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By Britt Brouse

RISMEDIA, Feb. 21, 2008-(Inside Direct Mail)-Smart marketers will say there’s already a big mistake in this article. Want a hint? It’s in the headline, and it’s the first tip for reaching older prospects via direct mail.

1. Avoid name-calling.

That’s right, the first thing to remember when marketing to seniors is don’t call them seniors. Focus on your product or offer and how it is designed to meet prospects’ needs and values without pinpointing their life stage.

2. Older prospects equal better open rates.

While people who are 55-plus are sometimes viewed as one segment, it may be helpful to consider that direct mail is most effective in targeting fully retired prospects who are around 70 years of age and older. “The senior segment of the 55-plus demographic is probably the most conducive to reading direct mail, so that gives you a great leg-up to begin with. The odds of your mail being opened is greater with a senior,” says Kurt Medina, president of Rose Valley, Pa.-based Medina Associates.

3. Correctly address the senior gatekeeper.

It is critical to align the need for your product or service with the household the mail piece is entering. “Half of all the households [with people] over 65 [years old] are headed by a single person, and 80% of those people are women. So, one of the bigger mistakes that marketers make is mailings with pictures of only couples,” which, Medina says, generates negativity in most recipients.

4. Do not bet on Web response.

While it is acceptable to include an online channel in direct mail to seniors, do not rely on this channel to carry all the response. “The current breakpoint for use and acceptance of computers is about 70 years old. Older than that, and people did not use them at work; they’re not comfortable with them, and the utilization of computers is significantly lower,” warns Medina.

5. Add memorable icons.

Finally, jog visual memory with icons. “Another thing that is true with older folks is that visual memory becomes even better than verbal memory,” Medina shares. He advises using icons, guarantee logos, Better Business Bureau logos, award icons and even coupons, which he calls the “basic icon of the direct marketing industry.” “If you use a dotted-line coupon, when the person looks at the page, the icon sends a subliminal message that says, ‘We want you to do something. Look at this page and see what we want you to do,'” Medina concludes.