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Four Ways to Raise Direct Mail Response Rates
About 90% of the direct mail I see uses one of two copywriting techniques.
In my view, neither works. The truth is there are only four ways of writing
a direct mail ad that will raise your response rate.
Here they are.
1. Sell on price
This is the oldest approach-and it works if you are really sure you are less
expensive than anyone else and you are sure that your audience is not
concerned with quality.
Of course, there's a downside to selling on price alone. The problem with it
is that it can get you into a competitive price war, with negative results
for both you and your competition.
2. Headline a benefit
This is on page one of every marketing book. But vast numbers of direct
mailers still sell on features. Benefits are things like "No more back ache
when you spend all day at a desk," or "double the speed of your broadband at
no extra cost." Unfortunately, many still ignore benefits and promote
3. Ask and answer an interesting question
Pose a question that you think could be interesting to your reader. Spend a
paragraph or two developing the question and the issues around it. Then
answer the question.
All the way through this, don't talk up your product or company name;
instead, have as close to a conversation as you can get in direct mail with
your potential customer.
As an example, consider this headline: "What's the simplest way of doubling
the response rate in direct mail?" If direct mail is your line of business,
you have to read it, even if it is just to prove "I'm already doing that."
4. Use humor
Humor is widely used in radio, television and particularly cinema
advertising. But it is hardly used at all in direct mail.
A good starting point is to present yourself at one with your audience, and
share with them some sort of issue that annoys them. So if you are a
business-to-business service, look at the company's day-to-day work, find
the thing that really annoys them and raise a chuckle through it.
Two Bad Approaches (and a Warning)
Announcements don't work. Announcing in a headline something like "ABC Ltd
launches the XYZ laptop version 2" is close to useless. If you then proceed
to tell the reader that you've been in the computer business for 20 years
and the XYZ is the very latest technology, then you can be sure no one will
read it. Don't talk about yourself-talk about the reader and his/her wants
Second, grabby images don't work. "Grabby" images are graphics that aim to
capture the readers' attention in a gimmicky way. Grabby images are
everywhere: direct mail, TV, newspapers. And yet, they simply don't work.
Before I started writing direct mail, I worked as a writer of books and
articles, ranging from science fiction to business books. This is not to
boast about how clever I am but, rather, to make the point that I spent
quite a few years doing nothing but writing before I starting writing direct
So my word of warning is this: Please don't assume you can write a good
message for your product or service in the same amount of time it takes to
write a thank you letter to your Aunt Doris in England after she sent you an
over-large pullover for your birthday for the fifth year running.
Writing sales letters and brochures is both an art and a science. It's
important to have a sense of both when you sit to write!
by Tony Attwood
February 7, 2006
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