What the Dalai Lama Can Teach Orchestras About Direct Mail

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The Dalai Lama wrote me. He called me a dear friend.

The Classic Direct Mail Package

His letter is part of a classic direct mail package without a brochure on behalf of the International Campaign for Tibet. It turns out the Dalai Lama’s letter doesn’t have much of a call to action. That’s OK; he has other wonderful qualities.

Let’s see what we can learn from the whole package. After all, as orchestra marketers we frequently send direct mail packages with or without a brochure.

The Elements of the Package

The mailing consists of six parts:

  1. An outer envelope.
  2. A four-page letter from Richard Gere, chairman of the board of directors.
  3. A reply form.
  4. A pre-addressed reply envelope.
  5. A gift of Tibetan prayer flags.
  6. The letter from the Dalai Lama.

Prayer flags, wrapped

Prayer flags unfurled

The Gift

The smartest part of this particular appeal is the gift. Even before I’d looked at the envelope I knew there was something inside–I could feel it. As consumers we know we’ve never received a gift of value from a piece of direct mail other than an occasional dollar bill to return a survey. Yet according to research we still believe we might. We’re curious to see what the object is. Then we feel obligated to respond with a gift of our own, even when we perceive the premium to be worthless.

With new postal regulations I’d thought this old direct marketer’s trick had gone by the wayside. Anything that makes a mailing package three-dimensional now makes postage cost-prohibitive. These prayer flags have a little texture, then they unwrap to become an item you might display somewhere. They’re not only a premium; they have play value as well. In terms a direct marketing professional might use, they’re an involvement device.

Prayer flags in India photographed by Sandy Hansen. Click to purchase print.

My sister Sandy Hansen spends much of her time in India, where she took the photograph above of prayer flags. It hangs on the wall of my office at the agency.

Click for pdf of all 4 pages

The Letters

Sadly, much of the rest of this package wastes the inspiration of the premium. In letters people read first their own address and the address line, the P.S. and the signature, any Johnson boxes—that is, centered lines that interrupt the text—and finally the letter itself. Richard Gere’s letter, like the Dalai Lama’s, doesn’t have a personalized address. There’s a single Johnson box on page 3. And the P.S. isn’t a call to action. To its credit the letter uses the Courier font, which reminds us of typewritten letters, and the bottom of each page says “(over, please).”

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The Reply Form

The ICT’s reply form contains several calls to action. Called an “Urgent Reply Memo” of “mobilization for Tibet,” it includes an over-the-top “Affirmation of Religious Freedom to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.” Who could be against that?

Many orchestras have stopped including forms in their season packets or follow-up mailings. My experience has shown that enclosing a form, personalized as in this package, with a business reply envelope far outperforms mailings without them.┬áIndeed, we can preprint forms with the prospect’s name, address, account number, suggested subscription and suggested donation.

The Envelopes

The strongest elements of the envelopes in this mailing are the outer envelope’s promise of “Tibetan Prayer Flags Enclosed,” with the announcement, “A Message from His Holiness the Dalai Lama Inside.”

Outer Envelope

Reply Envelope

The List

Did I contribute?

Sadly, no package and no offer on behalf of the ICT could have moved me to contribute. That isn’t a problem with the mailing format or creative. That’s a problem with the list.

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2 Responses to What the Dalai Lama Can Teach Orchestras About Direct Mail

  1. Pingback: Obohemia Archive

  2. Bruce,

    Very nice piece– I especially liked your punch line-about the importance of the list. In my experience with Target Marketing, understanding who you are addressing, and what motivates them is the first and most important step in creating an effective direct marketing program.

    Michael Rybarski

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