The question come up a lot. The whole thing seems so bizarre to direct mail novices: How in the world could a longer letter work better? Aren't we all begging to read less these days, not more?
Sorry. There are no easy, every-situation-fits-all, totally predictable or inviolate answers in direct mail.
Often, I see charities sending the same solicitation letter to everyone, whether the recipient has given previously or not.
Acquisition letters answer one set of questions.
Renewal letters answer a different set of questions.
There is not all that much overlap.
Acquisition letters, to succeed, must at least answer these recipient questions:
Let's get back to our original conundrum: Why do 4-page letters test better in acquisition campaigns?
The veteran direct mail writer would rumble, "In a 4-page letter, you have space for twice as many points of interest as you have in a 2-page letter."
Yup, it's that simple. A 4-page letter is twice as large a canvas, where skilled hands can paint a much larger picture. It's all about how you use the space.
If you use the additional space to bore me, then four pages are twice as excruciating as two.
If you use the additional space to entertain me, then four pages are twice as much fun as two.
Let's take inventory: What entertains prospective donors?
Sometimes it's the little things, like the word "you."
Sometimes it's emotional triggers like flattery and exclusivity ... as in this example pulled from my broken-spined 2001 edition of Mal Warwick's evergreen classic, How to Write Successful Fundraising Letters: "I'm writing to invite you -- and a select group of other music lovers in the Bay Area -- to take your seat, please."
Sometimes it's how you start your story: "Our doctors call it 'Day Zero.' It's the day you come back from the dead."
Sometimes it's the enchantment of telling me something I didn't expect.
All told, if you entertain your reader enough, they really don't want the experience to end too soon. When I'm writing fundraising direct mail, there's only one business I'm in, from first word to last: the entertainment business.
Now, truth be told: I, for one, almost never write anything longer than a two-page letter (for acquisition or renewal, doesn't matter).
Yet my packages, despite the sour economy, have pulled their weight, either holding their own or setting new records.
"Really?" Don't lie to me, your face beseeches. A 2-pager is OK?
"Yes," I reply. "Pinky swear."
How can I get by with 2-page letters when these experts you hear about say that 4-page letters are better?
I love my reader. And I show that love right away and often.
Direct mail appeals aren't about how wonderful your organization is.
Direct mail appeals are about how wonderful your reader will feel once she becomes a donor and a member of your rootin'-tootin' family of people banded together in a fight to ...
... well, you fill in the blank.
One of the great pleasures of being a donor (speaking here from experience) is getting into a fight you want to win.
The notion of the 4-page letter always beating the 2-page letter is enshrined in fundraising lore. This is a true "take it with a grain of salt" moment.
Direct mail professionals know that nothing is always true. That's why they test.
And, yes, in well-run tests of well-written letters, four-page letters often prevail. But it's not because of the letter's length. It's because of the richness and joy of the reader's experience.
Go to www.aherncomm.com to learn lots more!