How To Launch a Direct Mail Test – Part 3, Letter Campaign

by Gil Zeimer on December 10, 2010
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If you have more to say about your business than will fit on an email or postcard campaign, you can test a direct mail letter campaign.

I’ve written dozens of types of letter mailers, but historically, I’ve found that a letter package will get the highest response rates over postcards, self-mailers, and other formats.

A typical letter package consists of an outside envelope, a letter, a response device/coupon, a Business Relay Envelope (BRE), and a tri-fold brochure. There are of course many variations on this theme. In fact, I once wrote a six million-piece campaign that had 17 different tests of 50,000 pieces each for a new credit card offer from a gasoline company. The winning letter package was then sent to the remaining prospects on the client’s mailing list.

Below are some best practices for a direct mail test of a letter campaign. You’ll note some overlap here with other articles in this series for testing email, postcard and radio campaigns:

1) Test different offers or creative – To maximize your letter campaign, test three different offers (which will account for 40% of your success), three different letters, or three creative executions of the same offer to a small pilot group. Then, when you see which tests best, mail that “control package” to a larger list.

2) Test your list – Your list accounts for another 40% of your possible success, so mail to a few different lists to see which one pulls the best response.

3) Test a teaser – On the outside of the envelope, test a teaser message to get the recipient interested enough to open it. Make it short, punchy, provocative, and enticing. “Free” is always a powerful word. As with postcards, think about different size envelopes to break through the clutter of each recipient’s daily mail.

4) Add a “Johnson” box to the letter – Most promotional letters have a big headline at the top containing the key message or offer. Named after writer Frank Johnson, it should grab the reader’s attention to get him or her to review the rest of the letter. Use subheads and bullet copy to make the letter more interesting and provide a well-crafted design so that it can be easily skimmed. These elements account for about 20% of your possible success.

5) Remember to give a expiration date – Set a date four to six weeks in the future for them to respond. Otherwise, your letter will go back into their in box and they’ll forget about it.

6) Make the call to action prominent – Make your offer in the Johnson box, the first few paragraphs, and again at the end of the letter. Repetition in copy always helps. Offer payment by credit card or a pay-later plan, so you give your readers a choice.

7) Always add a P.S. – A postscript is a great tool to boost response by retelling your key message in a different way. Remember to add your phone number or website address.

8) Have a separate response device and BRE – Offer a money-back guarantee with your offer on a separate coupon to gain your customers’ trust. Studies show that a Business Reply Envelope boosts response, as does listing a phone number, fax number, or website address. In fact, the more ways you let someone respond, the higher it should be.

9) Don’t forget a one-sheet, tri-fold brochure – Some people read letters; others read brochures. A three-panel brochure with restated messaging can tell your story in a different way. Use bold graphics and clean type design to sell your offer.

10) Look at the calendar – Be sensible about when to mail your campaign. Unless you have a holiday product or service, avoid mailing anything between mid-December and the first week of January. And don’t ever mail a tax-related letter during the second week of April, as one of my clients once did without telling me.

Also in the “How to Test a Direct Response” series:

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