While this article is not about why you should use direct mail in your B2B venture, just bear in mind the direct mail is, contrary to the popular bielief, one of the most cost-effective ways to connect with hard-to-reach B2B prospects in 2021. Especially if they are top executives with their gatekeepers, clogged email inboxes, or filtered-out online ads. And then there are absurdly expensive LinkedIn inMail messages or 10-dollars-a-click Google Ads or Bing Ads search terms with the bot traffic included.
This does not mean you should throw away your online strategies and tactics, go back in time and use solely direct mail. You should implement the direct mail in your overall B2B performance marketing strategy, instead.
And support it with all the good things digital marketing can bring to the offline world. This includes retargeting, automated online follow-ups in all possible media channels, as well as the obvious order/lead collection on your dedicated landing pages and many more.
If Google uses direct mail in 2021 to promote its B2B services, so should you.
Before determining the specific creative approach for any particular use of B2B direct mail you need to know what works generally for business-to-business marketers.
Some creative techniques have been proven to be more effective in most cases than others. These provide guidelines that may help you minimize the risk of coming up with unsuccessful mailings.
They also provide a framework for developing appropriate creative approaches for the various types of B2B performance marketing campaigns: lead generation, awareness, reminder, reinforced selling and direct sales / mail order.
While the advice in this guide concerns specifically direct mail, it is quite universal and can help in the online creative work as well. Marketers who specialize in everything digital and are new to direct mail will get some additional helpful tips which will enable them to convert their online knowledge and experience to the offline world.
The B2B Direct Mail Letter
The basic element most widely used in B2B direct mail is the letter. It carries authority and is perceived as having a special importance. Most businessmen and businesswomen are experienced at writing business emails but not, however, a direct mail letter.
Very few nonprofessional writers know how to write an effective B2B direct mail letter because its broad circulation in the marketplace demands that it be uniquely written.
It is the most personal communication you can have with the B2B customer and prospect next to a personal sales visit or phone call.
A direct mail letter has maximum impact only when you write in ways that capitalize on its one-on-one format, i.e. your approach should be that each B2B prospect is an individual.
B2B Direct Mail Formats
Reader eye-movement studies of standard letter layouts reveal that attention is first very briefly focused on the salutation. For nonpersonalized letters this is the area reserved for the headline.
The typical reader then scans the signature, the P.S., and finally looks back up at the salutation area again and begins reading the lead paragraph. Although postscripts are not standard procedure on a business letter, they do get early and prime readership in the direct mail letter.
The closer your B2B direct mail letter format resembles a ‘typed’ business letter, the more effective it will be. But there are exceptions to this guideline. One exception is the elimination of the date on the letter.
- A date rarely appears on a letter used for volume direct mail applications and it is not missed by the reader. When dates are used, scheduling difficulties in production can cause a letter to appear to arrive too late.
- Another exception concerns personalization. Some performance marketing managers and salespeople in business are under the assumption that direct mail letters, to be effective, must be personalized with the prospect’s name and address on the letter.
Yet, this is far from the truth. In many business-to-business direct mail applications personalization of the letter is not necessary or cost effective. This is something you should A/B test, not believe in.
- Still another exception is the letter that extends to multiple pages. Normally in a business letter each page is produced on a separate sheet of paper. The two-page letter on both sides of one sheet now is more common in business-to-business direct mail and is getting equally good readership. Its use is not unrelated to cost effectiveness.
However, many business-to-business direct mail practitioners still prefer separate sheets for letters of more than one page, especially to higher-level executives. Still this seems a creative preference and not something that came out of an A/B test.
Fairly wide margins are preferable. Above all, the letter should look businesslike and be easy to read. A wide margin should remain at the bottom of the page.
Justified right margins are not recommended. Paragraphs should be relatively short with no more than six lines of varied lengths to avoid monotony. (This is a good rule to follow in the online space as well.)
Four or five paragraphs per page are usually sufficient in a B2B direct mail letter.
Although multiple page letters may require some emphasis devices such as underlining of words, capitalization, a second color, indentions, and bullets, they should be minimized or not used at all, especially in short copy, one-page letters.
The one-page letter does not need typographic devices to bring the prospect from the salutation to the closing. Also, such devices, when employed to excess in multipage efforts, cause the words, phrases, and paragraphs to have so much emphasis that there is no emphasis at all.
B2B Direct Mail Letter Format Mistakes to Avoid
A quick review of business direct mail may reveal several common format mistakes that you and your performance marketing staff should avoid:
- One occurs on multipage letters where the first page ends at the conclusion of a sentence or paragraph. To help ensure that the prospect will continue to read on, the break should be made in the middle of a sentence.
- Another mistake is failure to put a signature on what appears to be a letter or memo format. The prospect perceives this as carelessness and lack of attention to detail, which can lessen the prospect’s esteem of the company.
- Still another error that reduces effectiveness is when the right- and left-hand margins are reduced to a minimum, crowding in all the words. This letter layout appears to be too heavy and too difficult to read. (The longer the line, the more difficult it is to read – this applies to online content as well.)
One misused format that continues to show up in business-to-business direct mail is the sheet that is written like a letter but does not have a heading, closing, or signature.
It may be viewed as a news release, newsletter, or advertisement. But more often, it appears to be a little of each.
The business reader has, by experience, learned how to read a news release, newsletter, advertisement, and direct mail letter, but when they all appear to be combined, the result is a confused reader who does not have the time to interpret the communication.
B2B Direct Mail Copy
A direct mail letter should be written in a natural style in contemporary language. Whether personalized or nonpersonalized, the letter should be written from one businessperson to another. Even when nonpersonalized, it should sound personal and informal yet sincere.
Simple declarative sentences, few “ing” words, few “thats,” short words, and short sentences make the writing more crisp and concise. Teaser headlines, coined words, empty promises, rhymes, double meanings, superlatives, jargon, and generalities are out. News to the point, prospect benefits, descriptive salutations and relevant and startling statements of fact are in.
