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Bleg: What kind of Direct Mail letter works best?

Short bleg to all you BHBers out there. When I was in non-profit fundraising, one of the cardinal rules was that long letters – 12 to 18 page letters – perform better than short fundraising letters.

But I wonder whether the same principle holds true for direct mail letters where you’re selling a service. I send out direct mail letters for my law practice to people who’ve recently been arrested for various alleged offenses. Wonder if I should be sending out longer letters. Right now my letter is two pages…

Any thoughts?


13 Comments so far

  1. Brian Brady February 26th, 2010 10:20 pm

    I am from the school that longer copy, if interesting, works better. Why? Because the response is better. Long copy sales letters get visceral reactions in the reader. It turns a lot of people off but it moves more people to take action than short-copy does.

    I think I’d tell a story in your letter, use testimonials whenever possible, and have a time sensitive call to action (the offer).

  2. Sean Purcell February 26th, 2010 10:38 pm

    Damon, I agree with Brian on this one. But then that’s no surprise – he introduced me to long copy and mentored me along the way.

    Look this guy up and join his group. Be the best thing you’ve ever done for your direct marketing efforts:

    Dan Kennedy

  3. Teri Lussier February 27th, 2010 12:38 am

    I’m fascinated by this myself. Brian is excellent at long copy. Check out his Google profile.

    This is true:
    I teamed up with Greg for a blogging competition. I’d not seen BHB or ever heard of him before I read Brian’s notice about this contest. So, I read Greg’s very very short BHB post about the competition, but instead of reading BHB, I went to his website to see how he markets- that’s really what I wanted to learn. The whole BHR site was long copy, beautiful mesmerizing long copy. Taking away objections, call to action, more objections deftly addressed, another call to action. I didn’t know at the time what exactly I was reading, but there was a visceral reaction from me. I wasn’t buying or selling a house in Phx, but I had no hesitation to applying for a partnership because of the long copy.

    Something short sales specialists have taught me- birds of a feather. Put in a call to action to share your contact information with anyone else they might know who needs your service.

    > Look this guy up and join his group. Be the best thing you’ve ever done for your direct marketing efforts:

    I loathe joining groups. His site looks spammy. Take away my objections. Convince me.

  4. Greg Swann February 27th, 2010 8:05 am

    > I loathe joining groups. His site looks spammy. Take away my objections. Convince me.

    I looked at Kennedy’s stuff, but it wasn’t for me. Much too twentieth century. I love long copy for connecting with clients, but everything we do is about playing it completely straight with people. Transparency, elephants-in-the-room, disclosures against self-interest, etc. Long copy can be used for tricks, gimmicks, elaborate games — the long con. Or it can be used to forge an enduring relationship, explicating the terms on which we will work. I don’t have a name for this, except the clumsy appellation “post-deceptive marketing.” But that’s what we’re aiming for: Long copy, but no secrets, no lies, no gimmicks, no bait-and-switch, no fine print, no hustle, no hassle, no juice, no white-washing — no jive.

    Do y’all want to see a very effective long-copy marketing piece? In an article for Dayton Most Metro, Teri Lussier explains confidentiality in a way that is interesting and very informative and which illustrates why Daytonites should be using her as their Realtor — in the best service of their own interests, not hers.

    Marketing is not about self-promotion, and it surely is not about hustling someone you see as a sucker into doing the wrong thing for the wrong reasons. Good marketing — ethically good and economically productive — is about showing your prospects why using the better mousetrap you have built is better for them.

  5. Susan Zanzonico February 27th, 2010 7:52 am

    I was always told shorter and to the point was better otherwise your audience might start to glaze over and not even take the time to read it. I think it depends on your service and if you have an interesting, well-written story to tell, then you can hold their attention.

  6. jeff Brown February 27th, 2010 8:57 am

    Direct mail is something for which I have some years of experience. I’ve never sent more than one page, and 95% of my mailings produced significant income — some in the six figure category.

    As Brian says, they did, for the most part, include a short story. Mostly though, they stood out for a few reasons.

    1. Compared to the competition (RE Investment Brokerages), the content was clearly superior in imparting sophisticated expertise/experience/knowledge.

    2. They offered to solve a problem they or their current broker had failed to solve — along with an example of that solution in action within 5-20 minutes of their properties.

