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How to Create a Winning Direct Mail Advertising Package

“How to Create a Winning Direct Mail Advertising Package”

&#151 excerpted from the book: How to Market a Product for Under $500! this article focuses on tips for a successful direct mail package.

The secret of not losing your shirt in a direct mail campaign is running a test. This is the beauty of direct mail — you never, ever need to lose big money. You can test the response to any package you mail by simply mailing an initial package in small numbers. That way, unsuccessful packages won’t turn into costly mistakes.

Before you direct mail in mass quantities — with the associated high cost — you’ll know if your package is going to draw a response, approximately to what extent, and if it will be successful. And you’ll be able to determine this before you spend big money to roll it out to every name on your list.

In traditional direct mail packages, there are three printed elements to consider:

  • The letter that contributes the personal soft sell of the benefits and the hard sell of the response.
  • The reply vehicle, in which the order form is sent via post card, envelope or telephone call.
  • The envelope that includes a teaser that guarantees the package will be opened.

In a direct mail campaign, you don’t sell the product, but rather the benefits derived from the product. Let’s take a closer look at each of the elements.


If you are sending any mail without a letter, you’re probably missing about 30 percent to 40 percent of your orders, maybe more. Of all the mistakes I see my clients make, this is the easiest to remedy, with the biggest immediate gain in revenues. A letter is the most important and powerful part of a direct mail package. Its pulling power is so strong, there are times a letter can work just by itself.

Have you ever noticed that when you receive a mailing from any of the giant direct marketers, a letter is always included? That’s because they know the value of the letter and how it increases response. But is it really a letter? No, it isn’t. A letter is a personal correspondence you write to one or two people. When you send it to 10 or 10,000 people, and it’s designed to sell your product, it’s really an ad — a highly stylized ad designed to look like a letter.

But we’ll call it a letter for short. The letter is the part of your mailing package that your potential customers read. If it’s good, it’s perceived as a personal note from you to them.

The letter is the place to sell the benefits of owning and using your product. This is where your powerful benefits generate the response — which is the objective of the letter. You do this 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 …," etc.

If the reader doesn’t respond in some fashion, your package didn’t work. The proof of this follows shortly afterward: You lose money. While I don’t usually recommend repeating yourself when writing advertising copy, asking for the response you are seeking is the exception. Throughout the story line, weave explicit directions leading readers directly down the path to respond.

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. While people generally realize it’s not a personal letter from a friend, they’ll overlook that fact if it’s done well.

The letter should be written on company letterhead. Add a few lines of text at the top set flush right, to give the reader an enticing glance of your offer. The salutation should be warm and friendly and as tightly focused to your audience as possible without alienating readers on the rim. Don’t take chances here, and don’t get too cute. For example, a good greeting to veterinarians might be, "Dear Doctor," or "Dear Animal Lover." To pharmacists, "Dear Pharmacist." Not too exciting, but it’s safe.

To people in your area, one of my favorites is, "Dear Neighbor." Better yet, for a warmer reception, "Dear Neighbor and Friend." To customers, "Dear Valued Customer." To someone in your business or industry, "Dear Colleague and Friend." "Dear Reader" can always be used, but it is always my last choice. The tighter you focus your salutation, the more personal your letter will look, the more it will be read and the more response you’ll get. Direct mail is, after all, a game of numbers.

Write a letter filled with benefits. State your most powerful benefits early, describe what’s in it for the reader, then immediately expound on it. Don’t wait until later in your package! You’ll lose readers soon enough without hiding your biggest benefits in the middle of a few pages of copy. If you have a lot of benefits, list those that are too numerous to mention in bulleted form. Everyone likes to read a short list. Write all copy in terms of you, "I am going to send" becomes "You will receive."

The opening paragraph should be only one line, two at most. Short paragraphs and a lot of white space around the typed copy will help interest the reader. Make it look easy to read, even if it isn’t. Indent all paragraphs four or five spaces. Format your letter flush left, ragged right — never justify the body of the letter. Use a standard font (Times) — nothing too fancy. No paragraph should run more than six lines. Vary paragraph length. Make the top line of each paragraph shorter on the right hand side than the rest of the paragraph.

