Short letters vs. long letters

Marketers are getting mixed messages on this topic.  Which is more effective for my marketing challenge:  short letters vs. long letters.

Intuitively, it would seem that short letters are preferred because most people don’t like reading that much. 

Short letters vs. long lettersBut direct marketing statistics show that long copy, even very long copy, can outpull shorter letters – in certain situations.  Let’s take a look at those situations.

I write a lot of letters for clients – sales letters, lead letters, fund-raising letters, thank you letters, fulfillment letters, follow-up letters, renewal letters, lapsed customer letters … I could go on.

And I am often asked what the right length should be.

Many people – actually the vast majority of people – believe that we should never send anything but a one-page letter … that no one will ever read those 2-page, 4-page, 8-page and longer letters.

That’s intuition talking. The numbers – the actual response rates – tell us something else.

Do you believe for a moment that these serious mail-order companies would mail a 4-page letter over and over again – at additional cost, I might add – if it were not working for them? Of course not.

The serious direct marketing companies measure everything and would never let their gut feelings or intuition get in the way.

So back to the question – How long should a letter be?  The simple answer is this: “It depends.”

Let me give you a simple rule of thumb:

The letter should be as a long as it needs to be to accomplish your goal.

  • If your goal is to generate a lead – meaning a request for more information – it should be a relatively short letter, maybe one or two pages. A higher commitment lead would require a longer letter.
  • If your goal is to generate an order – meaning an actual sale – it should be longer, at least two pages. A higher priced or more complex product would require a longer letter.

Common sense would tell you that the more you ask of someone – sale vs. lead, higher price vs. lower price – the more you need to say to convince them to act.

As buyers, we want a lot of information before we commit anything. In fact, we won’t make that commitment – especially if the price is high – if we are missing even one important piece of information.

The fact is that when your readers are interested in buying from you, they are looking for information and they will read every word you write to satisfy themselves before they open their wallet.

So keep it short if you need a lead, but if you’re looking for an order, write away.


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit:

Bob McCarthy is a marketing consultant specializing in measurable marketing.  As president of McCarthy & King Marketing ( Bob helps clients bring direct response methodologies to direct mail, email, advertising and online marketing activities.  He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."

2 comments to Direct Mail Copywriting: Short letters vs. long letters

  • Bob–I am taking you up on your offer to publish your article on long letters versus short letters. We produce marketing material in the financial services industry.I constantly fight the notion that letters have to be short. (Another ongoing battle is: should we send letters at all?) I am making several of uses of your article. I will be posting a link to it on my Facebook page at ( It will show up on my blog (, and I am going to use it in a packet of sample letters we send to prospective clients. So thank you very much. Bill Good

  • Hi Bill
    Please feel free. This is a challenge because you are often fighting people’s intuition. More often than not, I simply ask clients to be open to testing a longer letter against a shorter letter – and let the numbers speak for themselves.
    Good luck and thanks for reading.

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