Be Our Guest!




by Robert W. Bly



1.      Short letters -- one or two pages -- usually work best.  Executives don’t have time to wade through a lengthy sales pitch.  Exceptions: subscriptions, seminars, and some other mail-order offers.

2.      If you can personalize, great!  But form letters addressed to “Dear Executive” or “Dear Engineer” can also pull well.

3.      Should business mailings take a “consumer approach?”

*     Some mailers argue that executives are human beings before they are businesspeople -- hence, all consumer DM techniques can apply to business mail.

*     But remember, in addition to being people, executives have professional

responsibilities.  And they take their work seriously.  So business mailings

must address their needs as professionals.  Not every consumer gimmick

is appropriate For business mail.

4.      In particular, avoid “busy” graphics (e.g., Publishers Clearing House).  Use graphics that make your mailing immediately clear, easy-to-follow, and easy to read.

5.      If an envelope is filled with too many inserts, the busy executive is more inclined to throw the whole thing away.  A standard package with a letter, brochure, and reply card seems to work best.

6.      The biggest mistake you can make in writing business-to-business DM is to assume that the reader is as interested in your product or industry as you are.  When writing copy, assume that your product is the last thing on the reader’s mind.  He or she may never have given a second thought to problems, issues, technology, and competitive products that you worry about every day.

7.      Another major error is writing copy that speaks on a layman’s level when your mailing is targeted to industry professionals.  For example: DP professionals know what CICS, MVS, and ISDN are.  You don’t -- so the natural tendency is to want to explain them in your copy.  But being too elementary turns readers off and signals that you’re not really in touch with their business.  How would you respond to a mailing that began, “Direct mail is an exciting way of selling products?”  Yawn.

8.      Make your mailing look professional  -- a business communication from one executive to another.  A letter crammed with fake handwriting, arrows, pop-ups, and other gimmicks strikes many business readers as undignified and unprofessional.

9.      One rule that applies equally to business and consumer mail: sell your offer.  If you offer a 30-day trial, sell the reader on asking for the trial.  Explain the benefits and that there is no risk or obligation.  If it is an invitation to a seminar, sell the knowledge to be gained at the seminar and not the product being promoted.

10. A corollary to #9 is that there must be an appealing offer.

A lead generating package should never sell just the product.  It should also push the offer.

And there is always an offer.  The best offer is some type of free trail, free analysis, free consultation, or free sample.  Premiums can also work well.  At minimum, offer a free brochure of simply “free information.”  Free information is an offer and it does work.        

11. Write copy that enhances the perceived value of your offer.

Examples: A product catalog becomes a product guide.  A software catalog becomes an international software directory.  A collection of brochures becomes a free information kit.  A checklist becomes a convention planner’s guide.  An article reprinted in pamphlet form becomes “our new, informative booklet -- HOW TO PREVENT COMPUTER FAILURES.”  And so on.

12. Many clients begin planning by sitting around a table and saying, “We want to do a mailing on product X.  Should we use a mailing tube?  A box?  A message in a fortune cookie?  What gimmick works best?”

In my opinion, they are asking the wrong question.  The right way to get started is to ask, “What is the key sales appeal of this product?”  Ideally, this is something the product does better than other products and solves a major problem or addresses a key concern of the customer.

13. Clients often ask, “Shouldn’t we do some market research and focus group testing to uncover key sales points and appeals before we do the mailing?”

They probably don’t realize that direct mail is a good research tool for many products and offers.  For a few thousand dollars, you can test an offer and, within weeks, know whether prospects will respond.

14. Postcard decks generate a large number of responses at low cost.  Direct-mail packages are more costly and time-consuming to produce but generate a better quality lead.  The only way to know for certain is to set up a lead-tracking system and test both types of mailings.

15. Self-mailers generally don’t pull as well as packages with separate letters, brochures, and reply cards.  They work well, however, for seminars.  Also, they can ad an attention-grabbing change of pace to a series of mailings.  One ad agency I know has used self-mailers for years to generate new business, with great success.  One reason why self-mailers do poorly is that most are not given the same level of attention that businesses put into their regular DM packages.

16. About gimmicks, such as pop-ups, fancy folds, 3D objects, and so on: They generally work only if there is a strong, logical tie-in to the product, or offer, and sales appeal.  Sending a pair of sunglasses doesn’t make much sense for a valve manufacturer.  It makes better sense for a travel agent offering a package cruise to the Caribbean or for a tanning parlor prospecting for new bodies.

17. Another mistake is to make the copywriter base your package around some artificial theme or slogan.  A company selling industrial pumps, for instance, insists that the theme of its mailings be quality.   A manufacturer of metal buildings wants a futuristic image, with copy full of references to outer space and science fiction.  This is a deadly error.  Perhaps advertising can be tied effectively to such weak themes.  But response-getting mail can’t.  Mailings that get results push product benefits, cost savings, free prefers, and no-risk guarantees -- not images or themes.  To force a mailing to fit some predetermined concept is difficult, tricky -- and often fatal to results.

18. A BRC that restates the offer and asks for the order is doing only half the job.  Reply elements should also be used to gather information that helps qualify prospects.  For instance, if you’re selling accounts receivable software, the BRC should ask: What type of computer do you have?  What is your operating system?  How many invoices do you write a month?  If the advertiser seeks detailed facts, use a separate questionnaire or “specification sheet.”  And include a BRE.

19. “Is there any advantage to using business-reply cards and envelopes in industrial mailings?” asks one client.  “After all, the businessperson doesn’t care about a few cents postage, and his secretary has plenty of stamps handy.”  True -- but use the BRC/BRE anyway.  Why?  Because such cards and envelopes look like response devices.  They signal the reader that a response is required.

The same holds true for 800 numbers.  Sure, the executive isn’t paying for the call out of his own pocket, so he’s less motivated by a free call than the consumer.  But the 800 number leaps off the page and says, “Hey, pick up the phone -- we want you to respond to this offer!”  Regular numbers don’t have this effect.

20. The trend today is to add perceived value to numbers by turning them into “hotlines.”  Filterite, a manufacturer of chemical filters, advertises a toll-free filtration hotline 800-FILTERS.  A good idea.  However, I suggest you print the number in numerals along with the letter version.  Some people don’t like to translate letters into a phone number they can dial.

21. A popular technique is to add to the perceived value of the order form or BRC by calling it an “Information Request Form,” “Trial Request Form,” or “Needs analysis.”  This still works but is losing impact as more and more mailers use the technique.

22. Response goes up when you give the reader choices.  For instance, include both a BRC and a toll-free number.  And allow for multiple responses, such as:


[   ] Reserve my free 30-day trial

[   ] Have a sales representative call

[   ] Send brochure by mail

[   ] Not interested right now, but add me to your mailing list


23. Tell the reader that there is no cost or obligation or that no salesman will call...if these statements are true.