Want to know what’s moving and shaking in the direct mail market? You can’t go wrong by looking to Who’s Mailing What!, a database of nearly 200,000 direct mail pieces scanned and analyzed by text, images, vertical market, and more. Recently, WMW! analyzed its database and found that the copy used in direct mail today is shorter than in years past—a lot shorter. Attention spans are dropping, buyers’ time is more precious, and mail that is fast and easy to scan is winning the day.

Just how much is word count dropping? Over the past 20 years, the average word count in envelopes, postcards, and self-mailers has dropped by 24%, 30%, and 29%, respectively. The busier we get, the less time we have to read.

Not all markets have the same drops in word counts. When it comes to envelopes, for example, the most significant declines have been in consumer services, education, and healthcare. In postcards, they have been in media and publishing, nonprofit, recreation, and travel.

If you have to use fewer words, how do you make the most of the ones you have? WMW! gives the following recommendations:

  1. Establish credibility. Shoppers buy from companies they trust. Get your credentials out there front and center.
  2. Stay focused on the customer. WMW! gives two examples of mailers from Google. In 2009, a typical headline was “Find new customers for less by using online search advertising.” In 2020, that became, “Is your Internet plan fast enough?” See the difference?
  3. Use an “eye easy” design. That means lots of white space, bullet points, and graphics to make content fast and easy to absorb.

In most cases, your direct mail piece doesn’t need to convince someone to make a purchase immediately. It needs to get people to take the next step, such as going to your website or making a phone call. This means you don’t have to make your case all at once. Make your mailer inviting. Hook the reader with the most compelling points and build on that information next time.

Direct mail is often your first (and often most important) doorway. Sometimes, a win is just getting them to walk through it. Your follow-up content does the rest.