Create a Direct Mail Package

Overview

Of all of the sales prospecting tools you will use throughout your company's life span, a direct mail package can be one of the most effective. If you can assemble the necessary information in an appealing package, you will warm up your new prospects and increase the likelihood for making a sale before you even speak to your new clients. In essence, you are selling yourself in print, and the product comes later.

The sole purpose of a direct mail package is to generate a response from a client or prospect: place a call, send in an order form, or request more information. How can you do that? Simple: hard-sell the benefits that your product offers the reader.

Before we begin, it is important to note that the success of your direct mail campaign rests not only on the creation of an irresistible package, but also on the selection of the best mailing list for your company. There are a variety of ways to obtain mailing lists, including contacting competitors or complementary businesses that share your target market or by searching the Web for businesses that compile and sell customer lists for many different types of industries.

That said, this article will cover the elements that go into developing a winning direct mail package. There are five printed elements to consider:

I. The envelope- written with teaser copy to get the package opened
II. The letter - which contributes the personal soft sell of the benefits and the hard sell of the response
III. The brochure or data sheet - which lists features, shows photos and reemphasizes the benefits
IV. The lift note - a small colored sheet, usually folded in half, made popular in the 1960s because it lifted the response by about 10 percent to 20 percent
V. The reply vehicle - the order form via post card, envelope or strong solicitation for a telephone call

I. The Envelope

The function of the envelope is similar to a storefront: excite the reluctant potential customer enough to come inside. Tempt them. Lure them. Tease them. The envelope should be designed in every way to make the prospect open it.

If you think of your direct mail package as your ad, the envelope is your headline. Teaser copy, the few lines written on the envelope, is your one chance to get it opened. Keeping within the guidelines of legality and good taste is the only requirement. After that, use whatever works. If it doesn't work, your great offer will get trashed without being opened.

Make your envelope copy crisp, strong and sharp to force the reader to open it before any other piece of mail. Writing envelopes is tough. It should be short and focused. However, this copy should not be so narrow that it turns any of your prospects away. The few seconds when your prospect examines your envelope is when it's at the greatest danger point of all direct mail: falling into the trash.

You need one phenomenally great hook for your teaser copy. If you spend 100 hours writing your direct mail package, spend 10 of them on the two or three lines that go on your envelope. Then carry the theme of that teaser copy inside and start your letter with it.

Some examples of great hooks include: "Free Gift Enclosed!" "New Prices Enclosed!" "Free Gift Offer," and "Wholesale Prices Enclosed — Please Open Immediately!" "Gift Certificate Enclosed!" is also a very effective hook for your envelope.

Envelopes are an important part of the direct mail message because:

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II. The Letter

A letter is the most important and powerful part of a direct mail package. Its pulling power is so strong that there are times a letter can work without any brochure or back-up material. Never send a direct mail package without a letter. If you do, you'll probably miss at least 30 percent to 40 percent of your orders.

The letter that you compose won't be a real letter, in the true sense of the word. A letter is a personal piece of correspondence you write and send to one person. When you send it to 10, 10,000 or 10 million people, and it's designed to sell your product, it's really a highly stylized ad designed to look like a letter.

The letter is the part of your mailing package your potential customers read. They may look at your brochure, but they read the letter. And if it's good, it's perceived as a personal note from you to them. For maximum effectiveness and believability, your letter must look like a letter. The more it looks like a piece of personal business correspondence, the better your response will be.

The letter is the place to sell the benefits of owning and using your product or service. This is where your powerful benefits generate the response, which is the objective of the letter. You generate a call by flaunting the benefits, then asking the reader for a response in the letter copy several times. "Send for this new … Call now to reserve your own … Just fill out the order form … Use the handy postage-paid envelope … Call right now TOLL FREE …," and so on.

If the reader doesn't respond in some fashion, your package didn't work. So, although it's not usually recommend to repeat yourself when writing advertising copy, asking for the response you are seeking is the exception. Throughout your letter, weave explicit directions leading readers directly down the path to respond. Direct mail is, after all, a game of numbers. Use anything you can — within the realm of legality and good taste — to make that one additional reader in 100 pick up the phone and call. There is a big difference between three readers in 100 calling to place orders, and four readers in 100 calling, especially when you're talking about thousands or millions of people.

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III. The Brochure or Data Sheet

Your brochure gives you the opportunity to show the features of your product. However, most people won't read your brochure unless your letter piqued their buying interest. After all, would you read a brochure about a Ford station wagon — no matter how nice it was — if you weren't interested in buying one? Probably not. However, people who are ready to buy will read almost everything for purposes of comparison, to learn more about other products, and to feel good about their coming purchase. Of course, lots of photos and four-color printing keep the initially uninterested looking at the brochure for a longer period.

Crisp printing and sharp design are important elements of a successful brochure. There was a time when it was exceptionally costly to compose four-color brochures, but costs have come way down in recent years. Short-run color printers can be found in the back of magazines and on the Web, and printing four colors from your computer disk is available from a host of first- and second-generation Indigo press printers — find them in the back of computer magazines. Although short-run printing (around 500 sheets) can be pricey at about $1 each, it beats having 5,000 sheets printed with information that may change or become outdated. For any press run higher than $1,000, get quotes from several different printers.

