Learn Marketing Tips, Copywriting Techniques, & Direct Marketing Strategies
Frequently Asked Questions / Direct Marketing
Jeff Dobkin here. Let’s take the 15 or so best questions on marketing.  The questions - and answers - follow. 

Direct Mail

Q. First, I’ve got to get my envelope opened - any suggestions?
A. Write teaser copy on the envelope - a few succinct lines tempting people to find out what’s inside. 

   My favorite opening line is “Gift Certificate Enclosed!”  It’s best because it drives everyone inside to see what the gift is.  In addition, gift certificates are cheap to print and light to ship (only on 1/3 or 1/4 of a sheet of paper), they have no cost at all until redemption, have a high perceived value, can be directed at high margin or excess merchandise, and are by design, naturally easy to track. 

   A great teaser line will overcome a bulk mail stamp - now called standard mail - or an address label.  Gift certificates compel a wide range of recipients to open the envelope.  Any arguments?

Q. Should you use teaser copy on every envelope? 
A. Yes, if it’s a commercial piece.  Teaser copy certainly works well with free offers. Teasers can be as loud as a shout: in red ink and all capitals; or small and classy in script: “Your Personal FREE Invitation is Enclosed…”  Plus - I usually add “Please Open Immediately…” to every envelope.

   Then again, you may not need a teaser line if it’s a personal-looking letter with a live stamp and a hand written or ink-jet address imaged directly onto the envelope.  If it looks like personal correspondence, people will open it anyhow. 

    For commercial mailings where you want a “Plain-Jane” look, the next best way to get your envelope opened is to print your name and your business address in the upper left corner, with no company name.  This looks more like a personal mailing.  For this to work, the recipient’s address must be imaged directly on the envelope - no label.

Q. What's the best way to come up with a great line of teaser copy for your envelope?  For that matter, what’s the best way to come up with a headline for an ad or press release?
A. It’s the Jeff Dobkin 100 to 1 Rule:  Write 100 lines, go back and pick out your best one.  I didn’t say you’d like it, I just said it works.

Q. Do you have any formulas for creating headlines?
A. 1. New Product Offers Benefit, Benefit, Benefit.  “New lawn mower cuts a wider path, is easier to push, and never needs a new battery.”  “New lightweight tennis racquet hits harder, faster, and is less tiring.” 

And 2.  Free Booklet Offers Valuable Information.  “FREE Booklet shows you how to find and stop a leaky roof.”  “FREE Booklet offers 17 tips for buying a new car at the least cost!” 

   If you craft your headline with care, there’s an additional advantage to offering a free booklet: the title of the booklet attracts only the people who are interested in your specific product or service - so you don’t wind up sending expensive literature to people who aren’t going to purchase from you.  Who would ask for a booklet on repairing a leaky roof unless their roof leaked?  Who’d want a booklet on buying a new car unless they’re looking at new cars?

Q Have any good writing tips or tricks?
A. Here’s the best writing trick ever: Go back and cross out your first sentence. This works just about everywhere! Having a really bad day?  Go back and cross out your first paragraph.  This pulls you right into the heart of your copy. 

   If you’re having a hard time writing, just start anywhere - pick up a pencil and just start writing about your product or service.  Cross out your whole first page if you have to - you’ll soon focus on what you need to say.  Write about the features in a brochure, and the benefits of those features in the letter.

Q. What does it cost to mail 1,000 to 5,000 pieces of mail? 
A. Figure the costs between 40 cents and 50 cents per piece mailed.  This includes letter, brochure, list, envelope, postage.

Q. How can I figure out if my campaign is going to be successful?
A. Work all the numbers backward.  Here’s how:  Suppose you are going to mail 1,000 pieces.  Using the above figure of 50¢ each piece, this mailing will cost $500.  What percentage response do you need to make money?  How many recipients need to buy your product for you to make your $500 back?  IE: If your product sells for $50, and you make $10 net on each sale - you need to sell 50 units to make back the cost of the mailing, $500.  So you will need a 5% response rate of buyers (not just inquirers) to break even.  That’s a lot.  Even 5% of just inquirers is a lot.

This is why items that sell for $10 don’t work in solo direct mailings.  If it sells for $10, and you make $4 each sale - or even $5 each sale (which is a lot), you’d still need a 10% response rate - or 100 orders - to make your $500 back on a 1,000 piece mailing.  In traditional mailings, you may get 100 inquiries if it’s an exceptionally good piece, but only a small portion of them will convert to actual buyers.

When figuring your chances of success, figure out the exact percentage response you’ll need to become profitable.  Then ask yourself if that’s attainable.  Be realistic.

Q. So then, what is a good response to a mailing?
A.  Anything that makes money.  But figure 1/2 to 1% as OK, anything over that is pretty good.  Here’s the real question: will you be profitable if one person out of 200 buys (1/2%)?  If one out of 100 buys (1%)?  If you’re selling airplanes, perhaps a .0001% response is pretty good - if the respondent buys just one, single 747.

Marketing Questions

Q. What is the objective of the marketing function in direct mail?
A. First, to narrow the prospect list to “the people who are the most likely to purchase, and make that purchase as soon as possible.”  If this mailing doesn't work, you need to reconfigure something.

   Next, to create an irresistible offer that makes people want to “buy now,” and possibly, “buy more than one.”  Finally, make sure customers are satisfied after receiving your goods or services, so they will continue to be your most likely prospects to purchase again, and will refer you to their friends.

Q. I’m thinking about entering an industry - where do I get more information about it?
A. Most industries are served by their own group of specialty magazines where you can learn about the industry.  Additionally, many industries have associations that are staffed by trained and knowledgeable professionals.  Get the magazines, then call the association headquarters and ask for industry information.