DM News' Deliver: The Envelope, Please ... Tips to get readers to open your direct mail package

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The battle is lost or won in the first two seconds. When your direct mail reaches your target reader's hand, think of it as literally being suspended over the trash can while the recipient decides whether to open it or toss it.


This two-second window is all you have to do one thing: get that envelope opened. If you pass this critical challenge, you stand a much better chance of carrying that prospect through to the sale. Never underestimate the importance of your carrier envelope. Consider these ideas to intrigue, cajole and persuade the recipient into opening your letter:


When to be promotional. One of the great things about direct marketing is the offer. If you have a great offer, don't be afraid to use it. FREE stuff is a powerful motivator. Granted, some FREE stuff is more convincing than other FREE stuff. A FREE trial of your specialized XQ1700 sequencing program may appeal to a limited audience, where a FREE USB memory drive attracts a broader response. And if your direct mail objective is leads, then response is usually what you need.


Also, if you have a great - and I mean great - product, put it out there ... but only if it's incredibly easy to understand, and even more incredibly easy to see why it's great.


This is official business. Think of the mail you open when you get home. If a package looks more important, then you're more likely to open it, right? Well, our testing has borne that out over colossal groups of people (hundreds of millions).


If you are targeting senior executives, try a package that looks like it came from the desk of your CEO. If you are sending a membership package, try one that looks like membership information that has been sent to a current member. Both of these have proven very effective. And if you have the budget, try FedEx (or faux express mail), especially if you are going after senior executives.


Do not neglect to add this information. I'm willing to bet you will read this IMPORTANT SECTION. As well you should. Teasing important information has proven to be one of the most successful ideas for getting carrier envelopes opened. The key to an IMPORTANT INFORMATION tease is knowing what's important to your reader - what scares him, what motivates her. Don't be afraid to capitalize on that.


One of the most famous information teases was: "What you should never eat on an airplane." What traveler wouldn't open that package?


Do you have to have the bathroom door shut - even if you're the only one in the house? Coming up with a provocative question can be as powerful as the information tease, or more so. The trick is devising a question that's irresistible to your reader.


If you aren't intimately familiar with your reader - what wakes him up at night, what her hopes and dreams are, his favorite sushi dish - then don't try this one. One rule of thumb for whether you should use a question is whether you can answer the question quickly and easily. If you ask, "Do you have the right car for you?" the reader could simply think "Yes," and your mail takes that long dive into the rubbish.


You haven't picked up your offer yet. Is there a problem? Don't wait for the reader to make up her mind. Tell her the deal's already done - virtually. It's called an "assumed close" argument. It assumes that the reader is a step or two further down the decision-making process.


Instead of "Please accept your FREE Glow Pen," assumed close language is, "Your FREE Glow Pen is waiting for delivery." The Glow Pen is already yours, you just have to confirm. Or if you have an event, rather than saying, "Please attend our sales blowout," an assumed close invitation would tell the reader, "Your reservation for the sales blowout is ready - please confirm before 5 p.m. tonight." See the difference?


Be careful to avoid implying or saying anything untrue like: "Here's the information you requested" if no request has been made. Not good.


As you can see, there are loads of tactics in the battle over the trash bin. And your only weapon is your carrier envelope. Please don't lose the sale by misusing that weapon or overburdening it with branding or cleverness.


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