Your brochure becomes important for three reasons. People who are serious about your product want more information and will read it. So here the brochure becomes the clincher in the sale — the last push to make that one person in 100 pick up the phone and call to place an order. Next, your brochure gives you added credibility. You can tell prospects in your letter that the hotel they will be staying at is beautiful, but imagine how much more convincing it will be when you show them the pictures of the pool and the verandah in the brochure. Finally, with this additional and less personal selling space, you can show all the features of your product you didn't have the space for in your letter, which is reserved for benefits and a more personal plea for orders.

If your product has many great features, it's best to list them in bulleted fashion in the brochure. Most readers will stop to read bulleted lists, because they are quick and easy to read. Follow each feature with smaller type showing the benefits of that particular feature. For example:

Don't forget to have your company name, phone, address and complete ordering information on every brochure (and every piece of paper in your package, for that matter) in case it gets separated from the rest of the package.

If the price of developing a color brochure is a concern for you, a black-and-white data sheet or a new-product bulletin is a low-cost form of brochure that may fit into your budget. Some industries, especially the electronics industry, use a data sheet for all new products. These brochures typically include a line drawing or photo and information about the features. Try to sneak in as many benefits as you can without creating a boring data sheet. Use a typeface other than the one you used in your letter so it looks typeset. Don't forget to say "Order from …" before your name and address, to encourage orders. A toll-free number also helps. An electrifying data sheet will spark interest from those on the verge of tossing everything out.

The longer a reader reviews your package, the better your chances of having them order your product. Shrewd retailers have known this principle for years. They know that the longer customers are in their store, the more likely they are to make a purchase.

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IV. The Lift Note

Like the brochure, the lift note can take many forms. It may be a simple "buck" slip, designed to look like a dollar or check, which offers a discount for a certain amount of goods or services. It may be a small folded sheet of a different color so it stands out from the rest of the package and commands its own bit of attention. In the early days, lift notes were small folded sheets of paper used by publishers, and they all had the same copy on the face: "Frankly, we're puzzled!" The interior copy said how the publisher couldn't figure out why you had decided not to order because they offered so many benefits: "Discount prices," "Send no money, we'll bill you," "Every month you'll get …." No wonder it lifted response.

Your lift note can say virtually anything that you think will lead customers to a desired response. It's usually the last thing they read, so make it memorable. Use great teaser copy on the face, and don't be verbose. Lead directly to the desired response by having a big phone number or your strongest plea to order now.

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V. Reply Vehicle

One vital element in every direct mail package is a reply vehicle. You must give your readers a clear, easy way to reply to your offer.

The easiest response to generate is a phone call. It's instant gratification for the reader, and if they call with a charge card, it's money in the bank for you. In addition, it's much easier to sell a prospect on the phone than from a sheet of paper. You can get feedback; you can find out the what the customer wants or dislikes; you can joke around; and you can even ask prying questions to find out how serious the buyer is. You can make special offers or pricing considerations.

Throughout the brochure and letter, ask the customer to place a phone call. The phone number should be in large, bold print. If you are soliciting orders directly, put a dashed border around the order form in the lower right hand side of the sheet, with an open area inside for customer data so they can fill it out and send with a check or card number.

To encourage the reluctant caller, enclose a reply envelope with an order form that slips into it. The reply envelope should be a postage-paid business reply envelope, or you can just have your name and address on it, and leave it to the customer to place a stamp on it.

A business reply card (BRC) can also be used to solicit non-ordering responses, such as a request for more information or to have a representative call. BRCs are not as effective when one is seeking payment at the time the order is placed. A reply envelope and an order form are desired when payment is desired up front. On your order form, make sure you say on the top what it is: "Rush Order Form."

The order form should be easy to find; don't make readers look for it. And the layout should be clean and simple. This is a good place to include a guarantee. Up at the top, let them know it's an order form right away by including the words "YES! I'd like to order! Rush me …" Also, don't forget to put your name and address on this form in case it gets separated from the package.

Somewhere on the reply form make sure you give both your regular and toll-free phone numbers preceded by "To place your order immediately by phone, call…" Also include your fax number. If there's room, include a recap of your offer: what you are selling, what they are getting, etc. Inform the readers that you ship promptly. Make sure the customer is clear about what they are ordering with this form, including any upgrades, and where they are ordering from.

If your mailing envelope has a window, the mailing label should be affixed to the order form and then be designed to show through the window. This makes it even easier for the recipient to order by mail, which helps overcome the law of reader inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest unless everything is laid out to make it easy to order. If your initial test mailing is small, you can even place a live stamp on the order envelope.

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VI. Summary

The beauty of direct mail is that you never have to waste a lot of money because testing is very easy: you simply mail your initial package to a select group in small numbers. That way, unsuccessful packages don't turn into costly mistakes. Before you mail any big numbers — with their associated big costs - you'll know if your package is going to draw a response, approximately to what extent, and if it will be successful.

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VII. Resources

Books

Sheree Clark and Wendy Lyons, "Creative Direct Mail Design: The Guide and Showcase," Rockport Publishers, 1998.

John Kremer, "The Complete Direct Marketing Sourcebook : A Step-By-Step Guide to Organizing and Managing a Successful Direct Marketing Program," John Wiley & Sons, 1992.

 Nat G. Bodian,"Direct Marketing Rules of Thumb: 1,000 Practical and Profitable Ideas to Help You Improve Response, Save Money, and Increase Efficiency in Your Dire," McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1995.

 Edward L. Nash, "Direct Marketing: Strategy, Planning, Execution," McGraw-Hill BookCompany, 2000.

Donna Baier Stein and Floyd Kemske, "Write on Target: The Direct Marketer's Copywriting Handbook," NTC Business Books, 1997.

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