Internet Direct Mail is Different: 14 Things to Remember

Here are 14 tips to consider when writing for Internet direct mail.

Internet Direct Mail (IDM) and Traditional Direct Mail (TDM) both have the same goals in mind. They are to generate leads or orders.

However, marketers need to respect that online media and print media present different hurdles in achieving this goal. Some of these hurdles will require that copy be written differently for each media. And some not.

Here is a list of 14 things you should remember when writing copy for Internet Direct Mail and how each one relates to Traditional Direct Mail.

1. FROM and SUBJECT are very important. During the anthrax scare in America, these two items became very important in TDM because any given envelope could contain a deadly poison. And while this fear has passed for TDM, it is still very present in IDM. That’s because any given e-mail could contain a computer virus. Prospects are more apt to simply delete a message they are unsure of nowadays than risk opening it and ruining their computer.

Here are a couple of tips to solve this problem:

  • FROM line should display someone the readers will trust
  • For house lists, the prospect has presumably bought from the company before and would trust them. So include some company identifier: “FROM: Macromedia FLASH Team”
  • SUBJECT line should be treated like envelope teaser copy. You have to give the prospect some reason to open the e-mail to see what is inside. “SUBJECT: Try The New Update For Your Macromedia Product!”

2. Your first paragraph or two should contain a mini-version of your whole e-mail. So instead of carefully spreading out your 4 P’s (Promise, Picture, Proof, Push) or AIDA (Attention, Interest, Desire, Action), you should try to get all these elements in early. Online users have little patience in general and they need to know your whole offer fast.

3. For readers willing to spend the time to read every word of your e-mail (God bless them), you can expand on your opening later. Just remember that less people will read right to the end than will scan your first couple of paragraphs. So include all your best stuff up front.

4. Avoid using “hard-sell” techniques in IDM. These tend to produce poor results. Readers on the internet expect to see information. The information can be on the benefits of your product and how to order, but the tone must remain helpful. If it’s slick, your email will be trashed.

5. You should include multiple response options for your prospects. But ALWAYS remember to have a web-based response form. Many online users prefer to keep the entire transaction online. That way the user keeps control and does not have to worry about more sales talk or being upsold when they phone in.

6. Limit the amount of click throughs in your IDM piece. Usually only the first 2 or 3 get used. The rest are ignored.

7. Premiums still work online. Maybe even better. You have the opportunity online to animate your premiums in action or even make them interactive. Try this out and see how it effects your results.

8. Sweepstakes work great online. This is because it is usually much easier for the prospect to quickly fill out their information on an online form than to fill out a paper-based form and then have to mail it.

9. Avoid the word FREE in the subject line. FREE is too blatantly promotional a word for people to bother opening your e-mail. Besides that, many online users now employ “spam filters” which work to screen out unwanted mail. FREE is often a word that these filters pick up and then they’ll delete your message before it ever reaches the prospect’s inbox.

10. A headline is a headline is a headline. Start your email off with one that will draw your reader into the package. Try to make it different from your SUBJECT line. Your best benefit up front usually does the trick. Injecting a news feel and some self-interest doesn’t hurt either.

11. ALWAYS include an opt-out statement! The only thing more powerful than good will towards your company is ill will. Don’t make any prospect feel like they’ve been spammed. Include an unsubscribe or remove statement at the end of your e-mail.

“We here at ABC Company respect your online privacy. If you received this message in error or simply do not wish to receive further e-mails from us, please reply to this e-mail and type REMOVE in the subject line.”

12. For once, shorter is better. In TDM, we all know that long copy generally works better. But in IDM, brevity is the key. If some of your prospects require more information before they make a purchasing decision, include a click-through to an expanded version of your e-mail.

13. Remember in IDM, you can use viral marketing techniques. This is not possible with TDM as you cannot tell a prospect to make 10 copies of your message and then pass them on to neighbors and friends. But in IDM, make sure the prospect understands that your fantastic deal is not exclusive to them. They should pass on this message to others they think would be interested.

14. Online users prefer free trials or bill me later offers to money-back guarantees. While online transactions are rising every day. Some prospects are still wary about sending their credit card info over the internet. They would much rather just send their shipping info. Try the product for a while. And then choose their payment option when the time comes.

Aran Kay is a marketing consultant and freelance copywriter with experience working for Nintendo, Direct Energy, Kellogg’s and more. He has written numerous marketing articles and includes a selection of them on his web site. Web Site:

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