Marketing & Communications Centre > Marketing Essentials > Help Sheets > Creating an effective direct mail letter - Part 1

Creating an effective direct mail letter - Part 1

The letter is the most important component of a direct mail-out.

An effective letter can be the difference between gaining a response from your mail-out campaign or not - and therefore the difference between achieving or not achieving your mail-out aims.

A poorly-written or confusing letter that leaves recipients wondering what you want them to do can be a waste of time and money for your group.

This help sheet explains some "points to remember" when writing an effective, targeted direct mail-out letter.

Points to remember when creating your direct mail letter

The direct mail letter is probably the most researched and analysed part of any communication between community groups and those on their contact list.

Formal and anecdotal research suggests that when compiling a letter it helps to remember these points:
  • People have limited attention spans.
    • It should only take 6 to 15 seconds for each sentence in the letter to be read.
  • Each sentence in your letter needs to pass the "so what?" test.
    • Each sentence must convince the reader that it is worth spending the next 6 to 15 seconds reading the next sentence.
    • They have to be able to answer questions like:
    • What's it got to do with me, the things I care about or the things I believe in?
  • It must be easy to read.
    • You cannot afford for your letter to be difficult to read. Use:
    • Lots of white space.
    • Wide margins.
    • Short paragraphs.
    • Large type and a clear font.
    • Highlight important passages or use bold face type.
    • In longer letters try centred subheadings.
    • Keep the tone informal.
    • Don't use jargon, abbreviations, acronyms or complex sentences.
    • Use short punchy sentences. Use words that convey emotion. Avoid excess use of adverbs and adjectives - use simple words and active verbs.
    • Break up the text with headings, sub headings and bullet points.
    • Make sure your letter flows logically.
  • People love to read about themselves.
    • The letter needs to refer to the reader up to four times as often as it refers to your organisation. Effective phrases that could be used include:
    • "You may have heard about the…" or
    • "We know you share our concern for…" or
    • "Kate (name of recipient), your participation is central to the success of…."
    • Note the use of the word "you". Writing in the second person addresses the reader personally.
    • Use their name where you can.  For example, "Miss Ford, your donation helped us to ….."
  • People don't read the whole letter.
    • Evidence shows that people read signature first, then the P.S., and then the first paragraph. After that they may read indented paragraphs and underlined words (and so repetition is necessary).
    • 60% of all readers decide to give or not give based on the P.S., signature, opening greeting and opening paragraph alone.
    • The other 40% will read parts that are easy to read, such as bullet points, underlined or bolded words.
    • Very few people will read the entire letter.

The second part of this help sheet, available by Clicking Here, looks at how an effective direct mail-out letter should be structured.

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