Long or Short Copy: What Works Best for Direct Mail?


Long-or-short-copy-what-works-bestThere is a debate that has been going on in the world of direct mail marketing ever since people began using movable type. When it comes to getting your marketing message across to your desired audience, is long copy or short copy more effective? Which one works best?

For years, many marketers argued that peoples’ attention spans were getting shorter when it came to marketing messages. The conventional wisdom seemed to be leaning in the direction of using shorter copy because people were just too busy to read long copy.

In spite of all of our labor and timesaving devices, our lives didn’t get any less hectic. If anything, we were more rushed than ever and more stressed about trying to keep up with information. Email surfaced and suddenly it was unbelievably easy to reach people instantly. But after the novelty of email wore off, people got tired of being bombarded with information. And frankly, many people found it harder to read email than conventional mail. Short messages were OK, but nobody wanted to read a long email.

The Internet opened up a whole new universe of information for us. There was more to read and less time in which to read it.

And then along came Twitter with it’s maximum length of 140 characters (that’s characters—not words!) and copy got really short. It’s pretty hard to get verbose when you only have 140 characters at your disposal! Some experts even suggested that direct mail had outlived its usefulness altogether. The handwriting was obviously on the wall: Short wins! Right?

Not necessarily.

You see, when it comes to copy (whether it’s on your website or in a direct mail letter), it’s not just a matter of length that impacts effectiveness. Back in the days before the Internet, there was a wise copywriting guru who used to pose the following question when he taught copywriting seminars: “How do you know when your copy is too long?” His answer was stunningly accurate: “When your audience stops reading.”

It’s not simply a matter of how long your copy is—it’s a matter of whether or not it’s interesting and helpful. Are you telling your audience things they want and need to know—or are you boring them with details that don’t matter to them? If you’re intent on telling them how great your company or your product is, they’ll move on in a heartbeat. But if you’re helping them answer questions or solve problems that matter to them—they’ll keep reading.

One thing that’s changed from years past is that it’s now so much easier for someone to stop reading—and find another source of information. Today, more information is only a click away. If you’re not giving your prospects the help and information they want, it’s just not that hard for them to look elsewhere.

It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a direct mail letter, an email, a blog, or a web page. If what you have to say isn’t interesting and helpful you won’t keep people reading. Short is great if you can deliver the goods in 140 characters or less (or at least direct readers to where the information resides). But don’t assume it’s wrong to write more—if you can deliver information that will help your prospects find answers or solve problems.

Should copy be short or long? Above all, it should be helpful!

Direct Mail Best Practices