Learn How to Write Ad Headlines, Part II – Direct Mail

Kim Velten
How to Write Ad Headlines

Writing headlines is hard. If it wasn’t, writers like me wouldn’t have a job. But even we writers struggle to concoct strong headlines, especially for the uniquely tough jobs such as direct mail.

Because what makes jobs like direct mail headlines uniquely tough is that the headline is pretty much all you have to attract someone in a high-traffic zone. This same issue applies to paid search and display and website headlines, too. Ultimately, a headline’s job in any setting is to categorize the information for us and immediately tell us if something is worth investing our time. But avenues like paid search, direct mail, and website headlines have to do even more; they have to get you to go out of your way to act.

That’s why we’ve put together a three-part blog series covering these topics. In Part I, we wrote about paid search and display headlines. Now we’re covering direct mail headlines, and in Part III, we’ll talk about website headlines.

Let’s get on with it!

Headlines for Direct Mail

Direct mailers can come in a wide variety of forms. Dimensionals, postcards, letters, and so on. For our purposes, we’re going to focus on the toughest – the letter. To prove it’s the toughest, think about the last letter you opened when you knew it was a direct mail piece. Ok, fine, we’ll make it easier. Think of the last envelope you saw in your mail pile. It takes a lot to stand out from the crowd.

A direct mail letter usually has a few places where a headline comes into play:

  1. The envelope headline
  2. The letter headline
  3. The brochure headline

There’s a saying in the direct world, that the letter sells and the brochure tells. Let’s amend that: Envelopes yell, letters sell, and brochures tell. Here’s how to approach each.

Direct Mail Envelope Headline Strategy

Because it’s likely the first thing a person will see, your envelope headline needs to be thought out and given prominence. Here are some things to think about before diving in.

  • Determine Headline Placement – Where the headline goes on the envelope can be a big predictor of whether or not the letter is read. The best place? Stick it right by the recipient address line. Everyone checks it to see if the letter is addressed to them. Keep in mind that placement of headline will dictate length of headline, i.e. if you place it to the left or right of the address block, you will have less room for words.
  • Think Beyond the Envelope – Often, what is said on the envelope is the main point of the letter itself. Make sure that it stays in line with your overall message. After all, clickbait existed long before the internet. You don’t want to lose trust at any point in the sales funnel.
  • Use Design to Bring Attention – Some take the tactic of making their envelope look like a personally-written letter or important piece of mail. Others play up the design of the headline and envelope. Whatever you do, make sure the design goes along with your intent.

Direct Mail Letter Headline Strategy

In direct mail terms, the main headline at the top of the letter is called the Johnson Box. It’s the key message of the letter, intended to peak interest and keep them reading. There’s also more than just one headline in this part of the mailer.

  • Consider the Inverted Pyramid – The Johnson Box is your prime real estate. If the reader has gone so far as to open the letter, don’t waste more time. Tell them the most newsworthy information – what’s in it for them – right at the top in typical Inverted Pyramid style.
  • Use Subheads as Support – Fact is, most people skim. Take advantage of that with the use of subheads throughout the body copy. Anything that would matter more to them goes into the subhead as support of the overall intent.

Direct Mail Brochure Headline Strategy

Now we’re to the “tell” part, where the readers’ interest is piqued and it’s time to seal the deal. Here are a few things to think about before you create your brochure headlines.

  • Make it unique – It’s not a good idea to reuse a current brochure as an envelope stuffer. Make sure it pays off the letter with relatable copy and design, so it sounds like a thought-out, complete package. Reiterate the same ideas in the brochure, with more specificity.
  • Be Concrete – However you approach the headlines, ensure that they are concrete and informative. This brochure is telling – not selling. No fluff allowed.
  • Be Concise – This isn’t a full-blown pamphlet; think of it more like a teaser. Showcase your service or product and use the headlines and subheads as proof points. Keep it short and simple, leaving them wanting more – then take them to your website.

Headline Writing Strategies

You have the direct mail headline strategy down; now all that’s left is to write it. Here are some headline writing strategies that work well with direct mail.

  • Call-to-action Headline – Tell the reader right off the bat what action to take. This can go both on the label and on the mailer itself.
    • Sign up and receive 50,000 bonus points
  • Incentive Headline – Give the reader a reason to interact with your direct mail piece. Tell them what’s literally in it (the envelope) for them.
    • Chance to win a $10,000 shopping spree!
  • Offer Headline – Lots of direct mail pieces have an offer. Make yours the best by being the most immediate.
    • Your Code to $25 in Online Savings
  • Exlusive Offer Headline – Take a page out of the offer’s book, but go a step further and make it unique to your recipient.
    • Your Personal Code to $25 in Online Savings
  • Fear-of-missing-out Headline – FOMO. If you can create a sense of urgency, play it up to get them to act sooner rather than never.
    • Your Tax Credits are About to Disappear

Need help with writing your paid search ads or launching a direct mail campaign? The frank Agency can help!

Stay tuned for Part III of the headline writing series:

PART I: Headlines for Paid Search & Display

PART III: Headlines for Websites: COMING SOON

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