Effectiveness of Political Direct Mail in Influencing and Reaching Voters

Direct mail can be a powerful tool for your political campaign. It influences not only the opinions of voters, but their actions as well. For many years now, the majority of political mail has been on the attack of opponents. Some have gotten downright nasty, not just in direct mail channels either.

Sure attack ads work, but mixing in a combination of informative direct mail with the attack pieces can enhance the candidate’s or proposition’s overall appeal. There are other channel options out there, but they are not anywhere near as effective as direct mail. Unlike a business that is selling products or services and has the ability to sell them over a long period of time, political mail needs to convince people quickly to either support or oppose a candidate or a proposition.

The effectiveness of a direct mail campaign can be directly related to just how accurate a mailing list is as well as the relevant saliency of the message and its ability to take creative risks. Not have an effect on turning out voters, but it can help persuade undecided voters.

While digital channels exist and are popular, trendy options are not anywhere near as effective as direct mail. Unlike a business that is selling products or services over a long period of time, you need to convince people to vote for you or your proposition in a short period of finite time.

Direct mail for your political campaign creates results that you can measure. By recognizing what is working and what is not lets you make fast adjustments to your next mail piece. Analyze the results and try new things and avoid pitfalls such as – failing to follow postal regulations, having an in appropriate list of voters, and printing a message that isn’t clear and concise.


How Can Direct Mail Help You Win?

1. Targeting – Candidates and issue advocacy campaigns have a unique ability to target voters with direct mail and tailor communications base on not only ideology and voter history but more complex voter profiles that utilize a combination of traditional voters lists matched with consumer data.

2. Perceived Credibility – As compared to television and digital media, direct mail continues to demonstrate relative credibility. This allows candidates to capitalize by sending messages to not only gain support but attack an opponent based on their record.

3. Flexibility – With the increased ease of personalization using variable data printing, direct mail allows you to send different messages to different people in the same mailing. This can be used to not only change out text but also images to make a greater impact on each individual. It’s micro-targeting at its finest.

4. Integration – Direct mail is a phenomenal way to drive online engagement. Include QR codes and PURLS (personalized web pages) that direct people to issue specific landing pages with information that appeals to their specific issues of priority. This experience, of course, must be built on a mobile channel for true optimization. Think about sending them to a video of your speaking about yourself or your proposition. Let them get to know you and where you stand on the issues that matter most to them.

5. Measurability – Direct mail is easily measurable. As you know saturation rates can measure both analytical and anecdotal evidence as to the effectiveness of each piece within a specific target audience and geographic boundary.

The Pitfalls of Direct Mail

Direct mail is powerful when done correctly. There are some pitfalls you need to avoid. The first major one is to stay within postal regulations and maximize the size. Candidates often think sending a standard postcard is the cheapest way to perform a mailing – in fact, it’s cheaper to send a 6”x11” oversized card to take advantage of bulk mailing rates.

The next pitfall is how you source your list of voters. Make sure that you are targeting the right voters, otherwise you are just wasting money. Finally, your message needs to be clear, concise, and have the ability to break through the “red, white and blue” cookie-cutter mail cluttering mailboxes as Election Day draws near. BE CREATIVE! Scratch and sniff stickers, “lottery-ticket” style games, charicatures – the sky is the limit!

Four Ways Direct Mail can be used to Help Boost Voter Turnout

1. Aim High –

Too often, politicians and the media predict low voter turnout to get more people to vote. However, this tactic doesn’t necessarily work. People are social beings, especially in the digital age, and the actions of others have an impact on their own behavior. Instead of focusing on expected low turnout, emphasize expected high turnout in your next mailing; especially when it comes to influencing infrequent voters. Sure, it’s okay to send the message that every vote counts – but make voting “popular.”

2. Speak to the Issues Voters Care About –

Voters are more likely to show up at the polls if your communications reflect the issues that are important to them. For example, sending targeted direct mail about Social Security to mature voters, or about Jobs to Millennials, can compel each group to care more about voting for the candidate championing the issues important to them. With the emergence of big data it is easier now, more than ever, to break through the same old, tired rhetoric voters hear every cycle.

3. Use the Clues Voters are Leaving Behind –

Voter files can provide valuable information, enabling you to customize the mailings you send to particular individuals and helping to boost the effectiveness while curbing costs. Use available information to create a focused strategy which targets your most likely voters and addresses the issues that matter to them. This can drive the undecided to vote for you or your candidate. Perhaps, more importantly, it can help determine what issues voters believe are at risk – and as we all know, voters are more likely to vote when they feel something is at risk.

4. Let Social Pressure Work for You –

When it comes to voter participation, the behavior of others influences our own actions. “Social pressure” mailings show who voted – and who didn’t. These mailings compare a recipient’s voting frequency with the neighborhood average. The idea is not to shame people into voting (or come across as “Big Brother”), but rather, to capture their interest and encourage them to keep up with their neighbors by getting out to the polls.

What Makes a Good Political Direct Mail Campaign Effective?

