12 Pointers Toward Successful Direct Mail

Mail to the right lists

Your mailing list is not just a way to reach your market. It is your market, according to mailing authority Robert W. Bly. Typically, he advises, your house list of customers and prospects will pull double the response of any outside list. Yet, his research indicates, only 50% of business-to- business mailers bother to use such names for mailing purposes. When it comes to outside lists, the best will pull 10X more responses than the worst.


Business marketers rarely track responses or compare the results of lists or different mailing pieces. So they penalize themselves by flying blind. “You don’t know whether something will work until you test it,” says Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising. “And you cannot predict test results based on past experience. ”

Hinge your mailing package on a letter

A sales letter—which mail recipients tend to perceive as a personal communication, not as advertising—almost always will out-pull a postcard, a self-mailer, a folder, or an ad reprint mailed without a letter. Often, by 3 to 1.

Write to satisfy your customer’s needs to know

The conventional wisdom urges you to stress product benefits, not features, in direct mail. That depends on your audience, however. Vivian Sudhalter of New York’s Macmillan Software Company observes that engineers and scientists want to know exactly what features a product involves and do not respond to copy that sounds like “advertising.”

Make a solid offer

Your offer tells your prospect what he will receive by responding to your mailing. Many of the most effective mail offers use the magic word “free,” as in “free brochure,” “free technical information,” “free analysis,” “free consultation,” “free demonstration,” “free trial,” “free sample,” and “free catalog.” That’s a lot of good, free advice.

Use meaty copy

Superficial copy kills response. Strong, specifically factual writing boosts it. And the price of such effective copy is the copywriter’s capacity to do hard work digging out facts. One star copywriter says that he spends more than 50% of his time in reading, research, and other ditch-digging preparation before he writes a word of any mailing package.

Start strong

Your mailing must grab the recipient’s attention right away. Leo Bott, the Chicago mail-order guru, estimates that your typical sales prospect takes five seconds to decide whether to go on reading, or to toss your package into the round file. No time for foreplay.

The “hot buttons” of a mailing package— the elements that people read most— comprise the letter’s first paragraphs, its subheads, its last paragraph, and (for 80% of its readers) its P.S. Other high-readership areas include:

  • Your folder’s cover headline, subheads, and inside-spread headline.

  • Picture captions and call-outs.

  • The headline and copy on your order form.

Follow up effectively

  • Fulfill all orders and information requests within 48 hours.

  • Send additional mailings to persons who did not respond to your first attempt.

  • Direct mail followed by telemarketing produces two to 10 times more response than mailings alone, says Dwight Reichard of Pittsburgh’s Federated Investors Inc.

  • Include a strong sales letter and an order form in your replies to inquiries.

Use the magic words

  • Your mother was right: “Please” and “thank you” work wonders.

  • Stress “free”… “no obligation” … “no salesperson will call” … “details inside” … “limited time only” (remember to specify the closing date) … “announcing” or “at last” … or “new.”

Write to your prospect—not about your product

Assume that your prospective customer does not compare a rat’s patoot about your product or service. He or she only wants to know, “What’s in it for me?”

Appeal to all 5 senses

Unlike TV commercials or print ads, direct mailings can appeal to all the senses. Consider making your mailing more resultful by including a solid object, or by adding a fragrance or a sound. Product samples also often work.

Avoid committees

Almost unfailingly, committee decisions hamstring the potential of mailing packages. Ask any mail-advertising veteran. Despite all objective evidence to the contrary, for example, every committee includes at least one stubborn person who insists that people will refuse to read or respond to long copy. That’s just one prejudice that gums up the works.

See also:

Direct Mail


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