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If you’ve ever written anything – postcard, letter, or e-mail -- to sell your business, you are in direct marketing. Direct marketing is a mix of art and science, and the more experience you get, the more artistic – and successful - you can become. Here’s some science to help your efforts along.

1. The first draft is the hardest. Let yourself go.

Getting started on a project can be the hardest point of any assignment. Resist the urge to edit or analyze your work until most of the draft is complete. Your job on a first draft is to get your ideas out and establish the priorities of your offer. There is no such thing as an unedited masterpiece.

2. One strong offer beats just about anything.

Direct mail marketing has a 3-to-5 second lifespan in the hands of your prospect. To get to the point fast, make sure your offer can be understood that quickly. If you absolutely must include more than one strong offer, and can’t send out a different test mailing to measure the strength of the second offer, use the power of the P.S. (see below).

3. Vary the length of your sentences.

For maximum clarity, keep your sentences short. But if you have too many short sentences, your copy will seem choppy and juvenile. The best tactic is to vary the length throughout the piece. This also has the added benefit of sounding like routine conversation... otherwise known as accessible, friendly, and sincere. (You can also use parentheses and ellipses to get a conversational tone.)

4. Read your copy out loud.

This tip is a favorite of broadcast journalists. Direct mail copy works best when it is clear, concise, and in the active verb tense. Giving voice to your copy points out the sections that need work... especially if the reader’s tongue trips. This trick works even better if the reader isn’t the person who wrote the original piece.

5. Try for a great Johnson box (and a good P.S., too).

In a business letter, the top center bold statement is a Johnson box. Since most of your audience will scan your work before committing to reading it, no letter should be without one.

Writing a great Johnson box is where a direct marketing writer earns their money. In general, it shouldn’t be more than one line, and the most effective ones are usually only 5 to 8 words. But your Johnson box can vary tremendously, depending on your offer and your audience.

P.S. If you use Microsoft Word, use the grammar and readability checker.

To do this, click Tools, then Options, then the Spelling and Grammar tab. From here, look at the bottom of the pop-up box and activate the features. Now when you run your spell check, you will find out what percentage of your sentences are passive, as well as what grade level your copy tests out to. Your goal in direct marketing should be 0% passive, and as low a grade as you can be comfortable with.