Contractions, personal references, and conversational and diplomatic phrases make the writing seem friendly. Your B2B letter should not be stiff or stuffy nor should it sound like advertising.
Emphasis on the active voice rather than the passive voice gives letter copy vitality and interest. Read the finished letter aloud to see if it sounds good to your ear and judge whether it will hold the prospect’s attention.
The Heading and Salutation in Direct Mail Letter
As in other forms of advertising writing (whether online or print), but particularly in direct mail letters, you must always appeal to the self-interest of the business-to-business reader: “What’s in it for me and my company?”
And this appeal begins with the letter headline or, if the letter is personalized, with the lead sentence. The effective letter reaches out and grabs your prospect with a vital and pertinent statement. Your immediate goal is to overcome the natural inertia of the prospect.
When you plan a personalized letter, it is preferable to use a full four- or five-line company name and address above the salutation, especially when targeting higher levels of executives.
However, a one-line personal salutation such as Dear Mrs. Stewart, without a company name and address, is generally sufficient for middle- and lower-level management. When you use personalized letters, the lead sentence of the first paragraph becomes the most critical portion of your entire B2B letter.
The nonpersonalized letter employs headline techniques. Some B2B copywriters use two headlines in one letter. One headline runs across the top of the letter. Another may be placed below it. This becomes a subhead.
The combination of a headline followed by a salutation, such as “Dear Executive” or “Dear Hospital Administrator”, works well for many business-to-business marketers. Short headlines are preferred, although not at the expense of clarity.
When you use personalization, the opening sentence or lead line of the body becomes, in many respects, the focal point of the letter and the key to whether the reader will continue to read.
When you use nonpersonalized letters, headlines fill this function of capturing immediate reader interest. The more closely the copywriter can focus on a current interest and concern of the target audience, the more successful he or she will be in building readership.
Some of the best lead generation direct mail results are recorded when B2B copywriters mention the offer in the headline of the letter or, if the letter is personalized, in the first sentence. The headline or lead line is then expanded on throughout the remainder of the letter.
For many business-to-business marketers, the plain, unillustrated letter works best as the standard lead generation format. Graphics, aside from letterhead design, tend to reduce response.
Few offers are powerful enough to be depicted graphically in a letter. However, there are exceptions. Depending on the offer, a photo or illustration of the specific offer can pull more responses than a plain letter.
The B2B Direct Mail Letter Body Copy
Since the businessperson has limited reading time, you or your copywriter must get to the point quickly. If the letter begins with an irrelevant story, attention will be cut short.
Your first sentence in the first paragraph of the letter should expand on the promise made to the prospect in the headline. The promise implies that the prospect will learn more by continuing to read. This elaboration process continues throughout the letter.
Without question, the headline or the first sentence is the most important part of your letter, since prospects will take less than five seconds before deciding whether to read further. Provoking attention and interest at that point is critical and is where most B2B letters fail.
Letter copy must be sensitive to the prospect’s interest. Every word must give evidence to prospects that you understand their business and their problems. This can be done by establishing a common ground with the prospects.
The pitfall here is to tell the prospects too much of what they may already know. Prospects are more interested in learning something new. The proposition should be written in logical steps similar to the way a business prospect might expect to hear it discussed in person.
As your message continues to unfold, one sentence should lead to another without interruption. The seasoned B2B copywriter knows the reader will move to the next sentence in the letter only because the previous sentences continued to hold the reader’s interest.
Each paragraph should be connected to the preceding paragraph to achieve sales story flow. The following is a list of paragraph connectors taken from my assortment of successful business-to-business direct mail letters:
- “In the meantime, if you have any questions…”
- “Is it any wonder, then…”
- “But meeting that challenge…”
- “But if you find…”
- “And all it takes is…”
- “While there are many others…”
- “What’s more…”
- “First of all…”
- “Now let’s take a look at…”
- “Of course, that’s just the beginning…”
- “Now there’s a way…”
- “Because you depend on…”
The B2B letter will be persuasive, informative, or explanatory, depending on the best way to accomplish the objective. The appeal for response may be laced throughout the body of the letter.
However, the last paragraph is usually reserved for the final call to action, even if that action is indirect as in certain types of awareness and goodwill mailings.
When you have moved the reader as far as the last paragraph in the letter, the final challenge is to make it appear simple for the prospect to go online and fill out the order form, or pick up the phone and call the toll-free 800 number. You have to make the offer easier for the prospect to act on than to pass up.
The Signature in the B2B Direct Mail Letter
Blue remains the preferable signature color. Just about any color except black has a personalized effect on a letter. Some B2B marketers, to effect economies, prefer to use the same ink color for the signature as that used on their two-color letterhead.
This can save a print charge for extra costs needed to get a blue signature – if you are into huge direct mail volumes.
Most businesses use actual names in the signature. A title for the letter signer should reflect credibly on the subject discussed in the letter. The word “sales” in a title could have a negative connotation to a prospect.
It indicates a solicitation or an attempt to “sell” the prospect on something. The plain title “vice-president” always works well.
Copy tests have proven that a P.S. in business-to-business direct mail letters can improve results. The P.S. that does best is the one that restates the offer and action necessary for the reader to get the offer. Simply stating or restating a product benefit in the P.S. seems to do little to effect response.
B2B Direct Mail Letter Graphics
The use of graphics in B2B direct mail letters should be approached with caution. Whether a letterhead design, photograph, or illustration of the product or offer, the wrong graphic can reduce the letter’s effectiveness.
Tests have shown that the plain direct mail letter will outpull the illustrated version by as much as three to one. Businesspeople seem to feel that graphics imply advertising rather than an urgent business communication.
The letterhead tells the prospect that the marketer is stodgy and unimaginative, or aggressive and innovative, or anything in between. The marketer who wants to be perceived as a forward-moving organization will employ a well-designed letterhead.
Letterhead designs used for B2B direct mail campaigns should be contemporary and free of printed advertising copy and photos of buildings or offices. Also, letterheads should not include all possible social media links, unnecessary QR codes or names of company personnel, except the name of the person who signs the letter.
