Published articles

Better Business March Issue #154Better Business
Issue #157

A mailshot can be a great way of reaching new customers or selling more to existing clients. But you need to make sure you grab their attention, says Marc Hornby.

Keywords:
CRM - Customer Relationship Marketing
Customer Retention


Creating a Direct Mail letter

More often than not, when it comes to writing a letter, whether it is to a customer, a prospect or even a pen pal, it can be really hard to know how to start. We usually have a general idea of what we want to say, but getting the words from your brain to paper can sometimes seem an impossible task!

When writing a direct mail letter to existing customers or prospects, it is so important to get it right, because you are not only communicating a message, but also giving a personality to your brand and product or service. It’s a method of bringing to life what your company is about; and so the way sentences are structured, the language and order the words are used are vital to ensuring you’re engaging with the reader in the right way. From tone and pace of the letter down to spelling and grammar, which can often make your company look rather incompetent when silly errors are made.

Most direct mail letters are sent to addresses that are taken from the customer and prospect database or from a bought list. In all cases, segmenting and targeting the right customers with the relevant message is the first thing that should be considered before putting pen to paper, or more likely nowadays fingers to keyboard!

If we take the example of selling sandals through mail order to put this into context. The first place would be to start with your customers who are loyal, familiar with the brand and products and who should be a lot easier to encourage to buy again. Secondly, there will be prospects, who have received a catalogue before, seen your adverts, but not yet made a purchase. Then finally there are those from a bought list who have never heard of you before. Each of these three customer types should be written to in a different way that is relevant to the relationship and makes the letter seem personalised. The letter going to an existing customer could simply read “hope you were pleased with your last purchase”. The letter to the prospect could have “hope you enjoyed reading through our latest catalogue” and then to the bought list “Let me introduce you to …”. The bulk of the letter can remain the same, but small details like these can make all the difference in making the reader believe the letter is for them and them only.


Always try and address the letter to the person i.e “Dear John Smith”, rather than “Dear Customer”, as a personalised letter has a better chance of avoiding the bin without an opening glance, than a letter that is obviously direct mail. Equally, when signing off the letter, make sure it is from someone relevant. In many cases the more senior the position (and always state their position) then the more important the letter will feel. For example a letter coming from the Managing Director will carry more weight than one from the Office Supervisor (with greatest of respect).

Break up your letter using paragraphs that flow from one to the other, but also introduce the text to the reader by starting each paragraph with a bolded centralised header. Use the key information that is in the paragraph as this will draw the reader’s eye and provide a framework for the letter. Each header should be able to be read together almost as a short message. For example the headers that can be used in our example letter for selling sandals could read; “Step into Summer with our new, fashionable sandals”, “All our sandals are made from British leather”, “Priority delivery will have you in your sandals in 5 days”, “Call 0800 … …. before 25th April and get free P&P”. Using the headers to structure the letter, the reader can appreciate what the letter is about, why they are being contacted and what they have to do, without reading any of the text in between. This is a powerful method of passing the five second test that many readers will give to a direct mail letter. It’s very important to get your message across quickly, effectively and as simple as possible to engage with the reader, which will then encourage them to read the copy in between. It is then down to the rest of the letter to create mood and conjure imagery that sells the product or service “adding meat to the bone” so to speak.

Take advantage of P.S. It’s a great way to reinforce a key message in your letter, and even draws the eye to those readers that may skim read, and as mentioned earlier, process bolded or emphasised words. I’ve even seen letters with P.P.S and as long as it’s adding value to the letter and deserves the space on the page, then don’t be afraid to use it.

A great way to start getting your thoughts out is to develop a framework for which your letter will take and then you can add context and dimension to the headings. The best way to structure your letter is to remember the acronym “AIDA” Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.


The letter should begin by attracting the “Attention” of the reader capture them and draw them into the letter so that every word makes them want to read on and find out what it is about and why it has been sent to them. A frequently used tactic here is to pose a question “Do you suffer from….?” Or “Have you ever dreamt of…” This is a great way to get the reader to think about their own situation and again personalises the letter. In the example of headers above I used “Step into Summer with our new, fashionable sandals” which creates a need and instantly tells the reader what the letter is about. If the product or service is right for them then they will be able to relate to the first paragraph and read on.

Once the reader’s attention has been caught then an “Interest” in what you have to say needs to be cumulated, again to maintain the reader in what you are telling them. Give them information about the product or service that sells it to them based on logic. Facts and figures or unique selling points work well here. Again in the example header above I’ve used “All our sandals are made from British leather” Common psychology could suggest that a reader may be sceptical when first opening a letter and will pose challenging questions as to why they should read or respond, often holding a negative attitude “What’s trying to be sold to me now”? If you can break down this barrier with useful information, that again is relevant and helps sell the product or service, then you’re halfway there.

Those recipients of the letter who are not likely to make a purchase would have certainly discarded your letter by now, however, those that are reading on are engaged, interested and want to know what comes next, which is when you create a “Desire”. A sense that they want this product or service. Their logical side has been satisfied with information, so now is the point to use imagery and touch on the senses. In the example of headers earlier I used “Priority delivery will have you in your sandals in 5 days”. This helps the reader to think “if it’s Monday today then I can have my sandals for Friday ready for the weekend”. Again, it’s a case of helping the reader imagine using the product or service in a positive way that you are helping them or adding value to their lives and so they go on to what is referred as “call to action” in other words how do they get the product or service.

This nicely leads us to the final part of the letter with the “Action”, again referring to the header examples we had “Call 0800 … …. before 25th April and get free P&P”. This works well in two ways. Firstly it tells the reader what to do i.e. pick up the phone and dial this number and secondly it gives a timescale to ensure the reader makes the purchase whilst it is still fresh in their mind and is then less likely to forget or put it to aside for a later date. It’s also a good way to manage your stock or time, as you could expect most of the responses to come before or on this date.

Above all else, speak to your customers or prospects like an individual. Have in your mind who you are writing to and use words that make you sound human rather than someone who has swallowed a dictionary! At every opportunity try to personalise the letter as much as possible calling upon information you have about your customers from past transactions or contact. Your customers will go on to feel valued which makes for a very loyal and valuable advocate for your company.


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