7 Secrets of Money-Making Direct Mail

By David Garfinkel 

If you send out marketing letters, you may be familiar with the agony and the ecstasy. You know what I mean? The agony when letters don't work--money down the drain-- and the ecstasy when they do. The money that comes in from a good letter is almost like manna from heaven.

The sad reality, though, is that too many direct mail letters fail. A large number of letters don't get any response at all, and most letters that get response don't get nearly the response they could.

Fortunately, the next time you do a mailing, it doesn't have to be that way. You can put the odds on your side by following seven simple steps.

I've examined the successful letters I've written for clients, and reviewed the letters of others, including entrepreneurs' letters and some of the best work of other highly skilled copywriters. What I've noticed is that the letters that work have the following characteristics in common:

1. Successful Money-Making Letters are personal. These letters read as though the writer of the letter is having a conversation with you. When you read the letter out loud, you see it comes across as spoken language, not the stilted English of formal business correspondence

Nor does the letter have the "stickler" language of a by-the-book school assignment. (I've advised many clients who feel compelled to use "proper English" in their sales letters… to "fire your English teacher!") The word that always seems to describe the tone and feeling of these letters: relaxed.

Action you can take: Become a professional eavesdropper! Not to invade people's privacy, but rather to learn how people talk in informal conversations. Listen to talk radio, watch movies, pay closer attention when you're having a chat with friends. By doing this, you will learn to write more the way people talk, and this will improve the effectiveness of your letters.

2. Successful Money-Making Letters are focused on the wants of the reader. If you've ever had a great business idea that went nowhere--or, if you've ever watched someone else start a business that flopped because no one would become a customer--then you have observed the following principle in action: People buy what they want, not what you think they should want!

This is a very hard and expensive lesson that gets learned over and over every day in business, usually in the form of lost sales and in extreme cases, bankruptcy. How to prevent this problem? By asking people what they want and listening very carefully to what they say and how they say it. How to profit from this information? By taking what people tell you and addressing it directly in your letter.

Action: Get to know your customers well enough personally so you know what they really want when they buy from you.

3. Successful Money-Making Letters are written in the reader's language. Maybe you've noticed that every business and social group has its own buzzwords and its own way of talking. For example, recently I wrote a letter to CEOs of multi-million-dollar corporations. Though they are in charge of businesses just as smaller entrepreneurs are, CEOs are a far more objective, fact-focused group.

As emotional as some of these CEOs may be at times in private, they need to maintain a very reasoned and clear-headed public presence as part of their jobs. So of course they tend to talk logically. Small-business owners, on the other hand, have more freedom to express emotions. So they tend to talk more emotionally.

Why does this matter? It matters because on the face of it, CEOs and small business owners would seem to have a lot in common. Yet research showed me the everyday language of the CEO was different from the language of entrepreneurs, a group I know well (and belong to myself). To make the CEO letter effective, I had to tone the emotion way down, and build up the logic.

You need to have the same kind of awareness about the language your prospects use. Here's why: When your letter sounds the way the reader talks, barriers go down and the reader opens up emotionally. Therefore, the likelihood of a response to your letter is increased.

But when your letter is written differently from the way the reader talks, the letter is read at a distance. The empathy the reader feels while reading goes down. The likelihood of a response becomes much less.

Action: Before you write, spend some time talking to the kinds of people who will be receiving your letter. Analyze the way they talk. If you can, get permission to tape record several conversations and transcribe the conversations. In your letter, write using similar words, phrases and modes of expression.

4. Successful Money-Making Letters are easy to read. Would you like to know a secret of highly-paid copywriters? Two words: "eye appeal."

It's a known fact that if a page has "eye appeal"--if, at a glance, it "looks" easy to read--the chances are far greater that a prospect will venture into the first sentence than if it looks hard to read. And what looks easy to read? Three things: Type, short paragraphs and variety.

"Type" in this case means the type is big enough to read! For your main letter, you want it to be at least 12 point. "Short paragraphs" means usually no longer than four lines. And "variety" means bolding, underlining and indenting whole paragraphs to emphasize key words and points for the skim-reader.

Action: Check your letter for type, short paragraphs, and variety. Then, have a customer or qualified prospect read your letter before you send it out. If that person gets stuck anywhere, or complains that the letter is confusing or difficult, fix the problem until the letter is easy to read.

5. Successful Money-Making Letters are convincing. To be profitable for you, a letter has to do more than make a good impression on the person who is reading it. Your letter has to be convincing. Only if it is convincing will the reader respond.

To make your letter convincing, you must know your product or service, know your customers, and--most important of all --know the actual, real, live way to make an effective sales pitch out loud, in person. Once you know those three things, you need to translate that sales pitch to paper. Do that successfully, and your letter will be very convincing!

Action: Before you write your letter, outline the structure and contents of your successful sales pitch. Then, weave the pitch into the text of the letter itself. After the letter is written, take an uncompromising look at your letter to see if it's as convincing as you are when you make your sales pitch live and in person.

6. Successful Money-Making Letters are clear. A little-known fact about good writing is that it does not take a simple mind to write a simple sentence. It merely takes clear thinking. Sometimes clear thinking is easy, and sometimes, it takes a lot of hard work!

Here's how you know if your writing is clear: anyone who is a prospect will understand everything you've written, the way you intended it to be understood. If not, it doesn't mean the prospect is dim-witted. No. What it means is, you need to make the writing clearer.

Clarity in writing often comes through refinement. More often than not, this takes time. Trying to meet an arbitrary deadline to complete a letter is often a bad thing to do, because you sacrifice clarity for promptness. If people get your letter on time but they don't get what you're trying to say, you've "won the battle but lost the war." That's an unfortunate position to be in.

Better to be late and make the sale!

Action: Take the time you need to get your letter to the clearest, simplest expression of what you have to say, in the fewest number of words possible. When you do this, it will pay off handsomely in the improved response you get.

7. Successful Money-Making Letters are motivating enough to make prospects call you or send in an order. I once wrote a sales letter for an autobody shop in an upscale area. The letter was for a special on detailing cars. The business owner was stunned by the response we got to the new mailing.

"99% of the people who call up are 100% sold, and all we have to do is set up a time that's convenient for them," he said in a voicemail message to me. "I've never received such a dramatic response to any form of advertising before."

One of the things that made this letter work was how well it pushed the hot buttons of the car owners who received it. We warned them that summer heat could "bake" flaws onto the finish of their nice cars. And we offered them a free bonus to extend the protection of the detailing for months (when it would be time for their next detailing).

Action: Get to know what motivates your prospects. When you write, remember and apply the old sales rule: "People buy for their reasons, not yours."

Well, there you have it--seven secrets that will make your direct mail make more money for you. You can use this article both as an action plan before you write… and ask a checklist to get your letter in great shape after it's done. I know you're in a rush to get it in the mail and get back some business. But take a little time and effort to turn your letter into a real winner--because the rewards can be huge!

David Garfinkel is widely recognized by many "marketing gurus" as their secret weapon. That is, he is known as "The World's Greatest Copywriting Coach"; because, he can, like no other, teach you how to turn words into cash.

David is also the author and narrator of Killer Copy Tactics, the Web's first and only totally interactive audio / visual learning system for writing killer sales copy. You can master these killer copy tactics by clicking here to discover the secrets of how you can write killer copy.




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