In his book The Direct Mail Solution, direct marketing expert and entrepreneur Craig Simpson provides easy-to-follow solutions for creating direct mail campaigns that work! In this edited excerpt, the author outlines the formula you should follow for format and length in order to create a successful direct sales piece.

Having an excellent sales piece is a critical part of the success of any direct mail campaign. With the right sales piece, you could see your phone ring off the hook, your mailbox overflow with orders or your web page receive hundreds or even thousands of hits.

Writing an effective sales piece requires a real understanding of the product or service you're selling, and then putting all your enthusiasm for it into the piece. You want to make your audience as excited about it as you are.

In addition to your knowledge and interest in your product--that only you can bring to the process because nobody knows your product as well as you do--you have to know some simple copywriting techniques that have proved successful over the years. There's no reason you can't be the one to write the next million-dollar sales piece. (Or at least direct a professional copywriter who will write it for you.)

There's a famous formula for writing excellent sales pieces that's been part of the copywriter's bag of tricks for many years now. It's called the AIDA formula, an acronym for:

A = Gain Attention
I = Create Interest
D = Build Desire
A = Request Action

Pick up any sales piece that you like, and analyze it for these four elements. Chances are, you'll find they're all there.

In some way, the piece first grabs your attention. It may be with a great headline or a graphic element. Whatever it is, the piece immediately catches your eye, and you can't help but pick it up to find out what it's all about.

Once it has your attention, the piece intrigues you with the promise that something's about to be revealed that will be of benefit to you. Now your interest is aroused. You just have to learn what the big secret is.

Then it builds a desire in you to obtain the product. Often it will do that by showing you that you have a problem (maybe a problem you didn't even know you had until you read the piece) and then offering an easy solution that only the person sending the sales piece can provide.

Finally, it will have a very clear call to action: step-by-step instructions for what you have to do in order to get all the benefits you've been promised. A sales piece that doesn't have a clear call to action is almost worthless.

Without all these elements, a sales piece may not give you the results you want. Before you send out any direct-mailing piece, make sure it follows the AIDA formula.

How Long Should a Sales Piece Be?
There's much debate about how long a sales piece should be. In general, the longer the piece, the more success it will have. Once you get the reader interested, you just have to drive your point home with tons of benefits, proof and convincing arguments. And the more the better.

Possibly you've read somewhere that shorter copy is better--that it's better to just get to the point rather than ramble on with a long letter. But there's an art to selling -- you can't just tell someone to buy something and expect them to buy it. If it was that easy, we'd all be broke from buying everything offered to us.

The fact is, research shows again and again that it's the longer copy that sells. This is especially true for products that people don't really need. People don't need to be convinced to buy things they need, like washing machines or snow tires. When you buy these things, you're happy with a bulleted list of features in a catalog.

But when it comes to things you don't need, and never even thought about before, like a new set of golf clubs or a new miracle diet and exercise program, you need lots of information to convince you--and the more, the better.

But now you're thinking, if I have no interest in going on a diet, I'm sure as heck not going to read a 36-page sales piece about it. Well, maybe yes and maybe no. But one thing you can be sure of is that someone who does feel like it wouldn't be a bad idea to lose a few pounds might eagerly read every word of the long sales piece. And research--and sales figures--back up the efficacy of longer pieces.

I've tested long and short copy many times, and I've always seen a higher response rate with the longer copy. Now, there are times when the increased printing and production costs offset the higher response. If the longer piece bumps you into a higher postage class, then you'll need a significant lift in response in order to offset the higher price. But 90 percent of the time, you'll find that it's well worth your time and extra cost to increase the length of your copy.

On the other hand, it's also true that many people have had successful campaigns with a two-page letter or even a well-written postcard. Important factors in determining the length of the sales piece are what it is you're selling, how much explanation is required, how much the item costs, how knowledgeable your audience is, what the call to action is, etc. For example, if you have a list of steady customers and you just want to let them know a popular product is on sale, a quick postcard that makes it easy for them to see that information may be the perfect vehicle.

One final thought on this topic: When you're writing copy, never set a specific page count you need to achieve. Instead, write as much copy as you think is needed to convince the prospect to respond to your campaign. Don't limit yourself by setting a page count.