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Best Practices for Direct Mail Copywriting
October 13, 2021

Best Practices for Direct Mail Copywriting

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Kim Courvoisier

Direct mail, as a medium, doesn’t rest on gimmick—you can’t let music, animation, a celebrity endorsement, or flashy design steal the show on a direct mail piece the way you can on a video or digital ad. When it comes down to it, the best way to catch a recipient’s eye with direct mail is through well-placed, well-written copy.

To make your direct mail piece as effective as possible, you need to understand the best practices for direct mail copywriting. This is a medium where form has to follow function, and your graphic designers and your readers will both benefit from well-written copy that helps clearly convey the message you want your readers to receive.

Stick to the script

When it comes to direct mail, there are plenty of opportunities to get creative, but there are a few key pieces of information and structural conventions that readers expect and look for. Your direct mail piece needs to include:

  • A “hook” that catches the eye and gets the recipient to read.
  • Something relatable that helps your recipient identify with.
  • A clear call to action.
  • Instructions on where to go next. Whether it’s your website or your physical location, your interaction doesn’t stop with direct mail.

Know your offer before you start writing

When you’re writing direct mail, you have a limited amount of space to get your message across and persuade people to take action. You also need to have an extremely compelling reason to be in someone’s mailbox. Without that, your carefully thought-out direct mail piece will get lost in the shuffle of bills and junk.

If you’re planning a road trip, it’s very rare to just get in the car and go without knowing your ultimate destination. If you know where you’re trying to end up and have a good sense of how to get there, you’re more likely to relax on the ride and find fun things along the way. Writing is a very similar journey.

Sometimes, the easiest way to find that compelling hook is not to agonize over finding your perfect headline, but rather working from the bottom up. If you know your offer and your call to action before you write your direct mail piece, it’s much easier to compose compelling content that moves toward a point.

Use a recognized formula

When we watch TV or movies, there are certain conventions we expect from genres. You don’t buy tickets for a romantic comedy to see explosions and gunfights, and you don’t turn on a true crime documentary for the romance and happy ending. What few people realize is that ad copywriting, especially direct mail copywriting, has similar “genres” that present information in specific ways that people can easily digest and relate to. If you use a formula to write your copy, you can be certain that your direct mail recipients will read and process the information.

Here are a few formulas to consider, with examples:

Problem, Agitate, Solve

This formula first presents a problem, then illustrates how big of a problem it is, and finally presents a solution. Let’s say, for example, that you’re an eCommerce skincare brand. You might use this script like so:

Problem: “Do you have dark circles around your eyes?”

Agitate: “Your eyes are the first thing people see when they meet you. Are you giving the right impression?”

Solve: “Our under-eye night cream is clinically proven to reduce dark circles in one week. Visit our website for 20% off your first order!”

Attention, Interest, Desire, Action (AIDA)

Any savvy marketer or copywriter knows at least the basics of the sales funnel—a model that takes your customer from basic awareness to decision through an understanding of the information they need at different points of the decision-making process. The AIDA formula is essentially an abbreviated form of the sales funnel, condensing multiple phases into a few key phrases. Using our same skincare example, the AIDA content might look something like this:

Attention: The eyes are the windows to the soul.

Interest: Your eyes tell a story, and help you give a great first impression. When you have dark circles, you don’t look your best, and your confidence diminishes.

Desire: By using our under-eye cream, you can look and feel your best without worrying about dark circles ever again!

Action: Visit our website and use this promo code to get 20% off your first order of our clinically proven dark circle repair under eye cream.

Before, After, Bridge

Typically when you tell a story, you would go “beginning, middle, end.” In this copywriting formula, you start with the beginning, skip to the end, and then use your product as the middle “bridge” that connects the two. This can be an incredibly effective and concise way of illustrating a message:

Before: Do you have dark circles and under-eye bags?

After: Get brighter, more youthful eyes in just one week!

Bridge: Our under-eye cream is clinically proven to reduce the appearance of dark circles. Get 20% off your first order now.

Know your audience

One of the beautiful things about direct mail is its targetability. You know the exact location your reader is going to be when they receive your message, and you can tailor your direct mail copy accordingly. However, to make this as effective as possible, you have to not only understand your ideal customer but exactly where they stand and who you might have to also speak to in order for your message to be received.

For instance, if you’re sending a piece to an office with the hope it’s going to wind up in the hands of the CEO, you have to account for the fact that the mail is first going to get touched by an office manager, assistant, or receptionist who will sort it and determine what actually gets handed off.

Something else to consider about your audience is geographic weather. For instance, if you’re sending direct mail pieces nationally in the hopes of increasing your holiday season retail sales, you might need to send different versions to customers in different regions—an offer centered on scarves and mittens, with messaging about frosty winter air won’t resonate with shoppers in Florida and Southern California.

Think about the big-picture strategy

The single most important thing to keep in mind about direct mail is that it doesn’t exist in isolation. It’s important to consider what the next step in your customer journey is—and acknowledge that with most 21st century consumers, that step is likely going to be a digital one.

Fully integrating your marketing strategy to include both inbound and outbound tactics is absolutely critical for success in the current market. It’s also not enough to put all of your marketing dollars behind a single channel, and your channels need to work together seamlessly in order to make each one as individually effective as possible.

Lob’s direct mail solutions are unlike any others—we don’t believe in spending a fortune on a mass deployment and not being able to track results or optimize performance. With programmatic triggers, you can send your customers postcards, letters, or even checks based on their online behaviors and other engagement with your brand. We track and monitor deliveries, ensuring that you’re always informed about performance and able to make data-driven decisions. Most importantly, we make it easy to integrate direct mail into your digital marketing strategy thanks to RESTful APIs, dynamic HTML templates, and automated address validation.

To learn more, get our Running a Tactical Direct Mail Campaign mini guide.

If you’re ready to put your direct mail copywriting best practices to the test, we’re here to help! Sign up for Lob and send stronger direct mail today.

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