Most companies have corporate identity programs designed around a symbol or logo that represents the company name or a product name. The standard company letterhead may or may not be adequate for a B2B direct mail campaign. A redesign may be necessary.
A letterhead design may appear best on the bottom of a page or on the bottom of the second page if it is a two-page letter. You need freedom to create a variety of effects and you cannot be restricted to the use of the corporation’s standard letterhead design.
The Paper Stock
When mailing to top company officials, direct mail letter stock does not have to be 100 percent cotton paper. However, water-marked stationery is still OK when you want to reach top executives.
Paper quality can be a factor in readership. A poor grade of stock has an old washed-out look that feels limp and wrinkles easily. Since white remains the preferred color for corporate stationery, it is the preferred color for B2B direct mail letters.
See more on paper here.
The B2B Direct Mail Enclosure
Generally, the enclosure is not as critical to a sales support direct mail campaign (with lead generation, reminder, reinforced selling or awareness objectives) as it is to direct sales / mail order, where it is the campaign so to speak. However, it is often a valuable element of the B2B mailing.
Catalogs, flyers, broadsides, newsletters, spec sheets, and other formats are all a form of literature, used either as part of a direct mail package or as a self-contained mailing piece.
When used as enclosures, brochures, broadsides, and even booklets are read less like a book (page by page from beginning to end) and more in random fashion with viewers searching for a heading, illustration, or photo that will grab their attention.
Some readers scan this material in seconds and move on to something else. Others stop at a segment that interests them. If the copy is persuasive and fuels their interest, the entire piece may get read.
Since this is the creative objective of the enclosure piece, it must be written and designed not only to highlight various important statements and strategically place them in the piece but also to tie these statements or segments together into a cohesive whole that tells a complete story.
Tip for digital-only marketers: think about it as if it was a microsite or a long form landing page with multiple copy modules.
The creation of any brochure or other enclosure naturally starts with an approved concept. If it is a highly visual one, design considerations probably come next. However, since copy provides the direction and organization for most brochures, it normally comes first.
Note: Tests have shown that an enclosure can actually reduce response when sent as part of a lead generation or direct sales mailing. The key to optimum response lies in your B2B copywriter’s ability to say what is needed to be said in the letter. It is much more difficult to write a powerful, short letter that excites and persuades than it is to write an illustrated brochure.
Example: one A/B test I conducted for Harvard Business Review (one of the European editions) was a two-page letter and two-page flyer vs the very same two-page letter and the very same two-page flyer AND eight-page glossy brochure. The brochure version got 3 times less conversions than the control (and cost so much more to produce and mail).
Enclosures are used in lead generation or nurturing mailings only if additional explanatory information or illustrative material is needed because the letter copy alone cannot provide the complete message.
This occurs when the product or service is highly complex, or the concept is extremely technical. This is also true for new products or systems or if the company is not well known.
If you do not have a presence in the marketplace may need more than one enclosure simply to establish credibility. In every instance, when enclosures are warranted, they should lead the prospect directly to the reply form or call to action.
Some B2B marketers incorrectly create lead generation mailings without letters, using only printed enclosures. These lack the personalization needed in order to get good readership.
Enclosing ad reprints, corporate and product information booklets and brochures, price lists, spec sheets, announcements and notices, newsletters, and other promotional literature that may be on hand is not acceptable in lead generation direct mail programs.
Working With the Graphics Designer
The best creative work usually results when the B2B direct mail enclosure project is a joint effort between copywriter and artist, from the discussion of copy to graphic emphasis.
Focusing the best of these two complementary creative talents on an individual project at the same time is the goal of most creative directors. However, problems can arise between the two talents. The chemistry must be right.
In those cases when copywriters must work without an artist the finished copy is usually accompanied by a copywriter’s rough layout, which is a sketchy placement of various general elements within a predetermined rough format.
The copywriter must also provide the copy lead for the sales letter, brochure heads, subheads, response form, and outer envelope.
Creative Strategies for B2B Direct Mail Enclosures
There is no substitute for good judgment and an ability to communicate effectively. But any effort can be made better regardless of the objectives when supported by a healthy helping of proven creative techniques.
In fact, the listing that follows consists of more than techniques. It is a list of powerful creative strategies applied to B2B direct mail enclosures:
- Include more of what is novel and pertinent, excluding what is commonplace.
- Create arresting and interesting copy and graphics with attention to style as well as content.
- Use facts, figures, and specific statements to build credibility.
- Repeat main points several times in different ways to aid message retention.
- Use industry terminology to tag the marketer as knowledgeable and understanding. Eliminate jargon and cliches because they conjure up an old and tired label.
- Design only one major headline on a page or spread to encourage readership.
- Use bullet copy sparingly with no more than six on one page.
- Use contemporary graphics and layout to have a positive impact on how the company is perceived by the prospect.
- Use headings, sidebars, callouts, captions, and footnotes, and enclose photos and illustrations, to get high readership.
- Include powerful tools such as charts, tables, and graphs to convey complex (or simple) information.
- Combine all visual elements: heads, subheads, photos, illustrations, and body text in size, shape, color, and contrast to lead the prospect from one element in the layout to another.
- Include photos and captions to lend credibility and readership to the message.
- Show products in use with happy “unposed” people doing real things.
- Avoid mixing fonts in a single printed piece.
- Write and design printed materials in ways to make prospects perceive them as worth keeping because they have a continuing value.
- Use a layout that calls attention to the message rather than to the layout itself.
- Blend graphic devices, colors, photos, and illustrations together for visual continuity that leads the reader through the story.
Since the cover of a B2B direct mail enclosure gets examined, at least momentarily, by all who open the mail package, it should immediately tell readers what is inside and entice them to want to read further. A single photo or illustration on the cover is more effective than a few smaller ones.
B2B Action Reply Forms
Direct mail reply vehicles are designed to make it easy and trouble-free for readers to identify themselves to you as casual inquirers, interested prospects, or customers.
