How to Improve Your Direct Mail Response Rate

There’s no doubt that direct mail is one of the most effective marketing tool available to small business. What are the advantages?

It’s cost-effective, costing between .75 cents and $1 per mailing, including paper, ink, envelopes and postage. It’s effective, averaging between 1 and 3% response rate. It allows controlled growth. You choose how many you send, and since you know the average response rate, you know how many will probably reply. And it gives you one-on-one attention.

But direct mail is only truly effective if you get at least that 1 to 3% response rate. I’ve heard about direct mail failures from many small business owners. In fact, I’d say most who’ve tried it don’t believe it works well at all based on their response. Sometimes those responses have been zero.

It’s frustrating to pour hours of your best copywriting into a direct mail letter that bombs. You may feel that not only have you wasted your time, but you’ve also wasted a bunch of cash that could have been put to better use somewhere else.

But, most of those business owners have committed cardinal sins in their direct mail copywriting. And their response rates could have been far higher had they known a few things about writing direct mail.

It all starts with the envelope. If it looks like “junk mail”, it’ll probably be tossed instead of opened. There’s no chance of getting your message if it hits the trash can, and that means you have wasted your time and resources.

So, make sure your direct mail letter is opened by making them want to see what’s inside. You could

  • use real stamps instead of a postage meter
  • take your logo off the return address so they think it’s from a real person rather than from a business
  • address it in handwriting rather than print
  • use a different font than what’s normally used
  • make the envelope a different color than white
  • print a teaser on the envelope

And those are just a few tips. Use your imagination. What gets you to open an envelope?

Once you get them to open it, attention shifts to the letter itself. You have literally seconds to convince them to read on, or once again it hits the trash can. What makes the biggest difference? Your opening headline.

Get their attention with a compelling heading, and try to aim for some kind of emotional response. The stronger that emotional response, the better. Your headline could ask a question. Or it could provide an answer. And it should highlight your biggest benefit in some way. “How to…” is a good bet. “Why” also works. Asking a question stimulates our curiosity, and that usually means we’ll read on.

Attract more interest with your first few paragraphs. They’re your introduction. If it bores them, they’ll stop reading.

Know your target market and write the body of your copy directly to them. If they’re women, use words that appeal to women. And if they’re men, use words men relate to. Copy written for younger consumers differs from copy for older ones.

Now, how does your product or service benefit your target? Will it make them richer? Will they look younger? Feel sexier? Attract more of the opposite sex? How will it make them feel? Benefits stimulate desire, and it’s their wants that you want to provide an answer for.

For the most part, they’re not interested in you, what your company does, or how long you’ve been in existence. What they do care about is WIIFM. “What’s in it for me?” It’s your benefits that will tell them what’s in it for them.

Don’t make the mistake of using technical jargon if your target market is consumer-based. And keep your writing simple, friendly and conversational no matter who your target market is.

Have a specific call to action. Tell them exactly what you want them to do. Do you want them to call you for more information? Sign up for your online newsletter? Order your product? And make sure you tell them when to contact you (today of course) and why (because of a discount or special offer), and create some sense of urgency (time- or quantity-limited).

Include a P.S. repeating your main benefits and your time- or quantity-limited special offer. It’s the second most-read line in your letter.

A few tips on style. Readers usually scan. They won’t often read the whole letter, so break up long copy with subheadings and include a photo or graph because their eye will stop there. They usually zig-zag while they’re reading, starting in the top left corner and moving down the page, often moving their eye back up to the top right.

A tip on length. There’s various opinions on length. My opinion is that you write until…. Keep writing until you’ve said everything you need to say regardless of length.

And a final tip on editing. Write the letter and put it aside for a day or two. Then read it aloud, noting where it’s awkward or where the flow isn’t right. Fix that and read it out loud again, or better yet, have someone else read it to you.

Now that you know how to write direct mail that will increase your response rate, I hope if you’ve already tried it and think it’s not effective that you’ll try it again. Or if you’re new to direct mail, that you’ll give it a try. It truly is one of the most effective ways overall to generate leads and increase sales.

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