Select a particular paragraph in the center, shorten its appearance with wide two-inch margins, and reduce the type size in this paragraph one or two points. Use short, action-packed words. Include your signature, legibly written. Then add a P.S. that re-emphasizes your best offer and asks again for the response. Everyone reads the P.S., so make it an order-clincher. Exciting graphics can be incorporated into a well-designed letter, too. Allow five to 10 hours for writing, editing and layout. [See the letter at the end of this document.]


Face it, the easiest response to generate is a phone call. It’s instant gratification for the reader, and with a charge card, it’s money in the bank for you. So, throughout the copy, several times I ask for a phone call to place an order. You should, too. This is always my first choice of the type of response I solicit.

To encourage the reluctant caller, I recommend you also enclose a reply envelope with an order form. The reply envelope can be postage-paid. You can let the customer place a stamp on it; however, it’s generally worth the expense to pay the postage. If your mailing envelope has a window, the mailing label should be affixed to the order form and 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 for them to order.

I recommend a reply envelope and an order form instead of a reply card so you can get paid up-front. With a reply card, your customers can’t enclose a check, and they are highly unlikely to enclose a credit card number on a postcard. On your order form, make sure you say on the top what it is: "Rush Order Form."

Somewhere on the reply form, make sure you give your regular phone number preceded by "To place your order immediately, call: …." Include your fax number, as well. Also include a recap of what you are selling, what they are getting, and if the benefits fit, throw in the most important ones one last time. Again, include your name, address and phone number — in case the card gets separated from the rest of the literature, this piece should stand alone. Make sure they know what they are ordering, and where to order from. Additionally, this a great place to flaunt your guarantee.


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. Every aspect of the envelope is designed to make the prospect open it. This is the only objective of the envelope.

If the mailing package is your ad, the envelope is your headline. Teaser copy, the few lines written on the envelope, is your one chance to get it opened. Staying within the guidelines of legality and good taste is the only requirement. After that, use whatever works, because if it doesn’t work, your great offer will get trashed unopened.

If your envelope isn’t opened as soon as it’s seen, there’s a good chance it will just be thrown out. Make sure your envelope copy is crisp, strong and sharp enough to force the reader to open it first — before any other piece of mail.

Writing envelope copy is tough. It’s got to be short, yet it must be the strongest copy you can output. Lots of people sort their mail over a trash can, and if your envelope copy is less than fantastic, that’s exactly where it will end up!

Teaser copy should be focused, but not narrowly enough to turn anyone away. The envelope copy needs to be more precisely targeted than your letter, because at this instant your whole package is at the greatest danger point of being trashed. You need a great hook for your teaser copy — an unbelievably great hook. 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. They’re that important. Then carry that theme inside, and start your letter with it. For example, "Free Gift Enclosed!" is probably my generic all-time favorite. "New Prices Enclosed" appeals to price-sensitive products and markets. If your mailpiece arrives with a first-class stamp, a favorite trick of mine (with less commercial-type mailings) is to put your name (not your company name) and address in plain type in the right-hand corner. People will think it’s a personal letter and open it.

You can also ask a perplexing question — a question so great everyone will need to know the answer. Promise to give them the answer if they open the envelope. Make an incredible statement; intrigue them. Drive them crazy with the need to open your mailing package immediately! Why do you think they call it teaser copy?

If your direct mailing works, you’ll find out when you get orders. If it doesn’t, don’t despair. Vary some of the text and send another mailing to a new targeted list. That’s the beauty of the direct mail package — you can test small audiences for successful responses, which is something you can’t get with other forms of marketing. You’ll find that you can’t afford to ignore direct mailing as an integral part of your marketing campaign.


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About the Writer: Jeffrey Dobkin is a direct mail copywriter and a direct marketing consultant. This article was excerpted from his book, How to Market a Product for Under $500! To order a copy of the book or receive a free review of your marketing materials, call toll free 800-333-8247. To speak with Mr. Dobkin personally, call 610-642-1000.

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