Understanding How People Read Your Direct Mail - Part 2

This is part two of our blog on Professor Siegfried Vogele's eye study: how readers look at direct mail. Today's post is on letter content.

Direct marketers know that we'll get better results when our prospect reads our letter. Duh, right? Unfortunately, readers don't do as we'd like, which is to read every golden word. Second best: seek out the "hotspot areas" of your letter and load your most compelling copy there.

In a nutshell, your reader will first look at their name (hopefully you've personalized your letter), address and salutation, then will go to the end of the letter to see who signed it, and from there to the P.S.

You can easily take advantage of this research to improve your own direct mail campaigns. Let's look at each area in the order your reader views them:

1. Your reader's eye pauses first on their name and address. What can you do with this knowledge? Make sure your data is clean. Correct any misspellings - the biggest way to turn off your reader is to spell their name wrong. After all, if you're marketing to a donor who has been faithful in gifting through the years, your job is to make sure their name is spelled right.

2. Then, they look to see who signed the letter. An interesting side note: when the signer's name is difficult to read, Prof. Vogele's team found that the eyes tended to go to it repeatedly, and body language indicated a negative response. Although it helps to have a printed name underneath, try to avoid signatures that are messy and unreadable.

3. After the signature, readers typically take in the P.S. Nine out of ten readers will look at your P.S. before moving back to the top of the letter. So this hotspot is where you should restate your reader's benefits or your offer. Don't write a tome, though. Keep it to two or three lines.

4. Your reader's eye will now move back up the page to any illustrations you may have in your letter. Drawings and pictures are another hotspot where you can be assured your message will be seen and read. The important fact to remember is to use illustrations (and captions) to stress benefits rather than your product or service. Also, put the largest of your illustrations at the top of the letter, to draw your reader's eye upward again from the P.S.

5. As the eyes skim downward, they will pause briefly at any highlighted or underlined text. While you don't want to go crazy with underlining, you  can use it to draw attention to important benefits, your offer or call to action.

Knowing where to put your most compelling copy will undoubtedly increase your response rate...and profitability.

Understanding How People Read Your Direct Mail is Key to Higher Responses

Want better response rates on your direct mail campaigns? Incorporate Professor Siegfried Vogele's findings in your next campaign.

Using a series of eye-camera studies, Professor Vogele, dean of the Institute for Direct Marketing in Munich, Germany, captured and analyzed the movement of a subject’s eyes as the person opened and read direct mail.

What he found are “hot spots,” areas where the reader’s eyes pause for a few seconds. Direct marketers can use this information to put their most compelling copy in these hot spots, which should improve their open- and response-rate.

Prof. Vogele’s study is extensive, and I'm breaking it up into two posts. This first post covers how a reader views the outer envelope. On average, a reader give us only seven seconds to convince them to open the envelope. But interestingly, most of those seven seconds are spent looking at the back of the envelope as it's being opened. So while the front gets first attention, the back gets longer attention.

To take advantage of this, consider putting information or photos on the back of your envelope. Here are the professor's findings:

Envelope front

1. Your reader's eye fixes first on their name and address. So teaser copy should be nearby.
2. The gaze then moves to the return address in the upper left.
3. Then across the envelope to the stamps, meter mark or indicia before turning the envelope over to open.

Envelope back

4. On the back, the reader's eyes go first to the upper left, quickly checking out any pictures or copy.
5. The eyes then jump to the upper right as the envelope is opened. (Most people open envelopes from right to left, with the eyes following the finger movement.)

But don't stop here. Your letter has hot spots to be taken advantage of too. Learn where they are here.

10 Easy Steps to Improving your Direct Mail

I love how-to lists. I want to learn (in 10 easy steps!) how to look younger, run farther, improve my memory and make more money. You might say I want it all, in 10 easy steps.

Having said that, here's my contribution for improving your direct marketing campaign. You won't become younger or faster, but your company may make more money if you adopt some of these ideas.

1. Build relationships by trying to really help people rather than just selling to them. If you make an effort to be helpful, people will respond. When writing copy, write about how your product or service will benefit your client. Instead of saying "Our new energy bar has 25 grams of protein!" try "After a hard workout, one Energeeze will restore muscle mass more efficiently than three glasses of milk!"

2. Be truthful. Relying on tricky techniques (fake express mail envelope, fake invoices, deceptive offers) may work well for you ... at first. But treating your clients like they're ignorant is bad for long-term success. If your product or service is good, act like it. Back up your claims any way you can, with a guarantee, testimonials, anything that proves you're believable.