The reply form directs the prospect to take a predominant course of action. Those that do the best job in pulling responses restate the offer expressed in the mailing package, highlight the main prospect benefit, and provide a call to action directing the prospect to the online form, phone number, or – while old school and not very popular nowadays – ask to fill out a print form and mail it back to you.
A reply form that does not match the color of the rest of the package can increase response. Many busy prospects actually read response forms before other components in the package to get the gist of the offer. You should approach the creative task with that in mind.
Example: If the offer is information in the form of a booklet or other literature, the title of the offer material should be mentioned, such as, “Send me a copy of your booklet on ‘Capturing Financial Markets with New Leading Edge Network Banking Systems’” rather than “Send me more information,” which is too general.
Specifying the title of the booklet or the specific type of information will produce more selective leads.
B2B Direct Mail Envelopes
You want to ensure that any copy or graphics on the envelope does not give prospective readers an opportunity to prejudge the contents unfavorably. A good number of business executives in the larger companies, as well as the many millions who work in small firms, open their own mail.
Private secretaries of top managers usually screen and open mail addressed to their bosses. How the envelope is handled affects orders.
Therefore, you need to know who opens the mail. “Appearance” is a keyword when making decisions about business mail envelopes.
As a general rule, obvious advertising mail gets fewer openings when sent to executives who have secretaries who open their mail. Mail volume is greater in this higher managerial group.
Secretaries, either by the boss’s edict or on their own authority, screen much of what appears to be advertising, self-mailers, and envelopes laden with printing and graphics. Middle- and lower-level managers and professionals who open their own mail also perceive advertising mail differently than they do business mail.
Many business-to-business mailers have found that the best standard copy rule for envelopes is the no-copy rule. For the most part, copy only detracts from the businesslike approach. If the envelope does not look like a mail order mailing, and does not contain advertising copy, there is a greater chance that it will be opened.
There are many ways to create the “right” envelope. In some cases, the return address should be minimized. The logo can be sufficient identification if the company is large enough.
A few business marketers actually claim higher responses by putting their return addresses on the back flap of the envelope. Official-looking envelopes, such as brown kraft, get more openings and more response.
Where a specific function is handled by different people in different companies, and you do not have the prospect’s name, using functional titles actually printed on the envelope close to the address gets good results.
When it fits the creative objective it is helpful at times to make the envelope appear different from other mail. This is why some business-to-business marketers will occasionally use less common envelope sizes. But when an odd size is used there should be a good reason.
To avoid expensive problems, a review of postal regulations governing the use of nonstandard mailing envelopes can be helpful.
Any copy important enough to be used on an envelope should attract the prospect’s attention without being insulting. If a promise is made on the envelope, there should be a follow-through on the inside.
“Personal” and “confidential” are grossly misused. They may get more openings and orders, but they are eroding credibility for all your direct mail campaigns. The same is true of “free gift inside” when the reader finds the “free gift” is very conditional. If the copy on the envelope is misleading, the prospect questions the integrity of the marketer.
For getting envelopes opened there are not many envelope-enhancement devices that are any better than the plain business envelope, personally addressed directly on the envelope, with first-class live stamp. That is the way business mail is sent to other businesspeople.
However, any envelope will get opened if the recipient perceives that it may contain worthwhile information. That should be the criterion with which to determine the value of any element utilized for enhancing openings.
So-called “teaser copy” or any copy or illustrations on envelopes, as I mentioned before, is not recommended for B2B mailings. More often than not it just alerts your recipient to the fact that advertising material is enclosed.
Also, the return address or logo on the envelope can deter openings if the business recipient perceives that it comes from a company sending out mailings of no interest and value.
Creative B2B Lead Generation Campaign Objectives
The creative approach for lead generation direct mail is quite different from that of the direct sales / mail order objective. There, the creative approach must perform all the selling functions. In a lead generation mailing the offer is more important than the product.
It governs the quantity and quality of leads generated by the mailing. But it is not the only factor for generating lead response. The number of leads and their quality for any given offer can be controlled by the degree of creative emphasis given to the offer and the options in the response portion of the leadgen direct mail package.
There are two basic types of lead generation program:
- The first is a highly structured program, often connected to online efforts, designed to continually generate leads on a scheduled monthly or quarterly basis for salesperson follow-up.
As an integral part of the annual marketing plan, this program usually consists of many different direct mail campaign packages depending on the number of products and markets involved.
For any individual product the same lead generation package may be sent two, three, or even four times to the same list over the plan period, as long as the response results meet the planned objectives. New “beat the best” creative packages are often tested during the course of the program to ensure maximum results.
- The second type of lead generation program is the short-range, noncontinuous direct mail campaign. For instance, you may need leads for individual territories in specific time periods to boost sales activity.
Each mailing is usually custom created for a highly definitive purpose. It may employ one direct mail package as a one-shot effort or it may consist of a series of packages in a campaign, mailed at two- or three-week intervals.
A series of several mailings designed to accomplish one lead generation objective is more effective when each mailing in the series uses a different approach within the series-family theme. Each mailing has the same offer but highlights a different benefit the prospect will get in response to the offer.
When a B2B company or B2B product is new to the marketplace, the selling process is particularly complex, or the product is very technical, the creative approach most often consists of a series of mailings as well as online follow-up and retargeting campaigns.
With this approach the campaign makes use of all but the last mailing in the series to be informational and provocative, setting the stage for a persuasive appeal to the prospect to respond to an offer in the final mailing.
B2B Lead Generation Copy Approach
In creating lead generation direct mail the copywriter’s job is to find out who among those on the mailing list are interested in a particular offer. The copywriter wants to say only enough about that offer to get the maximum number of prospects to respond.
Giving too much information to the prospect in the lead generation direct mail package will result in fewer responses. By telling a more complete story, most of the prospect’s questions will be answered.
