What’s the secret to profitable, successful direct mail in an online world?

It’s following proven rules to maximize response.

While it may be dangerous to the creative process to use set formulas, it is just as dangerous to ignore the rules that over time, have proven themselves to produce success.

In writing a direct mail letter, there are certain rules that, if ignored or violated, will probably generate responses below what could be done had the rules been followed.

While understanding that there are exceptions to the rules, the following are critical in evaluating a successful letter. If you’re violating these rules now or if you ignore them as you write your next letter, you will do so at your own peril.

Rule #1: Paragraphs. Use short paragraphs and sentences. Never go over six lines in a paragraph.

Rule #2: Words. Use short words. Strive for at least 65–75% of your words being five letters or less. Never go under 50% unless you’re writing to PhD’s, and even then it’s still dangerous.

Rule #3: Sentences. Make your sentences and paragraphs flow like a breeze. Keep them simple.

Rule #4: The start. Write a short opening paragraph. Don’t smother your reader with the first paragraph. Limit it to a maximum of four lines and it can be shorter.

When a paragraph is longer than six lines, the sales points tend to become buried. Furthermore, the sight of long paragraphs depresses response.

Rule #5: Variation. Paragraph length should be varied. A letter with all paragraphs that are the same length looks dull and monotonous. This observation applies whether the paragraphs are all long, or all short.

Occasionally, you might want to use a paragraph of just one line or several words. This will make your letter more powerful.

Rule #6: Indentation. Indent key paragraphs for emphasis and reading ease. Use one or two paragraph indentations on each page.

Rule #7: Second color. Use a second color for paragraphs, plus subheads, bullet points and/or indentations to draw attention to key parts.

Rule #8: Key idea. Try to express only one good idea in each paragraph.

Rule #9: Grammar. Ignore good grammar when you have good reason.

Rule #10: Bucket brigade. Keep the bucket brigade going: Start paragraphs with “And,” “But,” “So you see,” “However,”….

Rule #11: Imagination. Use the freshest concepts and the most colorful language you can without disturbing the flow.

Rule #12: Hot words. Use hot words: free, new, emergency, now, secret, easy, introducing, save, guarantee, today….and the hottest word of all: You!

Rule #13: Bullet points. Use bullets a lot. Make sure they excite the reader. Your best bullets should make the prospect drool.

Here is an example of great bullets integrated into a letter:

  • 4 unique developments that will ignite a once-in-a-lifetime explosion in select, ultra-safe and no-load mutual funds.
  • The proven $150,000 mutual fund money-making secret.
  • 100 mutual fund losers to sell, now. Is yours one of them?
  • A $39-value Special Report, yours free: Super Star Mutual Funds That Will Double in the Next Three Years

Rule #14: Develop your USP (Unique Selling Proposition). Separate yourself from the competition as clearly as you can. Discover, isolate and dramatize all the reasons for doing business with you instead of someone else.

Rule #15: Value-added marketing. Learn to give. Value-added marketing builds sales and future relationships. Most marketers think of direct response strictly as a device to get.

Rule #16: Testimonials. Use testimonials. They’re proof that you’re as good as you say you are, and that you’ll do what you say you will. Like:

“Clearly, CDMG is the #1 direct marketing agency in America.” – William Seay, The Dynamic Investor

It’s called credibility, and you can’t do successful direct response marketing without it!

Rule #17: Offer. Don’t make the reader guess about your offer. Make it clear and simple. Tell the reader what you want him to do and what you are selling, near the beginning of the letter.

Rule #18: Clarity. Avoid bureaucratic talk and clichés unless there is a compelling reason. Also, avoid such phrases as “a legend in his own time,” and “all things being equal” or new words that draw attention to themselves such as “awesome” and “NOT.”

Rule #19: Commas and semicolons. Don’t use too many commas and semicolons. They slow the reader down.

Rule #20: Weasel words. Avoid words or phrases that convey doubt or uncertainty: “We think,” “It appears,” “It seems,” “You might find.”

Rule #21: Stick to the facts. Don’t oversell or exaggerate.

Rule #22: Proof. Use case histories, illustrations, testimonials and endorsements to reinforce your selling message.

Rule #23: Current events. Relate to present news in your copy if appropriate.

Rule #24: Credibility. Write copy that makes prospects perceive you as an authority or expert.

Rule #25: Use specifics, not generalities. Don’t say, “thousands spent in research.” Say “$159,652 spent in research.”

Rule #26: First page must…Never end the first page with the last word completing a sentence. Always make the reader turn the page.

Rule #27: Instruct. Write “over please” on the first page.

Rule #28: Easy to read. Blow up type 110% to make it easier to read.

Rule #29: The magical “You.” Have the letter be “YOU-oriented” not “WE-oriented.” For example…

  • “You’ll gain…”
  • You’ll discover…”
  • “Let me tell you….”
  • “If you’re like…”
  • “I’d like to show you…”

Don’t use “our company” or “we believe.” The prospect doesn’t care about what you think, only about what he or she needs.

Rule #30: Action. Use an active voice and present tense. Don’t say “The free book will be forwarded to you.” Say, “I’ll send you your free book.”

Rule #31: Audience of one. Always write to one person. You should avoid writing to a group of people. Be interested only in one person’s likes and dislikes, needs and beliefs.

Rule #32: Preemptive. Anticipate questions and prove your benefits. Confront negatives with positives.

Rule #33: Don’t brag. Never brag about yourself. Let the facts and testimonials brag about you.

#34: Graphs and charts. People believe and love graphs and charts. Use comparison.

#35: Social proof. Use 5-star ratings, reviews and social proof.

Use the rules above as a handy checklist. See if your copywriter is in violation or in harmony with these proven techniques that can make the difference between breakthrough copy and mediocre copy. Or worse, failure.

If you’d like to create a powerful direct mail piece using these rules, give me a call at (310)212-5727 or email Caleb at caleb@cdmginc.com.


Here are the rest of this week’s articles:

4 Strategies for an Award-Winning Campaign: “Save the Christians from Genocide” Generates a Powerful Response and Transforms Politics

Copy Tip of the Week: Know Your Audience