Give Your Direct Mail Stopping Power

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Protective secretaries, mailroom clerks and other corporate gatekeepers who screen mail intended for executives are swift, often ferocious and usually excellent shots when aiming for the trash can.

You must capture their attention instantly or you're dead in the water. If your mail piece looks promotional or frivolous, it probably won't reach the boss' desk.

What can you do to boost your odds? You face a two-step challenge: Get the mailing accepted and passed along by the gatekeeper, and have the prospect read your message.

First, be ready to spend money. The higher you reach in the table of organization, the more it costs. But if you hit your target, the ROI probably will make the effort worthwhile. Here are some tips:

The outer envelope. You have only one chance and five seconds to make a first impression, so don't undervalue the importance of the outer envelope.

Arouse interest and project importance. Usually, letters arriving via FedEx, UPS, Priority Mail or Express Mail have more power and generate curiosity.

If you're not going the express route, get a unique look by using an expensive-looking professional business envelope with your company logo. Expensive-looking mail usually gets opened. You can use a solid standard #10 letter-sized envelope or something interesting like a square or a #14, which accommodates a letter folded in half down the center. Invitation formats also get attention.

If you're going with a professional envelope, indicate that the content is important by using fine paper with an engraved or embossed return address and perhaps a facsimile of a wax seal. European marketers use seals frequently with good results.

You want your mail to look personal and important, so don't use mailing labels or window envelopes. Use laser personalization, a process that prints the address directly on the envelope. Some lettershops offer a wide range of fonts that can further personalize the look.

To underscore the personalization, use First-Class postage on your expensive-looking professional business envelope. Metering is fine; you don't need to use stamps. But avoid sending these letters via Standard mail.

The letter. If you're using good paper for the envelope, continue the quality for the letter. Once your envelope is opened, contents will be scanned quickly for relevance and value. The letter should appear as if you're sending a personal, one-of-a-kind message to the recipient.

Letters are not read logically. Eyes usually travel first to the letterhead, then the salutation, followed by a look at the sender's name and title. Before the body of the letter is considered, the P.S. is read. It should be an attention getter, set in bold type and repeating the main benefit of your offer, your call to action and your guarantee. The latter usually boosts response.

Busy executives are time conscious. They look at bulleted lists, charts and tables and other attractive but meaningful graphics. Letters need not be limited to one page, but those with short paragraphs and lots of white space usually get read.

Begin the copy with your offer and bottom-line benefit. Be direct. Send a strong message clearly and simply. Don't waste time trying to write the great American novel.

Target your message. Say something the prospect wants to hear, and when possible, be specific "We are pleased to offer you a free copy of the latest software that will help your company save 50% on health insurance this year." "Over 12 months, the Acme Widget can reduce packaging expenses for most businesses by $25,000. Take advantage of our free offer to see how we can help you cut costs."

Use testimonials and success stories. Though business executives aren't spending their own money, they like to play it safe even though they want to be on the cutting edge. Because they're interested in the actions of colleagues and competitors, testimonials can be effective. They show that others trust and use your products and services.

Do anything to get a "yes" response to your offer. A toll-free number or simple business reply card for more information and ordering via phone, fax or the Internet is usually all that's needed to elicit a speedy response. Offering a bonus for a response before the deadline doesn't hurt, either.

Remember, the more a promotion looks like serious business correspondence, the better the chance that it will be opened and read by your decision-making executive.

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