Gandalf famously said, “A wizard is never late, nor is he early, he arrives precisely when he means to.” This can be said for your direct mail piece, not only in timing, but for content. Timing because you’ve thought about when your item will hit your prospects desk, and content because it can never be too short or too long (it can be badly written though).In this article, there are 15 things pretty much all direct mail has in common. Use them as a guide if you’re thinking of creating your first direct mail campaign and not sure where to go, or use them to refresh a piece you think hasn’t worked for you.
Enjoy the read.
• They’re unusual, unexpected, startling, engaging, personal and relevant to the target audiences, so clients, and the agency suits who hold clients’ hands, tend to recoil from great letters when they first see them. This is a good sign because it means the letter isn’t about the client, it’s about the prospect.
• Before they start, writers of great direct mail letters make sure they know what they’re going to be talking about. They immerse themselves in the client’s brand, the client’s product/service, response history, likely lists, the competition, the audience, etc. They also ask a lot of questions. Annoying as this may be to the impatient, it pays off.
• The letter is always a solitary effort – at both ends. One person writing to another person. Committees have touched very few great direct mail letters. This helps the letter become, and stay, seamless.
• A great direct mail letter goes through a lot of drafts, 20 or more, before anyone else sees it. Self-editing is at least as important as writing.
• The words are short and familiar with (in English) the Anglo-Saxon preferred over the Latin or romance: cooking instead of cuisine, show rather than demonstrate. It might help to remember that each word in one of the best known openings in English literature contains only one syllable: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”
• The great direct mail letter is as long as it has to be and no longer.
• The framing theme of the letter is almost always one (or a combo) of three things: story, news, curiosity.
• The letter is expertly laid out with lots of “air”, largish serif font, and black type on white or lightly-toned paper. Sentences and paragraphs are of varying lengths and there are minimal highlights (indented paragraphs, underline, bold, italic, margin notes, etc.) This makes the letter easier to read and it overcomes the prospect’s natural reluctance to start reading.
• Most of the best letters have crossheads (bold black type, centered, but otherwise the same size as the rest of the letter.) Crossheads serve several purposes. They break the type into digestible chunks, prepare the reader for what’s coming and, most important, they make it quick and easy for scanning readers to find something that interests them.
• The letter is signed in blue ink by one person whose title does not include marketing, advertising or sales. Even if the signer’s title is Vice-President of Marketing & Sales, it’s better to go with just Vice-President. But President is best in most cases – don’t bother adding CEO or COO, which are meaningless.
• There is usually at least one P.S. and, often, a reverse P.S., called a Johnson Box, that appears at the top of page one, just below the salutation.
• The great direct mail letter gets tested a lot against other letters and it almost always wins by a lot. The cheapest and easiest thing to test is the letter.
• When you read a letter out loud and there are no clunkers, no head scratchers, no BS detector ringing in your brain, and the words flow like a river meeting the ocean at low tide, you may be reading a great direct mail letter.
• When you sort the elements carefully, you will notice that big things come first and almost always in the FAB format: Feature, Advantage, Benefits.
• The letter will urge response-now in several different ways, including scenarios that assume you have responded or will respond, e.g. “When you order, be sure to …”
“By the way, personal and personalized are not the same thing. Personalized means the recipient’s name is on it. Personal means the copy and images are relevant personally to the recipient. That means you have to understand your lists and use direct-mail-sold lists, not compiled lists.” Lois Geller