There is no standard format for a direct mail package. Formats can range from a single 4.25- by 6-inch postcard to elaborate, custom-made packages. The mass mailing sent by Fleet to small-business prospects, illustrated at right, is typical. It includes an outer envelope (OE), a personalized letter, a four-color brochure, and a “lift” letter. In addition, the package contains a separate, personalized application and a business reply envelope (BRE) for the return of the application. These are all common pieces in a large direct mailing (to one hundred thousand or more).
The outer envelope is the most important element. The teaser—“Get up to $100,000 for your growing business. You’re pre-qualified for Prime-1%”—is highly targeted to its small-business market and should get the envelope opened by any small business that needs money (and which doesn’t?). Note the stamp on the envelope. This is a pre-sorted first-class-mail stamp. Affixing this stamp, rather than using a preprinted indicia, and using first-class mail will add to the costs. But clearly, in its mail tests, Fleet found that the increase in response was worth the extra expense. (Bulk mail is not forwarded or returned by the post office.)
The next thing the prospect will likely look at is the letter. There are several pieces of valuable “real estate” on a direct mail letter—the first sentence, the P.S., and a “Johnson box,” if any. The Johnson box, named for copywriter
Frank H. Johnson, allows for a short teaser in a box (often formed of asterisks) that sits across from the personalized name. This letter does not make the best possible use of its key real estate. There is no Johnson box—which makes for a cleaner, more business-looking letter but also removes an opportunity to grab the prospect by the lapels and sell. The first sentence reads, “I know how valuable your time is and want to remind you of your pre-qualification for a Small Business Credit Express line of credit.” The acknowledgement of the reader’s time is polite, but the first line of the letter needs to sell (not to mention that the end of the sentence is a non sequitur). A better opening might be: “Busy business owners like you need two things—time and money. We can’t help you with time, but here’s some money.” The P.S. uses the standard technique of a time limit—“you only have until March 28 to respond.” Using a deadline helps get the prospect to respond now, instead of sticking the offer in a drawer to deal with later.
The purpose of the brochure is to keep the sales pitch going by answering questions the reader may have. This can be done without a brochure by using longer letters. Consumer mailings are often multipage letters—some as long as ten or twelve pages. As David Ogilvy points out in his classic book, “Direct response copywriters know that short copy doesn’t sell. In split-run tests, long copy invariably outsells short copy.” Copy must be long enough to answer the prospect’s questions and make the sale. Note that the “lift” note in this case contains the current interest rate. This is smart, because the information must be up-to-date, and the lift note can be printed and inserted at the last minute. Although the letter could also be personalized with current interest rate information, the lift note is a more effective device for bringing it to the reader’s attention.
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