I have a confession. I’m a direct mail guy.

And proud of it.

I’ve been responsible for over a billion pieces of mail in my career (and you don’t mail that many pieces when they don’t work!)… and probably closer to 2 billion.

And when I say “mail,” I mean those paper things that come to your physical mailbox. (Good thing I didn’t have to lick the stamps.)

I’ve learned a ton from the online marketers I’ve been hanging around with the last few years.

Your expertise in harnessing technology amazes me, and the speed with which you execute astounds me.

But you have to admit that you’ve had it easy in terms of your barrier to entry into “selling stuff online”…it’s just so much cheaper to get started than in the days before the Internet.

I remember an urban legend that was floating around the web many years ago that there was a plan afoot to start charging “postage” for emails.

In a sinister way, with the knowledge that paying postage made me think longer and harder before I put anything in the mail, I was hoping that rumor might be true.

Of course it wasn’t…and email just got cheaper to send and postage for direct mail just kept going up.

But I still maintain that the care and concern it takes to create a direct mail campaign because of those extra costs (not just postage but printing and production too), made for a sturdy bunch of direct marketers.

And I will maintain that anyone who claims to be “crushing it” online could, well, “crush it even more” if they paid as much attention to their copy as they do to the technology.

In addition, if you think that there is never any harm done when you send an email that doesn’t connect with your audience and you simply say, “it’s no big deal” when you get no response, think again.

Every time you talk to your customers, prospects or suspects in a way that is not congruent with your purpose or what they expect from you, you really can’t measure the negative impact immediately about sending an inexpensive email that is off base.

You will find out long term…that I can assure you.

In my short video about why your list is the most important part of your promotion, I also talk about why it is imperative to pay much more attention to your messaging and creative despite being able to make money online even with mediocre creative–due to the low costs to promote online vs. offline.

I see that as a “false positive” and it’s why I wanted to send this email to you today.

I have told the (almost true) story of my “childhood” in direct mail many times:

I walked 12 miles, uphill and barefoot, in the snow, to work every day as one of the largest users of direct mail in the country early in my career … AND I paid postage!

So with that introduction, let me make the case for why paying postage made me (and so many others who cut their teeth in direct mail) better marketers:

Direct mail means discipline

What do I mean when I use the word discipline?

It means that everything I sent through the United States Postal Service had to be thought through in a way so nothing was wasted.

Every test had to mean something.

Every test needed to light the path to a potential breakthrough (and a new control package).

Note: A control package is the best-performing marketing piece you have so far–it’s the reigning champion, which means that it has to keep defending its title against punky up-and-comers.

Direct mail marketers are always testing new approaches against that control to find the new winner.

I know the best marketers online today think about testing the same way…that’s why they are the best marketers online.

For more on this idea, you can read my post about why your control is your enemy

In addition, with the cost of postage and printing using direct mail, the sale had to come quickly.

To use Gary Vaynerchuk’s language:

With direct mail, it’s harder to “jab” and you have to go for the “right hook” faster.

In other words, you don’t get much chance to build audience rapport with content alone using direct mail (i.e. “jab”), and you need to ask for the order sooner rather than later (the “right hook”).

But wise online marketers have an opportunity that should be used and not abused, given that it’s unlikely you’ll have to pay postage anytime soon …

Simply put: Waste still sucks.

The fact that you don’t pay for postage to send your marketing messages is not a license to beat your list into submission until they buy.

And discipline isn’t just something for guys like me who pay postage. It benefits every marketer, no matter what tools you use.

In the spirit of trying to take the discipline of direct mail into email and content, here are nine things that every marketer should consider before sending a billion pieces of mail … or before any marketer hits send to any number less than a billion emails:

#1: Use content strategically

Everything you send doesn’t have to sell something, but everything you send must achieve something.

Also—and I know this a repeat:

When you are marketing in any medium, everything is not a revenue event but everything is a relationship event.

Familiarize yourself with what different types of strategic content looks like and always be sure that 
it fits with your  selling content.

#2: Deploy the Samurais rather than the Ninjas when it comes to copy and creative

Hire or network with some heavy hitters who understand direct response and copy. It’s not just about the newest techniques although those are important. But fitting into a strategy makes way more sense first.

