15 Tricks for Powerful Direct Mail Copywriting
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In the sea of unsolicited email sales pitches and cold calls, there are very few creative sales plays that actually stand out. This is why direct mail is seeing a resurgence as an effective sales tactic. Many professional marketing and sales departments are now including direct mail into their outreach strategies, to increase their chances of success.

Why Direct Mail Matters

And rightly so: direct mail response rates increased significantly in 2016, with a 5.3% response rate to house lists and 2.9% to prospect lists. These are impressive response rates, compared to digital marketing campaigns.

In fact, they are the highest levels the DMA has tracked since 2003, shows IWCO Direct.

Direct mail is the practice of sending physical items (cards, letters, even small gifts or gift cards) in the attempt to create a connection or relationship with a prospect.

Direct Mail Copywriting and Planning

Before you invest in an amazing direct mail campaign though, spend some time first on essentials: personas, list and geography.

CRM Trends shows that only 20% of the response to your direct marketing campaign will come as a result of your awesome copywriting. Sorry, folks!

About 80% of your responses are due to how well targeted your list is and how interesting your offer is to target audience. 

For the purpose of this article, we’re going to assume your list is all cleaned up, you’ve tested response rates, know your target audience, demographic and personas and your offer is the best on the block. Simple, right?

Types of Direct Mail 

Based on how you’re structuring your campaign, you can have Indirect response mailers, and Direct response campaigns. If you’re interested in immediate engagement of your audience, you’re going to use direct response campaigns.

As far as what your direct mail looks like, you can choose from a variety of formats:

  • Classic package (a letter and a response form, or order form)
  • Self-Mailer
  • Postcards
  • Newsletters
  • Catalogs, Brochures and Booklets
  • Letters

Let’s look at all the creative elements that make your direct mail campaign successful, and pick out some winning tactics to maximize your conversions: we’ll look at fonts, copy, outreach strategy, medium and images.

No Fancy Fonts, Stick to the Basics

You can mix and match it up, while using a maximum of 3 different fonts for your direct mailers. Depending on the size of your material, you might want to use just one type of font.

A professional designer will be able to help you pick the right font for your card. Here’s a few resources on where to find free fonts:

Google Fonts


Font Squirrel

Tip: Handwritten fonts generate higher response on direct mailers.

Use Powerful Headlines

The headline is the most important part of any copy. Industry experts confess that they spend more time crafting a title for their marketing material than they ever do on the material itself.

This is because of people’s tendency to just ‘scan’ things, rather than read – they will most likely go over your title, read a few introductory sentences, and if you do not catch their eye, your direct mail goes directly in the bin.

Here’s a few tried and true ways to make your title into pure eye candy:

  • Make a title short and catchy (around 65 characters is optimal)
  • Use common words for the title to be legible by a general audience (no industry jargon, please)
  • Use emotional and power words to make an impact

…Or Don’t Use One At All


People do read.

You just need to get their attention.

And nothing does this better than white space. There’s an interesting book that you might wish to read, if you are looking to improve your visual design skills. It’s titled creatively: “White Space is Not Your Enemy.” And the same can be said about your direct mail design – don’t be afraid to use white space to your advantage.

Short sentences, 2-3 words, are very powerful. Make sure you don’t abuse this strategy – your message needs consistency in order to be effective.

Use Empathy

Empathy gets you a long way, when writing for sales. What is your user thinking? What is their immediate need, in respect to your product? How would they really be delighted by the experience, if they were to choose your service?

Put yourself in your client’s shoes, and understand why they truly need or want your service – above all else, and you will be able to find the perfect offer.

Be the Industry Expert

This goes without saying, but people won’t consider your offer unless you are the absolute best in your field. Lots of adjectives (‘awesome’, ‘fantastic’, ‘great’) are a weak proposition when trying to get someone to respond to direct mail. Go for facts, not marketing fluff. Research and statistics are the base for that, and they should help position you as the expert in your field.

Don’t Sell a Product, Sell a Solution

This is an old marketing trick, but it pays to make it work for you – and it’s surprising how many companies still don’t see the value of selling a solution instead of a product.

