Direct Mail in a Digital Era by Ed Espinoza

By at May 30, 2012 | 2:12 pm | Print

Direct Mail in a Digital Era by Ed Espinoza

We live in an era of high-speed news with technological tools that bring us information faster than ever before. But even in this digital era, good ol’ fashioned snail mail still remains one of the best and most cost effective tools to reach an audience of target voters.

It’s true that we live in a facebook-twitter-gchat world. But there’s still something that even these giants cannot tackle on their own: the voter file. Because until voters start voluntarily offering up their personal digital profiles (good luck with that) or until governments requires this information on voter registration forms (good luck with that, too), the only way to reach 100% of the registered voters is through their mailboxes. The reason is quite simple: a physical address is the only piece of contact information that is mandatory on a voter registration form, everything else is voluntary.

The two most valuable resources in a campaign are time and money. In most cases, you can never have enough of either. And because of the barriers imposed by the limits of both, it’s necessary for campaigns to reach their audiences as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Direct Targeting
Direct mail is highly targeted: it allows campaigns to tailor messaging to particular audiences. And because voters are more likely to tune in to issues they personally care about, mail creates the ability for a campaign to communicate specific messages with specific audiences. For instance, tailoring mail pieces for women voters on issues they care about, and other pieces to seniors about issues important to them. This is harder to do in other forms of communications where an entire media market may be saturated with one larger, general message. And in smaller campaigns that don’t have the funds for broadcast communications, mail is a worthy supplement because it is still very affordable. Another benefit: voters can receive and read the mail on their own time.

Mail should be highly visual and concise
A good piece of political mail is something that is eye-catching, delivers a clear and concise message and, most importantly, moves votes. We can assume that voters are less likely to carefully read direct mail and are more likely to visually scan it. And from the time a voter finds your message in the mailbox and walks inside to the waste basket, you may have less than 60 seconds to get your message across: make them count! Use messaging that is highly visual with concise text. Less really is more, and cramming a mailer with too much text can create visual clutter with no clear message – making a mail piece look more like a take out menu. Employ a clean format with pictures and concise headlines – so that if the voter doesn’t read the text underneath, they still get the message you are sending.

Layered Communications
Ultimately, a good campaign will have a layered approach to communications which includes direct mail, phone calls, door-to-door canvasses, social media and, where it is affordable, broadcast communications. It all depends on budget and the media market in which a campaign is being waged.

Even in a digital era, the old fashioned techniques of mail, door knocking, phone calls and broadcast are still effective means of communications. Social media and Internet marketing have become an important and affordable part of this process as well, but on its own, voter files don’t offer enough data for campaigns to solely rely on this mode of communications. When it comes to effectively reaching your target voters, a layered approach is the best approach.

Ed Espinoza is a political consultant and cable news political analyst. He has worked in politics since 1992, and from 2009-2011 he served as the Western State Political Director at the Democratic National Committee. He currently lives in Austin, TX.

Find him on the web at and on Twitter via @edespinoza


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  • I was still getting mail on the day of the election and I voted on the first day of EV. It just makes me shake my head sometimes, that and actually looking at each piece, which I do.

  • Ed Espinoza

    Yeah that’s an example of bad targeting. A good mail vendor should constantly update the mailing list, and take out the people who have already voted. Doing this is better targeting and it saves money. The fact that you voted on the first day of early vote and you got election day mail means that the list was likely never updated at all.