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The Most Effective Element in Direct Mail

When clients ask me what is the most effective piece we can send in direct mail I always think “hummm… a great brochure would be effective, or a tricky fold-out mailer. Then I think, What if I could only send one piece, what would I send?” I always come back to reality and say a letter. I do think letters are the most effective you can be in direct mail. Of course, this is in most instances.

OK, here’s an exception: if you are trying to impress a group of very upscale, very affluent prospects with how well you do, and how much money you have. No, I’m serious. If you can’t drive over there in your new Jag, and take them out to a 5 star restaurant with the owner coming over to you and addressing you by name and asking if you prefer your regular table because it is waiting… in direct mail you can create a 5-color self-mailer with gold stamping in 3-dimensional relief, complete with double embossing, spot varnish, a holographic foil, and an affixed personalized blown-in handwritten post-it note that says “I spent enough on this mailing to feed all the children in China for a week.”

If you need to impress a upscale audience, this full blown-out mailer is better.

However, for the absolute maximum performance, I’d still include a letter within the mailer. So are we back at square one? Yes. Yes we are.

Here’s an example: you’re selling a guilt-edged set of books to the ultra rich. Imagine seeing the edges – embossed in gold foil – in a mailer. Tough to do in a strict letter format. So here – a self-mailer works just fine. Ask the Franklin Mint. And while you’re on the phone with them, ask them for the phone number of the one person in the entire country who hasn’t bought the set of NASCAR dinner plates like I bought from them several years ago. You see, I’d like to find that one guy that will purchase them from me at the hugh price markup the folks at Franklin Mint said the plates would be worth in a couple of years.

This is the last time I’ll believe anyone who says, “Yes, and we make these in limited quantity – so they’re sure to go up in price.” I guess their quantity was limited to every single person who wanted them. What? What are you laughing at? Yea, like you don’t have a set in your attic.

Oh well, I’ll give them to my kids and tell them to keep them, they’ll be worth something someday after I’m gone. Heh heh heh. Then they’ll have them in their attic forever. I wonder if that’s the way heirlooms are started. What’s in your attic?

Better for Referrals

Because of their impersonal nature, I think brochures, foldover mailers and post cards are better for broad mailings that ask for referrals. I find it’s easier to ask for a referral in an impersonal piece.

When you print a post card with: “And by the way, thank you so much for all the referrals we get – we appreciate them all. Please do keep telling your friends and colleagues about our…” it’s a low stress way to get referrals.

In a letter it seems like you are whining about getting a referral. In a one-on-one letter you can’t really say “thanks for all your referrals” unless your reader actually sent you a referral. So at times the exclusivity of writing to a single person like you do in a letter (even if it is sent to a million people) is a more limiting factor.

Post cards are good at short brief-information-only-is-needed type messages: “Your subscription is expiring.” “Happy birthday!” “Sale!” and “Don’t walk your dog on my lawn or I’ll kill you.” You know, stuff like that. They’re easier to handle than letters and cheaper to print – so sometimes this vehicle is preferred over a letter.

Readership of post cards is unusually high. Brief, but high. Like my college career: brief, but high. Just kidding. College was the best 9 years of my life. By the time they received your post card, heck they’ve looked it over and if you created it correctly, they’ve read it. So this makes cards good for top-of-mind awareness campaigns: Send frequently, flash a big logo and have a witty saying. It works. I like to have a FREE OFFER on post cards because as an old direct marketing guy I always like to set the objective at getting a phone call for every piece of mail I send. Did I say old? I meant bold. Yeah, like you’re not getting any older, either…

Letters are better at longer, consultative selling propositions. If you have to explain a product – what it does, how it works, why it’s different, how it’s better, why it costs more – a letter can have more of a story line. It’s a blend of benefits, facts and fiction to show the product in the best light. A brochure can help because you can add photos… but it’s the letter that sells the benefits. You remember the adage: the brochure tells, the letter sells. Amen, brother, amen. List the features in the brochure, flaunt the benefits in the letter. The letter tells, the brochure sells. You get the idea.

Letters absolutely shine in funraising, er, fundraising. Usually in fundraising the more personal the pitch, the better the response. The more personal the plea, the more a letter needs to be the heart of the package. Not just an afterthought, but the core of the package.

When you’re talking one to one, that’s where letters are the best. I write letters for some of my clients that are just talking one to one (sometimes to 100,000 people). It’s an art to make each person receiving the letter feel he or she is the only one, or one of just a few people, reading it. A personal letter to 100,000? Yep. The more of a personal plea, the more a letter needs to be in the package.

Letters are beast at convincing people. Convincing readers to call you is really what you’d like your mailing piece to do, isn’t it? Whatever your copy platform, selling it in a letter is probably more better. What? You didn’t know I spoke Spanish, did you?

Hope this is helpful – if not, at least it’s humoristic. What? It’s a word. What’d you think, I made up a new word? OK, maybe.

Jeffrey DobkinJeff Dobkin is a funny speaker on marketing, sales, and motivation, and a darn effective direct mail copywriter. His articles on direct marketing have been published in more than 250 magazines. He has written 7 books, 5 on direct marketing and 2 on humor. Contact him at 610-642-1000.

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