    3. The mailings were more narrowly targeted than most industry efforts, at least by what I could observe.

    I suspect it helps to have the mailing targets thinking on a relatively more objective basis, i.e. investing vs primary residence.

    Two of my letters produced over $100,000 and over $200,000 respectively, with a third generating over $80,000. The vast majority, over about 15 years, produced in the $10-30,000 range.

    When the ‘Do Not Call’ law passed, my letters immediately got lost in the chaos of letters sent by those who used to call. I think that’s calmed down quite a bit now, and am ready to resume my previous M.O.

    I’m more than a little dubious about a veteran investor being emotionally swayed by a War and Peace tome of 10-20 pages. All that said, I’d be curious to find out if Brian’s approach would work.

  7. Sean Purcell February 27th, 2010 9:08 am


    I agree that his site looks spammy. Dan Kennedy is marketing at all times. He does not pretend to be other than what he is. I also agree with Greg’s comments re post deceptive marketing. Personally, I don’t see tricks or ruse in Dan Kennedy’s stuff, but in any case I agree.

    For me, all good marketing is a value exchange. I am offering something of value to you (knowledge, info, service) and in return I am asking for something of value from you (trust, activity, money). The purpose of long copy is to make my offer of value as real and as emotionally true as possible.

    I love Dan Kennedy’s cantakerous honesty and unabashed embrace of marketing as both fine art and good industry. Remove your objections? I found the same issues as you when I first explored his stuff, but he was recommended by Brian Brady for whom I have a great deal of trust. So I continued on and read more. You may not find Dan Kennedy to your liking (much as Greg seems to have) or you may find him to be a tremendous asset as I have. The mechanism to justify your initial exploration is another aspect of good marketing: transfer of trust. If I have a position of trust with you, then some of that trust will transfer onto Dan Kennedy by my recommendation. How much trust I have created and how well Kennedy’s stuff fits with your business model will determine to what degree you explore him.

  8. Brian Brady February 27th, 2010 9:58 am

    We can learn how to market better by studying good marketers whether we like their style or not. The key thing I’ve learned from GKIC is that while my business is different, the principles of marketing remain the same for all businesses.

    Should a criminal attorney write DM pieces exactly the way Bill Glazer does or PT Barnum might have? Probably not but the principles taught by those two, differentiation and interest, should be incorporated for success.

    I’ve tried a hundred different pieces but the best response comes from long copy sales letters that tell interesting stories. I can’t imagine that you’d want to tell stories about past clients Damon but you could certainly use high-profile court decisions to illustrate. Try not to use lawyer-speak.

    Talk about the concept of advocacy. Many people criticize lawyers for being “hired guns” but if I get in trouble, I want a hired gun. I don’t want “aggressive representation”, I want an attorney who “believes the 4th Amendment to be almost as sacred as the stone tablets from Mt Sinai” and will attack those who have breached that principle “with the ferocity of a hungry pitbull”. If I’m guilty (and know it), I want an attorney who “has the strength and courage of Mother Theresa when arguing for compassion”

    You can see where I’m going. You gotta balance the outrageous with the professional but stand out from the crowd.

  9. Teri Lussier February 27th, 2010 7:06 pm

    Hi Sean-
    I just wanted to hear a long copy marketing piece for Dan Kennedy. 🙂

    Thank you!

    Test different letters, see what works.

  10. Robert Worthington February 27th, 2010 9:11 pm

    I personally believe short sweet and to the point with multiple follow ups is the key for me. Sending out one letter is useless. Sending out a letter and then a campaign of post cards every week for 8 weeks, makes you unforgettable.

  11. Brian Brady February 28th, 2010 10:29 am

    Robert is right about the frequency but I think the problem is too immediate for a long campaign. Hiring a criminal defense attorney is an immediate need and sometimes an impulse purchase. I think there should be more than one letter but each one MUST have a call to action. The good news is that the “selling time” is compressed. You’ll know after 2-3 letters whether you were hired or not.

  12. Damon Chetson February 28th, 2010 3:23 pm

    Thanks for all the advice. I’ll try a longer letter. I’m only allowed to send one letter and no personal contact is permitted.

  13. Brian Brady March 1st, 2010 12:11 am

    “I’m only allowed to send one letter and no personal contact is permitted.”

    Ugh. Make it count 🙂