Marketing & Communications Centre > Marketing Essentials > Help Sheets > Creating an effective direct mail letter - Part 2

Creating an effective direct mail letter - Part 2

The first part of this help sheet listed some points to remember when it came to compiling an effective main letter to accompany your group's direct mail-out campaign.

Those points were:
  • That each sentence in your letter needs to pass the "So what?" test.
  • People, particularly busy people, have very limited attention spans.
  • That the letter must be easy to read.
  • People love to read about themselves.
  • People will not read the entire contents of the letter.
Remembering these points can also help your community group make the most of the often limited time and monetary resources you might have.

This second part of the help sheet takes into account these points and examines the structure required to put together a great direct mail letter.

Preparing to Write your Letter

The key step in writing a good, effective letter is preparation.

The help sheets - Planning Direct Mail Parts One, Two and Three provide some insights into planning your direct mail-out, its contents and messages.

As a final check list, there are three points you should make sure you have covered.

  • Pick one aspect of your work and your needs for the focus of your mail-out.
    • Writing this down will help you centre on what you need to convey in your letter, including any monetary requests, who signs the letter and whether you'll include a deadline.
  • Assemble background material that supports the 'feel' of the letter.
    • That material can include: news clippings and web articles, past speeches and articles, current newsletters, annual reports, brochures and other publications, relevant grant proposals, previous direct mail appeals, and focus group reports.
  • Think of something that can set your letter apart from the rest.
    • If you can't, don't give up, anything that grabs attention or prompts a second look is worth considering.

Writing your letter

A tip on letter structure: AIDA

The acronym AIDA may help you to remember the key points or main aims of your direct mail-out letter.

AIDA stands for:

•    Attention: Attract your reader's attention with a simple and single-minded message.
•    Interest: Create interest - elaborate on the benefits of your offer.
•    Desire: Generate a desire - concentrate on how your reader will benefit from taking up your offer.
•    Action: Make sure your call to action is urgent, and give a deadline.

The Opening Paragraph

Expert direct mail letter writers say that the opening of the letter has a higher readership than any other mail-out element - up there with any information on the outer envelope and the post script at the end of the letter.

It is therefore vital to get your opening paragraph right. This should be relatively easy if you have worked out what your appeal is about and have the information (and background material) to get the letter's tone right.

One option is to open your letter with your strongest offer, or your point of difference with other groups. If done effectively, this will draw recipients into reading the rest of the letter.

You could open the letter with a brief inspiring story about how your group has helped, or with something directly focused on the reader and what your group has to offer.

The example needs to be credible and in some way familiar. Giving an example that is too extreme or hopeless might make the reader feel that no matter how much they donate or assist, it will never be enough.

Personalise your letter's greeting by including the recipient's name early in the letter and possibly even print their name in a different colour ink.

The "Meat" of the Letter - The Body

The body of the letter gives:
  • The numbers you've helped.
  • The sorts of services you provide.
  • Your plans for the future.
Write about benefits, not needs - for example:
  • "We were runners-up in our competition this year. Your membership is vital in helping us go one better next season..."
  • "We have planted 5000 plants in six months to complete the first steps in re-vegetating the creek. But now we need more volunteers to help us complete the task…"
  • "If you donate $50, we can provide two week's tutoring to another disadvantaged child like Freda.  If you give $100…"
Don't ask for support - ask for what you need: money, membership, volunteers.

If your letter concentrates on raising awareness about an issue, the body of the letter is where you spell it out and also cover what the reader's contribution could do to fill the need on that issue.

The letter can be as long as you need to make your case solid. Most people won't read every word, but some will, and others will scan the letter to pick out the information that interests them. But make sure you don't ramble - give your strong points enough room and don't include anything that doesn't contribute to the effect.

Be sure your message gets through to those reading it.  Don't bore your readers by restating your case, but if some repetition needs to be used, then use it.

People love reading about themselves and being addressed personally. You are aiming to have your letter sound like it's addressing a single reader, so write in second person and address them directly by using the word 'you'.

Rounding Out - The Closing Paragraph

When you are writing the opening of your letter; write the closing paragraph as well.

Think of your letter as a circle. The opening of your letter starts the circle, the body of the letter continues it and the closing paragraph completes the circle.  The concluding paragraph is where all the loose ends are tied up, all points made, requests put forward and questions answered.
•    If you began by asking a question, answer it.
•    If you started by challenging the reader, refer to the challenge again - and note how the offer you've made will enable the reader to respond in a meaningful way.

In doing so you will round out your letter with a satisfying close.

The other element that contributes to effectively concluding a letter is the signature at the bottom.

Get the correct person to sign it, ensure their name and position within your group is clearly stated underneath.  Consider using a different colour for the signature, possibly the same colour as that used for the recipient's name in the greeting.

P.S. - The Postscript

Research repeatedly shows that a majority of people read the P.S. before they read anything else. In some cases, the P.S. is actually the only thing they do read.

So always include a P.S., and use it to restate the proposition you made at the start of the letter.

Use it to suggest action:
•    "Don't delay, join as a member today…"
•    "Don't put this letter aside, sign up as a volunteer now…"
•    "Don't wait, sending your donation today will make a difference..."

And lastly - Editing

Proof-read your letter and get some one else to proof-read it as well.  Make any corrections, leave it for a while … and then go through it again.

Devoting time to editing and revising your main letter before you send it out is well worthwhile.  Nothing can detract more from the effort and purpose of your direct mail-out letter than typos, spelling mistakes or badly written phrases.

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