The 1st 7 Seconds Rule for Sales Mailers

by TedV

How to cause prospects to open and read your sales mailers using Relevance Marketing.

Like emails, there are two aspects to getting your targeted recipients to read your snail mailings: 1) The outside has to cause them to want to open it, and 2) Your content must grab them within 7 seconds or so to keep them reading.

Getting Them to Open It in the First Place

The US Post Office tells us that most people go through their mail standing over, or at least near their trashcans. Just because you think your product is brilliant, doesn’t mean anyone else will – unless you catch their favorable interest right away.

The first, 1st 7 Seconds of a Sales Mailer is the outside. It may be:

• an envelope
• a no-envelope folded brochure
• a postcard
• a package

The Envelope – There are millions of #10 business envelopes mailed out each week. There are millions of #10 business envelopes trashed unread each week. How many do you throw away unread each day? How many do you send that are tossed unread?

I try to never send a sales mailer in a #10 if it can be avoided in any way. If I do, I hand address it, preferring not to go with a stationary piece imprinted with my company name and address. My handwriting is pretty bad, but I can concentrate enough to slowly print fairly neatly. If you have to send out a mass mailing in #10s, try to use a handwriting font and any darker color ink besides black.

Also, see if you can place a personalized 3-7 words teaser line printed off to an angle beside the address. If you can do that in a different ink color and font, even better. Do anything within reason to be “not another sales letter.”

However, an 8-1/2 by 11 letter can also be folded in half and mailed in a 4-3/4 by 5-3/4 envelope. This envelope is roughly the size of a larger greeting card, but it doesn’t have Hallmark or American Greeting embossed on it so it isn’t a card. Hand addressed, it will usually make it past administrative assistants and be opened by your prospects with little thought. Then you have to give a relevant reason for them to keep reading in 7 seconds or less.

A No-Envelope Brochure – I’ve sent many an 8-1/2 x 11 brochure through the mail in 9 x 12 envelopes. I’ve always tried to use the same addressing rules I stated above. On the occasion that I’ve only sent the brochure in an envelope, it has always been following a phone conversation with someone specific. Inside there’s ALWAYS a cover letter of some sort, maybe just a hand written note, but one reminding the recipient of our conversation and how they will benefit. On the day the brochure arrives, I either send an email or leave a brief voice mail reminding them why they requested the brochure in the first place.

However, I’d much rather send a brochure specifically designed and written to go without an envelope.

You have two sides to such a piece, and each one needs to cause your prospect to subconsciously say, “Wow! I really want to read what’s inside, because that (line, picture, header) really speaks about my situation!”

One side has to have the addressing info, and you should add some sort of single, standalone captivating sentence that grabs their attention:

Did you know a 98% failure rate in direct mail is considered good?
How are you competing with (name the 900 LB Gorilla in their market)?
Inside – 7 Rules to Never Ignore for Direct Marketing Success

The non-address side of this mailer is the real clincher. This side is the place for a message crafted by a copywriter, and perhaps targeted photographic design. I am writing here to small businesses, so you may not be able to afford a pro for this. Buy a good book on copywriting or specifically writing sales copy. I’ve suggested Bob Bly’s The Copywriter’s Handbook in the past but there are others.

This non-address side should be a large teaser, screaming a reason why they should desperately want to open the mailer.

You may say you’re not that creative, but you do know your prospects better than most – at least you should be working on knowing them very well. Talk to your existing happy and not-so-happy customers. Get them to tell you the real reasons they buy from you. Fix whatever you don’t like in what you hear. Feature what they say good about you.

This should reflect throughout all of your marketing and sale efforts, and definitely be hyper active in any 1st 7 Seconds scenario you enter into.

The Postcard – The ideas of the two sides of a mailed brochure hold true for a postcard – except, the two sides are the whole message. Therefore, the message must have a single purpose leading to an obvious call to action, such as “call this toll-free number” or “go to this website address.” In B-2-B selling, there is hardly anything you can really sell on a postcard, except for maybe coupon-like offers for consumable items such as office supplies.

Try to use oversized and/or oddly sized postcards that still fit the Post Office’s lower mailing rates and fit the press form factors for your printing company.

I’ve written before on using postcards as a part of a multiple media campaigns such as pURL marketing. I also use postcards to get someone to call me – giving them a relevant reason to call.

Additionally, I like to use postcards as reminders. “Don’t forget the seminar tomorrow,” and “Remember your appointment at the trade show for your demo on Tuesday at 2:00 PM.”

The Package – This cost real money, but if you can, use anything odd shaped, thick, boxy, etc. The odds go up dramatically of your mailer being opened. THIS COST MONEY, like I said, so don’t do it unless you have a brilliant message written all about your prospect succeeding, aimed at a targeted and segmented audience.

Studies show people usually open such mailings even if they don’t like the company on the return address. So make sure your message inside works brilliantly, and make sure your message is about them succeeding.

On several occasions I received a small, flimsy box addressed to me from a local car dealership. It was square, but printed to look like a small treasure chest. Inside was a key and a message to come in and see if the key would crank a new car. If it did, the car was mine.

