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Imagine that you are a nervous single guy in your late 20’s asking for your beautiful girlfriend’s hand in marriage.

You want to propose the old fashioned way… down on one knee with the diamond solitaire in one of those flip up boxes… maybe in a fancy downtown restaurant…. Since you are Mr. Old Fashioned you first want to gain her parent’s permission. And you are absolutely dreading speaking to your soon-to-be father-in-law because she will grill you, probe you, flip you upside down and backwards testing you and ensuring you are worthy of her daughter’s hand.

Talk about a grueling test. But if you can pass that test, you can probably pass anything.

Now let’s see if your direct mail campaign can pass such a test. Instead of a Spanish Inquisition from your soon-to-be-father-in-law, you’ll get one from me, your resident Marketing Nerd.

Actually, here is your 5-Point Inspection Test to ensure that your Mail Piece includes the key elements to be successful. You can beat yourself up if you don’t pass this test.

#1. Does Your Headline Bang Your Prospect Over the Head with a Powerful Benefit?

Does your headline answer the question “What’s in it for me?” and thus deliver a single and powerful benefit? Is the headline personalized with your recipient’s name to create a sudden burst of relevance? Is the benefit in your headline aligned with the needs, wants and desires of your prospect?

Your headline is your #1 most important component of your direct mail piece.

To reinforce this fact, let me share with you the National Enquirer test for headlines… The National Enquirer charges hundreds of dollars for a classified in the back of their tabloid, and they charge by the word, so brevity is important if you don’t want to go broke. Ultimately you need to have a compelling headline and a call to action because that is all you can likely fit or afford in the National Enquirer. “The Secret 7 Step Plan to Lose 30 Pounds in 30 Days. Call 800-555-5555”. In the National Enquirer classified section there is no room for detailed explanations, features/benefits listings, testimonials, etc. Ultimately only a headline and a call to action.

So, now we are applying the National Enquirer test to your direct mail piece and we are going to strip the entire piece down naked so that all is left is your headline and your call to action. Everything else gets booted. Then we put it in the National Enquirer classified section. Will people call you? If not, then you have a problem.

Your headline needs to be able to stand alone, grab the recipient’s instant attention, deliver a powerful benefit and make them want to learn more.

#2. Does Your Offer Get Your Prospect Up Off the Couch to Call You or Visit You?
Mail pieces without an offer are like a fisherman fishing with no bait. You need to have a powerful offer to attract response… to get the fish to bite.

In the world of offers, Free is always the magic word. If you can offer a Free Trial, a Free Item, Buy One Get One Free you are dramatically improving your odds of generating response and ultimately revenue. Free works.

We have seen companies present weak offers and then, of course, they get a weak response. Since people are hit with thousands of marketing messages every day, you need to deliver an unbelievable, jaw dropping, Wow! offer that creates an irresistible desire in your prospect that they literally jump up off the couch to call you.

When considering your offer, think of it in terms of Customer Lifetime Value. Use a powerful offer to get that customer the first time, and sets you up for a solid and loyal relationship of future business. Even if your first transaction delivers a small profit, you are positioned for much more long term profitability over the course of your relationship. Don’t skimp on the offer… do whatever it takes to bring them in the first time.

And your offer must be a Limited Time Offer (LTO). This is necessary to create a sense of urgency to respond NOW. Be sure every offer includes an expiration date.

#3. Does Your Mail Piece Create an Emotional Response that Draws You In?
Pay attention to the great ads in print, online or on TV. Virtually everyone of them uses a photo of a *person* enjoying the product or service. The good ads don’t show an inanimate piece of furniture. Instead they present a humanized image… a person that looks like the target recipient’s demographic so they can “see themselves in the mail piece”… and this makes the piece much more compelling.

Bob Barker and his entourage of attractive models has this figured out on the Price is Right. Suddenly a box of laundry detergent looks alot more interesting.

We have found that a single image of a person, blown up with a focus around their face, is a great way to showcase this emotion. And when this humanized image syncs with the benefit laden headline, then you are creating a powerful graphics/text package that generates response.

#4. Does Your Mail Piece Tell Them What To Do?
Every mail piece needs a Call to Action. You need to clearly tell your prospect what you want them to do. Call Now at 888.555.1212. Visit our Dallas store by September 24th to get your free gift.

Don’t make it hard for your prospect to figure out what to do. Make it plainly obvious. As if they were in the 3rd grade. Assume nothing.

#5. Can Your Mail Piece Survive the Skim Test?
People don’t read direct mail, they skim it…. hunting for benefits and other relevant information to determine if it is of value. Often your mail piece only has 0.8 seconds to pass the skim test or you are destined for the recycle bin. So you must pass the skim test first, and then you have a shot of your prospect reading your info in more detail.

Imagine you (or your best friend’s Mom) retrieving the daily mail. It is a game to pass the skim test every day. The mail is always sorted quickly as A pile or B pile… and the B’s land in the recycle bin. Ensuring you successfully pass the skim test gives you permission to land in your best friend’s Mom’s A pile and ultimately will become worthy of consideration.

If you are a postcard, understand that you are not a 4-page sales letter or a brochure and therefore can not tell your entire story. So tell them just enough, and no more, to generate a response. Leave lots of white space your piece can breathe. Study your postcard and test yourself and others as to where your eye is drawn. It should be to the headline first. If your eye is confused and does not know where to look in the first instant, then you are failing the skim test.

If you are a letter, make sure you still use a powerful headline at the top of the letter, right before or after the salutation. Use underlines to draw attention to key elements of text (underlines are more skim friendly than bold face). Use numbered or bulleted lists of benefits. Numbered lists are especially skim friendly and people enjoy reading them (see your tabloids and magazines in your check out counter at grocery stores for loads of Top 5 and Top 10 lists).

Make sure items #1-#4 above …. the headline, offer, humanized image and call to action…. are easily absorbed in a skim.

Now, does your mail piece pass the 5 Point Inspection? Or do I need to send your future father-in-law to your house to grill you?

Good Selling!