5 Content Lessons to Learn from ‘Old School’ Direct Mail

September 13, 2014

Once upon a time, in a world far less technologically advanced than the one we live in now, direct mail was the King when it came to using content to sell products and services. That’s not to say direct mail is dead and buried. You probably still get sales letters and direct mail packages in your mailbox. But the tide has certainly turned toward online content.

But before the internet came along, your opt-in form was a special offer you saw in a newspaper or magazine that you had to mail in to take advantage of. Instead of an inbound marketing campaign consisting of emails, you’d receive a real sales letter in your mailbox. And it was through those sales letters that copywriters sold billions of dollars worth of goods to prospective customers. 

‘Old school’ direct mail may not be quite what it once was, but there are some priceless lessons to learn from the masters that paved the way for the rest of us. Here are 5 content lessons straight from direct mail that you’d do well to keep in mind.

1. It’s a Conversation

You’ve probably heard that writing in a ‘conversational style’ is the way to go when writing most content. But what does it really mean? Basically, writing conversationally means writing in the 2nd person, as if you’re having a conversation with a friend.

Remember, people don’t like the idea of “being sold” and they don’t like stuffy, robotic copy, no matter what they are reading. In order to engage your reader, conversational writing is the way to go. The direct mail masters knew it and now you do, too! 

2. Benefits Over Features 

Another thing classic direct mail teaches us is that people are interested in themselves first and foremost, and will buy something based on the benefits it brings to their life. Sounds reasonable, yet most businesses focus on the features of a product, assuming the reader will magically figure out the benefits for himself.

Anti-lock brakes are a feature. Being able to stop your car in time and save your kids if a deer runs across the highway is a benefit that comes from the feature. You can see which one is more powerful and likely to get someone to purchase your product.

Benefits appeal to the emotions of your prospect, and people tend to buy for emotional reasons, if they think they don’t. Features are still important, just make sure you list all the benefits that come from each feature and make them a prominent part of your website / sales letter / post.

3. Appeal to Skimmers and Readers

If everyone were exactly the same, selling stuff and holding people’s attention would be pretty easy. However, we’re all a little different, so it’s a good idea to appeal to as many different types as you can, as long as it doesn’t weaken your content or message.

One of the ways classic direct mail pieces do this is by using subheads throughout the copy. Subheads are the little mini-headlines that help to guide a reader through your copy. They are also useful for the people who prefer to skim over content without reading every word.

When utilized effectively, subheads give the reader or prospect a sense of what your piece is about, without having to read every word. They also help you to space out your content so it is easy on the eyes and doesn’t look intimidating.

4. Stay Focused

There’s nothing worse than reading a great headline for a website, article, blog post or sales letter, only to have the writer veer way off track once he gets going. Always, always, always keep in mind that people are reading it because they were attracted or drawn in by your title.

If you wander all over the place, or worse, don’t answer the question or statement posed in the title, they won’t stick around until the end. That doesn’t mean you can’t add some additional information that isn’t directly related to the title, just remember why they are reading and stick to your goal.

5. Under-Promise and Over-Deliver

The under-promise and over-deliver motto probably works best when you’re actually selling something, but it’s still valuable to mention here. Every successful direct mail piece wouldn’t promise more than they were giving, and they would usually promise a little less to ensure the customer felt like he was getting his money’s worth. 

This concept might play out in the form of a hidden bonus or additional uses and benefits of the product or service. Above all else, using this concept when you sell something creates trust and trust is one of the primary objections people had when it came to buying things through the mail, and now online.

There are many more lessons to be learned from old-school direct mail pieces that would benefit your content writing, but these are a few you can start using right away. 

If you need some help, give us a call and we’ll point you in the right direction.




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