Direct Mail Hot Spots

Target Marketing Magazine published a great article a couple of years ago about how readers eyes move around a mail piece. We all do this so many times without thinking.

A hot spot is where your eye goes first when you look at a postcard, outer envelope, catalog spread, direct mail letter, space ad or even an e-mail.

Most of us had our first experience with hot spots in elementary school when we looked for easy ways to study for tests. We wanted to pick out key points to review without reading entire chapters. What did we do?

We looked at chapter titles, subheads, terms in boldface type, maps, charts, graphs, photos, and the captions under them. In other words, we looked at hot spots. From this experience, we’ve trained ourselves to look for eye-grabbing design and copy elements. We use these signs for scanning copy and deciding whether or not we’ll read the rest. Here are 10 things every direct mail writer, designer and approving manager should know about hot spots; nine tips for putting these road signs in action; and six techniques to avoid.

What You Need to Know

  1. All formats have hot spots. This applies to postcards, self-mailers, letters, envelopes, brochures, order forms, catalogs, e-mail, space ads and even buck slip inserts.
  2. Some hot spots are innate to the direct mail component in which they’re found, such as the return address on an outer envelope or the saluation or P.S. in  a letter. (Did you know 30 percent of the people read the P.S. first?)
  3. Other hot spots are created to capture and direct the reader’s attention, such as the dot-whack teaser on an outer envelope or corner slash on a catalog cover.
  4. Outer envelope hot spots include: corner card/return address in the upper left-hand corner, addressing, postage, teaser copy on front or back and the back flap.
  5. A checklist of letter hot spots include: letterhead/masthead, salutation, first sentence, first paragraph, Johnson box area in the upper-right corner, last paragraph, signature and title, P.S., P.P.S., P.P.P.S., copy underlined or indented, bulleted, or boldface copy, indented subheads, and handwriting in the margins.
  6. Hot spots are useful for controlling eye flow. For example, if someone reads only three things in your letter, which three things do you want him to read? And how can you use hot spots to make sure they get read?
  7. You have three seconds or less to grab your reader’s attention; hot spots are critical for quickly getting the reader involved in your mail piece.
  8. Direct mail designers use type fonts and sizes, background colors, borders, violators, copy placement, images, callouts and other graphic tools to create hot spots.
  9. Direct mail writers create compelling hot-spot copy using the words “you” or “free”, customer testimonials, major benefits, strong calls to action, action verbs at the start of sentences and headlines, and other direct response techniques.
  10. Hot spots are a team effort; writers and designers need to work together to make them effective.

Hot Spots in Action

  1. Add a person or group of people to the photo of your office building or store, and you’ll transform the photo into a more interesting hot spot. The eye naturally is drawn to photos that include people or human elements, such as hands, feet or eyes.
  2. Double the impact of photos by adding captions. When your reader looks at a photo, he or she looks below the photo for a caption. Use captions to highlight major benefits, focus on points of competitive differentiation or provide a strong call to action.
  3. Create hot spots that break up long copy by using headlines, and subheads, photo captions, bullets, violators, testimonials, sidebar stories, charts, icons drawing attention to phone numbers and URLs and callouts. Rarely is a letter, brochure, insert or order form read from top to bottom, start to finish. Readers look for copy interests them in bite-size pieces.
  4. Use hot spots on response devices to restate benefits, showcase your guarantee, restate the call to action and response options, provide methods of payment, and offer shipping options.
  5. State and restate major benefits in hot spots so your benefit story won’t get overlooked.
  6. Position your major benefit at the beginning of a sentence, paragraph or headline. Don’t bury it in the middle.
  7. Do not color-coordinate every component in your mailing. Instead, use a bright yellow free gift insert or fluorescent-orange burst to highlight a customer testimonial in your letter.
  8. Use hot spots appropriately. They don’t necessarily have to be big or bold. For example, the salutation of a letter doesn’t need to be large, colorful or even personalized to draw the readers eye to draw the readers eye to it. It’s a natural hot spot. However, it does need to be appropriately accurate to establish a rapport between the individual receiving and the person signing the letter. Used appropriately, “Dear Friend” and “Dear Preferred Customer” can both be equally effective. Be very careful with “Dear Sir” it is not appropriate or effective with women.
  9. Use hot spots strategically to gently move the reader’s eye from one place to another. Don’t fill your outer envelope with bright bursts of copy and expect it to get read. Too much of a good thing is not a good idea.

Words of Caution

As much as hot spots encourage scanners to become readers, there also are techniques that stifle readership. In most cases, you want to avoid:

  1. dense copy blocks filled with long sentences;
  2. large amounts of copy in difficult-to-read red or reversed-out type;
  3. long headlines in all caps;
  4. gray-screened backgrounds for copy;
  5. body copy in smaller than 10-point type and/or in sans serif type; and
  6. justified copy that creates odd word spacing.

How else can we inspire you to lead your readers eyes with Direct Mail?


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  25. […] to us about how we can help you lift your response with the right hot spots. July 7th, 2010 | Tags: Creative, increase response | Category: Design, Direct […]

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  33. […] writing this blog about a year ago. The two articles that have received the most comments are Direct Mail Hot Spots and Tips to Make Direct Mail Work Smarter. Both of these posts offer practical tips and ideas to […]

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