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Creating Profitable Direct Mail

David Yoho

Most people throw away more direct mail than they read. For that reason, a myth was perpetuated that direct mail is "junk mail". The sad truth is that most direct mail doesn't "speak" value nor does it speak to the recipient's motives and values.

Most direct mail is impersonal, wordy, overloaded, confusing, difficult to read and improperly planned. Properly planned and executed, direct mail will develop an abundance of leads, boost the response to sales campaigns, collect receivables more quickly and improve account retention. It can do all this while sales & service personnel are focused elsewhere.

Although mass mailings remain an effective marketing tool, personalized, specific messages targeted to defined users are usually more effective and less expensive.


Think of the envelope like a book's cover. According to direct marketing guru Rene Gnam, you have about 4 seconds to create value. Here are several ingredients that affect the reader's initial judgement. Who's likely to open  it? Secretaries, assistants, spouses, etc. may open and evaluate it first. Eliminate first name prefixes like Mr, Ms, etc., last name suffixes like Jr, PhD, etc. and middle initials to enhance personalization and the appearance of familiarity.

What kind of envelope is most appropriate for the contents and targets of the mailing? (plain #10, window envelope, odd-sized, over-sized, etc) Addresses printed directly on envelopes pull better than labels although window envelopes often increase response.

If you must use labels, match the color to the envelope or use transparent labels unless the label itself is special. Avoid numerical codes and bar codes on the envelope. They detract from importance and value.

Hand written envelopes to executives are often perceived as unprofessional or cheap. Use hand written envelopes if the message is personal or if it looks like an invitation.

The response to your mail is often improved with a tasteful teaser or an outright pitch printed directly on the envelope. Selling the main idea on the envelope usually obtains better response than a teaser. Key issue: Never promise more on the outside than you deliver on the inside.

Stamps and first class mail usually provide a better return on investment when mailing to executives, managers and business owners. Bulk rate, third class and metered mail will probably provide a better return on investment when the mailing piece is an obvious advertisement.

David Yoho
David Yoho


Weigh a sample piece before you invest in printing. You might add to or subtract from the contents depending on the required postage. Ensure the printing on the envelope, the stock, the addressing and the stamp are of consistent quality. And ensure that quality is consistent with the values of your readers.



Save one week's worth of mail from your home or office. Add your piece to the pile. Would you open it? Better yet, ask others.


Write your sentences in active tense by placing the action verb in the beginning. It's more powerful and easier to follow.

The letter should sound like it was written to one person, not a group. Be informal. Be concise. Use contractions. Simplify reading with 3 - 5 line paragraphs. Ensure the copy paints vivid pictures. Never, ever write without a Thesaurus!

Arouse readers immediately with provocative statements or questions, potential outcomes, problems or negative conditions. But don't pose a problem you can't solve through their response. Ask for, or recommend an action (a close) as often appropriate. Be specific about what you want them to do.

Graphics (pictures, diagrams, charts, etc) usually improve response. You can actually create graphics with copy and space - using bullets, indented paragraphs, bold face, pen script, and underlining. Be creative but be careful of overdoing it - graphics will attract attention but great copy leads them to action.

Print copy in 12-point serif fonts (or larger). Use larger fonts for older readers or to use more space. Serif fonts (those with feet) are easier to read. Sans serif fonts are OK for headlines. Avoid using more than two or three different fonts in one piece.

Always use a P.S. Most people read the P.S. before they finish the body of the letter. Use the P.S. to remind them of a key point, a deadline, a special offer, another choice, another benefit or a prompt to read the enclosures.

When you have lots of copy, avoid using more than one page by using separate enclosures to give details. Print the enclosures in different colors and refer to them in your letter.

You'll probably need 10 or more edits before the copy is impactful and sufficiently condensed.

THE REPLY VEHICLE (Card, Form, Envelope)

Refer to the reply vehicle at least once in the letter with creative names like:   a prepaid postcard, handy information request, postage-free response card, faxback, etc. Consider using graphics. Ensure it's a different color than the rest of the contents.

Never mail a sales letter without a reply vehicle unless you will absolutely, positively, follow that piece with a telephone call within 48 hours of the reader's receipt. Do it anyway!

Offer 3 to 5 positive solutions on the reply vehicle and include your telephone number. The reply vehicle should stand on its own. Often, it's the only piece they'll keep.


Don't evaluate the piece by how great it looks or without consulting others. Keep specific data regarding cost, response, current conditions and returns on investment. Mailing campaign failures are often converted into successes with one alteration or tweak. Don't generalize your results.

Print "Address Correction Requested" beneath your return address on the envelope. When the target moves, your mail will not be forwarded but returned to you at no charge with a yellow sticker indicating the new address.

David Yoho works with organizations that want to outthink, outmaneuver, outsell, and outnegotiate their competition.
Like to know more about David?

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