Many would-be prospects learn enough from the material in the mailing to preclude the need to send for more information. So you may never know who those prospects are. This is why lead generation objectives for the most part call for short copy.
Some effective direct mail lead generation packages consist of no more than four paragraphs of copy in a letter plus a reply form driving prospects to an online form that includes two checkboxes, one for the offer and another for a salesperson to call.
Of course, companies selling complex products or new companies in some markets may need more than a letter and a short call to action to get enough of their story across to provoke a response.
The best strategies and techniques a performance marketing manager can use to fine-tune a lead generation program are explained here:
But the B2B copywriter is also involved in this fine-tuning process. The copywriter needs to identify individuals who are at a specific stage in the purchasing behavior cycle.
The B2B copywriter must also know the quality of the lead that is expected because it has a bearing on the copy approach. For instance, if you want softer leads, the copy will be very brief. It attempts only to sell the booklet, literature, or other offer material.
Creative B2B Prequalified Prospect Penetration Campaign Objectives
The creative approach for a prequalified prospect penetration direct mail campaign begins with a different premise than the standard lead generation campaign – the prospect is already qualified.
Roughly 90 percent of these door-opener campaigns include a premium offer. The objective of this type of campaign may be that you want the prospect to meet with a salesperson or an official of your company, to come to a company-sponsored seminar, to visit your sales office for a demonstration or to a VIP session at a trade show, or to respond to one of a dozen other events, including those conducted online.
The B2B copywriter must come up with some powerfully persuasive words to get the message across and emphasize the identified benefits correctly.
Overall, the B2B copywriter’s goal is to make the prospect feel that time spent in the visit will be more valuable than time spent any other way.
Rarely is this accomplished by talking about the company and its history. The benefit often highlighted in this type of campaign is the positive learning experience the prospect will gain by keeping up with the latest products and technology in the industry.
Getting prospects to request an information booklet or an ebook is much easier than convincing them to arrange an appointment to attend a meeting or agree to meet with a sales representative.
The commitment for a meeting places the prospect somewhat at risk, whereas simply asking for more information does not. Getting this commitment takes personalization and usually more than one page of copy to move a prospect to action.
The more successful prequalified prospect programs employ a series of multiple-piece mailing campaigns, many of which are three-dimensionals (“lumpy mail”).
Usually the higher the unit of sale, the more you can spend for especially creative and unique lead generation high-impact enclosures. Challenge your creativity to come up with appropriate concepts for these programs.
Some prequalified prospect mailing program offers are actually invitations but consist of more than one contact with the prospect. The first mailing provides details about the event and is usually mailed four to six weeks in advance.
Subsequent mailings are made with a final reminder mailing about a week before the event. Phone call follow-ups can increase acceptances substantially.
The format chosen depends on the type of activity suggested and the relationship you have with key prospects. The personal invitation can take the form of:
- formal printed invitations with RSVP cards in return matching envelopes;
- less formal but businesslike letters, preferably executive size;
- and response cards with a simple call to action and a link to an online form.
RSVP cards are recommended regardless of format.
A special premium offer is very often needed to get the prospect’s attention and to be a strong motivator to get the prospect to make the commitment.
- Recently one IT company direct mailing offered a gift certificate to an upscale local restaurant to the prospect in exchange for sitting in on a demonstration of its newest B2B offering.
- Another software company offered a set of hand-blown, made in Italy, crystal wine glasses to enterprise prospects ready for a free trial test.
- A communications company giant sent a Mont Blanc fountain pen to a highly select list of prequalified prospects along with an invitation to attend a one-on-one sales presentation at the marketer’s place of business.
When a premium is used to increase response, the creative emphasis is shifted to the premium.
Chances are that creative approaches and offers normally used for lead generation mailings to general prospect lists will not be effective if used for prequalified prospect lead objectives.
These mailings take more than specialized, persuasive copywriting skills. If the prospect has been qualified, but has not yet been sold, there may be hidden roadblocks.
You must be aware of the roadblocks and build the campaign approach that eliminates them or circumvents them. Because average B2B copywriters have difficulty coming up with this highly defined creative approach, you should lean on only the most experienced professional direct mail copywriters for this assignment.
Creative B2B Awareness Campaign Objectives
Awareness objectives using the direct mail medium are, in most respects, similar to awareness objectives of the more encompassing advertising media. Both attempt to influence attitudes and beliefs of prospects and customers.
However, awareness advertising in print and online business magazines or general LinkedIn ads speaks to broader marketplace segments, and within more restrictive creative parameters than does direct mail awareness advertising. (The differences between direct mail and a publication ad are discussed here.)
Awareness direct mail advertising campaigns usually have very specific objectives directed toward narrow target markets. The B2B copywriter must know exactly what you want the campaign to accomplish, such as:
- Causing specific products to be talked about
- Creating a greater awareness of a new line of products
- Building an identity as preferred supplier among selected dealers targeted for signing up within the plan year
Causing prospects to think the way you want them to usually means modifying the prospect’s opinions. And the best way to find out if an awareness campaign accomplishes this objective is to measure specific opinions before and after the campaign is mailed and then compare survey results.
Before starting the writing, the B2B copywriter and performance marketing manager must agree on the specific questions to be used in the survey. The survey questions are built around the campaign objectives.
The copywriter emphasizes those points, issues, or ideas that will influence the prospect.
The same basic copywriting principles apply in awareness direct mail campaigns as in other types of direct mail programs. However, the action required of the prospect is different.
The B2B copywriter is after indirect action or share of mind in specific ways that will eventually lead to direct action and a sale. Awareness and lead generation objectives are often combined into one campaign series to launch complex products or help lesser-known companies enter a marketplace.
It works only when the two objectives are not combined in a single mailing. The first several mailings inform and persuade a prospect toward a definite point of view.
The last mailing in the series ties the campaign mailings together with a very brief summary message while having lead generation as its main objective.
This last mailing requests specific direct action from the prospect. A series of campaign mailings combining awareness and lead generation objectives is most successful when telemarketing calls follow the final mailing and a retargeting campaign using Google Ads and Facebook ads is used.
