Friday 6 November 2009

The secret formula for the killer, fail-safe, guaranteed response DM letter

When I started out in advertising just after the Ice Age, I began my career at a large above the line agency in Nottingham.

One of their clients was Cavendish Woodhouse (you probably don’t remember them). They sold three-piece suites, corner units, bedroom fitments, storage units and so on in the style of MFI. And like MFI they went bust when we all decided we actually preferred Swedish three-piece suites, corner units, bedroom fitments, storage units and so on.

Cavendish Woodhouse had a massive database of existing customers who they mailed regularly with sale previews, special offers, new product launches and general news.
My very first DM letter

Now this was great for me. I could cut my teeth on the agency’s glamorous above the line accounts. (Well, the occasional trade ad.) And I could also have a go at writing DM letters. Which would be another string to my bow.

I hadn’t been there long when I got my first chance to write a sale preview letter to the Cavendish Woodhouse database.

I drafted it out and proudly took it into the Creative Director, who was a brilliant DM writer. It came back covered in red ink and the kind of naughty words you only hear at football matches.

I felt like packing it all in and becoming a dustbinman. But he said it wasn’t bad for a very first attempt. And he also gave me a little magazine cutting which he said I should keep forever. He said it was the secret formula for writing great DM letters for any client, any product or service, to any market.

It works. So I’ve kept it forever and pull it out whenever I’m writing a DM letter. Of course, you sometimes need to tweak it or change the structure or keep it very brief if it’s a short letter.

Here it is. I won’t expand on any of the points because they’re pretty self-explanatory:

1. Promise a benefit in the headline and opening paragraph – the most important benefit to the reader.

2. Immediately enlarge upon the most important benefit.

3. Tell the reader exactly what he or she will get.

4. Back up any statements with proofs, endorsements and testimonials.

5. Tell the reader what he or she might lose if he doesn’t act.

6. Rephrase the most important benefits in the closing offer.

7. Incite action NOW and give a close date.

P.S. Include a P.S. (which is the second most-read part of any letter) which restates the offer and includes another call to action.

But is it guaranteed to work?

I bet you’re wondering how I can claim that this secret formula produces killer, fail-safe, guaranteed response DM letters. After all, nothing in DM is guaranteed.

It all depends on the skill of the copywriter of course. Pulling out the benefits. Linking them to the psychological and emotional triggers that drive everyone. Demonstrating how this product or service can satisfy these psychological and emotional triggers. And whipping up the kind of urgency and desire that makes the reader want to respond right now, if not sooner.

If you want a letter like this, email me at I’ll use the formula of course. But the rest is down to me.

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