Direct Response Marketing – The Makings of a Successful Letter


You might think, because direct mail letters come from a wide range of different companies and industries, they have little in common. Well, you’d be wrong.

There are certain characteristics that make up successful sales letters. Of course, your offer and list will have a lot to do with your success rate, but the following factors will contribute to an engaging and powerful letter.

Time to get personal

Your first task is to build rapport. Talk directly to your reader and empathise with them. A sales letter is not the place to shout about your company.

Your letter is intruding into someone’s life. They didn’t ask you to write to them. So you must demonstrate to them you understand their problem and you can help by building trust and credibility.


Quite simply by:

  • Using “you” engages them in conversation. You’re not lecturing them, you’re confiding in them – you’re building rapport.
  • Telling them what’s in it for them – tell them how your product or service will benefit them; what they’re going to get out of this.
  • Speak normally – now is not the time to show off your impressive vocabulary. Every day language will communicate your message far better.
  • Mirror them – your readers need to see themselves when they read your letter. It should reflect their needs, desires, hopes etc.

Once upon a time…

A good letter will follow the same pattern as a fairy tale:

Once upon a time your washing was always dull, your whites never shone. But then one day your neighbour introduced you to a new wonderful detergent. Now your clothes are brilliantly clean. You are noticed by the handsome prince who sweeps you off your feet and you live happily ever after.

OK, a bit tongue in cheek, but you get the idea. Just remember, in your sales letter the hero of the story is your reader and there can’t be a happy ending until your reader takes action.

Be precise

Your sales message must be precise. If you want to build credibility, you must use facts and figures, testimonials and case studies. Simply by saying your washing powder is the best on the market isn’t going to convince anyone to buy it. But say that independent tests have proven your washing powder to remove 99.9% of all stains – now you’re talking.

Tell them what to do

If you have followed all the other steps and produced a strong letter that talks to your reader, builds rapport, empathises with them and gives evidence that your product works, but you fail to tell them what to do next – you’ve just wasted everyone’s time.

Your call to action must be strong and commanding. Tell them what they must do – call now, complete the order form and return it today etc.

Leave them in doubt as to what to do and what will happen next – i.e. goods will arrive in 28 days, one of our representatives will call you in 10 days etc.

Sally Ormond is a freelance copywriter who works with companies all over the world. Her copywriting services have helped numerous companies increase their sales and enjoy greater visibility within their market place.

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#1 Katie Duckworth on 11.04.09 at 11:01 am

Thanks Sally, this is incredibly useful. It all seems so simple but great to have it all in one place.


#2 admin on 11.04.09 at 11:14 am

Hi Katie – thanks for your comment, glad it was useful.

#3 Bas Holzhaus on 11.10.09 at 11:16 pm

Thanks for this and other crisp and clear articles on your blog. A lot of recognition, but it´s always good to read someone else´s view and get things summed up now and then.
Best regards, Bas Holzhaus

#4 admin on 11.11.09 at 8:02 am

Hi Bas,

Thanks for your comment – is there any aspect of copywriting or marketing you’d like to read about here? If so, let me know and I’ll see what I can do.



#5 Bas Holzhaus on 11.11.09 at 1:33 pm

Hi Sally,

No aspect in particular, though I’m interested in translating. I did some English to Dutch translations for a computer brand for a period of a year, mostly headings. It was a great challenge (and fun) to translate puns and wordplay – or to find a Dutch equivalent. Do you have any experience in that field? Strategies? Methods?

Regards, Bas

#6 admin on 11.11.09 at 2:41 pm

Hi Bas,

I haven’t done any transaltions as my only fluency is in English (hangs head in shame) with a splattering of school girl French and German. I have worked with a number of companies to help improve their English communications. One in particular was a challenge – converting some ‘translated’ Polish text into readable and effective English. As you know, a straight translation rarely works so you have to draw on all your creativity to try and get the message across. I normally find a long conversation with the client is necessary to try and draw out their main aims and the benefits of what they are trying to sell. Other than that it is a case of utilising copywriting skills to create strong headlines, compelling copy and strong call to actions.

Best wishes.


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