Five Questions for Direct Mail Copywriters

4 Mar

Originally Published in Target Marketing’s Tipline E-Newsletter
by Britt Brouse
Oct 31, 2007

In his DMA 07 Conference and Exhibition presentation, “Running Red Lights: The Keys To Creating Dazzling Direct Mail,” Steve Penn, CEO and executive creative director of Penn Garritano Direct Response Marketing, reminded the audience that not everybody has the same sense of humor. Yet with much laughter and amusement he guided attendees through a great method for improving direct mail copy.

Penn likes to think of the direct mail package as a touchpoint for the entire brand experience. Copywriters always should “tell a story … even in today’s text-messaged, sound-bitten world,” says Penn. To tell that story, he recommends direct mailers ask themselves the following five questions:

1. How visual is the product?
2. How visual can you make it?
3. Is there a “personality” to the proposition?
4. How much drama do you want or need to create?
5. Are you going through a gatekeeper?

These questions can help create a focused, high-energy pitch that really gets inside the reader’s head and delivers the essence of the offer. An example that follows this train of thought is an interaction Penn once had with The J. Peterman Company catalog. Penn was flipping through the catalog when he saw an illustration of a wonderful red dress—perfect for his wife to take on an upcoming vacation. The illustration was accompanied by the following copy:

Researchers have proved that the color red speeds up pulse and respiration, raises body temperature, and increases strength 13.5 percent … making a person feel more alive. Through my own research (including Ava Garner movies), I have isolated the most unambiguous red possible … If you like to feel good about yourself and in touch with the fizzier elements of human nature, I recommend it.
Really Red Ruffled Dress (No. 1864), discovered in Argentina. 1920’s Spanish-dancer look … No zipper; just slip on and rumba.

This narrative description is loaded with tactile terms, drama, personality and history—lending credibility to the drawing of the dress. The copy also is written to appeal to the “gatekeeper,” Penn, or his wife. Penn purchased the dress and in the interim received a #10 envelope with First Class postage from The J. Peterman Company. The letter inside continued the brand’s trademark attention to product detail and personalized communication between Peterman and the customer. It thanked Penn for his purchase, announced the imminent delivery of the dress and added, “It is truly a wonderful dress, and I am confident that you will enjoy it.” The icing on the cake: The letter was signed by J. Peterman himself. Through storytelling, The J. Peterman Company added excitement and buzz generated during the purchase and echoed it in the customer service letter. These touchpoints successfully reinforced the brand experience and satisfied the customer, even before the product had arrived.


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