Write Direct Mail Copy That Persuades

by | Jul 18, 2019

Keep Your Direct Mail in Shape!

Sign up for free direct mail tips & trends

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Words carry power. In the right hands, they can broaden minds, move hearts, and open wallets.

Think about the Gettysburg Address, written by Abraham Lincoln on a piece of White House stationery to honor Civil War dead. In just 272 words, he crafted an eloquent statement that resonates today because he spoke eternal truths about the principles America was founded on.

Make (or Break) Your Direct Mail

But you don’t have to be a Lincoln to move prospects with your words.

Consider the “Two Young Men” letter written by Martin Conroy for a Wall Street Journal subscription campaign. It drove $2 billion in revenue over the 30 years it was mailed.

The key to its incredible success is telling the story of two college friends with similar backgrounds and aspirations. Twenty-five years after graduating, they discover that they work for the same company. One is the manager of a small department. The other is its president.

Without explicitly saying so, the message implies that their different outcomes happened because one man used what he learned by reading that newspaper.

On a small, single, two-sided sheet of paper, Conroy built a strong case by focusing on the biggest benefit of subscribing instead of presenting a laundry list of features.

Many marketers start by basing their copy on a formula called AIDA, which stands for:

  • Get Attention
  • Create Interest
  • Build Desire
  • Propel Action

Now, how do you put that into words?

AIDA gives you a framework for your sales content. But, persuading people to purchase a product or service or to buy into a cause is an art that takes skill and time to develop. You can follow many best practices and rules (and maybe even break them).

Covering them all is pretty much impossible to go through in this small space, but these fundamental tips will start you on the right track.

1. Know your audience

Who are you writing for? This is the first question you need to ask and answer.

No, you’re not writing for “everybody,” not even if you have unlimited printing and postage in your budget. Figure out which group or groups are the targets for your campaign.

Remember that even though you’re targeting a specific group of people, 99 percent of the time only one person will be reading your direct mail piece.

So, no matter what you’re writing – body text, headlines, or a call to action – imagine you’re speaking directly to one person.

Talk to them about their wants. Use short sentences. Keep your writing real and conversational, not flowery, overly formal, or long-winded. Know what level of vocabulary is most appropriate for them.

2. Highlight benefits, not features

Your prospect wants to know “What’s in it for me?” So, as simple as it sounds, put yourself in their shoes, and then, tell them.

Describe how the product or service you’re selling helps them satisfy a want or an emotional need. Let them know how it softens or even eliminates a pain point. Focus them on the endgame: a better life thanks to your help.

Facts and features – anything that you use in or on your mailer – should be aligned with and support that benefit.

3. Leverage the seven main emotional copy drivers

People aren’t robots. We might not want to admit it, but we really do make decisions based on emotions and use facts or reason to back them up. Seven main emotions, originally defined by Swedish marketing expert Axel Andersson and Seattle ad agency founder Bob Hacker, can trigger action:

  • Greed
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Guilt
  • Salvation
  • Flattery
  • Exclusivity

When you use single words, phrases, sentences, headlines, or stories to bring forth these feelings, you connect with the reader on a deeper, human-to-human level.

4. Use powerful words

Some words resonate better than others to sell a prospect on the product or service. Some examples:

  • “Free”
  • “Guarantee”
  • “Results”
  • “Proven”
  • “Easy”
  • “Health”
  • “Save”

What’s the most powerful word? “You.”

It’s not so much about liberally using the actual word as it is focusing your copy on the wants and needs of your prospect, customer, or donor, and not what you, the marketer, want to sell them.

5. Structure your copy for easy scanning

Trust us: Your customer doesn’t want to read big blocks of text, tiny fonts, or confusing layouts in your mailing.

To maximize the effectiveness of your message, work with your designer or use a template to take advantage of hot spots on your postcard, self-mailer, or letter package.

These things capture and direct your prospect’s attention:

  • Headlines
  • Subheads
  • Bullet points
  • Underlined or highlighted words
  • A postscript, or “P.S.”

Break up long copy with headlines and subheads, as we did in this post. This makes it easy for your reader to scan your mailer and discover quickly what you’re selling and how it benefits them. They don’t have to read entire paragraphs, short as they might (and should) be.

Also, make white space your friend. It gives your reader’s eyes a break as they follow the flow of the text, images, and graphics across a panel, a fold, or down a page.

Wrapping it up

“The purpose of a sentence is to get the next sentence read,” says marketer Malcolm Auld.

However you choose your words, read them aloud every few paragraphs or so. Eliminate or simplify words that you pause or stumble over. When your words flow easily, you’re doing your reader a favor.

Remember: Your direct mail piece has only a few seconds to get your prospect’s attention, to persuade them to continue reading and then to prompt them to act. Make the most of your words! 

Bonus: If you need a refresh on your direct mail planning, head over to simple but powerful direct mail planning starters.


Curious How We Can Help Your Campaign?