What Makes a Great Direct Mail Letter?


What-makes-a-great-direct-mail-letterYears ago The Wall Street Journal sent out a direct mail package that (based on performance) has to rank as one of the most effective mailings ever. That assumes, of course that you consider generating some $2 billion in revenue as a good direct mail performance! The mailing included a letter, excerpted here:

Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future. 

Recently, these two men returned to college for their 25th reunion. 

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there. 

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president. 

What Made The Difference

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.

The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business. 

What makes this letter so good? The prose isn’t spectacular. It’s not flashy. It doesn’t even really sell. As a matter of fact—you might think this letter is rather unremarkable. Some people are even offended at the implication that the president of a company is held up as more valuable or desirable than a manager.

The thing of it is—it worked. It generated a phenomenal response. It didn’t cajole. It didn’t over-promise. It simply made a suggestion that knowledge was important and that The Wall Street Journal would deliver usable knowledge. It engaged readers—but left them to convince themselves. It recognized them as intelligent and in charge of their destinies—and it offered to help them pursue their destiny.

A lot of marketing people have tried to replicate this letter. That’s not the point. The point is to think about your audience and what motivates them. Then engage them and offer to help them achieve their goals (not fulfill yours by making a purchase).

Maybe you’re wondering IF your direct mail efforts are working at all. A lot of companies simply don’t know if they’re being effective or not. Here’s a helpful post that helps you learn to track your results so you’ll know for sure.

Why You Need Both Push and Pull Marketing