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Why the Neglected Direct Mail Letter Could Be Your Secret Weapon

I recently received a mailing that left me scratching my head.

The outer envelope was impressively promising. It was a size that suggested something like an invitation or card inside. It was a tan colour and seemed to be addressed by hand in blue ink…and if it wasn’t, then it was an impressive hand-written font for personalization.

The postal indicia said clearly that it was Personalized Mail, but it was an actual custom-designed stamp affixed to the envelope, not pre-printed on it.

Clearly, the sender wanted it to look like it was a piece of personal mail. It worked. I ripped it open eagerly.

Inside was a postcard. No, it was more of a flyer than a postcard, but printed on card stock. It was printed in red, blue and black ink and announced a sale. (I won’t mention who it was from…okay, it was a car dealership.) It was NOT personalized.

And that constituted the full and entire contents of the envelope. Hmmm.

One of the greatest strengths of direct mail is that it is arguably the most personal of the mass media marketers have at their disposable. While personalized messaging is also a hallmark of digital media, particularly email, it is good old tactile direct mail that still gets the strongest reaction when it is personalized. When written by experts, the best direct mail is a personal, emotional and engaging piece of communication from one human being to another.

Whoever put together this mailing obviously was aware of this…while planning and designing the outer envelope anyway. But oh my, what a fail when they moved on to the content of the rest of the mailing.

I kept asking myself, “Why wouldn’t they have personalized the inside elements? Why didn’t they include a letter? Why did they stop with the envelope?”

Now I have seen things like this before. Perhaps not such a stark example, but certainly what can only be termed as an under-appreciation for the power of the personalized direct mail letter.

It sometimes seems that many people assume that no one will read a letter they receive in the mail. It’s junk mail, they say, and people will just throw it out. Others think that no one has the time, patience or inclination to read anymore. And letters, well, those are just a whole bunch of words, aren’t they? Better to go with visuals.

Or maybe they are simply unaware as marketers that the letter, personalized and crafted to get Attention, arouse Interest, create Desire and spur to Action is the most potent and persuasive weapon their Personalized Mailing can contain.

This is because crafting a direct mail letter should be regarded as an art, one that is informed by a rich history of knowledge about how to engage and persuade. In the hands of an experienced writer, the direct mail letter will be “constructed of powerful, persuasive thoughts elegantly expressed; embodying sophisticated concepts excitingly presented; featuring artful prose that inspires, encourages and sells; and showcasing gorgeously wrought copy that is, by turns, amusing, empathetic, cordial, convincing, conspiratorial, intriguing, explanatory and confessional, painting an incomparable word picture that inspires a quick and committed call to action.”*

But then again, perhaps it is not such a bad thing that too many mailers today neglect to take advantage of this powerful tool. For that may leave the rest of us with an opportunity to make it a secret weapon all our own. And reap the benefits of higher response, deeper engagement, and increased sales.

 

*Thanks to Mark Gauthier for this elegant phraseology from “The (Almost) Lost Art of Letter Writing in Direct Mail”, Target Marketing