Yes, many of us fancy the ability to wax eloquently at some length on topics that we’re passionate about. But the fact is that good blog posts are more like direct mail than magazine articles. With the flood of content available, it’s more important than ever to come straight to the point and clearly provide value to the reader.
As someone with a background in the world of politics and public affairs, I’ve spent a fair bit of time, reading, analyzing, and writing direct mail copy. Some of it is designed to raise money, while other pieces seek some other form of action like a vote or a grassroots contact. Similarly, I have produced direct mail pieces for various business over the years, primarily in the B2B space. All of these snail mail activities are similar to blogs that ultimately want to sell something or drive brand engagement.
1. Direct mail lures readers in with catchy headlines that promise or tease.
Organizations or candidates sending direct mail want you to read their piece and take action. They might need you to open an envelope or flip over a postcard to read more. They do that with some sort of a headline that delivers a promise or offers a tease.
What you can do: Think carefully about the headlines you use for your blog posts. Search engines, RSS readers, Tweets, Facebook posts, and more all end up displaying your headline. That short line of text needs to clearly sell the value of the piece of content you are providing or be a compelling enough tease to get someone to click on it.
2. Direct mail uses headers to organize the message.
Good direct mail is easy to skim. People have short attention spans so it is important to break your message up into digestible chunks. This also allows readers to zero in on any part of the communication that has particular appeal, while skipping over less compelling (to them) portions.
What you can do: Create your blog post almost in outline form. In fact, you can start by writing your headers and then backfilling with more detailed content to explain and reinforce the point.
3. Direct mail uses bold text, italics, and underlining to highlight key points.
Adding emphasis to words and phrases in the text of a letter guides the reader’s eye and walks them through the progression of your important message points. Done right, the direct mail recipient need not read any of the normal text.
What you can do: Don’t hesitate to work in some text emphasis of your own when you write a blog post. Don’t overdo it — it’s a fine line between driving a point home and coming across as trying too hard or just making it too difficult to read. Not ever post needs this treatment, but it can be very effective at moving the reader’s eye and signifying changes in the content.
4. Direct mail uses parallelism to communicate more effectively.
Repetition of text structure makes letters more readable and helps the reader better understand and identify important messages. Direct mail writers use this technique to great impact whether on a postcard or in a multi-page missive. The same approach even shows up in political speeches.
What you can do: When you’re making a series of points in a blog post, either with bullets, headers, or other techniques, structure them in a similar way. If you start the first one with an action verb, do the same for each consecutive one. You can even reuse certain words at the start of key phrases to emphasize your points.
5. Direct mail offers value to the reader.
A common misperception is that direct mail is designed to get something from the recipient. And while that is true to a point, it typically is designed to offer an “even” exchange. Direct mail sales pieces attempt to get the reader to purchase a service at a fair price. Advocacy-oriented direct mail offers an intangible benefit (better government policy, for instance) in exchange for a contribution, vote, or other action.
What you can do: Remember that your blogs posts are not being written just for your benefit. You need to provide real value to your audience. You might help them save time or money, grow their business, or do their job more effectively.
6. Direct mail takes a stand.
If you write direct mail copy, you don’t hem and haw. You have an angle and you stick to it throughout. Your copy will be punchy, direct, and to the point. Nobody will set down the piece and think that you were saying “on the one hand, on the other hand” and be unable to identify your perspective.
What you can do: Find your voice — then use it. Will you upset some people by taking a clear position on the subject of your blog post? Probably. But you’ll be more memorable and more readable. No person or business is loved by anybody, so why kill yourself trying? Be respectful and back up your opinions and claims, but stake your claim to a point of view.
7. Direct mail includes a clear call to action.
When you read a direct mail piece, you know what you’re being asked to do. You might be called upon to give a tax-deductible contribution, purchase a product or service, call a Member of Congress, or cast a specific vote on Election Day. Even the worst direct mail piece usually includes that call to action.
What you can do: Think about what you want from your reader when you write a blog post and then ask for it. Not every blog post is about selling, so don’t feel like you have to be a cheesy used car salesman every time you sit down to the keyboard. Your call to action might be for engagement (inviting comments) or in strengthening the relationship (by subscribing via RSS or email). Whatever your goal, make sure that it is clear in the text of your blog post or elsewhere on your blog’s sidebar, header, or footer what you want your audience to do.
What other elements of direct mail show up in good blog posts?
Let us know in the comments below what other direct mail techniques you have seen used in blog posts or have tried yourself. Then go out and apply some direct mail principles to your next blog post.