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20 Tips for the Perfect Mailshot

by Simon Davies

You've heard the classic formula, AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire, Action.

But how do you grab attention, turn interest into desire and prompt an action that's sure to get the phones ringing? Here's 20 tips to ease you through the trauma of getting strangers excited:

Grabbing the reader's attention...

Short of saying "Hey, you!" at the top of the page, how can you get more than a passing glance from a busy reader?

1. Avoid using "Dear Sir or Madam". Tie a householder to your product with "Dear Holidaymaker" or "Dear Shopper". For a business, try "Dear Manager" or "Dear Sales Director". (It's true, important people can be just as vain as the rest of us!)

2. Don't be too clever with headlines. Just get your point across so your reader will keep going. Avoid wordplay at all costs - most people hate puns, and your reader might need to know your product before they'll get the joke. Wordplay also slows down the reader's inference, which is the last thing you want to do.

3. Don't fall for gimmicks. Headlines in clever fonts and wobbly lines of text can look amateur. And whatever you do, steer clear of WordArt -- especially the blue wavy font, it's been done to death.

4. Tantalise. If your prospects have been suitably profiled, you already know what they long for. So write a headline that puts it within their grasp. They'll read on to find out if they really can have it.

5. Use impressive facts or case studies. It's a great way to grab the reader's attention, and it gives you something to refer back to when you're rounding off the letter.

Turning attention into interest...

Once you've grabbed the reader's attention, you need to keep them reading. At this stage your style of writing plays as big a role as the message itself.

6. Empathise. Show the reader you understand what bothers them. Get them on side. They don't want to know about your business, but they are interested in how your business can solve their problems or meet their aspirations. Once you've got the reader focused, you're free to show how your product meets their burning desire.

7. Keep it personal. Assume you're talking to a friend, not writing to the bank manager. You don't want to be over-familiar, but remember important people are still human beings who respond to a warm, friendly approach.

8. Choose your words carefully. Say "and" instead of "but", "when" instead of if" and "will" instead of "might". And keep it customer-focused by using "you" and "your" more than "I" or "my".

9. Stress the key points. Use sub-headings, indent important paragraphs or italicise vital words. But AVOID CAPITALS and exclamation marks!!!!! And don't emphasise too much - or nothing will stand out.

10. Make it easy to read. Keep your sentences short. Like this. Keep paragraphs to half a dozen lines or less. And leave plenty of blank space on the page. If it's daunting for the reader, it goes in the trash.

From interest to desire...

You've got the reader's attention and used enough hooks to keep them reading. They're focused on why they need your product. Here's where you make them salivate...

11. Sell the benefits, not the features. By and large we don't care how something works as long as it does the job. Unless you're writing to experts or hardened enthusiasts, lengthy product specs will only slow down the read.

12. Focus on the end result. Give the reader something to dream about - look beyond the product and show how it's going to change their life forever. Insurance buys you peace of mind. A car buys you freedom. A new sofa gets you precious moments at the end of a busy day. This is where you take the reader to the end of the rainbow, where their woes are distant memories!

13. Banish doubts. Part of building desire is silencing that nagging voice that says "there's a catch". So prove your credentials with qualifications, testimonials or a no-risk offer.

14. Set yourself apart. By now the reader's fairly keen, but why get the product from you? Be careful of rubbishing the opposition - no one wants to get caught in a crossfire between you and your competitors. Focus on the positives and hammer home your unique selling point.

15. Imagine life without it. Now the reader's imagined life with your product, take it away from them! Remind them how bleak life can be without your miracle solution. Can they carry on without it?

Desire becomes action...

You're nearly there. You've built up an opportunity, but every word matters as you move in for the kill.

16. Use subliminal closing. When you finally ask for business, you don't want it to read as a sudden jolt or change in tone. So fill the letter with casual assumptions that you will be doing business. Positive phrases like "When you call us" and "You'll see the difference" ease the reader gently into the right frame of mind.

17. Don't be shy asking for what you want. When the time comes, be bold. You may be looking for a sale or just a chance to quote. But if you don't qualify what you want, no one will second guess you. Make your call to action clear and make it easy for the reader to respond.

18. Add an incentive. It's fairly obvious, but your greatest enemy is apathy. Even a warm prospect could put you on the back burner unless you give them a compelling reason to get in touch today. But remember that needn't mean offering a discount. Adding value with a second product or service is better for your image. And your bank balance.

19. Your signature matters. Make it legible and sign in blue ink so it doesn't look mass-produced. And if you're a Sales Manager, remember many readers will be put off by your job title - far better to send the letter from the MD or Head of Customer Services.

20. Add a PS. Letter writing protocol demands that we sign off formally, but in doing so we lose momentum. A PS is a chance to re-excite the reader, where you re-state a key benefit or add one final incentive. By the end of a good PS, your offer should be way too good to resist.

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About the Author:

Simon Davies is the co-founder of Wales-based copywriters EarthMonkey Media. He and partner James Daniel have over twenty years experience as journalists, copywriters and scriptwriters. Their site can be found here:

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