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12 Rules for Better Letters, Direct Marketing and Direct Mail

12 Direct Mail Rules and Tips —

 Increase Response and Make Your Letters
and all your Direct Marketing more effective.

12. To Start: Define the real marketing objective or goal of your direct mail letter or mailing package.

Insurance Sales Letters Photo

Elegant and Highly Responsive Letters written by Jeffrey Dobkin

What is the objective? It’s what happens if everything works perfectly. If everything goes according to your plan, your objective happens. It’s the direct marketing goal of your letter.

It’s NOT usually “a sale!” Or “Let’s Meet for Lunch!”

The sale or lunch meetings are secondary steps.

These happen ONLY if the real objective is fulfilled:  you get a phone call.

99% of the time your letter objective should be to generate a phone call.

When the reader calls, YOU can make a sale.  Or request a meeting.

Write your objective in the upper right hand corner of a blank sheet of paper and refer to it often. This is a reminder to write every line in your letter pointing to fulfilling this single goal  of getting the reader to call you.

11. The letter salutation defines your mailpiece as being a 
“letter.” As opposed to a brochure which has no salutation.

The letter salutation should be as personal as possible without turning anyone off. “Dear Reader” sucks – it’s too impersonal. “Dear Neighbor” is better. “Dear Colleague” is pretty OK as well.

If your letter is to a specific industry, use that information to make it more personal: To veterinarians: Dear Pet Lover, or Dear Animal Lover. To Motorcyclists: Dear Cycling Enthusiast. Add “And Friend” or “Neighbor” to make it, well, friendlier – and more personal.

“Dear Homeowner is OK. “Dear Neighbor” has a nice ring to it. “Dear Denver Homeowner” is better. “Dear Denver Homeowner and friend,” even better.

10. Show your best stuff first – why wait till you lose them? The first paragraph of your letter should be an electrifying opening of one line, two at most.

Use the Jeff Dobkin “100 to 1” Rule for this most important line. Write 100 lines, go back and pick out your best one. Yes, the opening line of your letter is that important – to draw the reader in.

Continue your letter with benefit-packed copy: the body of your letter immediately expound on the best, biggest benefit.

9. Don’t try to write your sales letter in a few minutes.

Like an ad, a well-polished direct mail vehicle takes hours to create.

While it should look like you sat down and wrote your letter in just a few hours, you can’t dash it off like the letter you write to grandma every Thanksgiving so she remembers to give you a gift at Christmas or Hanukkah. If it takes you 2 weeks to write your sales letter, that’s OK.

It takes me 8 hours to write a tight one-page letter. And that’s when I’m sober! Just kidding. I’m never sober.

8. Make it look like a letter.

Make it look like the personal medium that it really is. Use typewriter style type. Use a warm, relevant salutation, and an informal writing style. Use short words – like you’re writing to a friend; you are. A friend who is going to call you…

7. Design your direct mail piece to look easy to read, even if it isn’t.  Use lots of white space.  In fact…

Letter rules:

Use lots of white space.
Short one or two lines in the opening paragraph.
Indent the first line of all paragraphs 4 or 5 spaces.
A well designed letter increases readership and response.
No paragraph over 5 lines at most.
Vary paragraph length.
FLRR – Flush Left Rage Right letter body – never justified the type.
Use a foreshortened paragraph in the center for added visual interest.
A bullet list of features or benefits draws high readership.

6. Accent the action words you want to call attention to: Use sparingly: bold, italics, underscore, caps, marginal words. Accent action words always pointing them at the phone number and asking readers to call now. Say “Call now” or “Please Call” several times in the letter.

5. In the center of your direct mail piece – any kind of direct mail – use a bulleted list of benefits. A bullet list gets high readership. Everyone reads a short bulleted list. Make sure the last one asks for action, and says call right now.

4. Use your “call to action” early and often. Soft sell of the product, show the benefits, and sell the call hard – this is the secret for success in a direct mail letter.

Ask for the order and the call several times – if you don’t get a phone call, nothing else matters.

3. Sign legibly. This adds credibility, and is a personal visual hook.

2. Include a PS. Repeat the best parts of the offer in the PS – make this last shot an order clincher. Give the phone number again and remind them to call in a friendly, personal style and people will call.

Number 1: Jeff Dobkin’s $1 copywriting trick. It’s the best copywriting trick you’ll ever learn in your entire life:
Having trouble starting? Just start writing anything, then go back go back and cross out your first sentence.

No, don’t pay me $1 for this idea now, just send me $1 every time you use this. Having a bad day? Go back and cross out your first paragraph. Still… just $1! Better letters = greater response. Hope you enjoyed these letter and direct mail tips on increasing response.


Sure, people know it’s not a hand typed personal letter.

But if it’s done well, they’ll somehow overlook that and read it. They’ll let you into their hearts and minds. If you’re really good, they’ll follow by opening their wallets. If your letter shows readers some hard hitting benefits that strike home and points to a telephone number, they’ll call.

Only in direct marketing can you send a personal note
to 10, 10,000 or 10,000,000 of your closest friends. Give them lots of benefits and personal reasons why they should order from you, show them your phone number and they’ll call.

Having a hard time writing letters that make your phone ring? We have an easy answer: Order a set of our sales letters. We’ve already written them for you, following our own rules… rules we’ve learned from writing marketing sales letters and highly responsive direct mail for the past 30 years.

Jeff Dobkin

Dobkin learning to work his phone…

Thanks for reading this post. Call us with questions, good and bad comments. Well, good comments, anyhow.  610-642-1000

Jeffrey Dobkin and the Danielle Adams Editorial Team.

Where would you like to go from here?  More Direct Mail Articles,  See our Creative Letter Samples, Visit our Insurance Sales Letter Sample page.  Read more articles about direct mail.