Political campaigns are highly competitive and expensive. Direct mail can be a powerful tool to stand out from your competition, spend your marketing budget wisely, and to influence the opinion of voters and have them taken action. Direct mail campaigns have even been used to smear the reputation of political opponents. Unlike a business that can keep on selling services and products on an ongoing basis, political direct mail campaigns have a very limited amount of time to convince people to support a candidate before an election takes place. This is why it is extremely important to familiarize yourself with what makes a good political direct mail campaign effective.

1. Influence –

It is worth utilizing the perception that physical mail is a reliable, tangible marketing channel. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to enhance your message and get people to interact with your direct mail to increase the chance that they not only read it, but hold on to it – upping the likelihood of it being influential in their life.

2. Targeting –

Choose a very specific audience to send your printed direct mail materials to, based upon their political party affiliations, how frequently they vote, location, and their personal interests as well. By targeting your audience, you increase the chance of reaching like-minded people for your political campaign.

3. Integration –

It is important to include QR codes and PURLS (personalized web pages) that direct people to online landing pages with more information that can create a memorable experience for them. Build engagement that can lead to the desire to share their experience with your political direct mail campaign with others and garner further support. Make it mobile-friendly, and consider using videos online for voters to get to know the candidate better. Also, direct mail should never be a stand-alone element of the campaign, but part of an integrated marketing strategy that correlates with door-to-door canvassing, live and automated calling (robo-calls) and every other aspect of the campaign.

Eight Rules of Successful Political Direct Mail

1. Let your visuals do most of the talking – the visual element engages people and gets their attention.

2. Create a “scannable” mail piece – voters should be able to visually scan the mail piece and understand the message. Use plenty of white space visuals, and bulleted copy.

3. Keep it simple – two or three major points are more likely to be remembered than a half-dozen.

4. Make sure the layout flows – people generally look at a page from left to right, top to bottom. Your layout should follow the same flow.

5. Ensure it is relevant – when the message is relevant, it’s automatically engaging. Craft the message so it addresses the specific concerns of the target.

6. Add footnotes for credibility – quotes or statistics add power to a political mail piece. Be sure to include footnotes to give these statements credibility.

7. Time the mailing for the best response – time mailings to coincide with a candidate’s speaking engagement, a television campaign, or right before the election for greatest success.

8. Data! Make sure your data is reliable and not riddled with dead and inactive voters.

Three Reasons Why Direct Mail is Growing

Just a few years ago most of us in the political media business were predicting a gradual phase out of direct mail. The reasoning went something like this – Why keep using mail when targeted digital ads are so much cheaper and video so much more emotional evocative?

As one strategist put it recently – mail is what would have been prioritized in the “Reagan or Clinton eras.” In fact, mail hasn’t grown outdated. It’s actually a growing medium, and this election cycle (2018) is likely to see the most political mail in UPS history.

Why is direct mail making such a comeback? It’s not just legacy tactics in a Presidential Cycle spending surge.

The Limited Reach of Digital Drives Use of Direct Mail –

1. As more campaigns adopt the precision of cookie-matched digital advertising, it’s becoming clear that direct mail is a needed companion to these programs.

Cookie-matched banner and video ads can be targeted exactly like direct mail, but they’re much less expensive on a per-view basis. They also have direct-response benefits, allowing voters to click through to donate or sign up to take action. These advantages had many of us convinced targeted digital mail would start to supplant direct mail entirely.

Digital channels are only reaching about half of the audience (or less). Their reach is limited in many ways, starting with the reality that only about 70 percent of the voters lists match to the cookie pools, which help facilitate online targeting.

Given the limited time frame of most political campaigns, even strong digital buys only reach about 70 to 80 percent of the total available audience. Meaning even a well-run and adequately funded digital program might only reach a little more than half the total voter audience.

Targeted direct mail can help solve the problem of reach. You can mail directly to the homes of the voters you choose, and according to USPS studies – nearly 70 percent of recipients at least scan-read their mail. It might be more expensive on a cost per view basis, but nothing is more costly than leaving up to half of your targeted voter universe out of your program.

2. The persuadable percentage of the electorate is shrinking. Traditional television advertising can still be tremendously powerful, but the campaign context, particularly in general elections – the percentage of voters who are persuadable is small. In this highly partisan world, almost all of the Democrats vote for the Democrat candidate the same is true with Republican voters.

Since most campaigns can predict who these “swing” voters are and target them, it becomes much more cost effective to use direct mail to reach the 15-20 percent of the electorate that is persuadable than to use television or radio to blanket everyone. Not always, of course – it isn’t a fix rule; with factors like cost-per-point in the market and the size of the swing universe being key. But frequently when campaigns “run the numbers,” direct mail makes the most sense financially.

3. The barrier to entry is low. There’s no way around it – cutting a decent television ad is hard. And placing one is complicated enough to necessitate a media buyer. It takes time, infrastructure and expertise – all of that costs money. Production costs for a professional spot can start at $7,500 (depending on what sort of crew and equipment you are using) and that’s before you’ve paid for it to air.

Analysis –

Direct mail for your political campaign creates results that you can measure. By recognizing what is working and what is not lets you make fast adjustments to your next mail piece. Analyze the results and try new things; and avoid pitfalls such as – failing to follow postal regulations, having an inappropriate list of voters, and printing a message that isn’t clear and concise.


Joshua W. Jones


Red Clay Communications & Halifax Strategies



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