The direct mail market is a constant competition to engage your target audience and hold people's attention. To stand out from the barrage of offers people receive in their mailbox, sometimes it's necessary to take risks. Sometimes it's preferable.
Taking risks means trying something new
Risky ideas are only risky until you pull them off – then they're innovative. As an example, take Shell's campaign a couple of years ago for their new Shell Alexia S4 product. To announce the launch, Shell mailed out small video screens that played a clip about the product's development.
What's the risk? It's a financial one – those video players would have cost a lot more to produce than your standard DL flyers. But the return is increased engagement. A flyer can go straight into the bin, but nobody's going to throw away a video screen without seeing what it's about. And as marketing agency DMN3 points out, this is the sort of mailer that you keep – and show your friends.
For another example of a risky direct mail campaign, check out what Levi's sent to several editors in chief of Belgian and Dutch women's magazines:
Handwritten direct mail service Letter Friend described this as a memorable idea, and it's easy to see why. There are several risks here: expense, ridicule, the sheer logistics of designing, manufacturing and shipping such an outlandish object. But the result is a fun, clever marketing device that is still being talked about.
Less can be more
Sometimes the risky action is no action at all. When Disney released Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015, they did so with surprisingly little marketing. As Target Marketing explains, the TV commercials for the movie revealed less than half as much as they usually would for this type of blockbuster. Not only that, but the studio spent far less of their own money than normal.
Sometimes the risky action is no action at all.
The risk Disney took was clever. Knowing the strength of the Star Wars brand, they let it do the work for them. Instead of pushing the film strongly and potentially oversaturating the audience, they used restraint to build excitement and anticipation. It's not a strategy that could work for every brand, but it's a good example of a company that knows how to use its brand's strengths.
There is one aspect of direct marketing that you shouldn't risk, however: your mailing list. Having a reliable mailing list is crucial to getting your marketing material into the right hands. From there, it's up to you what risks you're willing to take with your campaign.