Get those heavy hitters signed up for all of your messaging. Listen carefully to what they tell you about how your copy looks when it gets to where it’s going — and where you should be tweaking.

#3: Learn what you can’t know

You also want to find some “secret shoppers” who represent your ideal audience. I talk about that technique in more detail in my post “The return on returns.”

These aren’t experts in direct response and advanced copy … they’re the type of people who can potentially be your best prospects, students, and customers.

Side note: There are actually world class copywriters who use this technique and pay a panel of “people who look like their customer” to read their copy so they can get opinions and reactions well before they send the copy to their client.

The content gets tested two steps removed from when their client hits “send.” (Whether that’s to a direct mail campaign, e-mail promotion, or anything.)

My good friend Perry Marshall has a technique using Fiverr that any author of a book should use…and it’s a fantastic hack…and consistent with this idea of “learning what you can’t know.”
His blog post about this technique is here.

#4: Sweat the details

Take the time and effort to agonize over every word in your copy.

And always ask, “Who is the audience this will most appeal to?”

Conversely, think about who your copy could possibly alienate.

If your copy does have the potential to alienate, consider if those people are a good fit to become your customer.

It’s okay to scare off the peanut gallery who will never buy from you anyway.

#5: Look at your message in terms of consequential thinking

I learned the term consequential thinking from my mentor, Marty Edelston. It means putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes and seeing how you react to the elements of the copy.

Does it take you through a process that makes sense?

In direct mail, this is also a science in terms of how the mailing piece is received — the placement of the address, and the order the recipient sees the pieces in the envelope.

Online, of course, you have many more choices to guide your prospect through the story.

Navigation and site design play an important role here, and you’ll want to think through how your audience goes through your landing pages.

Consequential thinking means taking a careful look at how you’re guiding your prospect through your marketing story.

#6: What’s the logic line?

This is another one I learned from Marty.

Is there a “logic line” that you believe?

Does each part of the story follow from what comes before it?

Is it logical (and believable)?

The purpose of each sentence is to make sure you can move the reader to the next sentence.

You need a logic line for each marketing message you send, but you also need a logic line for your business.

Is this message congruent with your marketing message overall? Will it resonate with what you’ve sent in the past? Does it contradict earlier messages?

Keep this last point in mind when you consider affiliates mailing to your online family…

If so, you need to decide if you truly want to move in a new direction, or if you want to rein this piece in (or not allow a particular affiliate into your world) to better fit your business’ overarching message.

#7: Do you care?

No matter how hard hitting the copy might be, is there empathy? And is there some element of care and concern for your ultimate target?

Does the message communicate respect and care for your audience?

#8: Give them a reason to care

Audiences — for direct mail or for online content — are basically selfish.

It’s not their job to care about your business or what you do.

To that end, write assuming that nobody cares what you have to say … and give them a reason to care.

No matter how much you believe your product, service, or message is a “need to have,” always assume you are only “nice to have.”

Your job is convincing your audience to go from “nice to have” to “need to have”

#9: Understand the basic rules of English

(Or, of course, the language of your chosen audience.)

You don’t need to be obsessed with correct grammar or perfect punctuation. Enjoyable content and copy usually use informal language.

But when you do violate the rules and standards of the English language, know what you are violating.

It needs to be in line with your audience and how they speak and write. Using their language always trumps “perfect” grammar and usage.

The stakes are high for you, too

Okay, maybe you don’t have to pay for physical postage.

But you have an audience whose opinion and respect you depend on. That puts your reputation and authority at stake every time you communicate with them.

That’s why there’s so much to learn from the direct response principles of the past.

It’s why I wrote my first book The Advertising Solution and it’s why I write this blog, run mastermind groups and will continue to teach and coach for the rest of my life.

The discipline from being a “direct mail guy” can be applied to everything happening in marketing and creative today.

And because of the amazing accountability and measurement tools available on the web, much better than I had in direct mail (and we were pretty good at it then too), everything about the fundamental principles of direct marketing applies to any medium, offline or online.

Final reminder for the day:

Be disciplined and don’t waste any opportunity when communicating with your potential or existing audience.

Make believe you are paying a lot more than you are paying with each of those communications and you won’t get sloppy.