Any single mailing in the series should be based on only one main objective implemented with one basic idea. This prevents reader confusion and poor message retention, which are problems many business-to-business marketers encounter in their direct mail efforts.
For instance, in an attempt to become better known in the marketplace, you may mail out a brochure or a folder that resembles a full-line sales catalog. Unless one basic memorable idea is presented, the mailing may be remembered only briefly, if looked at, or not at all.
There may be many specific product benefits highlighted in a B2B awareness campaign and, indeed, each can be the focus of an individual mailing in the campaign series. But there should be one basic unifying theme in all the mailings.
Awareness B2B copy can be either short or long, but from a readership standpoint, the shorter the better. Yet to modify a prospect’s opinion, awareness copy must relate enough information to create an impression on the reader.
Also, since you are not offering anything tangible, the prospect needs compelling reasons or rationalizations for reading. The copy should offer, in and of itself, reader enhancement by informing, educating, or entertaining, and at the same time provide the prospect with positive perceptions about the company.
There is often much to tell about a product, but to reach the B2B awareness objective, it must be told over and over. This is why awareness direct mail almost always consists of a series mailed at periodic intervals.
You must ensure that each mailing is viewed differently from those that preceded it. And to instill initial and continuing interest in the campaign, you should use personalization techniques.
There are a lot of creative formats you can choose, from simple executive-size letters on tinted stock with matching envelopes, to a series of multipiece dimensional packages, “lumpy” or outsized envelopes, mailing tubes, boxes, burlap bags, or other unique formats.
Using dimensionals and showmanship graphics is not a substitute for great creative copywriting. However, when you use them in combination, the result can be extremely rewarding.
Creative B2B Reminder Campaign Objectives
Reminder direct mail fills still another objective of the business-to-business marketer. This creative platform is one of cordial contact. It is different from awareness direct mail in that it keeps the company or product name in front of qualified prospects, so you will have an edge over competition when purchase decisions are ready to be made.
You should send reminder mailings on a regular basis to identified prospects to get them to switch vendors or to customers to keep them sold.
Effective reminder direct mail copy is simple and brief and does not detail the company’s product benefits.
Rather, it simply attempts to register in the mind of the prospect your company’s name and product designations positively. Each of your mailings should leave your prospect with the impression that your company is contemporary, progressive, and thinks highly of the prospect.
Because these mailings are not aggressive, they do not go after immediate response. They become a form of advertising. Often the B2B marketer will include a standard call to action in a reminder mailing to make it easier for the prospect to contact the marketer just in case the prospect is ready to take action.
Since reminder mailings must have impact for lasting impressions to be made, few creative limitations are placed on formats, length of copy, or use of graphics. Some of the best reminder direct mail is about 90 percent format and 10 percent copy.
You should take advantage of attention-getting devices and useful or interesting information to target the needs, emotions, and mind-set of the reader / prospect. Although creative letters in a series are used by some B2B marketers, dimensionals are used more often to entertain or provide functional value.
The format can be as simple as a few words on a memo pad or monthly calendar, or periodic ad preprints, or copies of prereleased press releases. Reminder B2B direct mail may be in the form of a gift of nominal value that works best when it is directly related to the your product.
Creative B2B Reinforced Selling Campaign Objectives
The creative objective for reinforced selling campaigns is to help salespeople increase their productivity by providing messages that communicate the same things the your salespeople talk about to the twenty or so most qualified prospects they currently call on.
The direct mail copy specifically reinforces the salesperson’s personal selling messages.
Reinforced selling programs are always created as a series of multiple mailings. Three-piece and five-piece direct mail campaigns are most often used, but sometimes more are used, since it can take at least six to twelve months for a sale to be finalized.
Copy for reinforced selling campaigns has some distinct features. It can be as detailed as necessary without concern for length and still get good readership, because the prospect is already in the ready-to-buy cycle when the need to know is greatest.
As a rule, prospect benefits and product or system features of specific product applications are spelled out in a single series. Because the copywriter of a reinforced selling campaign is writing to a qualified prospect – one who already knows a great deal about the product – it is easier to build on the interest that has already been established by the salesperson.
A headline or lead line such as, “Here is more information on the AI-based cybersecurity system you are considering” speaks directly to a prospect’s identified need.
Each mailing in a reinforced selling campaign series should not only look different but actually be different from what prospects have reviewed before.
Reinforced campaign mailings usually have an abundance of illustrated material, showing the product in use, charts, graphs, and factual pictorial representations of competitive comparisons or benefits for the buyer.
For maximum effect, mailing pieces should resemble or carry the same graphic theme as used in ads and sales literature. It is not necessary to enclose calls to action in this type of mailing, but some marketers do enclose them, just in case.
Creative B2B Direct Sales / “Mail Order” Campaign Objectives
More disciplined copywriting and design skills are required for direct sales or “mail order” than for other performance marketing objectives. There are two reasons:
- First, the entire range of selling functions must be performed by the copywriter and artist in order to make the sale.
- Second, the measurement of the objective is finite.
The job of the B2B copywriter here is to move the prospect along the successive steps of the sale by having the mail order package perform the selling functions. These follow the basic AIDA (+ C) formula: get attention, build interest, create desire, instill conviction, and provoke action.
These are the same selling functions performed by salespeople when they call on the prospect in person. To accommodate a smooth transition in the creative process of bringing the prospect from the attention stage through the final action stage, direct sales / mail order copy must have all the virtues of effective performance marketing copy, but then it must go beyond those.
This is done by repeating, persuasively and convincingly, the main selling points as much as a dozen times or more in the contents of the mailing package.
The copywriter must envision all the steps the mailing will go through once it is delivered by the postal service – how it is received, handled and opened, read, acted on, and disposed. Methodical planning of the entire mail order package will ensure that it includes copy and graphics that address all the selling functions.
