A Guide to Direct Mail



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(1) Is DM for you?

(2) Choosing your list

(3) The Offer

(4) Call to Action

(5) The Package

Introduction
The Outer Envelope
>>The Letter<<
The Brochure
The Order Form
The Return Envelope
The Self-mailer
Your Printer

(6) The Copy

(7) Testing

(8) Tracking

History of DM
Links


Contents
AIDA
The Psychology of the Letter
Letter Length
Edit, then edit, then edit some more.
Short words and sentences
P.S. Add a Postscript
If you want Literature, go to the Library
Seven General Guidelines
Personalization

AIDA
The letter is where you will make your sale or blow it. Writing a good letter that sells is pretty hard. There are professionals who do it for a living and do a great job at it. The old timers used a formula to write by called AIDA.

The first A is for Get Attention. The I is for arouse interest. The D is to stimualte desire, and the last A is ask for action. For instance, a 4 sentence letter folowing that principle would be "You are about to die of arsenic posising. We have an antidote. Wouldn't you like to take it? Call our 800 number now."

I got there attention telling them they werw about to die. I aroused interest in my product my telling them what it would do. I stimulated their desire by giving them a benefit - it will cure you, then I asked for the order.

The Psychology of the Letter
Of the AIDA, probabalby the first A is the most imporant. Get attention. This is done in the opening of the letter. Some people claim 90% of the success of the letter is the opening. This is a big number if it is indeed true. When wiritng a letter, it is important to realize it is a LETTER. That means it should be a person - not a company - writing to another person - not a group. It is me writing you a letter. Letters should always be in the first person singular. "I". Not "We at Acme Antidotes", but "I". It should be adressed to a single person, you. The letter should be personal, not commerical sounding. As in "I would like to tell you what has changed my life." Not "Acme Antidotes offers lifechanging products for Americans." Big difference.

Also, because you did your list work up front and carefully, you know exactly who it is you are writing to. Keep them in mind as you write your letter. How would have a real coversation with someone on your list?

Letter Length
A lot of people wonder how long their letter should be. The answer to this question is that there's no predetermined length. Your letter should be as long as you have something meaningful to say. There was a well known case where a fourteen page letter was the best of all the ones tested. Those people have a lot to say about the product and it took fourteen pages to say it. But the next case might have a very short letter. As your are writing the letter, ask yourself "Is this meaningful" and don't worry about putting in words are taking of words to reach some arbitrary length.

Edit, then edit, then edit some more.
After you have written the letter however, you should read it over and over (and over and over) again taking out words that are not necessary. You won't believe how much of your letter will disappear as you find simpler and simpler ways to say things. This is a very imporant step. Some people do it by recopying the letter over and over again. Believe me, when you retype your letter, you start looking for words to cut out, to clean things up, and so on. Letters always get better the more you do this. If you do not have the patience to recopy your letter over and over, at least read it outloud several times. Same thing.

Short words and sentences
Another key rule is that 80 percent of your words should contain one or two syllables. I don't care if you are selling to Nobel prize winners. No matter how technical or sophisticated your audiences, scanning a letter with a lot of short words is considerably easier than once with a lot of long words. And that is how people read dirct mail.

Other people suggest no sentences more than 20 words. And paragraphs need ot be kept to less than 150 sylables. All of these rules are in place because our tendency when writing is to write big burgeoning heavy paragraphs no one will ever read. (I probably have a few of those on this web site!) Simple, lite, short, airy, quipy, active sentences keep the letter moving.

P.S. Add a Postscript
Always put in a PS. Most of the time, it is the first thing people read. Restate your offer and key benefit it - "PS Act now and get our poison-curing antidote for the special low price of $19.95. Call 800-555-1212 now."

If you want Literature, go to the Library
There's a difference between writing great literature and writing could direct mail copy. Again it isn't that you don't believe that your prospects can read something more complex or more verbose or more picturesque, is just that with direct mail people don't find a nice quiet place and give your letter all fo their attention. . When they open a piece of mail, they end up skimming the letter looking for phrases trying to get the general idea in just a few seconds.

You're trying to take advantage of that by writing a very concise simple straightforward letter that communicates your basic ideas and the presents the prospect of an offer them a call to action.

Seven General Guideline
Now, some general guidelines.

(1) Specific numbers work better than genreal claims. Compare: "Lots of people have this problem" to "31% of Americans report having this problem."

(2) Next, as much as possible, fill your letter with specifics. Names, places, locations, etc. "Last Thursday at our Factory in New Haven, CT, Ethel Bumbee made an important discovery." This kind of languiage helps establish a connection between you and your prospect. If you make claims in your letter, back them up with proof. "Our Self Sealing Stembolts are the best out there," vs. "Our customers give our selfsealing step bolts an average raitng of 9.2 on a 10 point scale" or "An independed study done by the University of Washington determined our Self Sealing Stembolts outperferm the competition by 22%."

(3) Don't try to be funny. Its hard to do in real life, nearly impossible in direct mail. Its always tempting to do, and some of the classics of direct mail are humor ones, but like they say on TV, don't try that at home.

(4) I find it useful to anticipate why someone wouldn't order the product or service and address those in the letter. In a conversation, there is a back and forth, but not in the letter - so you better think of it all ahead of time. But don't go overboard here. Don't bring up objections they might not have? "Afraid our antidote might cause cancer? We are pretty sure it won't". That ain't gonna help things much.

(5) But if you are selling something big and people who call in always ask about shipping costs, mention it in the letter: "We happily ship to all 50 states and the price of shipping and insurance is included in your purchase price."

(6) Use boldface and underlingin in letters. In the old days, margin notes written in ink that compilmented the copy were all the rage and they are still used a lot, and I think effectively. People sure read them. Paragraphs should be kept short. Bold the key word or phrase in the paragrph so that someone scanning can pick up the basic idea without reading every word.

(7) Also, here is a good little thing to impress the boss - if your letter is longer than 1 page, or goes onto the back of the page, don't end the page at the end of a sentence - it gives people a mental excuse to stop reading. In the middle of a sentence, they are more likely to turn the page over and keep reading.

Personalization Let's take a moment here to talk about personalization. Since a letter is supposed to be a personal correspondence between two people, a good case can be made for the letter to have a person's name on it. Mail merge technologies - programs that insert the recipiants name and sometimes address into the letter - have made this very inexpense. It can be done by your mail house - you just bring blank letterhead and a disk with your letter and another one with you list. Talk to your lettershop about this. If you don't personalize, you are stuck with an ackward opening, as in: "Dear Reader", or "Dear customer." This doesn't exactly set up the the most intimiate relationship with your reader, but you can't do everything in every mailing. So personalization is good and nice and you just need to decide for yourself whether to do it. It is largely a cost/benefit issue.

Five-piece mailer:
The Outer Envelope
The Letter
The Brochure
The Order Form
The Return Envelope

The self-mailer:
The Self-mailer