Things You Can Learn From Junk Mail

May 18, 2006
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Just say "yes" and we'll send you these eye-opening secrets absolutely free. Say "yes" to what? Hardly matters. Soon as people see "eye-opening secrets," they get hooked. Deep down, we all want to know secrets, don't we? And when a peek at those secrets is absolutely free, well, it takes a stronger will than many of us possess to pass up a freebie. Conventional wisdom says a man's health, sexuality, stamina and strength peak at around age 18. Frankly, I think conventional wisdom is a lot of BUNK! Right on, soulmate! Who the heck are THEY to tell me that I have to be any less of a man than I was 30 years ago. Of course I want to read what else you have to say about achieving, as your headline puts it, SUPER MANHOOD!

Ah, those junk mail pitches. So sleazy, so manipulative, so abundant. Decent human beings wish they would stop killing so many trees and cluttering our mailboxes with all that crap. However, did you ever stop to think about why there's so much junk mail around? It's because it works. Direct mail, whether consumer-oriented or selling to other businesses, can be some of the most powerful advertising around, dollar-for-dollar. Yes, many of us throw junk mail away unopened - around 40 percent, according to studies. But that still leaves a sizable majority that takes the time to open up the envelope or package.

Research shows that about 75 percent of them at least will read the headline. Guess what? Even more, around 80 percent, will read the P.S. line at the end. That's why professionally generated junk mail always has at least one P.S. line at the end, and sometimes two or three P.S. notes. Keep that in mind. Typically, only about 1 percent to 2 percent of junk mail recipients end up buying whatever's being sold. Yet, the economics are such that this is enough to make plenty of money.

The great advantages of direct mail advertising are that you can pinpoint its cost precisely and measure exactly how much revenue it brings in. Direct mail professionals constantly test different messages to see which ones bring the best results - testing just one new element each time, such as different headlines. Over time, this feedback hones their marketing skills so that every word, every phrase can be crafted for maximum effect. If you pay attention, you can learn some valuable lessons to apply to your own marketing efforts. Here are some of the not-so-secrets (every direct mail pro knows about them) to effective direct mail that also apply to just about any form of promotional writing.

The "You" Factor

Take time to read a few pieces of professionally generated junk mail. Frequently, it takes them a long time to mention the product being sold. It may not get mentioned for several paragraphs, sometimes even pages into a long sales letter. Instead, the message focuses on reader needs and wants. Junk mail letters are dominated from beginning to end by the words "you ... your ... yours." You see comparatively few first-person "I" and "we" words. Top copywriters do not write to an "audience." Instead, direct mail pros single out in their mind's eye one individual who represents their typical sales prospect and writes the letter to that person. An example:

Dear Soon-to-be-rich Friend, these are the undeniable truths for living smarter. In one year alone, they can help you save hundreds, even thousands of dollars. That's cash in your pocket, 100 percent tax-free. CASH you can use to pay off your bills once and for all. CASH you can save and invest. CASH that lets you treat yourself to the luxuries you've always wanted ...

Notice how this writer doesn't say once word about the product being sold. That doesn't happen for several more paragraphs. When it does happened, it's brief and casual: It all starts when you send for an astonishing new book .... The title of the book isn't even mentioned. That doesn't happen until page 5 of this six-page sales letter. The writer builds up to it with tantalizing hints about the book. Good marketing - direct mail or anything else - focuses on the prospect, not the product. Pump up the "you" factor in all of your promotional literature.

Simple, Everyday Language

Notice something else about the excerpts cited here. Anyone can understand them. There's no jargon, no $10 words. Junk mail never will send you running to the dictionary. Not only simple words, but simple sentences prevail. Junk mail writers try to keep all sentences to no more than 10 to 12 words. Single-sentence paragraphs abound. And never mind all those scoldings you got from English teachers about sentence fragments and starting or ending sentences with prepositions. Grammar rules are made to be broken in marketing. Fragmented sentences are permissible. Adds impact.

Get Emotional

Junk mailers like to dramatize the sales message. They use personal anecdotes to create visions of heaven or hell. They reveal "secrets." They tell how to make or save huge sums of money. They talk about shocking things that can happen to people through no fault of their own. They make breathtaking promises about "satisfaction guaranteed" or "money back if not 100 percent satisfied." People who make these promises must be prepared to keep their promises, but rarely does anyone call them on it. Junk mail is deceptive in subtle ways, but most of it does not tell actual lies. When they make a claim about this or that percentage, you can bet there is some research available to back it up. They will present their case in the best possible light and maybe stretch the truth almost to the breaking point, but good marketing does not make things up out of thin air. What's important is the ability to recognize when a certain fact supports your case. Junk mail exists to sell you something right now. It does not waste money trying to build an image. That's why virtually every piece of junk mail sent out contains special limited-time discount offers. It aims to get the recipient to make a phone call, send in an order form, return a survey, schedule a meeting, etc. Marketers refer to it as a "call to action."

Always Include a P.S.

As noted, more people read the P.S. line than read the headline. So junk mail almost always includes at least one P.S. Sometimes it's a call to action - Act now, while you've got the chance. Sometimes the P.S. provides added information - Wait, we almost forgot the best part. You don't need to put a single penny down! Another common use of the P.S. is to reinforce something about your offer - Don't forget, you'll get special value pricing if you order by .... Or, it can be used to present or reinforce a guarantee - If you aren't completely satisfied, you'll get your money completely refunded.

Easy-to-Read Type is Best

Junk mailers use several typographical tricks to make the letters as easy to read as possible. Paragraphs typically run no more than four to five lines deep. They skip a line and indent between paragraphs. Effective direct mail pieces also break up text with big, bold headlines, along with subheads and bullets. Boldface and underlines are used to highlight key statements.

Take a little time to read a piece of junk mail or two. You'll see these tricks and others used repeatedly. Feel free to adopt them to your own marketing pieces.

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