Direct Mail, Marketing

Does it matter how you sound in your direct mail?

Written by Jason Groom
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Originally published
September 30 2014,
July 3 2020

So you want to do a piece of direct mail. Where do you start? With an attention grabbing headline? With a special offer? With an amazing call to action?

Let’s press pause. Take a step back and think about the bigger picture. How do you want to sound? We’re talking tone of voice.

What is tone of voice?

Tone of voice is how your company sounds when you talk to people. And when you write to them.

Here’s an example. If you heard an announcement on a funky budget airline saying ‘Hot and cold beverages are available from the in-flight crew’, it would sound a bit odd, wouldn’t it? And maybe even slightly disappointing. You’d expect something more like ‘If you’d like a drink, just give us a wave.’

Getting your tone of voice right can make all the difference between a company people trust and one they don’t. And we buy more from people we trust.

Where to start

Think about what you stand for as a company. What are your values? That’s where your personality and tone of voice comes from. And the closer that is to the truth of who you are, the more customers will trust you.

That’s because they’ll get what they expect from you. If you set yourself up as a super friendly, warm company in a piece of direct mail and then it turns out your people sound cold and corporate on the phone, you’ll confuse your customers (and chances are that’ll be the last time they hand over their cash).

Your direct mail is likely to be their first encounter with your company, so it’s the right place to start showing them what you’re all about.

But isn’t direct mail just about selling?

Well, yes. It’s not doing its job unless the people reading it (your prospective customers) pick up the phone or order on your website.

If you’re being smart about your direct mail, you’re testing what works, using a variety of powerful words and calls to action to encourage people to do something that’s good for your bottom line.

But sometimes we can get too focused on the detail – endlessly tweaking a headline or paragraph to improve performance. And that can work, in the short term. But are we really telling our customers the right story about our company?

Just because it’s direct mail it doesn’t mean you should forget about your tone of voice, especially if you’ve already worked hard to get it going in your organisation.

If your tone of voice is really working, it’ll flex across all your channels – from social media to customer letters, website and direct mail. And, importantly, if you’ve trained your staff or agencies how to use your tone of voice (which usually means more than just waving some guidelines under their noses) they’ll know exactly how to flex it so it doesn’t disappear when you start writing direct mail.

Our top 3 tips for keeping your direct mail on tone

1. Drop the jargon.
Let’s run that one up the flagpole! Stop it. Stop it now! This kind of language is unfriendly and unclear. No one will admit that they don't understand something, they'll just ignore it. You are a person, writing to a person – so write like a human, not a robot. If you’re in a business that’s fun and friendly, write your letter in the same tone.

2. Know your customer.
Do your homework, find the right people in your database, check that their details are up to date. Then make sure your direct mail is addressed to a person rather than Dear sir/madam/customer. I'm much more likely to read something that has my name at the top (even better if they manage to spell it correctly). Mass mailings shouldn’t feel like mass mailings to individual customers.

3. Stop talking about yourself.
We've all read them, 'Dear Mr X, My name is Steve and I'm writing to tell you how wonderful our company, ABC Ltd is. We've got loads of great services and blah, blah, blah'. Your potential customers only have one question in mind when they read anything from you: 'What's in it for me?' If you don't answer that straight off the bat you've lost them. Speak to your customer, and put their needs first. Balance 'we' with plenty of 'you'.

So the next time you get cracking on a piece of direct mail, keep these tips in mind. And if you’d like to know more about tone of voice and how it can improve your direct mail take a peek at www.afia.tv

Ben Afia portrait compBen Afia
Ben’s head honcho and founder of Afia. He’s one of the UK’s most experienced tone of voice experts, helping household names sound more human.

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