High Five of Direct Mail

By: Lewis R. Elin
June 2004 Marketing

Getting direct mail to produce business results requires addressing five qualitative issues according to Lewis R. Elin. He is the former owner of Topps Mfg. Co and successful user of direct mail and catalogues in building businesses. These are Benefit, Verisimilitude, Seduction, Why, and When. The following is from his notes and makes a good read for any salesperson or marketer.


Determine to whom you are selling what ultimate benefit that will improve the prospects life. This defines both your target audience and what will turn them onto your offer. In fact, the right combination of list and offer is 80% of the success in direct response marketing. Blow it there and you have blown the whole program big time. No amount of creativity and expensive production will save your bacon when this happens.

You’ve all seen and used a ‘Feature/Benefit’ chart. Now add a third column of ‘Ultimate Benefit.’ This will take you one step further.


It means the appearance of truth. All successful selling is the delivering of a believable promise to the right audience. Like Lists and Offer. You might be selling an exercise program and diet supplement that will have anyone doing 50 military push-ups at the end of the first week. Some suckers may buy into it and if that’s your market, then that’s what you do. But most people won’t believe it. Ten push-ups? Fifteen? Maybe. At least its believable. It has verisimilitude. If there’s any doubt, they’ll throw it out.


All buyers, business to business and business to consumer, rationalize the emotional decision to want to buy. Your job is to supply the ‘rationalization ammunition.’ Think of this process as ‘The Anatomy of a Response.’ Your prospect sees your offer. In his gut, in his heart, he wants it, but that’s not enough. You’ve got to move this gut reaction up to the head where he starts finding the reasons, making the excuses, rationalizing why he really needs what you’re selling. He’s decided. Yes! Now he moves his hand to his wallet for the money. Think of the Seduction, the rationalization as a gut, head, hip sequence. It happens when you supply the rationalization ammunition for the prospect to convince himself/herself to respond to your offer.


Why do people buy anything? Why do you buy? People buy to either protect what they have or to get something new. The decision to buy is based in fear, greed, or exclusivity. Think about your own buying decisions. There may be 27 Human Motivators according to Ed Mayer, but they all boil down to fear, greed and exclusivity.


When will someone buy something? People will buy only when they conclude – or rationalize themselves into concluding – that the perceived benefits they will receive by responding will outweigh the value of the money saved by not responding. That’s it. Perceived benefits versus value of the money.

Thus, the Selling Sequence starts by answering the ‘to whom’ question about the ultimate benefit and ends when the prospect concludes that the perceived benefits outweigh the value of the money saved by not buying. Everything in-between is what I call the Creativity Chasm that must be filled in a manner consistent with the profile and knowledge of the prospects and customers and the marketing environment. All components must be compatible and consistent with the message.

With the right offer and audience – the positioning – and with the customers perceiving and receiving value, most of the creative work has been done. Shun the urge to sound brilliant and eloquent. Just be simple, clear, believable, and convincing.”

About the author

Mr. Lewis R. Elin is a consultant, speaker, and expert in direct mail. He may be reached at or (312) 527-2017

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