Since most of you are spending more on direct mail than ever, you
might like to know something about what works best. The place to find
out is in Million Dollar Mailings, a splendid book put together by the
US publisher of Who’s Mailing What! - not to be confused with the UK’s
Who’s Mailing What?, which is, I believe, a copy.
This book analyses 71 of the best US mailings, which the editors call
’grand controls’, with priceless advice, much of it from their
Your ’control’ mailing is the one that works best for you, so these have
beaten everything they were tested against in the world’s most
competitive market. One, for The Wall Street Journal, has been working
for 23 years, pulling in about dollars 1.3bn (pounds 800m).
Many of their characteristics may surprise you. Not one tried to conceal
its intentions by masquerading as personal mail. Sixty three had
messages on the envelope; 83% had window envelopes. Most were inserted
so the beginning of the letter was seen first. Almost every letter
ignored the amateur’s rule that you shouldn’t exceed one page. The
average length of a letter to sell a consumer magazine was 3.3 pages;
for business magazines, 2.1 pages. To sell a newsletter, the average was
four pages; for a home study course, six pages.
Free offers were the rule, to consumers and business people, and were
even more common in the latter case. As you would expect, the word
’free’ was all over the envelopes, and was used in 71% of
business-to-business efforts (disproving the silly theory that business
people don’t like to get something for nothing). Eighty-three per cent
told people to ’send no money now’. Perhaps this is one reason why only
14%, to my surprise, offered credit card facilities.
I was even more surprised that so few offered the phone- or fax-ordering
option that the editors didn’t even bother to count them. They
commented: ’For low-price products and services, the cost of in-bound
telemarketing will eat you up.’
People often ask me if real stamps lift response. Nearly all these
mailings used printed indicia, although people keep testing stamps. One
mailer, from Book of the Month Club, says they use stamps when the
mailing aims to look first-class, rather than commercial. Apart from
that, few mailings rely on the miracles of technology; only 25% use
Nor do they rely on famous agencies: only 10% came from the
multinationals, the rest being by freelancers, in-house writers and
What use is a book of successful US mailings to you here? More than you
may think. Not only do the principles work over here, but so do many of
the mailings - The Wall Street Journal effort for one. Moreover, since
Americans receive more direct mail than we do - six times more the last
time I looked - US mailings must work harder to succeed. That’s why I
also strongly recommend Who’s Mailing What! itself.
Drayton Bird runs the Drayton Bird Partnership.