An Appeal for Meatier DM

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Most of the direct mail I get these days looks like it's been on the Atkins Diet too long. The packages are thin. The copy is barely more than an offer, a list of benefits and a call to action. It all leaves me a bit hungry -- to know more about what I'm getting, to understand my benefits better, to have the substance I need to make a truly informed decision.


And from the looks of response rates across the industry, down to as low as 1 percent, according to figures from the Direct Marketing Association last year, from traditional levels of around 2 percent, it may be that many Americans feel the same way.


Perhaps it's time to consider a more substantial approach to acquisition mailing. And perhaps it's time to quit the food metaphors as well.


Enter the long letter. The artful, engaging, entertaining, long letter. Teeming with facts. Packed with examples. Stuffed with testimonials. If this is truly the information age we're living in, doesn't it make sense that direct marketing solicitations should have more, rather than less, information in them? I think so. Here's why.


Long letters strengthen brands. Where else but in a long letter can you tell your brand story -- what you stand for, what your values are -- start to finish, without interruption? A well-paced, well-written letter lets you plant your offer firmly within the context of your overall brand identity and promise. That amplifies the power of your message and creates a lasting impression in readers' minds.


Long letters cement relationships. The quality of your relationships is the quality of your communications. Take the time to talk to customers often and in detail. Offer different viewpoints. Make them laugh. Make them think. Write them a letter that sounds like it really comes from someone. A letter that recounts a personal experience. A letter people can relate to and identify with. You want customers to be loyal to you? Give them reasons to believe in you and your products.


Long letters make economic sense. Whenever response rates dip, keeping the customers you already have becomes more important than ever. Long letters allow you to cultivate relationships. They offer an appropriate format and forum to let current customers know they matter to you, that you understand their needs and you are addressing their concerns. If that doesn't improve your retention rates, then you've got bigger problems than the length of your letters.


Long letters get read. The next time someone turns to you and says, "No one has the time to read a long letter," please stand up and scream at the top of your lungs: "Lies! Lies! Lies!" Long letters get read as often as short letters. The only letters that ever get read are ones that matter to the recipient. If the offer is not compelling, if the message is not presented in a captivating way and, ultimately, if it is not put in the hands of someone it matters to, I guarantee you no letter long or short will get read.


Long letters are unique. They stand out in the mailbox. They have heft and dimension. They give art directors and layout artists a broader canvas, a more interesting landscape to work with. They are easy to remember and hard to put down.


Long letters are art. Long letters can be as original and breakthrough as the most outlandish TV spot. Long letters can be as sexy and attention-grabbing as the best print. Don't believe me? Stop by the Direct Marketing Association and look at the archives. There's work in there that sings and swoops and entertains and works.


So, next time you're considering new creative or longing for something really interesting to test, give a really well-written long letter a chance. You may get delicious results. Now it's time for me to walk around the office and find out what's for lunch.


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