Remember classic direct mail (DM)? You know… those countless catalogs, self-mailers, and direct-response packages that once clogged America’s mailboxes?
No doubt you still receive some of these printed pieces at your home or office. But nowadays they arrive far less frequently.
The reasons are obvious. Digital communication has exploded. Internet advertising – landing pages, web pages, ecommerce sites – can reach millions of people instantly. At the same time, paper and postage costs have soared, making print media much less cost-effective.
Does this mean direct mail is going the way of dial-up Internet access? Not necessarily. In fact, recent news stories indicate that direct mail is in the midst of a modest resurgence. But more to the point, those old-school catalogs and mailers actually supply a huge list of ecommerce and web page copywriting tips in this era of websites and Amazon.
Direct-to-consumer online marketing literally descended from and evolved out of classic direct mail. So, it’s only natural that direct mail’s time-honored copywriting tips would still apply in today’s digital age.
Case in Point: Direct-Response Packages
Throughout the 1980s, traditional direct mail flourished. According to the US Inspector General’s Office, between 1980 and 1988 Standard Mail (used for most DM) grew three times faster than the national economy. That translates into millions of mailings!
And much of this classic DM consisted of 6″x9″ packages. Yes, #10 envelope packages, self-mailers, and postcards were also popular. But, if you were marketing a fairly high-ticket product – say, a garden rototiller or a yearly magazine subscription – you’d probably want to send out a series of 6″x9″-envelope packages to targeted, segmented mailing lists.
The typical package would consist of:
- 6″x9″ envelope
- Sales letter, usually 4 pages long (11″ x 17″ folded)
- Full-color brochure – often 18″ x 24″ folded down to fit inside the envelope – designed to support the sales letter
- Postage-paid Business Reply Card (BRC)
- A small folded note offering an additional reason to order (called a “pub note” – or publisher’s note – in the magazine circulation business)
These packages were just as complex (and costly) as they sound. But they worked! And they’re still provide us with a host of landing page copywriting strategies today.
Copywriting Tips Old-Timey 6×9 Direct Mail Packages Can Teach You
Web Page Copywriting Tip #1 – Apply Envelope Techniques to Your Headlines
The whole purpose of the envelope was to get prospects to open the package. So, there was always an enticing message on the front – a “teaser” intended to lure the customer inside.
Plus, if budget permitted, there was also a full-color image, often printed full-bleed for maximum impact. (For example, for a rototiller, you’d show a gardener using the product in a lush, green, gorgeous garden.)
How does this relate to contemporary landing page copywriting? First, the intriguing message on the envelope’s front corresponds to the headline on your web page or opt-in form. It’s designed to get prospects to keep reading. And what’s a great way to do that? By teasing.
Just like the message on the 6×9 envelope, an effective headline shouldn’t give away the whole story. It should provide just enough info to intrigue and entice. And it should convey this info in a way that has the prospect chomping at the bit for further details.
That’s why phrasing the headline as a question can be so powerful. You can also try piquing readers’ curiosity and playing on their fear of missing out. These strategies work for subheadlines, too, as well as other short snippets of copy like calls-to-action, bullet points, and more.
Web Page Copywriting Tip#2 – Craft the Copy for Easy of Reading
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The classic old-school sales letter was what today’s digital copywriters would call “long form.” As I mentioned above, the typical direct mail letter would run about four pages. And one of the most successful sales letters of all time ran a whopping 12 pages!
Not all Internet web page copy has to be that long, of course. Sometimes less is more. It depends on the product, the market, the medium, and other variables.
Will customers read every word of your long-form (or other type of) web page copy? Of course not. No one ever read every word of those classic sales letters either. People skim. Which is why you have to break up your copy into bite-size bits, insert boldface subheads to grab attention, use bulleted lists for at-a-glance benefits, and so on.
Make the copy easy on the eyes and easy to assimilate, just like in the old direct mail days. No one wants to slog through a sea of gray type, so give your customers a hand (and a break).
Classic sales letters also used emotional appeals to grab customers by the heartstrings. As the late direct mail maven Herschell Gordon Lewis used to say, people are moved by some pretty basic (and not always very nice) urges: fear, greed, envy, vanity, etc. Craft copy that appeals to those human urges as you guide readers through your sales process.
Web Page Copywriting Tip #3 – Make the Call to Action a No-Brainer
In 1980s direct-response packages, the call to action was usually repeated in multiple places – at the end of the sales letter, for example, as well as on the “pub note” and Business Reply Card (BRC). It was always big and bold, so the customer couldn’t miss it.
The pub note reinforced this call to action plus offered an additional reason to order right away. Often it touted a “free gift if you act now.” The BRC provided the actual response vehicle. Typically it was postage-paid, which added an extra incentive.
And, of course, those old direct mail packages also included a toll-free 800 number… along with a guarantee: “Try it RISK-FREE for 30 days!”
In current online advertising, “click,” “submit,” and “sign up” buttons have replaced the old Business Reply Card (hopefully with better copy than “click”). They’ve even largely replaced the once-trendy toll-free phone number.
But today’s digital calls to action operate on the same principles as their old-school counterparts. The goal? Keep moving the customer toward the desired action, incentivize with free bonuses, allay fears with risk-free guarantees, and make ordering really simple. Boom!
Just Scratching the Surface
There are many other landing page copywriting tips from classic direct mail that apply to today’s online marketing. Are you ready to move forward with proven techniques and easy ideas that can drastically improve the performance of all your web pages?
Success starts with knowing your target customer.
Afterall, a stronger connection means more sales! Are you tired of wondering who your perfect customers are, what words they respond to best, and what they want from you?
Using this easy target audience discovery worksheet & video, you’ll have a handy tool that helps all your copy & marketing efforts hit the mark!
Have questions about Web page copywriting tips? Talk to me below!