By Craig Huey, president of Creative Direct Marketing Group
They arrive in the mail and, because of their large bulk, always stand out.
A card deck is a package of individual cards wrapped together and mailed to either a business or consumer. These decks vary in quantity, often containing up to 60 cards or more, each competing for the prospect’s attention.
One way to boost response–guaranteed
Most card decks will generate leads. However, you can increase your response by being generous with your premium, free report, or sample. 
The greater the perceived value of the free offer, the greater the response.
And, the closer your premium is to what you’re selling, the more qualified the lead. For example, a free report on artificial computer intelligence to those working in the field will produce more qualified leads than a free watch. However, if you offer more information than a free report of interest to the prospect, your response will decline.
Sometimes, a deck mailing can actually sell a product. If it’s a product that’s low in cost, or your prospect already knows you or the product, it can work. But, it’s harder than generating a lead.
There are many card deck mailings in America today. And, some deck mailings are smashing successes.
What type of response rates?
Response rates on deck mailings usually range from 0.2 percent to 0.5 percent for lead generation, and less for a sale.
Few marketers find that they can live off returns as low as these. But, some companies find it a cost-effective marketing medium that complements their other activities.
7 key principles to success
Here are some key principles that should help you successfully use this medium.
1. As with other direct mail, who is the deck card being mailed to? This is 60 percent to 70 percent of the success or failure of the program.
Have you targeted your prospects properly? Are they direct-mail responsive? Are they recent names or old names? Some deck promoters throw together names that sound good, but turn out to be bad lists.
2. Investigate how many repeat users there are. Not just two or three times. But, three or more. And, make sure they aren’t just per-inquiry arrangements.
3. Remember that the typical recipient of a card deck mailing will only spend about 60 seconds–total–in perusing the material. As he flips through the cards, you have no more than 1-2 seconds to grab his attention.
That means you must have a simple, powerful headline. Clearly and concisely state a benefit to the reader. Make sure you cause him or her to pause and hold the card. Create a desire to read the copy.
This headline can make or break your promotion. Once you locate the right potential buyer, the headline is the next most important item.
4. To grab attention, use a bright color or four-color piece. Studies show color can increase response by as much as 20 percent, when used properly.
5. Your copy should be in an easy-to-read bullet format. Make sure your offer can be clearly understood.
Don’t try to over-elaborate the body copy on any other service. Only focus on what the headline says. If you’re generating a lead, make sure your focus is on the premium or free report, not your product.
And, if you’re selling a product, make sure the focus is only on a few key benefits.
6. Your call-to-action must be clear. Tell the prospect what you want him to do. Create a tension that demands immediate reaction. Your offer should let your prospect know that he will suffer a lost opportunity, lose business to a competitor, have to pay more, or something else that forces instant action. 
Give your prospect a reason to act immediately.
7. Always code your response and test. Some card decks allow you to split-test a card.
Just as with any other direct response campaign, keep an accurate record of the results and always work towards improving your response.
Card decks can be profitable. Test them if you have a truly targeted, superior list. One of the safest card deck mailings is to active magazine subscriber lists.
Avoid attached decks (where cards are connected), because they are hard to read and yield fewer responses.
And, consider experimenting with printing your own small insert that’s placed in a card deck. Specially prepared inserts stand out nicely. Plus, you can have far greater room for copy–the lack of which is a major reason the card deck response is so low. You can’t say enough to activate a qualified response.
One interesting development may be a hybrid card deck mailing. The Investors Club mailed 100,000 top investors a 13½” x 10¼” card deck with editorial to increase readership. It produced a higher return because of the extra room for copy.
Card deck mailings will be with us for a long time, although postal increases cause declines in card deck mailings for marginal users.
Consider a card deck mailing for your next campaign.
—Source: Craig Huey is the president of Creative Direct Marketing Group (CDMG), a direct response agency. Reach him at craig@cdmginc.com or 310-212-5727.