Eight tips for more effective direct mail

By John Howarth

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I’ve been writing direct mail copy most of my working life. When I started it was the low cost route to market for businesses for which above the line advertising wasn’t the right mix. It became more important over the years before digital marketing methods took over for many areas of business and before the cost of postage grew prohibitive. Direct mail still has a commercial role and is still an effective tool in the right context.

For political parties it is an essential element of the electoral ‘ground war’ as, digital or no digital, everyone still has a letterbox*. Direct mail also provides a means of getting target messages into the hands of different segments the electorate – and it’s not just a tactic for election time. There are all sorts of rules and good practices with direct mail and with political direct mail in particular. Here are five golden rules to ensure your mail gets read and your message at least considered:

It’s a letter, not a leaflet.

What makes direct mail effective is the notion of a personal letter. It might seem contrived but it certainly isn’t outdated. Letters look like letters and they come from people, not parties. They are not leaflets with addresses. So if you want people to read your letters make sure your letters are laid out like letters. You might use a letterhead with a photograph – and you should if you are a Westminster candidate, though a local councillor can do just as well without ‘in your face’ party political branding. Remember that the least apparently political things are often the most political.

Emphasis is essential to get your point across

The layout of your letter matters almost as much as the words. Decide on your key point and make sure it stands out in bold, but in a way that flows within your letter. Use underlining, bullet points and indentation to give the page interest and to power your message. (Oh and think about using a readable font, rather than staying corporate). And always include a PS – people read the PS.

Personal makes it real

The more personal you can make a direct mail letter the better, starting with the greeting. Dear Mrs Smith is always better than Dear Doris Smith and that is better than Dear Resident. But the more you know about them the better – like their address or their polling number. But the thing that makes most difference, if you have a manageable quantity of letters, is to sign them personally – as a clue it takes about an hour to sign 500 letters. It’s time well spent.

Local makes a connection

To compliment personalising letters local content helps build relationships with voters. A sophisticated mail merge can include sentences specific to local campaigns and community casework down to street level. The more issues and familiar places the reader recognises, the more relevant the communication is to them.

Never presume you know

Presumption is bad communication. For example you may be mailing a selection of ‘Labour promises’ but you don’t KNOW that these people are intending to vote Labour or in some cases ever voted or intended to vote Labour nor ever spoken to a Labour canvasser. Your voter ID IS inaccurate – and it doesn’t matter how much, so never presume you KNOW, because you don’t. The very worst way to open a message is ‘Dear Labour supporter’ and just as bad to include lines like ‘I am writing to you as a Labour supporter’ because you don’t KNOW – you just suspect. This applies equally to any other segment.

Keep them guessing till they open it

Never give away on the envelope who the letter is from. Use a tease message, but don’t turn your carefully crafted letter into junk mail by revealing what’s inside the envelope.

Including more is better, if you can

We live in an age of limited attention spans, when sometimes it seems like the world speaks in 140 characters. However the conventional wisdom of direct mail has always been that longer letters are actually MORE likely to be read than short letter. In practical terms, however, sticking to a single side of A4 is most practical, especially if you are doing a personalised mail merge. But it isn’t just about the letter, direct mail experts know that more than one item in the envelope means the package is more likely to be noticed – so enclosing other pieces with your personal letter is a good thing – you can and should make reference to them.

Always include a call to action

If you don’t ask, you don’t get. So ask your reader to do something – sign a petition, send a letter or email to the local Council, write to their MP, join Labour or, most important, vote Labour.

Some of these points might seem obvious, but I’ve seen far too many letters and direct mail packages that will simply never be read or even opened because they break one or more of these golden rules. Follow the rules and your messages are a powerful means of communicating and building relationships. Get it wrong and it’s just junk mail.

Labourprint offers effective direct mail campaigns, call us on 0844 880 0028 or email info@public-impact.com for more information

(*) except in a place called Colnbrook, where they don’t – or I could never find them

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