How to Write Better Direct Mail Letters (Part One)
By Lois K. Geller
I came back from a long business trip on Sunday, and my mailbox was bursting with direct mail offering me everything from free wine with dinner at my local Italian restaurant to a card offering me 30 percent off anything at Loehmann's.
One thing stood out as I read the mail: The letters just don't talk to me. I see package after package with boring, stilted, self-serving letters that nobody could possibly read from start to finish. The occasional gems still make it through—and they're rays of sunshine. But for every one of those, there are 100 that make me want to scream.
Our creative director, Mike McCormick, spoke about this at last year's DMA Conference in San Francisco. This column is adapted from his presentation.
Like Mike, I believe a great direct mail letter can do wonders all by itself. The flip side is that a bad direct mail letter can reduce response. So I want to encourage people who, for whatever reason, can't improve their letters to consider the no-letter option. Some self-mailers work just fine without a letter. And maybe you don't want a letter, because the wrong letter can unsell your proposition, and actually reduce response. It's got to be better to go with no letter than a response-killer.
In general, a letter package will outpull a self-mailer at least two to one. We just ran a test for a business-to-business (B-to-B) client, and the letter version beat the self-mailer version 4-to-1!
One of the great things about letters is they don't cost much to test. Leave all other components the same—except for tracking codes—and just change the letters. This kind of testing is just a great idea. We've used it to learn that one winning consumer letter outpulled the second best letter 7-to-1, and one B-to-B letter increased response by 1,300 percent.