In an era of mass personalization brought about by databases and digital printing, the DNR Group still produces direct mail the old fashioned way: by hand.
DNR, Ft. Worth, TX, uses a network of more than 1,000 part timers who work out of their homes to produce between 2-3 million handwritten mail pieces per month. Campaigns for religious ministry, nonprofit and corporate clients have improved response rates from 100 percent to 1000 percent, according to president and founder David Redmon.
Redmon should know. While serving as the marketing director for Life Outreach Ministry in Ft. Worth, he produced a fundraising letter but forgot to include a donation appeal. Rather than cancel the mailing, Redmon enlisted co-workers and the ministry's telemarketing team to handwrite a P.S. appeal in each letter and hand address each envelope. The campaign turned out to be the ministry's best ever.
“I went from goat to hero in a matter of three weeks,” Redmon said. “People really reacted to [the handwriting]. I wanted to start a company that did this for other ministries and organizations and finally found a way to do it cost effectively.”
Starting from a base of ministry clients, DNR has been producing handwritten mail since 1994. The goal of most of its campaigns is to communicate a relationship that welcomes a new customer or reactivates an existing one.
The standard mail piece consists of a handwritten address on the outer envelope and a greeting written in the margins of a printed letter. Notes of between 14 and 20 words have been found to be the most effective. DNR also produces handwritten letters of 200 to 300 words, which Redmon said have always delivered at least a 25 percent response.
“Based on campaigns that have been done, [handwritten envelopes] get opened,” he said. “If people will open the package, and it's an offer for something they need, we're almost a shoo-in [for a sale].”
Jerry Mayer, owner of the InkPen, Miami, which produces computer-generated handwritten direct mail, said he has clients who will not send an envelope unless it looks handwritten. Those clients — which range from fundraisers to high-end consumer marketers such as cruise lines, jewelers and stock and real estate brokers — find handwritten addresses increase response rates twofold.
The Inkpen has been producing personalized mail by computer for 10 years and address up to 50,000 envelopes. Mayer said he knows of relatively few companies that still address envelopes by hand because of the prohibitive labor costs.
Irresistible Ink, Minneapolis, a division of Hallmark, also produces handwritten mail for customer acquisition for clients in the insurance, catalog, retail and credit card industries. It employs 170 employees — including handwriters — and uses a patented technology from Signature Software Inc., Hood River, OR, that creates automated fonts from individual handwriting styles.