3. Speaking of guarantees, use them. Guarantees show you believe in your product or service, and are willing to stand behind it. This in turn helps to lower the perceived risk your reader feels when considering your offer. For a good guarantee, use simple, straightforward language without asterisks and teeny print: "Our socks are guaranteed to be blister-free or we'll happily refund your money."

4. You've heard this one before, but it bears repeating. Offer something FREE whenever possible. People love to get something for nothing - especially in this economic climate. It may be a free sample, free upgrade, free research article or a free consultation. Come up with something and offer it for free, because you'll almost always boost your response.

5. Target your message, and tweak it for various audiences. For instance, if you're selling paperclips to engineers, you'll want to highlight the fact that your titanium paperclips are virtually indestructible, and can securely hold a .263-inch stack of paper together. If you're marketing your paperclips to musicians, you'll want to emphasize that they come in a variety of shapes to make page-turning easier, and colors so they're easy to see.

6. Appeal to your reader's emotions. People tend to make decisions with the right side of their brain (emotionally) first, then justify it with the left (logically). For instance, I really want the cute dress I saw online, but I'm hesitating because it's so expensive. The accompanying copy assures me that the quality (silk, fully lined) makes this an "investment piece" that I will wear for years. Sold. I just needed to justify spending that kind of money. So appeal first to your reader's emotions, follow up with justifying logic, and you'll close the deal.

7. Have a time limit. Psychology and sales experience show two interesting facts: The longer a decision is postponed, the more likely it is that the decision will never be made. Conversely, the sooner you can "force" a decision, the more likely it is to be in your favor. So create urgency with a specific deadline, and your sales will typically go up.

8. Offer a choice of payment. Different prospects prefer to pay in different ways. Consider credit cards, personal checks, installment payments, purchase order, Paypal. If your reader wants to buy but can't pay for it the way they want, you lose out.

9. Keep it up. In direct marketing, not everyone will buy from your initial offer. In fact, most won’t. The key is to keep communicating with the people who do not respond to your offer. There could be a variety of reasons why they didn't: They may not need your product just then. Money could be a temporary issue. They may be preoccupied with family stresses and unable to consider your service at the moment. That doesn't mean they won't want what you're selling at some point. Savvy direct marketers know this, and continue sending communications. Studies have shown that the majority of people will buy after the 5th exposure, yet most marketing stops after the first.

10. Don't forget to use a P.S. One of the "hot spots" of direct mail, a P.S. is virtually guaranteed to be read. Use it to reiterate your offer or call to action.

That's it. Now go forth and conquer your direct marketing campaign...in 10 easy steps!

How to Write an Effective P.S.

More than just an afterthought, the P.S. is one of the most important parts of a direct marketing letter. Nine out of ten readers will read the P.S. first, making it a "hot spot" of your letter. Here are a few tips and ideas for writing a powerful P.S.:

1. The P.S. is where you will restate your product's or service's benefits, the offer, or a specific call to action. Do NOT introduce a new idea here - you'll only confuse your reader.

2. Make your P.S. stand out: hand write it and print it in blue ink for added visibility. But do it neatly so your reader doesn't have to struggle to read your handwriting.

3. Consider reinforcing your offer by including a graphic. Or you could include a testimonial from a good customer. Anything that restates your strong message.

4. Emphasize your product or service guarantee. 

5. Repeat how to contact you - provide your phone numbers, fax numbers, E-mail address, business address. Make yourself easy and convenient to do business with.

6. Use your P.S. to point your donor to your website to make an online donation or purchase.

7. Finally, keep your P.S. short - to an average of two or three lines. This is not the place to rewrite War and Peace.

P.S. These ideas for writing a powerful P.S. will work for you. We guarantee it!

      Now I've Heard Everything

      Over the 26 years Bill and I have been in business, we've mailed a lot of different things. There was the time we mailed helium balloons (inflated and inserted in a box so they would float out when the recipient opened it), chocolate bars (a tough job to stay away from), and countless amounts of confetti. But this item takes the cake. From the Minneapolis Star Tribune comes this story:

      Stacey Champion of Minnesota brought a box to her local post office, asking to mail it to Georgia. She warned postal workers to be careful, but assured them that she was shipping a toy robot.

      When the box began to move and make noise, postal workers got suspicious and opened it. Inside was a four-month-old Poodle-Schnauzer mix. After placing the pup in a city kennel, the USPS turned the matter over to the police, who charged Champion with animal cruelty.

      According to a police spokeswoman, the puppy "was supposed to be a birthday gift for a family member." Noting that the pup could not have survived the trip, she added, "it would have been kind of traumatizing to get a dead puppy."

      After being charged with animal cruelty, Champion demanded a refund of the $22 priority mail fee she had paid, claiming the package had never been delivered.

      The USPS denied her request.