The truth is, it’s hard work to be in tune with your customer – to understand and spend the time to research their needs, their pain points. It’s easier to just slap 50% off or a ‘buy one, get one free’ tagline.

Your product or service needs to solve a problem for your customer – to ultimately make their life better. If you’re not truly convinced that’s what you are doing, why do it at all?

cute puppy with please buy text

Elicit Emotions

Research has shown time and again that users judge brand by using emotion, not informational content. Ads that generated the best emotional response generated a 23 percent lift in sales volume, according to a 2016 Nielsen report. 

A study of the most popular images on imgur.com found that while negative emotions were less common in viral content than in positive, viral success happened when the negative images had an element of anticipation and surprise.

…But Don’t Just Shock People for the Sake of It

It’s natural to evoke emotion, but don’t go just go for the shock value. When emotionally charged ads fail, they will elicit the opposite response – and your strategy backfires.

There are a few major human emotions you can tap into: joy, sadness, anger, anticipation and surprise.

Depending on what your campaign is aimed at, you might appeal to other more complex emotions: vanity, trust, need of belonging or even competitiveness, fear of missing out.

happy customer giving a thumbs up

Use Testimonials

Advertising is all around us, so we’ve become somewhat immune to the noise. We’ve trained our brains to ignore or push back on any sales-type messages from the get-go.  In the digital realm, we call this the ‘banner blindness’ effect.

This is where referrals come in.

Why sell a product, when you can have your customers do it for you?

Using testimonials in your direct mail will build trust – especially if we are talking about a powerful name-drop (celebrity endorsements) or someone whose reputation resonates with the audience (endorsement from an industry expert).

orgiami ships-paper-boats

Think Out of the Box With 3D Direct Mail

Three-dimensional mailers are a cool way to show off your creativity and they a sure-fire way to impress your targets. They could be letters or self-mailers, either way they are bound to get your prospects’ attention.

Direct mailers can be shaped like a box, a plane or a tree. You can certainly stand out in the crowd with this type of tactic.

Be sure to use them sparingly though – they will be more expensive than regular direct mail, so target them only at your most important targets, and the ones most difficult to reach.

Here’s a slideshow of cool direct mail examples for inspiration.

Personalize, Personalize, Personalize

Based on industry, time of the year or audience segment, you will have different response rates for your campaigns. You can only find the sweet spot by testing, and we encourage you to do that as often as possible.

Direct Mail Images

Words are never going to be incredibly effective on their own. For the geeks out there, this is called the picture superiority effect. To make the best of this effect, you should have a professional designer on your team to help with your direct mail piece. If you insist on a DIY piece, here’s a few tips to make your images stand out:

  • Use images which elicit a powerful emotional response (everyone likes babies, cats, dogs, sports or food… And if you don’t… what kind of monster are you?)
  • Colorful images will do better than plain dull colors or black and white
  • Use pictures that are relevant and resonate with your target audience
  • Make sure to respect copyright when using any image in your marketing projects

Create Hot Spots

Direct mail copywriting makes heavy use of hot spots to draw the user’s attention. The title, the first paragraph, the last paragraph and and post-scriptum (PS) are going to be natural hot spots for any text-heavy material. You can create additional hot spots by using bold, different fonts, images, even white space. Again, a professional designer might help here.

Never Market Without Tracking and Testing

Like always, InsideSales.com does not recommend starting any campaign without having a way to track and test your results. There are different ways that you can measure results of a direct mail campaign, here’s a few:

  • Custom URLs
  • Phone numbers
  • Promotion codes
  • Vouchers, gift cards
  • Email click-through rates, when used as part of a digital and direct mail sales cadence.

Sending Automated Direct Mail With Your CRM

We hope you got something useful out of our direct mail copywriting guide. Spending enough time to plan out the strategy, message and purpose of your direct mail campaign will ensure that you get your money’s worth.

The good news is, writing direct mail for your customers has become a lot easier, thanks to modern technology. Salespeople can now send direct mail in automated fashion, straight from the CRM – with just a few clicks. You can watch the webinar on B2B direct mail to understand how this works!


the state of direct mail webinar offer

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