly displayed at the top of the page, the reasons why your prospect should say yes are clear, compelling, and laid out in a can’t-miss way. Your prospects know exactly what’s in it for them. You make it as easy as possible to say yes. Or, better yet, impossible for them to say no.

Finally, thanks to clear, multiple occurrences of your call-to-action, they know exactly what you want them to do: “Call,” “Go online,” “Return the enclosed [item],” “Request your FREE [goodie]” … you know the rest.

Three Reasons to Use the 3:33 Rule

Why use the 3:33 rule to evaluate the quality and potential effectiveness of your direct mail package? Because it benefits three key constituencies involved in making direct mail work:

The Sender: Mail senders will love seeing better results on the direct mail side of their marketing mix. Applying the 3:33 rule to every direct mail package will, at the very least, help to establish credibility and marketing smarts. At best, the attention to detail that helps the direct mail package meet the 3:33 standard will ensure better performance for direct mail campaigns across the board.

The Receiver: No one was ever bored into buying a product or service. So, evaluating the quality and engagement potential of direct mail is fundamental. Increasing its audience appeal and power to pull response is just good professional marketing. Imagine people looking forward to getting something in the mail, thanks to you.

The Marketer: How’d you like to be a rock star with your direct marketing? If you already are, congrats. But if you want to raise the bar on the direct mail packages you’re producing, the 3:33 rule may be just what you need.

Get in touch with us today if you’re not satisfied with the response to your current direct mail efforts. Our direct marketing experts know how to make every second count.

link https://www.iwco.com/blog/2019/07/02/333-rule-direct-mail/
Marcus Johnson


Marcus Johnson

Marcus is a Senior Writer who blends creative writing and idea generation to bring copy to life for leading financial services organizations, professional sports teams, healthcare, and outdoor brands. The question this University of Minnesota graduate and former winner of the Best in Show from the National AgriMarketing Association loves to ask is, “How can I help?” When he’s not pounding out copy, he loves doing yard work, especially leaf blowing. In sports, Marcus cheers for the Humboldt Broncos, the Canadian hockey team that lost 10 players in a 2017 bus crash.

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