The direct sales or mail order objective is to have the businessperson personally justify the purchase, get the necessary approvals to generate a purchase requisition as may be necessary, and spend the company’s money, all without the help of a salesperson. It is assumed there is a match between the decision maker’s needs and the product’s capabilities.
Since mail order copy must tell the complete sales story in writing, and tell it convincingly and quickly, the B2B copywriter needs extensive product and market research to back up the first packages created for test mailings.
You should study the main motivations of the business in relation to the product, its features, and benefits. “What is in it for me and my company?” asks the prospect.
In most cases, prospects are more receptive to written information than they are to a salesperson making a sales call. Generally, businesspeople will not see a salesperson except by appointment.
They do not want someone to “sell’’ them something; they want to “buy” – and this goes for mail order as well. Aware of this attitude, the business-to-business mail order copywriter and designer must concentrate on providing enough specific and precise information to make it easy for the prospect to make the buy decision – not concentrate on empty hard-sell copy.
Businesspeople are comfortable dealing with product claims backed up with figures, specifications, and facts. The B2B copywriter must be highly sensitive to the explicit interests of the targeted marketplace.
Some B2B marketers try to reach a market so broad that the creative appeal and copy approach cannot be pinpointed enough to convince the prospect to buy.
In some business-to-business companies, to make a mail order purchase, the recommender in the prospect organization may need two or three levels of approvals before filling out the order.
For example, a production control manager may be a decision maker who reports to a plant manager, who in turn reports to a vice-president of operations. It all depends on company size, specific industries targeted, and particular positions targeted.
The B2B copywriter must ensure that the selling arguments the reader / recommender will need to influence the approvers are included in the mailing package.
In large corporations where many may be involved in the purchasing decision process, the person who will have the most apparent need for and motivation to buy the product should be “sold” first, even though others in the corporation influence the sale.
(The physical, “more important”, form of direct mail makes it easier to get a sign-off by all who need to be involved.)
In the smaller company, often this person is the decision maker and approver, all in one. Some products and services, especially those that are complex and technical, require highly elaborate mail packages to tell the story completely enough for the prospect to have the information needed to make a purchase decision.
In this case, a two-step campaign may be more cost effective than the usual one-step method. Rather than mail an expensive package to the complete market targeted, you can create an inexpensive lead generation mailing and mail with the objective of prequalifying the prospects who will receive the hard-sell mail order package (actually the first step may be email-based to save even more).
Mail order telemarketing is also used as a second step or a third step to follow-up the second mailing.
The B2B Direct Sales / Mail Order Package
A business-to-business mail order package, often called a solo mailing, promotes one product or a group of related products. The components have become fairly standard. Although there are variations, the basics consist of an outer envelope, a multipage letter, a brochure or other enclosures, an order card or form with a strong call to action.
The B2B Direct Sales / Mail Order Letter
The Headline or Lead Line
Of all the items in the mail order package, the letter almost invariably gets looked at first. And, as in sales support direct mail letters, if it is personalized, the first sentence is the spark that ignites the prospect’s interest.
If nonpersonalized, the headline becomes the spark. The lead headline has about five seconds to heighten that interest into desire to read further. This is the most critical point.
Following are the four most effective ways the headline or lead line can reach out and capture specific prospects who have an interest in the product:
- By having news value that ties in directly or indirectly with the product. A good example is this headline from a business-to-business training company soliciting orders to its bew training program: “Coronavirus-Aid: 6 New Ways to Receive Low-Interest Loans, Cash Grants and Tax Relief.”
- By referring to the prospect favorably. This appeal to the businessperson’s ego is done well in this classic lead line used as a first paragraph: “Quite frankly, the American Express Card is not for everyone. And not everyone who applies for Cardmembership is approved.”
- By piquing the prospect’s curiosity in a way relevant to the offer and message that follow. A classic subscription solicitation letter from Business Week is a fine example of this approach: “I know something very important about you.” The lead sentence then refers to the reader favorably while it follows through on the headline claim: “Although I’ve never met you, I know you’re on a career path that can lead to limitless rewards.”
- By mentioning products favorably in relation to how the prospect benefits from purchasing the product. An example of this “here’s-the-product-and- here’s-how-it-can-help-you” type of headline appears in a consulting firm’s nonpersonalized solicitation letter for its training program: “Announcing… an insider’s report to help you increase direct sales of your industrial products in multinational markets – whether they be in 2 or 100 countries.”
The First Paragraph
Once the headline has been created, the writer grabs the serious prospects up front by telling the gist of the story in the first paragraph. That way, the interest of the maximum number of potential buyers is secured from the very start.
The copy must be exciting yet believable to make the readers want to read further. Readers will continue to read the next sentences only if they have expectations of learning more.
The B2B copywriter cannot let the prospects rest until they think positively about the offer. The main selling theme is driven home again and again by detailing the advantages and benefits for the prospect.
You can demonstrate that negative consequences can be avoided by buying your product. You can show product characteristics that are unique from those of competition as well as your superior service. You create product and company credibility in the mind of the prospect by:
- Showing who uses the product
- Highlighting the company’s reputation in the industry
- Providing testimonials
- Backing up benefit statements with facts and proof
- Offering a money-back guarantee
Above all, you have to tell the complete sales story, and answer any objections that can be anticipated. This is why virtually all mail order letters need four pages or more to tell the sales story.
The use of illustrations and photo in business-to-business mail order letters should be considered cautiously. Since the businessperson perceives the business letter as a familiar, credible, and serious communication, the mail order letter should appear that way also.
Even though graphics are used in all the elements in the rest of the package, the designer should minimize them on the mail order letter portion of the mailing package.
B2B Direct Sales / Mail Order Enclosures
The opening and closing guns in business-to-business mail order packages are the selling letter and response vehicle respectively. Yet most products sold by mail need something in between – the printed enclosure.
Often it is a restatement of many of the points made elsewhere in the package. It provides needed emphasis while it helps the sales story to be perceived as believable.
Some enclosures are created only as support materials that supplement and enhance points or issues raised in the main selling vehicle – the letter. Each element in the mail order package has its own purpose.
