Most businesses send out mailings several times a year, whether they are large-scale hard-copy mailings, mass e-newsletters or personalised letters or emails to a small number of key customers or prospects. Getting the message right helps ensure that you get a positive response.
A good business mailshot catches readers' attention, maintains their interest and encourages them to take action.
1. Plan your approach
Know what objectives you want the mailing to achieve
You may want to:
- sell a product or generate sales leads;
- launch a new product or service or break into new markets;
- drive readers to specific landing pages on your website;
- enhance your service to existing customers by giving them up-to-date information.
Identify your readers so that you know what sort of approach is likely to work best
- What prior knowledge do they have about your product or service?
- Why do they need what you are offering?
- What do they want to hear about your product or service?
- What are their likely objections?
Choose the right format
- Most postal mailings are based on a letter; some include promotional items.
- Copy for email newsletters needs to be brief and factual. You can use graphics, logos and pictures to make your messages more interesting.
- Insert embedded links in emails to take readers to a specific landing page on your website, such as a product page.
2. Planning your mailshot
The first step is to write yourself a brief
- The brief should be detailed and specific - who, what, when, where, why?
- Consider the needs of different audiences and different market sectors. You should plan to write separate versions of the letter for different groups in your mailing list.
Identify one major benefit and lead with that
- Start by backing your most likely winner.
- Forget trying to be clever. You do not need a smart idea. Finding a simple, powerful way to say what your product or service does for people is usually the best approach.
- If your product is truly unique or exclusive, say so.
Work out how to get the reader's attention
- Offer a tangible and quickly-realised benefit for a reasonable price.
- Other approaches include highlighting unusual product features, emphasising low prices, launching special offers and competitions and using compelling headlines.
- Send a free product sample, if this is relevant and viable.
- You could include a small gift or a money-off voucher.
Find something new to say, even if your product or service is well established
- Brainstorm ideas. For example, think about new or unexpected uses.
- Look at your product or service as if you had never seen it before.
Be aware of topical links to outside events and your other marketing activities
- For example, exhibitions or an advertising campaign.
- Plan your copy to exploit seasonal factors and any known buying patterns.
Try out your ideas
- Ask other people, especially customers, to read your draft copy and tell you what the words mean to them.
- Test different versions of your mailing, with different messages, on small samples. Find out what works best before sending to your entire list.
- Email newsletters are particularly quick and easy to test. You can quickly see how many emails were opened, how many readers clicked through, and so on.
3. Making your mailshot convincing
Make your offer sound credible
- Be direct, enthusiastic and honest. Do not write anything that is untrue.
- Explain all the good reasons for buying.
- Anticipate objections and counter them.
- Make sure all the facts and figures you quote are specific and accurate.
Use language your readers will feel comfortable with
- Tailor your wording to your audience - natural and relaxed for consumer mailings, more purposeful for business mailshots.
- Match your tone to your company's image and your industry.
- Avoid jargon or technical terms, unless you are writing for a technical audience.
Offer plausible trade-offs
- "Buy three, get one free" is attractive. Buyers can see you are trading off price against volume.
- A trial offer of your product or service is powerful.
Exploit endorsements and recommendations that back up your claims
- Testimonials will always boost your success rate.
- Reprints of press coverage give credibility.
- Quote reputable and credible scientific studies that support your points.
Spell out the terms of your guarantee
- This is especially important if you are targeting new customers.
12 ways to maximise response to your mailshot
- Write a straightforward headline, featuring your main benefit.
- You have only seconds to make an impact. Get to the point immediately and avoid waffle.
- Explain your offer. Make sure the big benefits are in the first paragraph.
- Show how your product solves the customer's problem.
- Be clear. Be simple. Be convincing.
- Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
- Focus on the reader and their needs. When you are writing, talk to the reader directly, as "you".
- Use the tried and tested attention-getting words - award-winning, bargain, big, bright, easy, first, free, improved, love, money, new, now, offer, safe, save, want, and, above all, you.
- Avoid sounding self-important.
- By ending a paragraph with a question, or ending a page in mid-sentence, you can entice readers to read on.
- Ask someone who does not know your product or service to check through what you've written.
- Read everything out loud. If it sounds strange or forced, modify it.
4. Writing a sales letter
The first few words of a sales letter are crucial
- You have less than two seconds to convince the reader that your mailshot is worth reading.
- Use a highly focused, relevant, attention-grabbing headline.
