Setting the Record Straight on Junk Mail

26 February 2018 / By Jeff Tarran
When you make a living in the world of direct mail as I do, you tend to field a lot of comments about junk mail. So, I’m attempting to set the record straight on:
  • What it is.
  • Why you get it.
  • What we do so you get less of it.

What is junk mail?

The (not so) simple answer — Junk mail is mail that you receive that is not relevant to you. The key word in that sentence is “you,” because it’s a targeting issue. An example:

Let’s say we’re selling expensive golf vacations through direct mail. We prepare a high-quality, detailed mailing with beautiful photography and a great offer for the ultimate golf trip. If we mail that to a wealthy retiree who plays golf twice a week and loves to travel, that’s a well-targeted mailing. If we mail it to a 22-year-old city dweller who works as a barista and has never played a round of golf, that’s junk mail. Same mailing, different “you.”

Why do you get it?

Before we even go there, I need to make a point. The likelihood that my 22-year old prospect will buy a golf vacation is practically nil. If the mailing above costs 80¢ per package, that’s a wasted 80¢. Too much of that and we’ve lost a client.

Sending mail to the wrong targets is the last thing any of us in direct mail want to do — prospects don’t want it and we don’t want to pay for it. In fact, our goal for all our clients is actually to minimize the amount of mail we send, through careful targeting.

So, why do you get mail clearly not meant for you? Here are a few reasons:

  • You did something that makes us think you’re someone you’re not. You may not play golf, but your friend/spouse/parent does and you bought them equipment or a magazine subscription online or through the mail. So, we mistake you for them.
  • We really don’t know who is going to buy from us— yet. We can make an educated guess at who will buy an expensive golf vacation. Other products are not as obvious. So, we try our appeals out on different targets to see which have the greatest propensity to convert, or buy our product. The goal is to home in on a tightly defined target to minimize waste, and that takes ongoing testing.
  • We’re only as good as the data. For example, you play golf and love to travel. But for any number of good reasons, a golf vacation is not something you would ever consider. In many respects, you’re like other people who buy from us, but in some key way you’re not. We use behavioral and survey data to target mailings and there are limits to what that data can tell us about any one person.
  • We don’t know when you might buy. In our golf example, you’d love a golf vacation— just not this year. So, we’ll reach out with mailings so we’re top of mind when you’re ready to buy.
What do we do so you’ll get less of it?

We see our job at Gunderson Direct as curating audiences for our clients through testing and analysis. Our ultimate goal is to generate enough responders through a variety of tests to build a response model that lets us efficiently target people who look most like existing buyers. This maximizes the likelihood that we are mailing to an interested target and minimizes waste (i.e., junk mail).

The end of junk mail

Let’s face it, we all hate junk mail! Good marketing will minimize mis-targeted mailings; but data is not perfect, and neither are we. We’ll test and learn and move forward. In the meantime, when you sort through your mail today, think about it from a marketing perspective. Ask yourself, “why did they think I’d be interested?” and “what are they testing?” It won’t make junk mail go away, but it could make it a little more interesting.

Jeff Tarran
About The Author

Jeff Tarran

As VP of Account Services, Jeff works with our clients to analyze business problems and develop direct marketing strategies that achieve their goals. A 20-year veteran and strategic thought leader in direct marketing, Jeff has headed two independent direct response agencies in the Bay Area after starting his career at Foote Cone and Belding. He earned a Dual BS in management and communications at Syracuse University and his MBA in marketing at Columbia University in New York.