Essential guide to writing a mailshot

Businesss owner writing mailing to send to customers

Most businesses send regular mailings, including e-newsletters, personalised emails to key contacts and posted mailshots. Getting the message right helps ensure that you get a positive response.

A good mailing catches readers' attention, captures their interest and encourages them to take action.

Planning your strategy

Planning your mailshot

Making your mailshot compelling

Writing a sales letter

Making mailpacks work

Getting professional help with your mailing

1. Planning your strategy

Set your objectives

You may want to:

  • Sell a product or generate sales leads;
  • Launch a new product or service or break into new markets;
  • Drive readers to specific landing pages on your website;
  • Enhance your service to existing customers by giving them up-to-date information.

Understand the needs of your audience

  • What knowledge do they have about your product or service?
  • Why do they need what you are offering?
  • What do they want to hear about your product or service?
  • What are their likely objections?

Choose the right format

  • Most postal mailings are based on a letter; some include inserts or promotional gifts.
  • Copy for email newsletters needs to be brief and factual. You can use graphics, logos and pictures to make your messages more interesting.
  • Insert embedded links in emails to take readers to a specific landing page on your website, such as a product page.

2. Planning your mailshot

The first step is to write a brief

  • The brief should be detailed and specific - who, what, when, where, why?
  • Consider the needs of different audiences and different market sectors. You should plan to write separate versions for different groups in your mailing list.

Identify one major benefit and lead with that

  • If you're wondering how to start a letter, start by backing your most likely winner.
  • Finding a simple, powerful way to say what your product or service does for people is usually the best approach.
  • If your product is truly unique or exclusive, say so.

Get the reader's attention

  • Offer a tangible benefit for a reasonable price.
  • Identifying the problem solved by your product, highlighting product features, emphasising low prices, launching special offers or competitions and using compelling headlines.
  • Send a free sample, if this is relevant and viable.
  • You could include a money-off voucher in a mailshot or highlight a special deal in your email.

Try out your ideas

  • Ask a few customers to read your draft copy and give you feedback.
  • Test different versions of your mailing, with different messages, on small samples. Find out what works best before sending to your entire list.
  • Email newsletters are easy to test. You can quickly see how many emails were opened, how many readers clicked through, and so on.

3. Making your mailshot compelling

Make your offer sound credible

  • Be direct, enthusiastic and honest.
  • Explain all the good reasons for buying.
  • Anticipate objections and counter them.
  • Make sure your facts and figures are accurate.

Use language your readers will feel comfortable with

  • Tailor your wording to your audience - natural and relaxed for consumer mailings, more purposeful for business mailshots.
  • Avoid jargon or technical terms, unless you are writing for a technical audience.

Offer plausible trade-offs

  • "Buy three, get one free" is attractive. Buyers can see you are trading off price against volume.
  • A no-obligation trial offer of your product or service can be powerful.

Use endorsements and recommendations to back up your claims

  • Testimonials and positive reviews will boost your success rate.
  • Quotes from press coverage give credibility.
  • Quote reputable studies that support your points.

Spell out the terms of your guarantee

  • This is especially important if you are targeting new customers.

12 ways to maximise response to your mailshot

  • Write a compelling heading, highlighting your main benefit.
  • Get to the point and avoid waffle.
  • Explain your offer. Make sure the big benefits are in the first paragraph.
  • Show how your product solves the customer's problem.
  • Be clear. Be simple. Be convincing.
  • Use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs.
  • Focus on the reader and their needs. When you are writing, talk to the reader directly, as "you".
  • Use tried and tested words and phrases - award-winning, bargain, big, bright, easy, first, free, improved, love, money, new, now, offer, safe, save, want and, above all, you.
  • Avoid sounding self-important.
  • By ending a heading with a question, you can entice readers to read on.
  • Ask someone who does not know your product or service to check what you've written.
  • Read everything out loud. If it sounds strange or forced, improve it.

4. Writing a sales letter

The first few words of a sales letter are crucial

  • You have less than two seconds to convince the reader that your letter is worth reading.
  • Use a focused, relevant, attention-grabbing headline.
  • In the first paragraph, clearly describe the benefits.
  • The bulk of the letter should explain and amplify your offer.

Make the letter as long as it needs to be

  • Long copy outperforms short, as long as it is relevant.
  • Research and response levels show that even the busiest people will read a sales letter, if they can see a worthwhile benefit.

Use formats that are proven to be successful

  • Formatting devices - italics, bold, underlining, indenting and subheadings - can break up slabs of text and make it more digestible. But beware of making your copy look messy.
  • The letter should look like a letter, rather than a printed leaflet.
  • Letters should be signed, preferably by hand - this can improve response rates.

Finish your letter on a call to action

  • The letter should end with a call to action: "Do this now".
  • Make it clear to the reader what you want them to do, and how.

The PS is vital

  • Restate your main point and call to action. Your PS will often be your most-read sentence.

When you have finished, proofread everything

  • Spelling mistakes and sloppy errors of grammar will distract from your message.

5. Making mailpacks work

Make the writing and design work together

  • A multi-piece mailpack should be planned as a whole, with one theme. Keep the branding, tone and wording consistent throughout.

Personalise your mailshot

  • Apart from the letter and envelope, you may be able to pre-print names on reply cards and order forms.

Encourage immediate responses or buying decisions

  • Offering a free gift or added benefits by a certain closing date is a proven way of boosting response.
  • Make sure your mailshot is not misleading. You can get advice from the Committees of Advertising Practice.

Make it easy to reply

  • Include your email address, website address, social media handles, postal address and phone number. Consider providing a freephone or low call cost number.
  • If you want to encourage customers to visit, provide clear details of your location, including a simple map.

Offer as many payment methods as possible

  • Consider giving interest-free credit for orders placed before a fixed deadline.
  • Offer existing customers their normal credit terms.

Make the most of the envelope

  • Printing a short 'teaser' message can build interest in what's inside.
  • If you are a small firm, mailing a small list, consider writing envelopes by hand.
  • Put your return address on every envelope. This allows you to update your mailing list if letters are returned to sender.

6. Getting professional help with your mailing

Should you write the mailshot yourself?

  • If you have a good knowledge of your product and audience, and good writing skills, you can probably write it yourself.
  • Look through the direct mail and emails you receive, and learn from other people's mistakes. Which do you open? Which do you reply to, and why?
  • Do a test mailing to a small proportion of your audience to find out if the DIY approach gets results. If response is poor, get help from a professional.
  • A good freelance should be able to write a compelling mailshot for a few hundred pounds.


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