Variable Handwriting Font Spurs Response Rates
"I can take anybody's handwriting, digitize it and then turn it into a font and put it on the computer," Reynolds said. "My program does not make it look like a type font. When a letter 'e' appears several times, it looks different each time. The program takes each letter and rotates it slightly so all the letters don't look the same. This is done with a combination of letters. To the computer it's a font, but when it prints, it truly looks like handwriting."
The font is produced by licensees as well as Reynolds' consulting business, Success Solutions.
Reynolds' font has been used by several nonprofits, including the American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and Boy Scouts of America. One of Reynolds' clients, Harsonhill, is a mail-order service that sells information about a little-known private program supported by the prescription drug companies. The program allows people of limited income to get prescription drugs for free. The information costs $20 and includes instructions and application forms. Reynolds sold Harsonhill a package for which "in the mail" costs, production, lists and postage is $400 per thousand.
John Austin, president of Harsonhill, sends out 200,000 direct mail pieces per month, using names from rented lists as well as the responses he gets from space ads in magazines. Originally, he sent out what he calls a "basic direct mail letter" personalized with the recipient's name and address, and got a 1 percent to 1.5 percent response rate.
"It was good, but we needed a better response rate to make it a profitable business," Austin said. "People at first thought [the letter] was from the government or a corporation that was just giving away free samples."
Austin looked at software handwriting fonts that might further personalize the letters but found they all "looked nothing like a human wrote it." Then he discovered Reynolds' font.
"Steve created a handwritten version of our letter and turned it into a note on a smaller piece of paper," Austin said. "We looked around the office to find someone who had the best handwriting of the five or six of us. We found a person whose handwriting looked presentable." Then Reynolds got to work.
"Steve gives her a form to fill out with a selection of questions to answer, just to get a sample of her handwriting," Austin said. "That provided a nice supply of how she joins her letters together. Steve does some voodoo I don't understand and sends us back a selection of notes -- and you would have sworn this woman wrote them herself."
Austin now sends out a prospecting piece with a handwritten postscript asking people to "order today" and "please pardon my handwritten note. I wanted to make sure you received this information as soon as possible!" This piece gets a 2 percent response rate.
People who do not respond within 21 days receive a handwritten note signed by Austin himself that begins, "I was hoping to have heard from you by now." Not only does this note get a 5.5 percent response rate, but Austin also said, "I get 10 to 15 handwritten notes a week thanking me for my concern. I can see that these people believe I am writing these notes by hand."
It took Reynolds eight years to make variable handwriting cost-effective. Today Success Solutions can produce a direct mail campaign with database information inserted into a black, typed letter and enhance the personalization by adding variable handwriting, database-driven accents in blue. Reynolds also can produce an entire handwritten letter, also in blue, ensuring that the postal barcode on the envelope appears in black. He has some formats that include a letter and closed-face envelope that can be produced for under $100/M in quantities of less than 300,000.
"Many of our clients are in the business of selling continuity programs with an average dollar order in the $20 to $50 range," Reynolds said. "It's almost impossible to make a profit on the front end in such programs. Therefore, back-end mailing management becomes a vital part of profitability.
"We know we have a winner in the not-for-profit area also because our mailings are beating long-standing control packages," Reynolds said.