- In the first paragraph, describe the benefits.
- The bulk of the letter should explain and amplify your offer.
Make the letter as long as it needs to be
- Long copy outperforms short, as long as it is relevant.
- Research and response levels show that even the busiest people will read a sales letter, if they can see a worthwhile benefit.
Use formats that are proven to be successful
- Formatting devices - italics, bold, underlining, indenting and subheadings - can break up slabs of text. But beware of making your letter look messy.
- The letter should look like a letter, rather than a printed leaflet.
- Letters should be signed, preferably by hand - this can improve response rates.
Finish your letter on a call to action
- The letter should end with a call to action: "Do this now".
- Make it clear to the reader what you want them to do.
The PS is vital
- Restate your main point and call to action. Your PS will often be your most-read sentence.
When you have finished, proofread everything
- Spelling mistakes and glaring errors of grammar will distract from your message.
5. Making mailpacks work
Make the writing and design work together
- A multi-piece mailpack should be planned as a whole, with one theme. Keep the branding, tone and wording consistent throughout.
Personalise your mailshot wherever possible
- Apart from the letter and envelope, you may be able to pre-print names on reply cards and order forms.
Mailshot enclosures can increase your response rate
- Enclosures must be relevant and attractive. High quality enclosures are more likely to be kept and could be acted on at a later date.
- You can enclose leaflets, price lists, case studies, photographs, testimonials, newspaper cuttings and order forms.
- A pack with several pieces gives you several chances to put your offer across.
- Bear in mind the added costs of production and postage.
Encourage immediate responses or buying decisions
- Offering a free gift or added benefits by a certain closing date is a proven way of boosting response.
- Be aware that business customers and government departments may disregard any offer that comes with a free gift.
- Make sure your mailshot is not misleading (for example, offering a free gift that requires payment of a fee, or saying that the reader has been selected as a prizewinner). You can get advice from the Committees of Advertising Practice.
Make it easy to reply
- Use a coupon with a Freepost address, or include a Business Reply envelope or reply-paid card.
- Include your email address, website URL, social media handles, postal address and phone number. Consider providing a freephone or low call cost number.
- If you want to encourage customers to visit, provide clear details of your location including a map.
Provide an attractive order or enquiry form
- Repeat your main points, so the form can still clinch sales, even if it gets separated from the pack.
- Make the instructions clear and legible.
- Print the name and address on the form.
Offer as many payment methods as possible
- Consider giving interest-free credit for orders placed before a fixed deadline.
- Offer existing customers their normal credit terms.
Make the most of the envelope
- Printing a short 'teaser' message can build interest in what's inside.
- Handwritten envelopes are always opened. If you are a small firm, mailing a small list, consider writing envelopes by hand and using stamps instead of the franking machine.
- Put your return address on every envelope. This allows you to update your mailing list if letters are returned.
Ten most common mailshot mistakes
- You write a great mailshot, but send it to the wrong people.
- You hedge your bets and fail to give readers one compelling reason to buy.
- Your copy forgets to deal with the most obvious objection to a sale.
- You use a witty headline that does not sell your product or service.
- The copy makes exaggerated claims that people do not believe.
- The brief is vague, so your copy fails to deliver a clear and targeted message.
- Your letter annoys people by failing to explain the product or service clearly.
- You turn people off by patronising them.
- Readers misunderstand your offer, are disappointed, and leave you bearing the costs of returns and refunds.
- Your excellent mailpack fails to make up for a product or service that is wrongly priced.
6. Getting professional help with your mailshot
Should you write the mailshot yourself?
- If you have a good knowledge of your product and audience, you can probably do it yourself.
- Look through the direct mail you receive and learn from other people's mistakes. Which envelopes do you open? Which do you reply to, and why?
- Do a test mailing to a small proportion of your audience to find out if the DIY approach gets results. If response is poor, get help from a professional.
A freelance should be affordable
- A good freelance should be able to write a well-thought-out mailshot for a few hundred pounds.
- Even top direct mail specialists can often be brought in for less than £1,000 for a small job.
- Find direct marketing guidance and suppliers from the Direct Marketing Association.
- Get guidance on advertising regulations or bespoke copy advice from the Committees of Advertising Practice.
- Find out about your data protection obligations from the Information Commissioner's Office.
- Find out about Business Reply and Freepost services from Royal Mail.
- Check call costs for different phone numbers through Ofcom.