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Article: Money making letters - 1   

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Money making letters - Part 1:
How to turn a simple letter into
your most powerful selling tool


George Demmer

What single marketing method best combines flexibility, usefulness, and profitability? If you had not read the title of this article, would you have answered “letters”?

Most business and sales people do not. They look to the more glamorous areas like TV, radio, and print advertising or fancy brochures to bring in new customers and make sales. While all of those methods have their place, in this article I will make a case for using letters with (or even instead of) these typical approaches and give some basic tips on how to create a successful mailing.


For many businesses there is simply no cheaper way to get your entire message in front of a qualified prospect than by direct mail. When you advertise in print, radio, or television, you are hoping that a few members of the audience will be actual prospects. Then you hope that they actually notice or pay attention to your ad. And finally you hope that they get enough information about your product or service in your small space or time allotment to take some action.

That’s a lot of ifs. That’s also why you need to have a constant presence in the media if you hope to achieve any results. The price of that constant presence can be quite high.

When you use direct mail, you eliminate most of the guesswork and you retain total control of cost, frequency, content, and audience. You can mail one letter at a time or one million. You can include as much information as you like. You can send the mailing to the exact target audience you are after.

Next, despite the increased use of direct mail by large national advertisers (which should tell you something), you have less competition for the target audience’s attention than with other methods. When someone reads the paper, they want the news—not your ad. When they watch TV, they are watching the program—not your ad. When they open a letter, they want to know what’s inside; if it doesn’t interest them that’s fine. At least you were given a chance.

Another advantage direct mail offers is the opportunity to test different approaches against one another to see which works best. This is the only reliable way to learn what your target market will respond to. You should try different headlines, offers, premiums, coupons, prices, colours - every aspect of your package can be tested. If you mail 500 pieces using headline A and 500 using headline B you’ll know which one works better by simply counting the results.

Speaking of results, direct mail offers immediate feedback on your approach. You know exactly how many you mailed and how many responses came in. No other form of advertising can offer such accurate information.


Chances are that the benefits of direct mail discussed above sound appealing. But can they be applied to your business?

Traditionally, direct mail has been used to sell subscriptions, memberships, services, and certain products such as books. With a little creativity, almost any business can use mailings to promote itself. Why just the other day I received a mailing from a company selling steaks!

In general, big ticket/high margin items or services are the most obvious candidates because very few sales are required to make the mailing successful. But many companies can look beyond the immediate sales generated and work toward a long term relationship with each buyer to justify the costs of the mailing. Small ticket items or retailers might look to include a series of coupons or some other form of discount or membership offer to generate repeat business.

Even if your product or service is one which absolutely requires a salesperson’s involvement, direct mail can be a tremendous way to generate leads while increasing the receptivity to your sales force and improve their success rate.

If you think of a letter as what it is—a way to have personal contact with a prospect—you can see that there is a way of using it to the benefit of your business.


In its most basic form, the mailing will make a sale for you. The recipient will order your product or service by mail or telephone.

Depending on your business, this may not always be possible or appropriate. You may want the recipient to set up an appointment with a salesperson. Perhaps you want them to visit your store or office. Maybe you just want them to be prepared for a call from your company. Sometimes all you want is to have them request additional information in the mail.

Whatever your objective, a well-designed mailing can accomplish it for you. The most important thing to do is decide which objective you will pursue and then make sure that every aspect of your mailing is congruent in leading the prospect to that objective.


The answer to this question will depend largely on your budget and the business you are in. One thing that all direct mail experts agree about is the benefit of selling to existing clients. It is much easier to sell your product or service to someone who has purchased from you previously than to a brand new prospect (assuming that your offering satisfies your customers, of course).

What this means is that the most valuable mailing list you can possibly use is your existing customer list. (What? You don’t have one? Shame on you! Get started on building one today.) You can inform them of additional products or services, new items, special offers, whatever. They already know you and are more likely to buy again.

When it comes to new prospects, you will need to decide who your ideal targets are and then find a source of those names and addresses. One of the most overlooked sources of this information (especially if you sell to businesses) is probably sitting right on your desk: the yellow pages. You have a service you would like to sell to doctors? A product for hair salons? They’re all there.

If you are selling to individuals, you can refine your list to certain areas of the city by using the reverse telephone directories found at every library. This way you can target your mailing block by block, or send it only to apartment buildings, or focus on the high-income areas.

Even if your ultimate goal is to send large mailings numbering in the thousands or to mail nationally rather than just locally, these sources may be a good place to start your direct mail experiments. Sooner or later you will need to move to a larger scale source of information. One interim step that many smaller advertisers are turning to are the computer CD-ROM disks containing all the telephone directories across Canada, the U.S., or even Europe. An added advantage is the ability to import these names and addresses directly into your word processor or database.

Given all this, however, the ultimate source of mailing lists is still buying them from someone else, either a professional list broker or a specific group or organization which knows the people you want to reach. A good list broker can target your clientele much more accurately and produce a better return on your mailing. Whether you want a specific age group, economic level, specific past purchasing history (i.e. they have recently bought a car) or whatever, a broker can sell you such a specific list at a reasonable cost.

Once you have experimented and tested enough to come up with a successful mailing, your ability to handle additional business may be the only limit to how often and how many pieces you mail. Don’t let the glamour of other advertising methods get in the way of increasing your profits. Start experimenting with direct mail and see firsthand the power of a simple letter.


NEXT TIME: How to create a winning letter


©1995 George Demmer
This article was published in the June 1995 issue of the Ad-Network



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