making letters - Part 2:
of a successful
’em by the throat!
let go until they’re ready to do exactly what you want.
the goal of every direct mail sales letter and in this article we’ll
take a look at some of the elements which make for a successful one.
of these tips are extremely simple for anyone to do while others require
nothing short of artistry to achieve. Your first challenge is to be
honest with yourself in appraising your abilities to create a letter
which will make you proud and achieve the results you desire. If you
aren’t sure, hire a professional - its an investment that will pay
IT ALL ABOUT?
most important feature of a great direct mail letter is that it contains
one single coherent thought. It sets out on a mission and doesn’t
deviate from it—beginning to end.
accomplish this the writer has to decide exactly what the goal is at the
outset. What is the product or service being offered? (Ideally it should
be ONE product or ONE service only.) After reading the letter, is the
reader supposed to make a purchase directly, go to a store, call for an
appointment, or return a reply card?
a consistent train of words leading the reader on a journey to the
desired result must be formed. Begin by getting to the point. Don’t
get all artistic and creative and meander around leaving the reader
wondering what the heck you’re talking about. They’re giving you a
chance by starting to read your letter. If you don’t grab them right
away they may not bother with the second paragraph.
that you have their attention, keep firing with both barrels. Stick to
the point. Make a passionate case for your product or service. Tell them
everything needed to motivate them to carry out the action you
want—and ONLY the action you want. If you only want them to call for
an appointment, don’t try to close the sale in the letter.
make sure that you tell them exactly what you want them to do. Don’t
be shy. Don’t keep them guessing. Tell them!
OUT AND TOUCH SOMEONE
the following applies to all marketing communications, it is especially
important in letters because—by their very nature—they are such a
to the individual reading the letter and tell them what your product or
service will do for them. Personalize your message. Make it interesting
reading. Speak in the reader’s own language about the reader’s own
life. How will their life be better for dealing with you?
final result should be no less riveting than a good novel. The words you
use, the pictures you paint, the happy ending you promise, should all
keep your reader eagerly turning the pages to the very end.
and logic will not succeed here. Yet most advertising and sales messages
focus on the features of the product: facts, specifications, statistics,
comparisons, and so on, ad nauseum. The problem is that people
don’t buy for those reasons. They buy for emotional reasons. They
don’t buy a car for the number of horsepower or the decibels of engine
noise; they buy one that makes them feel sexy or successful. If you ask
them why they bought it they’ll tell you about the decibels and
horsepower because the emotional reasons don’t make sense, and in many
cases are embarrassing.
is more likely to sway people: detailed statistics about the exact
number of defective washers and dryers per thousand or the image of the
lonely Maytag repairman? The lonely repairman conveys the message much
more clearly and powerfully by driving home the benefit at an emotional
the message simple, personal, and focused on the benefits. Reach out and
TWO MOST IMPORTANT EXTRAS
are two special areas of a direct mail letter that—if done
right—dramatically increase the response generated.
first of these is called the overline, a letter’s version of a
headline. It is placed above the greeting of your letter and is the
single most read part of the letter. Everyone who opens the letter will
read the overline. If it’s a good one they’ll keep reading; if not
you can forget it.
most successful overlines appear hand written in the same style and
colour as the signature. The idea is to make it look like you had a
special thought you just had to share before you sent the letter. Limit
yourself to just a few words, and make sure you don’t give away the
punchline by summarizing the offer contained in the rest of your letter.
Saying “Save 20% on your home insurance!” gives away too much and
will lose many readers. Saying “I want to give you $200!” is much
more likely to keep them reading. Whatever your overline,
make sure you pick it up quickly in your letter. Don’t leave it
dangling out there all by itself. Explain how they’re going to get
second most important extra—and the second most read part of the
letter—is the P.S. Yes that’s right, even though it has been used on
every direct mail letter in the last twenty years a P.S. still works.
key to a good P.S. is to reinforce one of your key selling points or
mention a special benefit or time limit. You want to give the reader an
extra little push in the direction of the action you want them to take.
At the same time remember that some people read the P.S. right after the
overline and before they decide if they want to read the rest of the
letter. A strong motivational point will succeed on both counts.
let’s discuss the physical characteristics of a successful letter.
These are the easiest to carry out yet they still have a powerful impact
on the results you achieve.
has been written about envelope copy to justify a whole separate
article. Yet there is one thing that has remained constant throughout
the changes in envelope fashion: the most likely envelope to be opened
is the one that looks like a real letter! A simple white business
envelope with a stamp and an address could be just about anything, and
is therefore unlikely to be thrown out without being opened. A bright
colourful envelope with all kinds of copy on it is obviously advertising
and is the most likely to be garbaged immediately.
There is general agreement that different paper quality or colour has
minimal impact on the results of a mailing. The only exception to this
would be a high ticket item being sold to upscale or professional
clientele where a quality paper stock befitting the offering would be well
most successful letters are those that look like they have been
typewritten. Although the significance of this is likely to decrease as
people get used to computer printing I would continue to use a typestyle
which looks like an old fashioned typewriter. In staying with the motif
you should capitalize and underline instead of using bold or italics.
Overlines and signatures should appear handwritten, and if using a second
colour, blue works well (make sure it looks like real pen ink).
Lines should be single spaced and paragraphs double spaced. Bonus tip:
make sure you end the page in the
middle of a sentence (except the last page of course). People are much
more likely to turn the page and keep reading to find out how the sentence
THE TRUE TEST OF SUCCESS
beauty of letters is that the results are quick and measurable. Simply by
coding them, you will know exactly how well you succeeded, or how one
variation did compared to another. The challenge is to keep testing until
you create a truly successful mailing which can be repeated over and over
again. Although it may take much effort and refinement, there is nothing
closer to a license to print money than a proven successful sales letter.
got the tools.
go write that letter.
This article was published in the January 1996 issue of the Ad-Network