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Elements of Successful Direct Mail Campaigns

Author: Jeffrey Dobkin   |   July 5th, 2010

All direct mail marketing campaign packages have common elements: outer envelope, letter, brochure; most have a reply card or reply envelope.  While a 4-color brochure can supply the glitz and glamor, it’s the letter in today’s direct mail marketing campaign that brings in the orders.  Examine the letter in your direct mail campaign with an eye towards generating higher readership, which means more phone calls and orders.

Once people open your direct mail package they glance at your brochure, but they read the letter. 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 ten, ten thousand, or ten million people – it’s an ad.  It’s a highly stylized ad designed to look likedirect mail marketing campaign a letter.  Any arguments?

A great direct mail letter can overcome a poor offer or a product’s expensive price tag and still bring in orders.  In fact, a well written direct mail letter can work when mailed just by itself.  The only factor that a great direct mail letter can’t overcome is the incorrect list.  But… that’s another article.

Like any direct mail advertising, the opening parts of the perfect direct mail marketing campaign letter attract readers and pull them into the rest of the package. Here are the first two parts of a direct mail marketing campaign letter:

Johnson Box

Named after the late Frank Johnson who first isolated this space in the 1960’s and used it for advertising copy, it’s the area above the salutation, but across the page on the upper right. The Johnson box is where you put the ad for your sales letter.  It’s function is to quickly capture reader attention, and drive customers to read the rest of the sales letter copy.

The reason this part of the page has such incredible pulling power is: it’s the highest visibility area on the page.  It’s above the fold – and a natural catch place that draws the eye and captures attention.

If copy is brief and well designed this area gets exceptionally high readership.  And since it’s not actually inside the body part of the letter it’s usually not perceived as part of the letter copy.  So it stands out: up and away from the rest of the letter.

This area can be just a line or two in the same type style of your letter (Courier is my favorite).  My preference is to have two short lines of 5 to 8 words, flush right, and then directly above (or above and below if you have the vertical space) these lines, on the very next line type ****’s [shift + 8] spanning the length of the words.  This graphically separates these lines from the rest of the letter, yet still defines the lines and space as part of the letter.

In direct contrast to the above paragraph, this area can also be used as a small ad.  Design this space tightly: short and sweet with typeset copy, with a one inch offset from flush right, and show the ad without a border.  Keep in mind it’s a hot area and should be written and designed solely to entice the reader into the rest of the package. It can contain teaser copy, a quick synopsis of your biggest benefits, or a line or two touting your best offer.

The Opening

One or two lines that start your letter become your entire first paragraph.  Keep in mind the shorter the better.  Your opening lines can even be just one or two words, set off by themselves to be the entire opening paragraph.  With an opening paragraph of just two words, readership is ensured.  Next paragraph – just 5 to 7 words  This is the perfect direct mail letter opening:

Your best offer.

And a few words about it.

See how this works? You need to electrify this area.  Readership survival of your whole direct mail marketing campaign is at its highest risk in the your first line of your letter.  Good just isn’t good enough for this particular spot, your letter opening needs to be G-R-E-A-T!

Like the headline of an ad, the first line of a direct mail marketing campaign letter is written and designed to pull readers further into the body copy by way of intrigue, interest, coercion, desire, and seduction. Hey, wait a minute… this sounds like how I got married!  Funny thing about marriage – while most women don’t seem to marry you for your money, they all seem to divorce you for it.

No selling in the opening line of the letter.

The objective of your sales letter’s first line is just to make people continue reading.  The first line is a critical junction: readers don’t have any commitment in your marketing letter — they haven’t invested reading time, don’t know how great your product is or how reasonable your offer.  They don’t identify with you — or anything you’re selling.  Readers can jump ship without guilt or curiosity at this point.  Your copy here better be great.

Additionally, it’s way too early in the mailing package to sell anything; it’s before you have made any kind of any value proposition: shown the benefits of what you are offering, and how great your offer is to receive those benefits.

Reader fall-off at the beginning of your letter is at its greatest danger, unless you’re really perfect with your first line.  You know what that means, don’t you?  Yes, use the Jeff Dobkin 100-to-1 Rule to create your first sentence.  Write 100 opening lines, go back and pick out your best one.  Hey I didn’t say you’d like it, I just said it was effective.  The 100-to-1 rule is from the book, Uncommon Marketing Techniques, from the Danielle Adams Publishing Company.

This is the end of part one of the article series on increasing the effectiveness of your direct mail letters. The next article shows marketing tips for increasing readership in the body copy of your direct mail marketing campaign letter.  Each paragraph is dissected for what you need to include for maximum response.


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One Response to “Elements of Successful Direct Mail Campaigns”

  1. Purushyottam Ghosh Says:

    Very well written article on direct mail marketing. Waiting for the next part.

    The one line that stuck me in this article is:

    ‘while most women don’t seem to marry you for your money, they all seem to divorce you for it”

    Funny but true! 😉

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