Is Direct Mail Dead?

John Wood here, from your “Roving Reporter” team at Bootcamp this week … behind the scenes covering who’s making news and what people are talking about.

One question I’ve heard more than once this week … “Is direct mail dead?”

For those of us in the direct-mail industry, it’s an important question (to say the least). After all, our entire livelihoods could depend on the answer.

It’s also the question seasoned copywriter Mark Everett Johnson set out to answer in his presentation yesterday.

If you’re not familiar with the name Mark Everett Johnson, he’s been a professional copywriter for over 25 years. A letter he wrote for the book Country Furniture was named one of the 66 most successful direct-mail letters of all time by Denny Hatch in his book, Million-Dollar Mailings.

So what’s Mark’s verdict? Is it time to let direct mail rest in peace?

No, not by a long shot!

Despite rising costs and the ever-looming presence of the internet as a low-cost marketing alternative, Mark stated emphatically that direct mail is not dead  …

… It’s still a robust and essential way for companies to do business – if you do it right.

Mark cited a Direct Marketing Association survey of 700 companies conducted earlier this year that showed for every $1.00 they generated through email, they generated $1.34 through direct mail.

So, instead of asking the question, “Is direct mail dead?” … perhaps a more appropriate question might be …

… “How do you make sure you’re ‘doing it right’?”

One way is to take more control of your client’s project. Don’t just hand in your copy and move on to your next assignment. Become involved in every aspect of your client’s project. Get involved in the design of the promo – its format, layout, the font used, etc. Make sure the promo that goes in the mail has the best chance possible of being a winner.

Plus, he stressed how important it is to help your client come up with the best possible offer. Suggest ways to strengthen their offer, and brainstorm different premiums and bonuses they can add. Become a partner in the offer-creation process versus just being a “hired hand.”

And this might seem obvious, but don’t be content with writing “so-so” copy. Keep refining and honing your skills, and turn everything you write into a huge money-maker for both you and your client. “You are your own doctor,” as Mark reminded us in his presentation.

Mark devoted the last two-thirds of his presentation to going though two phenomenally successful direct-mail promotions.

The first one, written by Mark himself, is one of the most successful direct-mail pieces of all time. It was a control for 14 years. It’s been mailed over 200 million pieces and has brought in over 3.5 million subscribers – resulting in over $80 million in revenue for his client.

The second blockbuster promo, although not written by Mark, is one he’s admired for a long time. It’s been a control for almost 10 years, and so far 270,000 people have become subscribers because of it.

In both promos, Mark stressed the importance of the order device (which is often treated as somewhat of an afterthought by some copywriters). Mark said he spends almost as much time putting together the order device as he does writing the first page of a promo.

Here are three tips he shared on how to craft an order device that boosts response: 1) Make it interactive … for example, use a sticker that your prospect has to transfer to your order form in order to respond; 2) Make it simple and easy to respond … for example, fill in all the fields for your prospect so he doesn’t need a pen or pencil to respond; 3) Don’t call it an “order form” … instead, come up with a snappy name for it. For example, Mark called the order device on his blockbuster promo a “No-Risk Certificate.”

One trick Mark said he’s found consistently boosts the response rate of a direct-mail package by a minimum of 5% is to use a yellow business-reply envelope. Another innovative technique he uses to establish credibility right off the start is to place a powerful testimonial on the front page of his promo on a post-it note.

He touched on the importance of choosing the right font (he loves “courier” and also recommends “telepath” and “love letter” for easy readability) and the right font size. Too often, he said, promos are sent out with text that is too small. So he recommends a 12-point font as the minimum size … and if you’re targeting an older audience, you shouldn’t go any smaller than 14 points.

When it comes to getting your enveloped opened, Mark recommended the “official” look versus the “promotional” look. Meaning you should strive to make it look like an important business document versus something that obviously contains a promo. A technique he sometimes uses to achieve the “official” look is to add the following text to the front of the envelope: “The enclosed documents are intended solely for the addressee listed and should be opened by the aforementioned only.”

On top of the great info, you could really get a sense of how much Mark loves the creativity behind a great direct-mail package.

And how excited he is about the industry and the great revenue potential it still holds for companies and copywriters alike.

So the next time someone asks you if direct mail is dead, tell them …

“Not if you do it right.”

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: November 15, 2008

1 Response to “Is Direct Mail Dead?”

  1. Great article John! Absolutely critical information I can use to further strengthen my skills as a new copywriter. The direct mail industry is very much alive and well, but because of intense internet marketing competition, every component in direct mail marketing projects must be precisely on target or else the potential customer will file the entire package under junk mail in the trash! I’m also going to find the book “Million Dollar Mailings” to study for my future copywriting success.

    June FrostDecember 16, 2017 at 12:02 pm


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