You Can Sell Just About Anything Through Direct Mail


“Hell, there are no rules here — we’re trying to accomplish something.” – Thomas Edison

You can sell books through direct mail. And newsletters. You can sell audiotapes and videotapes and seminars. You can sell jewelry and perfume and radios. You can sell clothing and furniture and flowers.

Direct mail is the largest single form of advertising. It is larger than TV advertising. It is larger than magazine advertising. And it is larger than newspaper advertising. It is a $20 billion industry that is growing while most other advertising sectors are shrinking.

I am — as anyone who’s been reading ETR knows — a strong advocate of direct-response advertising. And I’m a particular booster of direct mail and direct e-mail. Direct-mail advertising helped JSN and me build a $135 million business. And I’ve used it in just about every other business I’ve been involved in ever since.

I’ve even used direct mail to help sell expensive homes.

When I made this point to my class of direct-marketing students, one of them, Dr. GR, said he wanted to use the same approach to sell buildings and asked if I thought that would work. My answer: “You won’t know until you try. But if I were you, I’d try.”

I told Dr. GR that if he can identify possible buyers for his buildings … and he should be able to do that … I think direct mail would work for him — and work 100 times better than conventional advertising.

I told him what worked best for me: personalized mailings to targeted local homeowners inviting them to come for a private inspection. Those who responded were pleased with the tour we gave them and recommended the homes to their friends and neighbors.

In one development, we sold eight of 12 $4 million homes this way. I’m in the process of trying to talk EP, my real-estate partner, into trying to sell out a larger $300 million development this way.

He wants to do it the “traditional way.” That means spending between about 2% of the $300 million in anticipated sales on advertising. Most of that $6 million would go toward full-page ads in the local papers. EP’s advisers — the advertising companies that get commissions from these ads — insist that he needs to do that.

And despite the fact that EP has seen how much success our previous direct-mail efforts have had, he’s afraid NOT to spend the money. “They say we need presence,” he says, repeating the magical word that makes simple homebuilders cow and shudder.

“Forget about creating a presence,” I tell him. I tell him to forget about advertising to the 50,000 people who can’t afford his homes (and don’t have friends who could). When you plunk down $4,000 every week for a full-page ad in the real-estate section, you are spending $200,000 a year to promote yourself to people who will never, ever be your customers.

For the 50 full-page advertisements that you pay for, 90% of the 4,000 wealthy homeowners will most likely never see them. If they do see them, they will lump them in their minds with 30 other full-page ads selling less-expensive homes.

You’ll spend a ton of money creating an image … but that image will do you no good with most of the people to whom you’re advertising.

Instead of paying that $4,000 for an ad that 90% of your prospects will never see and 90% of those who do see it will never respond to, why not send out a solicitation to each of the 4,000 true prospects who live in a $600,000-plus home in the area?

By sending a direct-mail piece … a personalized one … you can be confident that you’ll reach 90% of your audience every time … not 10% as you would with space ads.

Plus, the message you send can be much more personal — which means more powerful.

(If you’re interested in learning more about ETR’s Fast Track Program to Starting and Running Your Own Million-Dollar Direct-Response Business send an email to