Direct mail fail

Facts and fingers. Mostly fingers.

When you espresso-drinking types decide to grace our inboxes with a spot of direct marketing, your main goals are to pick up new clients and stimulate repeat business. Even if you don’t achieve that, hopefully you’ll still increase awareness of your brand. If your message is binned without being read, that’s disappointing. If your recipient opts out, that’s the worst‐case scenario. Right?

Or how about when the targeted customer, upon reading your carefully crafted prose, froths violently at the mouth and forwards your email to, um, me, with the following comment:

“Why you would trust anyone to work with you on direct mail when their own attempt at email direct marketing is so shabby is beyond me. It’s the mix of fonts, colours, bold; the length, lack of salutation or sign off, not to mention poor sentence construction and punctuation, that make me go grrrr.”

That’s how this little treat fell into my hands. And, would you believe it, the point of the direct-marketing email in question was to market… direct mail. Ouch. A double whammy of self defeat. To see the email in all its glory, click here. I’ve removed the company’s name and links, because I’m not a total bitch, honest.

In the interests of positivity (which is definitely a word, because the Spice Girls said so) here are five points that could have made it better:

1. Length and structure
This email is well over 1,000 words long – that’s at least three times as long as it should be. Try to limit yourself to a maximum of 300 words, and use a three‐point structure so that you don’t overwhelm your reader’s tiny mind. For example:

  • Outline the client’s possible desire or difficulty
  • Describe your company’s solution
  • Provide the next step, whether it’s a link, phone number or email address.

2. Style and layout
Make sure the email contains clear branding – your logo, your font, your colours. This one was so generic‐looking that at first I thought it might be a scam, and had to confirm with the company that it was genuine.

When it comes to the text, don’t mix colour, underline and bold (unless you want it look like a GCSE computer skills project from the 1990s). Choose between either colour or bold, and use it sparingly – and if you choose colour, make sure it fits with your branding and that it matches, or complements, the colour of any hyperlinks. Underline is so last century, baby; don’t do it. Also, do you really need to use block capitals? I THINK NOT.

3. Spelling and grammar
Where to start? The mistakes in this piece smack you in the face like a sack full of hammers. But here are a few of the less idiotic ones.

  • Don’t refer to your company as a female, for flip’s sake. Most style guides suggest the singular (“Relfco and its partners”), but some companies prefer the plural (“Relfco and their partners”) because they think it sounds more human. Either is fine, just make sure you’re consistent.
  • Remember that spellcheck is a little bastard. Only a human would know that you meant “whereas” in the sentence: “ROI for Direct Mail has steadily increased over the last 3 years, were as digitals has declined.”
  • Read it out loud. That way you’ll spot the awkwardness of sentences such as: “We will do all of the or part of, the work for you” – and either annihilate them on sight (recommended), or at least improve the punctuation.
  • Consider employing a professional proofreader, or at least running the document past the most pedantic person you have to hand. Not everyone will spot a misplaced modifier, but if you’re sending the email to several thousand people, some definitely will. Here’s one, where the “its” and the “we” disagree: “In its simplest form, we work in partnership with local marketing experts.” Not the end of the world, but some people judge you on this stuff. Some people, eh. No-one I know, obviously.
4. Wild claims
Stay focused on what you can actually deliver, and the benefits of that to the client. You won’t win business by promising the world. Unless you can actually deliver it, of course – in which case, I want one. For example:
  • “Mail is engaging. Consumers spend on average 10 minutes reading mailshots.” Per item? (Sounds unlikely.) In a lifetime? (Not very impressive.)
  • “It lets you have a one to one communication which delivers more emotional intensity than any other medium.” Is anyone really going to believe that receiving marketing mail is an emotionally intense experience? Delete.
  • “[Mail] affects all five senses: sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Mail is the only medium to provide the creative possibilities to engage the customers on all levels.” Yes, I often sniff, lick and listen to my letters before opening them. But enough about me.
5. Beginnings and endings

How you start and finish matters. If you’re contacting an existing client, you want them to feel valued and remembered. If you’re contacting a potential new client, remember that you’re nothing to them, as yet. And in both cases, bear in mind that unsolicited mail is rarely welcome – so you need to be as polite, professional and to-the-frickin-point as possible.

Use a program that allows you to address each recipient by name, and check that their name displays correctly. Most people are more likely to read on if they see “Dear Cathy” than if they see “Dear Ms C Relf”. Though it really is time you stopped reading my mail.

Also, make sure you sign off properly. You’re reaching out to new business – so to whom should it reach back? And how? Be friendly, write like a real person, and give options for how to get in touch. Finally, think carefully about your final statement. Do you really want it to be “In the mean time for more ideas, fact & fingers click on Direct Mail”?

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