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A 7-Second Successful Direct Mail Test

Posted by John Kissane on August 6, 2014

This is exciting—your direct mail package just arrived at your prospect’s house. All your marketing strategy, creative direction and hard work are about to be put to The 7-Second Successful Direct Mail Test.



Ms. Smith carries it inside with the rest of the day’s mail and drops it on her table. She takes off her coat, picks up the stack of mail and sorts out the monthly bills. Then she walks to the recycling bin holding the remaining mailings.

Ms. Smith is trying to decide which mailings are going to get recycled and which mailings she may actually read. Does she need a new credit card? No, she has more than she wants — into recycling it goes. Does she need a furniture catalog? No, she hasn’t even looked over the one that was sent last week — in it goes.


Now it’s your direct mail package’s turn and the imaginary stopwatch begins ticking. On average, you have just seven seconds to pique Ms. Smith’s interest in your direct mail package before she decides to:

  • Read it now
  • Read it later, or
  • Recycle it


What category will your direct mail package fall into? Will it be a successful direct mail package?

At Jacobs & Clevenger, the direct marketing agency in Chicago, we live by the seven-second rule. After years of testing, J&C has developed a survival guide of sorts that uses direct mail best practices and top direct mail techniques to quickly entice prospects to read on and not throw our solicitations into recycling.


Here are some of our direct mail best practices:


Present key information quickly.
If your reader has to think about what you’re trying to say or figure out exactly what it is you’re offering, you’re done—game over. It’s better to clearly and succinctly state your offer and why it’ll make their life better. The headline and opening paragraph of the letter are both key in this regard. The headline on the response device is also absolutely critical.


Make it relevant.
Readers need to understand right away how your product or service solves a problem in their life. List selection is certainly important. After all, if a reader doesn’t own a motorcycle, he doesn’t need motorcycle insurance. Personalization is also important. For instance, instead of saying, “Special discount on your cable,” try “Save 10% on the Smith’s cable bill.” It’s specific, personal and active. In fact, all of those things are direct mail best practices.

Being relevant is especially important for business-to-business mailings. Professionals are multitasking like never before. So you literally need to make it worth their time to read on. Don’t waste valuable seconds trying to set the stage in the opening paragraph. Get right into the offer and include a number of subheads so they can scan your letter, get the gist and decide whether to act on it.


Look legit.
People are sometimes wary when asked to respond through the mail. It’s just a reality of the channel. If a prospect is unfamiliar with your company and product, it’s smart to look and sound legitimate. This helps put their scam detectors at ease. A clean, simple design goes a long way. Also, grammatical errors and typos are a huge red flag, so, of course, none of those.

You’ll also want to:

  • Show your logo prominently on each component of the mailing
  • Include your address (not a P.O. Box), phone and web URL
  • Have a senior executive’s name, title and signature on the letter


Use the right format.
How your package is designed is important. Every direct marketing agency in Chicago will tell you that. What you might not know, however, is that if you’re trying to generate leads, an oversized postcard or self-mailer is your best bet. Readers can see your key message at a glance and decide whether they want to continue reading for more information.

If your offer requires more detail, a #10 letter package gives you the space you need to explain all the benefits. Remember, more is more. Make sure you give readers all the information they need to say “yes.” In fact, packages with multiple elements perform much better than those with just a single component.

Just make sure each component has:

  • Content that’s scannable with multiple subheads and bullet points
  • At least three calls-to-action and a few different ways to respond (phone number, URL and response device)
  • A personalized response device that quickly summarizes the offer and is easy to fill out before mailing



If you’re looking for a direct marketing agency in Chicago, check out J&C’s webinar: Optimizing Your Direct Mail for Maximum Response and read our Direct Mail Best Practices ebook. Both provide a great overview of our approach to direct mail and, even more important, offer powerful strategies you can use to craft successful direct mail packages.

Topics: Direct Marketing

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