I was browsing some old article files recently and ran across this piece on sales letters from more than 15 years ago.
My first reaction was, “Crap. I’m getting old.”
My second reaction was, “Hey, this ain’t bad.”
While technology changes significantly and rapidly year to year, the principles of selling change very little. Stuff is stuff. People are people. And selling is just about bringing the two together with a little psychology.
So, here you go. An article from the 90s. Aside from too many ellipses, I think this is as fresh and relevant today as it was then.
When you mail out promotional items, it’s best to enclose a sales letter to relay your product pitch. A well-written sales letter adds punch to the marketing of any business, large or small.
Of course, no formula can assure success for every letter. But there are time-tested tactics that can dramatically improve your chances. Here are seven of them. Read more
So you want to boost your direct mail response? Okay, just start shoveling money into a few dozen tests and …
What’s that? You don’t have a big budget for all the testing you’d love to do? You don’t have time to run a bunch of tests? No problem.
One of the great things about direct mail is that, with just a little ingenuity, you can test quickly and on the cheap to improve your results.
Here are 12 quick and easy testing ideas for cheapskates:
Change your outer envelope. A new color or a different size may be all it takes to get people to take a second look at a package they’ve seen too many times. You can also try switching from a teaser envelope to a plain one or vice versa. And faux express envelopes are often worth a test.
Test a new letter. It can be an all-new letter from scratch. Or a longer version of your current letter with more detail. Or a shorter version with less detail. Or a modified version with a new spin on the headlines and opening paragraphs.
Here are responses to some questions about creating effective direct mail and direct response advertising.
Q: We’ve tested self-mailers, but they never seem to work. What are we doing wrong?
A: As for what you’re doing wrong, I can’t possibly answer that question without seeing your self-mailers.
There is nothing inherently wrong with the format. I have created successful self-mailers for many clients, mostly for lead generation but also for direct sales. One of my clients uses self-mailers exclusively to sell books and videos to a business market.
A self-mailer works best when your audience is familiar with your company or your product category. The more you have to explain or the more credibility you have to build, the more likely a direct mail package will get a better response.
One of the beauties of direct mail is that it comes with a long history of real-world testing and proven techniques.
This includes the “lift letter,” also called the lift note or publisher’s note.
The latter name hints at the origins of this technique. Back in the heyday of magazine subscription promotions, publishers often included a little extra letter in their direct mail solicitations.
They called it the publisher’s note because the message often came from the publisher.
Today, it’s usually referred to as the lift letter or lift note, since it has been adapted to work in a wide variety of direct mail packages for the purpose of lifting response.
In my Direct Marketing Glossary, I define a lift note like this: “Second, shorter letter in a direct mail package with a highly focused message. Generally signed by a different person.”
If you’re like a lot of people I’ve talked to recently, your marketing is in a slump. And you’re fresh out of ideas.
This is especially true for direct mail. The down economy has frightened people out of testing anything new over the last couple of years.
In fact, some of the people calling me have said they all but stopped mailing. Now that things appear to be getting better, they’re scrambling for testing ideas.
I’ll give you the same advice I’ve been giving them:
1. Resurrect your control. Take your best mail piece and get it back in the mail. See if it still works. As I’ve argued in my Getting Response in a Down Economy white paper, none of the fundamentals have changed. So there’s at least a 50/50 chance that what worked before will work again.
2. Look at your results. If your control does well, test it once more just to make sure. Then ramp up your quantity. If your control dies, perform a direct mail autopsy.
These are your first logical steps. And you should do them before you do anything else.
Okay, but what if you’ve already done this and you’re looking for a way to break the mold and get a little crazy? What if you’re ready to start thinking outside the box?
“There are no pictures.”
“The copy is too short.”
“It violates our brand guidelines.”
“It’s so damned ugly!”
These are just a few of the objections you’ll hear if you ever suggest testing an “official” direct mail piece like the one shown here.
However, to those who know better, official-looking mailers can be pure gold.
I received this piece recently and had one of those “Oh, you got me” moments.
Since I specialize in direct mail, I’ve seen every trick in the book. And 99.44% of the time I can spot a marketing piece a mile away no matter how well-crafted.
But it was the end of the day. I was tired. And the direct mail part of my brain had shut down. So when I saw it in the mail pile, I responded like an ordinary human and opened it.
The down economy has killed a lot of the fun and creativity of direct mail in the last few years.
But if my phone is any indication (the plastic is melting from all the calls), the economy is getting ready to roar back to life.
So I thought I’d dive into my big stack of stuff and pull out some envelope samples to give you a little inspiration and maybe help you summon the courage to test something beyond yet another postcard or cheap self-mailer.
These are in no particular order. I just rifled through my sample file and pulled out anything that struck my fancy today. I’ve made each envelope sample as big as I could, so the proportions are not accurate here.
Here’s a classic direct mail envelope for a recipe book. Lots of color and excitement with a token showing through a window to encourage involvement.
One of the primary advantages of using direct mail is your ability to “divide and conquer.”
Your letter delivers a personal message and makes an offer. Your brochure demonstrates features and dramatizes benefits. Your order form calls for action and eases response.
Each piece performs a specific function and, because each is dedicated to that function, does a better job than a mailer attempting to do everything simultaneously.
With that in mind, consider what else you might want to accomplish in your direct mail package. Then consider testing an appropriate insert or involvement device that can boost response enough to offset the additional cost.
Here are just a handful of ideas:
Everyone likes pretty things. In nearly every situation, people prefer pretty over ugly.
Pretty people tend to earn more. Pretty houses are worth more. Pretty almost always beats ugly, except when it comes to direct mail.
In the world of direct mail marketing, ugly has a big advantage.
To the right is an example of what most people would call an “ugly” direct mail piece. It’s a simple solicitation about refinancing my house. And I’ve received it three or more times now.
The envelope is a standard white Monarch with a canceled stamp and what appears to be a handwritten address.
The letter inside is a short handwritten note with a business card stapled to the top. The letter is personalized with my name.
Ah, the good old days.
Just a few years ago, I could count on receiving a mailbox-full of direct mail nearly every day, including the crown jewel of direct marketing, the BIG direct mail piece.
Thick #10′s, fat 6×9′s, and beefy 9×12′s once stood atop the mountain of attention-grabbing communication.
But then came hard days for the publishing industry, higher postal and printing costs, the rise of electronic media, and a faltering economy that dried up the stream of direct mail.
Today, the mail delivers anemic postcards, cheap fliers, and the occasional #10 envelope with a short letter inside. And it’s made many wonder if direct mail has gone the way of the dinosaur.
Industry pundits have been sounding the death knell for direct mail. Though, those pundits have generally been young and directly involved with social media, email, and other electronic media. They’ve had no love for, or experience with, traditional media and shed no tears for its assumed extinction.
But as I’ve been saying for some time, the reports of direct mail’s demise are greatly exaggerated.