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Learning from Direct Mail

Do people in your organization have to persuade others? Perhaps a quick look at direct mail - an extreme case of persuasive writing - will help them improve their writing skills. 

Learning from Direct Mail

Identify Product Characteristics and Target Market
Like any other writer, the direct mail writer has to plan before he writes. He should understand the characteristics of the product or service he is trying to sell and identify the target market and what motivates them. 

He should also decide on a focus - whether, for example, to fill a need, create a desire, sell on quality, sell on price or sell competitively.

Organize for a Neutral Audience
Because a direct marketer is able to segment his market - in other words, he writes primarily to people who might potentially agree with his message - he should write for a neutral audience. 

One difference from ordinary persuasive writing is that the direct mail audience is much larger, and a success rate of one or two percent is a good day's work.

If you're trying to persuade a single individual, however, you want a success rate of 100 percent. If you know that the person you're writing to disagrees with you, organize for a hostile audience - put your conclusion first and then your arguments.

Get the Reader's Attention
In a direct mail piece, you have a second or two to get the reader's attention. The reader will look first at the P.S., comments handwritten in the margins, call outs, and words or short phrases in boldface type. 

Once you have the reader's attention, you can create interest by adding concrete detail, using, for example, statistics ("8 out of 10 dentists recommend...") or referring to well-known people or companies who may have used your product.

Involve the Reader
Be sure to use the "You Attitude" - look at the situation from the reader's point of view, and demonstrate why your message is important to the reader. 

If you are publicizing a conference, for example, don't say, "Speakers will talk about minimizing fuel costs." Say instead, "Learn how to minimize your fuel costs." And no mailbox sweepstakes will ever say, "We have selected six winners." They will always say instead, "You could be one of our six winners."

Make the Action Step as Easy as Possible
In the action segment, you want to overcome reader inertia. Consequently, you will want to make the audience task as easy as possible. You do this by enclosing a business reply card, by giving a deadline, or by offering a bonus or discount to those who respond promptly. 

Although they would not write to an individual the same way they would write a direct mail piece, people in your organization should benefit from applying the above principles to their daily writing tasks.

All the best,
P.S. Remember: a selection of my past newsletters is available online at http://www.holton.cc/archive.html.