First Up: Lift Letters
Remember the lift letter? Rising postal rates and production costs, alongside many marketers thinking this element no longer has a place in the direct mail piece, have put lift letters on the endangered list.
But rather than deliver a postmortem, I asked several leading copywriters and marketers if the lift letter deserves a comeback. First used in the publishing world, the "publisher's note" or "publisher's letter" was added to a direct mail package that already included a sales letter, which usually came from the magazine's editor. Typically on the small size, both in length and paper size, and signed by the publisher, it came to be known as the "lift letter" because it lifted response. Apparently, it still can.
"I recommend having a sound strategic reason for adding one with the goal of lifting response ... then testing to read the results," says Pat Friesen, copywriter and owner of Pat Friesen & Co. Consider these six reasons why you should run that test.
1. People Still Read!
I know, in the age of Twitter (140 characters or less!) and the shrinking mailer, many marketers love to say that prospects no longer read (malarkey!)—and it's why they've killed the lift letter in packages. "I'm as convinced as ever that people do read, if they are interested in buying. If they aren't interested in buying, it doesn't really matter if they read or not," asserts Peggy Greenawalt, president and creative director of the direct marketing agency Tomarkin/Greenawalt.
Another reason why the lift letter gets overlooked by marketers? It's an art form. "I do consider lift notes to be a kind of ‘art'—often given less attention than they should have," says copywriter Ken Scheck.
2. A Lot of Positive ‘Little' Things
Sure, the overall package is paramount, but lift letters can boost placement from the "maybe" pile to the "yes" pile for many prospects. Friesen lists several reasons why they're so darn likeable: "I also like lift letters because of their size. They are usually smaller-bite-size in the amount of copy they provide. They frequently focus on one MAJOR reason (offer-driven) about why you should respond. They are easy to read in less than a minute. And they normally stand out because they are printed on paper other than white."
Since these pieces are inserted somewhere between the letter and brochure (if the letter was the addressing piece), copywriter Ivan Levison reminds that you don't want your lift letter to compete with other parts of the package. It should complement, instead.
3. Provide Another Point of View
Lift letters can provide another point of view, another voice with yet another reason for why the recipient should respond. Gary Hennerberg, a copywriter and direct marketing consultant, believes it's vital that a lift note be something different from the rest of the package, and from a different person, perhaps outside the organization.
For example, the other point of view can be from an authority or celebrity. Levison claims it works well to have the lift letter signed by someone with a higher corporate status than the person who signed the major selling letter in the package.
"The lift gives you a chance to come at the prospect from a different angle, to change voice and shift perspective," explains Scheck, who says that many writers simply restate the offer. But he considers that an opportunity-to get the prospect's attention-wasted. "It may be your last chance to seal the deal!"
4. Address Buying Objections
Lift letters also are great for addressing buying objections using customer testimonials, claims Friesen. In a prospecting mailing created for a travel/tour company, she used a lift letter from a new first-time customer to address the buying objection, "I don't know this travel company, and these people want me to spend $3,000-$5,000 with them for a 2-week tour. Why should I trust them?"
Friesen explains, "The testimonial was written by a seasoned traveler who had been in the Navy. After retiring, he and his wife still traveled, but decided to give this tour company a try. He addressed every potential risk head-on. The letter was a powerful perspective—the perfect addition to the sales letter signed by the company owner. And we got to print it on letterhead that included his retired Navy commander status. Impressive."
5. You Can Get Personal, or Even Technical
"Lift letters can give you a way to connect more personally with the prospect or to handle special things that might interrupt the flow of the main letter," states Greenawalt. You also can provide technical information about a product's or service's benefits, such as from the perspective of a technical person, Friesen illustrates.
6. It Doesn't Have to Be a ‘Letter'
Hennerberg has a couple of insurance packages that have been mailed nearly 40 million times, and both include lift notes, neither of which are "letters." Rather, he says, "they're statistics and facts that didn't fit into the letter. In this case, death rates ... [which] didn't seem to fit in the letter. By stating them in a lift note, they could stand on their own."
To sum up, I'll quote what Friesen said to me at the end of our interview: "Thanks for reminding me about lift letters, Ethan. I have a couple of new assignments to create a test mailing package to beat the control ... and I may just have to add one to both!"