Some people do, but they all seem to work for charities, causes or politicians and their stuff is great. Just about every other attempt at marketing that winds up in my mailbox is ‘way off base.
A huge chunk of it is not targeted at all so it’s a waste of time and money. On top of that, an astounding number of mailings don’t have a unique offer.
But the biggest problem I see is the complete absence of any sense of what works in the mail. Take postcards. I get lots of postcards. Postcards are cheap but they don’t work.
By “work” I mean generate a predictable and profitable response. You know what else doesn’t work? Scrinchy letters in tiny sans serif type with copy that reads nothing like an actual letter
So what does work?
First, testing works. You must always be testing and tracking results. You will acquire essential knowledge.
Second, nothing, no matter how brilliantly written and designed, works unless it is carefully targeted. Robin Hood didn’t shoot arrows all over the place until he hit something. He aimed for a specific target. It would take a few thousand words to explain how to do this in direct mail but just a few words to suggest that you hire a) a database whiz and b) a list whiz. They will save you a lot of money and, in the long run, make you a lot of money. Their job is to get your offer into the hands of the people most likely to respond positively. Be warned: The whizzes can be a pain with all their irritatingly relevant questions.
Third, unique offers work – in fact, they’re essential. Make several offers and test them all, one at a time. An offer is your basic proposition plus a lagniappe, a lovely New Orleans word for something extra, that nobody else can get. If your everyday proposition is 4 widgets for the price of 3, add a unique (to the mailer) 10% discount if “you reply by January 15”. This will encourage a quick response and, since your prospect must use the order form (or coupon or special code) to take advantage of the offer, you get a built-in tracking mechanism.
Fourth, creative works best when experts handle it. Creative is a lousy word. Salesmanship is better. It’s the words and design in your mailer. You’ll need to bear up under the creative team’s incessant questions, too. Tell them you want a classic direct mail package with a number of tests: lists, offers, timing, seasonality, geography, creative, etc. It’s best to not do all the tests at once.
A classic direct mail package has five main components: an outer envelope (OE), a letter, an order form (can be attached to the bottom of the letter – or it can even be the whole letter), a brochure and a business reply envelope (BRE).
The OE should have words on its face. This is called teaser copy. Its job is to get the envelope opened by someone in the mood for what’s inside. The envelope can be any size or shape, color or black and white, window or closed face, with first class or standard class postage. Best to start with a #10 window envelope with two colors (one of which is black) mailed standard class. (BTW, a good rule of thumb is that a teaserless (blank face) envelope reduces response by about 30%.)
The letter must be simple, personal (as opposed to merely personalized) and straightforward. It has to be easy to read and it must flow engagingly from top to bottom. It must immediately establish some kind of relationship between writer and reader, perhaps with words along the lines of “I don’t know how you feel about the widget crisis, but I …”. The letter absolutely must be on white or lightly toned letterhead paper and in black type in a serif face in a large, readable font with leading (pronounced ledding; it means space) between the lines. It must present your entire argument, preferably in the FAB (Features, Advantages, Benefits) format.
Your letter should almost sound as if you were sitting in a coffee shop speaking face-to-face with your prospect.
Use attention getting devices, but use them sparingly: bold, italic, underline, bullets, copy point circled with a pen, marginal note. One person signs the letter, in blue. President is best. People with Marketing in their titles are the worst.
The letter must be laid out so the reader can make an instant, at-a-glance decision that it will be an effortless, even pleasant read. Short paragraphs, short sentences but not staccato. Pace it with sentences and paragraphs of varying lengths. Double space between paragraphs.
Put a couple of testimonials in the margins in small type.
Urge response – now – several times and in different ways in the letter (and in the brochure, order form and face of the BRE). Charm and a light touch will help a lot.
In the letter, try to avoid anything that requires an asterisk. (They make people suspicious.)
Always add a P.S. to buttress a main point.
How long should a letter be? As long it has to be and not one word longer. I’ve seen half-page letters work extremely well and 68-page letters work wonders. It depends. Test.
The Order Form should be extremely simple with the proposition laid out clearly. It should not be on glossy paper (ink smears when people write on glossy stock). Mention other options for response: email, website, phone, fax, drop in to the shop. Make sure there’s an upsell to the basic proposition. The Order Form is a good place for a guarantee. Avoid the negative in your guarantee (as in “If you’re not satisfied …”). It works better if you say something like “You must be satisfied … “
You can do anything you want with the brochure. Let your creative juices flow. (The brochure usually doesn’t matter much.) If your product or service has a strong visual element, show lots of photos. The brochure is a good place for any charts and graphs you think you absolutely must use. Make sure to test the mailing without a brochure but with everything else exactly the same. You might be surprised.
The BRE should be prepaid postage. (Actually, that’s what a BRE is.) You don’t want to lose an order because your prospect can’t find a stamp.
Other components you can put in a direct mail package include: lift (or publisher’s) letter, stickers, freemiums, friend’s order form and a surprising number of other things. Don’t bother with any of this stuff yet. Wait until you get a base response that’s profitable then try to beat it.
Let me know how it works out. Any questions, let ‘em rip right here in the comments section.
P.S. Test with your best then keep testing to try to lower costs without lowering response. Best test of all may be just a letter in an OE with a BRE.