What People Really Do With Your Mail

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If you could watch people on the day your direct mail piece arrives in their mailbox, what do you think you would see? Awe and amazement? Cries of joy? Dancing and high-fiving? Don't count on it.


Let me show you what really happens. but I warn you, this will turn your stomach.


Many people are simply not responsive. Only 20 percent of the people on the average list even consider reading your mail. No matter what you offer, no matter how you offer it, about eight out of 10 prospects simply chuck your mail into the trash with barely a glance. Feeling a little queasy? Take a swig of Pepto-Bismol. It gets worse.


You have just seconds to capture attention. Those who are responsive are willing to give you maybe 15 or 20 seconds of their attention. They glance at teasers, headlines, subheads, pictures, captions, offer statements and other hot spots. But they're not reading. They're just scanning to see whether your mailing is interesting, relevant or valuable. About half conclude that it's not. So it's into the trash.


One detail (or lack of it) can stop people cold. Of all those to whom you originally sent your mailing, about 10 percent remain. Assuming they don't set it aside for later - and lose it or forget about it - these people start skimming for details. They pay particular attention to bullet lists, charts, diagrams, tables, illustrations and bits of copy here and there. They're interested. They want to say yes. But soon, about half of these skimmers run across some detail that brings everything to a dead stop. Or they can't find something they're looking for. More trash.


Many who are interested still don't respond. You're now down to 5 percent of those mailed. These people are firmly in a "yes" mode but are not convinced. They look for confirmation that saying yes is a good decision. These are the few, the proud and the brave who start reading your carefully crafted body copy. How many of these actually respond? Maybe half, if you're really, really persuasive. More likely, one-quarter or less. So of every 100 people who get your mailing, perhaps 1 percent or 2 percent buy your widget. And all this assumes you've done most things right. If not, it gets really ugly, really fast.


Now maybe I'm playing fast and loose with numbers here, but you get my point. When people sort their mail, they're quick and they're brutal.


My advice? Don't waste your time rewording the seventh paragraph on the back panel of your brochure or tweaking your logo color so that it's a particular shade of green. If you want to improve your results, deal with the big issues:


Test lists. Test lots of lists. Crummy mail sent to good lists can make money. But brilliant mail sent to bad lists will fail every time. This is where you win or lose the most because, as you've just seen, that first garbage sort is a killer. The best lists are those made up of proven, mail-responsive buyers. Like it or not, some people will respond by mail and some people won't.


Sell a good product. Some people I talk to think that direct mail is a magic path to riches. Just slap together any old gizmo and, presto, the money tree starts blooming. Wrong. A good product is always easier to sell than a piece of crap. And people decide quickly whether you're selling a winner or a dud. What's a good product? It's something people want or need right now. Something they already understand. Don't try to create a new market unless you have deep pockets and lots of patience.


Make an enticing offer. When people glance at your mailing, they're looking for what you're selling and the deal you're making to sell it. So make it good. Make it fast. And make it clear. Doubt fills trashcans. And for goodness' sake, make your offer more than just the price. Offer a free trial. Throw in a premium. Bolster your guarantee. If you don't give people an outstanding reason to accept your offer, they won't.


Get back to basics. Spend lots of time writing your headlines and subheads and less time tinkering with body copy. Include plenty of information, enough to answer every question and ease every doubt. Point out the benefits. List all the features. Make every word clear. Make every picture relevant. Present a clear call to action. Make response easy.


Remember, the natural path of every direct mail piece is from mailbox to trashcan. Only when you understand that will you be able to do something about it.


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