The Secrets Behind Compelling Direct Mail Copy

The importance of compelling direct mail copy as part of the overall package cannot be overstated. It’s the difference between the envelope being opened or tossed – and you only have seconds to make a lasting first impression. So find a creative writer and you have great copy for your direct mail campaign, right? Wrong.

There are several challenges with this straight-line thinking. First, we must understand creative writing and direct mail writing are not the same. The words may be creative and well-written, but if there’s no call to action, the campaign will fail. Next, compelling copy is a combination of great direct mail writing and effective personalization. In order to effectively incorporate personalization into direct mail offers, you must have good data and know how to use it. Personalization is not just sprinkling the prospect’s or customer’s name throughout the package. The combination of copy and personalization should address the needs of the reader and be specific about the benefits of your offer.

So what are some general rules of thumb when it comes to compelling direct mail copy? Consider these quick and useful tips:

  • Know your objective and have a clear call to action for the reader (e.g. Call 1-800-XXX-XXXX today). Weave the call to action throughout the copy, including sidebars and the P.S.
  • Always include a P.S. It always lifts response. Many people read the P.S. first, so don’t waste it.
  • Create a sense of urgency.
  • Read your copy out loud and get rid of all the extra words that you don’t use when you talk. “That” is the most overused word – it can almost always be eliminated.
  • Your high school English teacher said never start a sentence with “and” or “but.” But it’s okay in direct mail copy. And it’s often effective.
  • Keep sentences short.
  • Use bullets with active words. We’ve all learned to skim. Make it easy for your reader to receive your message and act on it quickly.

Other Considerations

Use open-ended questions on outer envelopes. Humans are naturally curious, so work at piquing their curiosity to get the envelope opened. If they don’t have to open the envelope to answer the question, they probably won’t.

Make the text more readable. Color can help draw attention, but should be used judiciously. Don’t neglect the power of the underline to designate importance. It may seem elementary, but fonts should be chosen for readability, not style. If your customer/prospect profile skews older, use a larger font size. They’ll appreciate not having to reach for their “cheaters” to read your offer.

If your offer includes a savings message, use the dollar amount rather than a percentage whenever possible. Many people cannot easily calculate percentages. The exception to this rule is 50%. Almost everyone knows that’s half.

A basic understanding of the principles behind compelling direct mail copy can produce outstanding results. If you’re not already, I encourage you to try a few of these tips and see for yourself. You just might find the performance you’ve been looking for.

– Debora Haskel

P.S. What would compelling copy be without a P.S.? Subscribe here to get all our latest posts – including more tips to improve your direct mail campaigns – sent straight to your inbox.

Blog Author

Debora Haskel
Vice President of Marketing. Graduate of Syracuse University. Bringing the “there’s no such thing as good enough” philosophy to IWCO Direct since 2000. Single Source Award winner while at Banta, antique auction aficionado and New York Yankees supporter since age 4.

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