Writing Direct Mail
Traditionally, direct mail is a method companies use to generate immediate sales. The advertiser wants you to read their letter, fill out a form, include a check and mail it back to them.
But, if you are a small business owner or have responsibility for a product or group of products, direct mail can be an effective way to obtain new customers.
Because of the great preponderance of junk mail, many people believe that direct mail is a waste of time. And it’s true that if you look inside your mailbox, you will see that most of the contents is direct mail offerings from big companies: tons of catalogues, endless letters offering you credit cards, home equity loans or mortgages. In short, not too much that will make you tear open the envelope to see what’s inside. But the truth is that it is possible to write a direct mail letter that will get results.
The great advantage of direct mail is that it direct. You actually have the power to reach out and put your personal message in the hands of another human being. This is very powerful. So why then do you toss out so much of your direct mail without reading it, or maybe even without opening it? Precisely because it isn’t personal. Most of the time, you know by looking at the slickly printed envelope and lasered address block that the message inside is about as far from personal as you can get. But think about how different your reaction would be if the direct mail you receive could be personal. What if the next credit card solicitation you receive really did address your personal situation. What if it addressed what was going on in your life…the birth of a child, the marriage of a family member, the start of a college education? What if the card company knew exactly how much credit debt you owed and knew exactly how much they could save you each year if you switched to their card? What if they knew that you would like to get the cheaper rate, but that you were busy and really didn’t have the motivation to make the change? If they knew this about you and presented it in a clear and compelling way would you be more likely to read what they had to say? You probably would.
The point here is not that it is good for big companies to know so much about you, but that it is human nature to listen harder to a personal address. If you want to use direct mail effectively you need to make your letter as personal and specific as possible. Does this mean you need to hire a private detective to uncover personal information about your prospects? Of course that isn’t possible. But what you can do is to find out as much about your prospects are you can. This is just another way of saying that you need to know as much about your prospects as possible.
Your list makes the difference
If you want to get good results with a direct mailing, the first detail to consider is the list you will be mailing to. If you are selling lawn mowers it would be good not to mail to people who live in high-rise apartments. If you are selling variable annuities, you would probably want to find older adults who are starting to be concerned about retirement. I received a very nice letter the other day from a man who owns a piano company. He was inviting me to a special warehouse sale where I could come and view hundreds of pianos and get a huge discount on any one that I liked. This would have been a great offer – if I was interested in buying a piano.
Maybe the piano man thought
that since he really doesn’t know who wants to buy a piano, that
it may work out if he just mails to residents of certain neighborhoods
where people live who can afford pianos.
But it would have been much better for an offer like this to mail to people at some time or another were thinking of buying a piano. Where could he get such a list? I doubt that he could buy one from a list broker but he could have a guest book at his piano store. He could call people in affluent zip codes and ask them and then put their names on a list. Or he could publish a little brochure on how to play the piano, offer to give it away free by filling out a form and use the names he collects for his list.
Direct mail is a targeted media. It is a rifle shot, not a shotgun blast and to work you need to make sure that your target audience is appropriate to your product and your offer.
In my experience talking to small business owners, the main reason for their disappointing results with direct mail is the quality of their mailing list. Some would buy (actually rent) compiled lists from a list broker. Others would ride down a street and make note of addresses and store names. Some would get names and addresses from business directories. All these methods can work but generally success with direct mail requires a lot more work. Here’s why:
The more specific you can
be, the more success you will have
Most people think of direct mail as a numbers game. “I’ll send out 1,000 pieces of mail and maybe I’ll get a 1% return.” But there’s another way to think about it. If you send out fewer pieces of mail to better prospects, your success rate is going to be much higher. For example, lets say you are a computer consultant and you want more clients. How could you use direct mail to increase your business? One way is to examine the work you are doing now or in the past and then try to figure out other organizations that may have the same need. First you could do some research and come up with a list of ten companies in your area. The next step is to call those companies and find out the name and title of the individual who could be helped most by your services. Now that you know who have a specific list of names and addresses, you can start writing.
Isn’t there much more to direct mail than
just writing a letter?
Direct mail is a very formulaic and precise method of advertising. Major users of direct mail have precise formula for their campaigns. For example a mailing might include a letter, a brochure, a reminder, and maybe a special offer all in the same envelope. Since the purpose of direct mail is to get the prospect to read the offering, direct mail copy is more personal and direct than advertising you see on TV or on the side of a billboard. It is also longer and much more detailed on the theory that since the writer is asking you directly for money, that you need to have many reasons why you should part with your money. Good direct mail copywriters are well paid and worth it because they have the unique skill of turning words into cold cash. But it isn’t necessary to work for a big company or mail to millions to get results with direct mail. You can do it effectively if you follow a few simple rules.
Know your prospect. You don’t need to have a personal relationship but you do need to have a good idea of what the prospect is doing and how your product or service will help.
State the benefit to the customer of doing business with you. Be as specific as possible. Tell exactly how you can help and what it can mean to the prospect.
Be honest and sincere. Don’t waste words on self-serving statements. Just be simple and direct in stating how you can help.
Be specific about what comes next. Don’t be vague about what you want to do next. Tell the reader that you will be calling in person, invite him to a demo on a specific day, make it clear that you know what comes next.
The lifeblood of any business is new customers and a well-prepared letter can be your first step to building a new business relationship.