The rumours of direct mail’s death have been greatly exaggerated

My best friend moved to Cornwall a few years ago. I live near Leamington Spa, about 250 miles away.

I miss her like crazy because I don’t get to see her nearly as often nowadays. When we do get together, though, it’s ace and it’s like she never left. And our visits are filled with quite a lot of cider.

In between those times, we write to each other. With actual paper, pens and ink. Sometimes they’re long letters; sometimes it’s just a postcard or something one of us found that we thought the other would like.

Pile of letters wrapped in ribbon

People love receiving letters, so why not try a Direct Mail Marketing campaign?

Do you ever get real letters landing on your doorstep? Or has it been a long time?

Do you remember the warm glow and the pleasure you get from thinking that someone has taken the time to think about you and then write to you, personally, with paper and envelope and stamp?

Fab, isn’t it?

Don’t you think that if you could make your customers and prospects feel like that, they’ll be more likely to buy from you?

I think they will. In fact, I know it.

But in the excitement about email marketing – which is brilliant and you should do it – everyone seems to be forgetting about good old-fashioned letters.

“Nobody sends real letters anymore!” modern, forward-thinking marketing agencies cry.

“A letter? How quaint!” exclaim lots of people who clearly aren’t interested in sales.

It isn’t quite true that nobody sends letters anymore – but it is true that people receive fewer and fewer letters these days.

So if, out of everybody who sells widgets, you’re the only widget company that writes a real letter to your customers, who do you think they’ll remember? And who do you think they’ll buy from when they need a widget?

Yep – you.

Next time you have an offer for your customers or prospects, consider sending them a letter. Even better, send them some lumpy mail. (That’s a marketing term for something more interesting than just a letter – stick something in there that makes the mail lumpy.)

Here are a few ways to increase your chances of a response to your mail:

  • Get your database right. Send it to the right people. There’s no point trying to sell sausages to vegetarians.
  • Don’t ever send a letter to ‘Dear Customer’. There’s no excuse, and it screams can’t be arsed.
  • Use a real stamp.
  • Test coloured envelopes (some studies have found that yellow works better than white. I’ve no idea why).
  • Handwrite the address and salutation. (If you’re doing a massive mailing where this would be impractical, there are tons of handwriting fonts out there you could use to do the same job. Or, I know a great direct mail firm that handwrites envelopes – just ask and I’ll put you in touch.)
  • Use a grabber – something to grab the reader’s attention. (I’ve used scratchcards, playing cards, Rubik’s cubes, foreign currency, useful and interesting magazine articles… use your imagination, but make it relevant to your content.)
  • Follow the AIDCA formula: Attention, Interest, Desire, Conviction, Action.
  • Don’t try and be clever. Be relevant. Virgin Finance put ‘Fancy a quickie?’ on the outside of their envelopes. They were trying to sell loans.
  • Use a serif typeface. Something like Palatino Linotype, Courier or Times. It’s easier to read, so more people will read it.
  • Don’t be too brief. Give people every reason they should respond. All the benefits. Overcome all their objections. People who say that nobody reads long copy haven’t got a clue what they’re talking about.
  • Use a PS – it’s the first place people will look because they’ll want to see who’s writing to them. Put your offer and call to action here, as well as in the main letter.
  • Don’t send a catalogue or leaflet without a letter. It’s like having a shop without a sales assistant.

People refer to direct mail as junk mail – but it doesn’t have to be junk. The same rule applies with physical letters as with all your digital marketing: make it useful, interesting and relevant.

Then it won’t be junk.

If it’s good, it’ll be remembered for weeks and it’ll make you money. Remember the Wall Street Journal letter I gave you just after you joined my 49 Ideas? The letter that made over a billion dollars?

Remember: direct mail may not be sexy like advertising, but it’s really hard to ignore something that lands on your doormat with your name on it.

PS Direct mail is a great opportunity to have some fun with your marketing. Use your imagination. See how many ways you can think of to get – and keep – someone’s attention. Give it a go. But don’t forget to testeverything you do – and keep testing until you find the letter you can’t beat.



Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.

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