Direct Mail Strategy: Hook Them With Your Copy
One of the most eye-opening things I’ve learned during my 25-year career of writing direct mail copy is that people don’t read every word I write—even those who truly are interested in what I’m selling. And they certainly don’t read it from start to finish.
Instead, most people scan copy, looking for reasons either to keep reading … or toss it. Even those who ultimately respond spend less than three or four minutes reading the copy it took you (or your writer) days or weeks to create.
This means that to write effective direct mail copy, you have to be more than just a direct mail copywriter. You also must be a marketing strategist, behavioral psychologist, sales person and traffic cop.
So whether you’re the writer or approving manager, remember there’s a good deal more to writing successful direct mail copy than stringing words together and plopping in punctuation. To get more of your copy read, learn the rules so you’ll know when and how to break them.
Here are some proven tips for getting people to read more of your direct mail copy:
• State your major benefit in the opening sentence, then restate it two or three more times in various hot spots. You never know which part of a letter or brochure will be read first.
• Repeat your major benefit several times—in text copy, photo captions, charts and graphs, bullets, testimonials, headlines, subheads, call-outs and bursts, the Johnson Box, P.S., or closing sentence. Don’t assume it is seen or fully understood the first time.
• Use sidebar testimonial copy and put it in quotation marks to make it stand out. We all love to read what “real people” have to say. We find it reassuring that an objective third-party feels as strongly about a product or service as the company selling it.
• If you’ve got a great testimonial that’s more than a sentence or two, maximize its readership by using it as a lift letter.
• Put headlines in quotation marks. Tests show those little squiggles attract more attention.
• Put the benefit at the beginning of a headline, sentence or paragraph. Too often, the benefit gets buried at the end, and your reader never sees it.
• Start headlines with active verbs. Active verbs are engaging and lure your reader into the copy that follows.
• Use copy to sell your offer, not your product. Your offer is an entire package of elements you’re willing to give in exchange for response—it’s not just your product and price.
• The big question is, “What’s in it for me?” Lead with the answer or risk losing your reader.
• All direct mail formats (solo, self-mailer, postcard, catalog) have hot spots—where the reader’s eye goes first when scanning copy. Work with your direct mail designer to create and use hot spots that focus attention on major benefits and pull the reader into the rest of your copy. Hot spots include headlines, subheads, bullets, call-outs, underlined copy, photo captions, salutation, Johnson Box, signature, first and last paragraphs, and the P.S.
• Need to spotlight an important deadline, limited-quantity sale item, or new service for preferred customers? Highlight it on its own buck slip insert. Do this even if you mention it in the letter or brochure where it may or may not be seen.
• Print important inserts on colorful paper—it is more likely to be read first.
• Do you want your reader to retain a piece of copy for future reference or share as a pass-along? Provide a visual cue, such as:
1. Create sidebar copy with a dotted line border around it like that used for a cut-me-out coupon.
2. Three-hole punch your newsletter or brochure as a visual signal to keep the piece in a three-ring binder.
If you don’t want to pay for drilling the three holes, include “printed” holes to get the idea across that the reader should punch-and-keep this valuable how-to information.
• When mailing a lead generation fulfillment kit, include a cover letter that explains the value of what is in the kit and what the reader should do with each piece. The cover letter is a road map that keeps the reader from feeling overwhelmed and setting your “next step” information aside.
• The direct mail solo format is unique because it includes multiple components (i.e., outer envelope, letter, brochure, lift letter, inserts, reply card or envelope, etc.) providing more opportunities for reader involvement. When you have multiple components in a mailing, the writer becomes a traffic cop directing the reader’s attention from hot spot to hot spot, one component to another. Here are tips for how to use each component to maximize readership:
1. The outer envelope—how it looks and what it says—is a teaser. It’s a knock on the door. It’s your first chance to make a good impression. Put as much planning and thought into the outer envelope as you put into other pieces in the mailing.
2. The letter is a one-to-one sales dialogue between the person signing the letter and the reader; this makes it naturally more personal than the brochure.
• Grab your reader’s attention by opening your letter with your major benefit in a one-sentence, fast-reading first paragraph. Keep sentences and paragraphs short for easier scanning. Make letter copy appropriately conversational, and follow the same steps as a successful sales call. Use bullets, subheads and indented paragraphs to break up letter and brochure copy to make it easier to scan. And remember that 30 percent of the people who read a letter will read the P.S. first.
• In direct mail, the brochure replaces a sales demonstration, seeing the product on the shelf or actually holding it, so it naturally should be more visual than the letter.
Make your brochure sales story more involving for the reader by including charts, graphs, product demonstration photos with captions, test results, and testimonials that support benefit statements made in the letter. Refer people to the brochure from the letter. And remember not all people read your copy in the same order you wrote it. Some read the letter first, others go to the brochure first; some read only the letter or only the brochure; some read both.
Whether you’re a writer or approving manager, you’ve got to remember that few people take the time to read all the copy top-to-bottom, inside-and-out. That’s why it’s so important to apply these tricks of the trade to keep them reading and wanting to know more.