To save money, the enclosed key was made of cheap aluminum and it wasn’t even the size of a typical car key. There was no way it would work in an ignition. With this “weak link” in the sales message only a tiny fraction of the recipients would go to the dealership to give it a try.

What a waste of money.

”Wow! This First Sentence Really Talks about My Situation.”

If they do decide to open and read your actual message, there are a number of ways to cause them to want to keep reading after the 1st 7 seconds.

Start with a referral from the recipient’s friend or associate
Write about some news event revolving around your recipient
Write about a news event regarding the prospect’s company
Talk about a relevant success one of your current clients experienced
Talk about a hot industry trend you can help with
Talk about proven increases in productivity, revenue, profits, etc.
Talk about proven decreases in downtime, turnover, labor costs, etc


Notice, the first 3 points are prospect specific, as in you’ll write this message to one person or small group of people in a single company at most, and the similar message to another person or company will be substantially different. The last 4 points can be very general as to recipients, but you should do whatever you can to segment your prospect list and further target the message to these groupings.

I worked for IBM in the mid ’80s. I was a round peg in a square hole, and didn’t stay there long, even though I made the President’s Club the only full sales year I was there. It wasn’t that I didn’t like to wear white shirts, conservative red ties, and wingtip shoes – that was not the problem. I took issue with the ineffective stodginess and sales methods based on the idea that IBM was the best – at a time their competitors were kicking their butts in many ways.

The IBM Media Center was an entire floor dedicated mostly to sales presentations and seminars. I was tasked to come up with an event for those in a certain segment who were NOT presently IBM customers. Desktop publishing and graphic design software had just come to the PC, and no competitor in South Carolina had done anything with it at that time. We had a database for that segment of 400+ likely candidates to attend, and the typical response rate would be 10% at best – usually 5% or so.

Standard operating procedure (IBM was rife with SOPs) wanted me to send out a draggy, stale, traditional letter:

Dear ___________:

IBM is please to announce the PC Desktop Publishing and Graphic Design Seminar on March 5, 1986…

From there the missive would drone on about how good we were and nothing really about how the prospects could benefit, other than the trite and cliche. The big thing that I didn’t like is that it was a typical form letter about cool new graphic technology.


We had no way to mail merge into cool designs back then, so I created a letter that didn’t have a Dear ____ anybody on it. It had no date, no who to, no typical “letter stuff” IBM insisted be included in all correspondence.

Instead I had cool graphic effects, inserted clip art, text on a curved line, and a bunch of other stuff that is soooo cheesy now, and even ten years ago. But in 1986 no one had seen this coming out of a PC before. I talked about all they could do that they couldn’t do up to that point. Of course “Designed on an IBM PS/2” was printed prominently on the letter twice at strategic places.

The letter went out and I delayed sending a copy of it to the Media Center receptionist as long as I could. The first calls came in and I took a copy down to her. Two days later my manager called me into his office pretty perturbed. How dare I send out an invitation going against standard procedure?

Luck was with me. While I was there, the Media Center called him to move another seminar of his that day from the big room to a smaller one. It seems his invitation to 600 people had only drawn 9 responses so far, but my invitation to 400 had almost 100 attendees after only two days. We were going to have to present morning and afternoon sessions for my event. Eventually I achieved a 40%+ response to my “different” letter.

My manager called me an SOB, chuckled, congratulated me, and told me never to do it again. Any idea why I left?

The point is, your sales mailer content needs to start talking about your prospects succeeding, but it also helps to be different, new, carefully exciting.

Direct mail works. Done well it works better than email marketing, but it’s more expensive. It can very easily be worth it, if you use the Principles of Relevance Marketing to make your message pertinent, AND if you make them want to open your mailer and read it.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Andy Martin February 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Great article and excellent tips! I always learn a ton from reading your blog! It’s interesting to me how so few “get it” and still try and bore the recipient into buying (ala the traditional IBM letter you mentioned). Pls keep sharing the insights!!

Ted Vinzani February 18, 2010 at 11:24 am

Thanks for you insights, Andy, and your kind words. There is some percentage of effectiveness for the same-old-same-old way of doing things, but with just a little bit of thought anyone can improve their Return-On-Effort, whatever the effort might be to market/sell.

Lois Geller August 10, 2010 at 6:55 am

Ted, you’re the best! You want to make your mail relevant to your prospect…!

People don’t want to hear about your great plant, see your employees lined up in uniforms, hear about your equipment..none of that. Your prospects listen to one radio station: WIIFM What Is In It For Me.

And if everyone is sending out boring old letters, and you step our of the box and take a chance (which you did)…40% response.

Congratulations on your creativity and bravery.

Ted Vinzani August 10, 2010 at 8:53 am

Thanks for the generous comments, Lois.

I am not the direct marketing pro that you are, but if I don’t want to open a mailer – and I am extremely curious about any type of marketing piece – then why would anyone else open it?

Most mailings not only AREN’T trying to relate to their prospects, they don’t do anything to slow the reader’s hand on the way to the trash can.

And then you’ve recently commented on Twitter and elsewhere how big companies with huge budgets are wasting expensive mailing campaigns by not following the basic ideas, such as including a call to action. Unbelievable.

Well, we can only seek to serve our clients better.

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