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an example of parallel structure

Workplace Writing

Direct Mail

The purpose of most business communication is to persuade—to get someone to take a certain course of action, and the direct-mail piece is probably the preeminent example.

The immediate goal of a direct-mail piece—letters, postcards, and brochures—is not necessarily to get a recipient to make a purchase, however; a direct-mail piece is usually considered successful if it results in a person making a call or going to a website for more information or taking advantage of a free or special offer.

The direct-mail goal is rarely achieved with a hard-sell approach. The direct-mail piece that motivates a recipient to action is usually brief, well-written, sincere, and thoughtful, reflecting a good product or service.

Clear, Brief, and on Target

As in all business communication, clarity and brevity rule in writing direct-mail pieces. Particularly important for success in a direct-mail campaign is knowing the target audience well; this can involve the consideration of any number of demographic characteristics, from age, sex, marital status, education level, profession, income level, language spoken at home, and more, in order to get a mailer to the right audience. A mailer that is not directed and mailed to a specific target audience can be a considerable waste of postage.

E-marketing has grown as the medium for a lot of direct-mail that was once delivered almost exclusively by the post office; however, pieces sent though the postal service sometimes have an advantage over e-marketing, especially when a mailing list targets precisely the right audience. Also, because of the ubiquity of advertising on websites, certain targeted direct-mail pieces sent through the post office may seem more personal.

A good example is funding drives. Even organizations that have the e-mail addresses of their membership often prefer to send out a postal mailing because these seem more personal and more likely to be read. Often more can be done with an envelope to attract a reader’s attention than can the subject line of an e-mail, and a direct-mail piece from an organization that is familiar to a recipient encourages the opening of an envelope. The opposite is the case with a direct-mail piece sent from an organization unfamiliar to the recipient. These are often tossed into the wastebin unopened.


The acronym AIDA (attention, interest, desire, and action) involves capturing the reader’s attention with a selling point; developing the reader’s interest in the product and showing the reader the benefits; explaining the product and developing the reader’s desire for the product or service; and finally, tell the recipient how to take action, such as making a call, or visiting a retailer. In e-mail marketing, the attention-getter is the e-mail subject line.

Direct-mail marketers sometimes recommend including a postscript to a direct-mail piece, as in the third example below: the letter soliciting funds for high school financial assistance.

Greening Workplaces

In the first example below, the company Greening Workplaces has directed its piece in a mass mailing to local medium and large companies. The piece is not addressed only to company decision makers, because all employees, if informed of the benefits of live plants on the workplace environment, may raise the issue of a healthy work environment with employers.

Welcome to Our Neighborhood

This kind of one-at-a-time mailing is more well-suited to direct-mail than to a piece delivered by e-mail. It is relatively easy to learn who has purchased a home in a neighborhood, and it is not expensive for a local neighborhood business to mail an invitation to visit a business to use a coupon or to get a free item, familiarizing the new community member with the shop.

Wrightfield Academy

This appeal for support to a fund for students suits direct-mail perfectly—if an organization such as a school, academic society, interest group, or other has a list of graduates or membership from which it can compile a mailing list. The more personal this kind of letter is more effective it will be and the marketers have the advantage of being able to address the piece to a specific person.

Notice how a personal story that appeals to membership will be meaningful to your audience and helpful in keeping interest before making the appeal for financial support. This appeal has an advantage that some do not because it is to an audience who have intimate knowledge and experience with the organization. Bringing up memories in the minds of an alumni makes the request for funds less blunt.

Sample Direct-Mail Pieces

Example one

example one

Example two

example two

Example three

example three