While the letter sells the product, premium, or other offer, the brochure’s job may be to describe the product. An additional flier may describe the premium even further.
Although there should be persuasive “sell” in enclosures, with some products they should be more explanatory and detailed. In any event, enclosures should never be simply a rework of the letter.
This material is usually loaded with illustrations that bring the product to life and includes product functions and feature benefits not appropriate in the sales letter.
Regardless of whether the broadside, brochure, circular, or other enclosure is big or small, or printed in one, two, or four colors, it has a massive job to do. In most cases it performs all the steps of the sale visually as well as in the copy.
For instance, the European publisher of Harvard Business Review I consulted, has been using, apart from the letter, 28-page high quality brochures to sell directly (i.e. through mail order means) its premium, $10,000 a head training programs.
Supporting enclosures often take the form of testimonials printed on the endorser’s letterhead or they can be separate printed fliers filled with photos and third-party endorsements to lend credibility to the sales proposal.
An article reprint from the trade press, substantiating why the purchase of a specific product is a wise decision, can carry the prestige of the publication.
Lift letters, notes, and other validating enclosures, although worth mentioning, have not proved very effective nor are they used often in business-to-business mail order, at least in my experience. However, when they are used, copy is very brief.
They are printed on odd-size slips of colored paper and are signed by someone of higher authority than the person signing the regular letter. The small memo size of the lift letter, usually folded, stands out, making it quick and easy to spot and read.
This letter or note gives additional reasons why the prospect should act favorably on the offer. These enclosures are meant to add to the package one more convincing selling argument.
B2B Direct Sales / Mail Order Action Response Vehicle
Action response copy usually appears at the end of each component in the B2B direct sales / mail order package directing the prospect to the order form. You should ask for the order confidently and tactfully only when all decision maker’s and influencer’s anticipated doubts and questions have been adequately covered in the mailing.
The action response vehicle is designed and written so it can virtually stand alone as a mailing piece. It restates the offer and outlines the main benefits while succinctly convincing the prospect of the offer’s credibility. There is great emphasis placed on the guarantee. The response form is designed to appear urgent and valuable.
You should include these key elements in your action response vehicle:
- Prominent display of toll-free number and landing page with the order form
- Offer or offers spelled out in detail
- Photo of product
- Premium for purchasing
- Premium for placing order early
- Statement of money-back guarantee
- Complete costs, including shipping and handling
- Payment options, including, “Bill me” / “Proforma invoice” so popular in the B2B sphere
The envelope is definitely not an afterthought when planning the mail order package. The creative decision here obviously affects the number of packages that get opened.
A wrong decision negates an otherwise brilliant creative effort inside. Plain envelopes without teaser copy that appear to the businessperson to mean business have the edge. It is a normal reaction. But there are many exceptions.
Some mail order offers are so powerful that a mention of them on the envelope will actually get more openings. A good rule to follow in business-to-business mail order is that plain envelopes get more openings than envelopes with poor copy or envelopes heralding average offers.
Most business-to-business performance marketers do not use the same envelope devices that are successful for many consumer performance marketers, such as outsized envelopes, multiple windows, dramatic graphics, and copy. They either do not use copy or graphics or minimize them on the face of the envelope.
Most B2B direct sales / mail order marketers test various envelopes to determine what works best in the specific market targeted. Some marketers are succeeding using envelopes without copy, some with the corner card on the back flap, some with printing, using only the logo as a corner card, and others with no printing whatsoever.
Brown kraft envelopes that resemble important government materials get high interest especially when the corner card is identified with a generic name such as “Verification Division” or the name of a person rather than a company. But design strategy must stop short of deliberately misleading the prospect, which would also create a negative reaction from prospects toward future offers.
A copywriter can arouse the reader by stirring the emotions. But this is difficult to do with most industrial products or services. If the marketer uses a highly graphic envelope to inspire and it misses the mark it will be relegated to a pile of printed material to be reviewed later. Perhaps.
- The most widely used basic element in B2B direct mail is the letter. The headline or lead sentence is the most important part of a direct mail letter. Body copy and the P.S. that lead the prospect to the action reply piece are a continuing elaboration of the promise made to the prospect in the headline.
- Enclosures elaborate on the key ideas and facts indicated elsewhere in the mailing package. The creative strategies for enclosures enhance readership and message retention. Direct mail reply vehicles make it easy and trouble-free for prospects to identify themselves.
- The performance marketer’s choice of creative strategy in envelope usage determines the number of direct mail packages that get opened. Envelopes should look more like business correspondence and less like advertising.
- Business-to-business lead generation direct mail programs are mostly sales support campaigns whose objective is to sell the offer, not the product. Thus, the degree of creative emphasis given to the offer in the mailing material affects results.
- Most lead generation campaigns consist of letters with calls to action. Enclosures are usually not needed. Nor is it necessary for lead generation letters to be personalized to get read. However, letters should include as many personalized features as practical. The nonillustrated letter, depending on the offer, often pulls more responses.
- The creative approach to prequalified prospects demands special persuasive copy and graphic techniques. To produce dimensionals and other high-impact formats, the most experienced creative talent is required.
- Direct mail for awareness objectives attempts to modify or build very specific attitudes. Often a business-to-business marketer will use the first several mailings in a campaign for awareness objectives with a final mailing requesting prospect action.
- Reminder direct mail keeps the marketer’s name in front of prospects with brief copy messages and attention-getting devices that involve the prospect.
- Reinforced direct mail copy stresses the same sales points that salespeople cover when calling on prospects in person. The creative effort builds on the already established interest. Enclosures add to message reinforcement.
- The creative objective for direct sales / mail order direct mail is to cover the entire range of selling functions. Copy and graphics pinpoint the proper decision maker. A typical business-to-business mail order package consists of an outer envelope, a multipage letter that details the complete sales story, one or more brochures or other illustrated enclosures that enhance the points raised in the letter, and an order form designed to appear urgent and valuable.