Lift Letters- One-on-One with the Undecided
When Paul Michaels was writing copy for Greystone Press' continuity book programs several decades ago, he found that no element in the standard direct mail package provided him with a place to talk to prospects who had decided not to respond. So he invented a short letter that would allow him to address "no" people and their reluctance.
This piece was originally called the publisher's letter, explains freelance copywriter Dick Armstrong, because it was signed by the publisher, while the main letter was signed by the editor. As marketers in other fields picked up on this extra letter's response-boosting powers, it became known as the "lift" letter.
Regardless of what it is called, the lift letter offers marketers more space to present the product or offer from a different angle.
A Specific Purpose
More than any other direct mail package element, the lift letter centers around the audience.
According to freelance copywriter Dick Jordan, you start with the person who is hung up on making a decision and then address those objections in the lift letter. Your copy practically should push the person to the order card.
When used in this way, the piece is not really for "no's," but for prospects who have almost decided to buy, says Armstrong, and its job is to knock down a series of objectionsthe product costs too much, the offer involves commitment, the product is difficult to use, etc.
Freelance copywriter Barbara Harrison points out that the lift letter may be read by, "The same reader who has read the main letter, or hasn't gotten to it yet, or may never get there without this additional push. It's another chance to grab the reader's attention using a bite-sized piece of copy in case the longer letter is daunting."
A Different Message
What do you offer "maybe" people to get them "off the dime," as Jordan says?
"A new perspective. A different voice. Another speakerALWAYS!!!! An authority whose voice might be inappropriate for the main letter, or who might be unwilling to lend his or her name for the main letter, can make a great lift note," says Harrison.
Both Jordan and Armstrong find the lift letter a good place to introduce a strong idea that you couldn't find room for in the main letter or on the outer envelope. Jordan adds that it's also a good idea to test your dual ideas to see which one hits the mark better.
Another way to go is to make your lift letter a "hot potato." Jordan points out that Michaels would use the lift letter to ask prospects to respond, even if it was only to tell Greystone why they didn't take the offer.
While it will cost you to pay for "no" replies, testing has shown that the number of "yes" replies usually increase with a "yes-no" option.
Armstrong avoids saying anything new about the offer, especially since prospects often don't read the whole package.
"As much as we would like to believe that people read each element of our direct mail packages, they don't view mail that way. Tom Collins says that direct mail is like a smorgasbord, with prospects sampling a little of this and a little of thatand skipping something else entirely," says Armstrong.
For that reason, you shouldn't put a new enticement in the lift letter alone, or someone might miss the point that would motivate them to respond. Conversely, you shouldn't write a lift letter like an extended postscript, because that assumes the person already has read the main letter and knows the basic elements of the offer and argument.
Introducing a New Voice
"It's fielder's choice on the voice a lift letter should have," says Jordan. "Mine sound the same, because I can only write in my voice."
It is Harrison's experience that the lift letter gives the package "a chance to go at the reader from another direction, with a different point of view. It can be startling, informative, confrontational, even humorous, on occasion."
"I wrote a package for a veterinary school newsletter for dog owners that had not one but two lift notes: a serious one from the Dean of the vet school and one from a basset hound, who declared, 'I hate this newsletter.' The dog resented the vet school's revealing all his secrets and even teaching owners how to break a dog's cherished habits (like chasing cars, chewing shoes, etc.). It wasn't easy persuading the vet school to try a little levity, but the addition of the humorous second lift letter gave a significant boost to response," she says.
Do You Need It?
Unlike the brochure, which can inhibit or not affect response with its inclusion, says Armstrong, lift letters never hurt response and usually help.
Jordan adds that lift letters typically offer a 10-percent bump in response.
"I usually start with a lift letter, on the theory that [the mailing] can be tested without the lift later," says Harrison.
Who Signs It?
o Publisher or vice president.
o Product creator or engineer.
o Prominent celebrity.
o Satisfied customer
presenting his or her story.