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What Works Best in Direct Mail: Sales Letters or Postcards?

March 8th, 2006 by Bob Bly

In his latest e-newsletter, copywriter Alan Sharpe says: “In business-to-business direct mail lead generation, letters invariable outpull self-mailers, including postcards.”

Yet many b-to-b marketers I talk to favor postcards. They note that postcards eliminate the need to convince someone to open an envelope’ the sales message is right in plain sight.

What works best for generating leads in YOUR experience: a sales letter in an envelope — or a postcard? And why?

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 8th, 2006 at 3:46 pm and is filed under Direct Marketing, General. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

88 responses about “What Works Best in Direct Mail: Sales Letters or Postcards?”

  1. Justin Schultz said:

    I think it depends entirely on the product or service being pitched and the amount of copy needed.

    Generally speaking though, if the amount of copy is short and/or if it’s a ‘direct headline’ or ‘command headline’ I think postcards do work best.

  2. Bob McCarthy said:

    I like letters. They are professional looking and they are familiar to the reader. People know how to read a letter. They know where to look for information.

    Self-mailers are too often driven by the design. You flip it over, front and back – you’re never quite sure where it begins.

    Postcards are great because they are simple, direct and cheap to produce and mail. But they are missing a mail-back response card which, even in this day or 800 numbers and web pages, is highly recommended for lead generation mail.

    I might use a postcard as a follow-up piece (just to keep my name in front of the prospect) but to generate response, I will always be a letter guy.

    Bob McCarthy
    McCarthy & King Marketing

  3. Richard said:

    It’s interesting to read what people like best, but the burning question here is what *works* best.

    Speculation can be interesting, but wouldn’t you agree that a real measurement is worth a zillion opinions?

    Can anyone provide hard numbers?

  4. Jim Logan said:

    I use both postcards and sales letter in B-B sales efforts. I also use them in B-G, mailing to elected and senior non-elected personnel alike. I’ve had godd response from both letters and cards, moreso with letters.

    If I had to choose one, I’d choose sales letters. Sales letters allow a story to build and give opportunity for a more complete offer than postcards.

    That said, I send a lot of postcards, usually with a landing page to continue the story and complete an offer. One tactic I’ve used and want to explore more in the future is using larger postcards with copy that makes them present and read like a newsletter. Maybe the best of both worlds???

  5. Brian said:

    The attraction to postcards, as I see it, is cost. You can send out (about) two postcards for every letter once you factor in printing, envelopes, postage, etc. If I’m mailing to a very small, highly targeted, active list I’ll choose a letter in an envelope. If I’m mailing to a large, broad list, I’ll typically choose a postcard. I also look at what it is my client is selling. Is it a $19 mass produced widget? A postcard will probably suffice gathering enough interest to draw the target to the website. Is it a $1999.99 widget? I had better put together a brilliant package that only begins with a letter.

  6. Darren said:

    I think it depends largely on the product you’re trying to sell. If asked this question a year ago, I would have instinctively responded that letters are better (based on intuition — not experience), largely because a letter allows you to build a story. But in my current circumstance, we are finding that postcards draw a much better response. The product is simple and doesn’t require a lot of explanation. That makes a difference.

  7. BER! said:

    No one opens envelopes unless they know they are from a friend or are a bill. Especially the ones marked urgent, important, or ones with no return address. And a bulk mail permit makes it even worse.

    Offline SPAM.

    Go to town and go to a drug store. Get a post card and look at the publisher. Go home and order 1k for less than $100.

    Send out your message on a “tourist” card and watch the response.

    “Who send me a postcard from Tacoma, Washington?!”

    They WILL read it.

  8. Daniel Singleton said:

    A Sales letter works best for me. A personal direct marketing letter that sells my service has netted me clients. Post-cards are good for follow-ups, keep-in-contact and reminders.

  9. Jim Valko said:

    Ah…wouldn’t life be wonderful if we always could live be simple “rules of thumb,” such as postcards work better than sales letters?

    As we all know, many factors must be evaluated to determine what type of promotion will work best: What are we selling? Who are the public? Are you going after lead generation or a sale? What is the cost of the product we are promoting? Etc. Etc.

    To compare postcards with sales letters and NOT state what you are trying to achieve with your mailings is a little silly. I send out upwards of ten thousand mailings each week to a specific public. If my purpose is to only create a lead from my mailings (lead generation), then postcards work pretty well. If my purpose, however, is to actually SELL a product or service (which would include putting the price in the mailings), then postcards don’t work well compared to sales letters. What works, all depends on what you are trying to achieve.

  10. Mark Satterfield said:

    I specialize in b2b direct marketing and have run two postcard campaigns in the last 3 months. One was a great success and one was a total bust. The success was for a client who offers template websites for new business owners. We started the campaign with a one page letter that was followed by a series of three postcards. The letter pulled virtually nothing but the postcards have been pulling at a rate of 4% with an offer for a free report. Now naturally I don’t know if the letter served as an effective warm up to the postcards but it did work with an audience that is small business owners who I beleive are sorting and reading their own mail.

    The bust came with my own marketing efforts to mid sized consulting and business services firms. I’ve had a lot of success with a sequenced series of three letters with a call to action of visiting my website for a free report. I’ve consistently hit response rates of 12-15% for the sequence.

    I tried the same with postcards and the entire three mailing brought in a total response of 1.5%.

    Here’s what I think. Maybe the copy on the postcard wasn’t effective in which case then postcards in and of themselves may work fine. However, the main difference was that I was mailing to large enough businesses that the piece had to pass through the hands of a screener. It’s only a guess on my part, but what I think is that the postcards didn’t make it through that hurdle.

    Thus my personal conclusion is that postcards may work just fine in the b2b space if they can get directly to the decision maker without having to pass through a screener. However if your target is larger companies, then the pulling power of a one page sales letter definately beats postcards. (I personally don’t use headlines on the letter for the same reason as I now shy away from postcards)

    Mark Satterfield
    Gentle Rain Marketing

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