The Death of Yellow Letters in Real Estate Direct Mail?


If you’ve done any real estate marketing, you’ve probably heard of “yellow letters”. In case you haven’t, it involves mailing a handwritten letter (or handwritten font), usually in red ink on yellow legal pad stating that you have an offer for a house you want to buy.

Yellow letters are still hugely popular with investors, realtors and brokers looking to find deals in undervalued property. Simply put, they have a proven track record. They work. They work because they look (or are) handwritten, and they’re personalized just for the receiver. And because they’re usually sent in a white or colored envelope with the address handwritten, they’re not instantaneously flung into the waste paper basket.

Before we stopped offering this as a service, here’s one we did (it was handwritten by our writers, not a computer) as part of a larger mailing for a client some months ago.

Yellow Letter

Yellow letters still work… but what’s the catch?

In an era where the pen is losing to the 6 second video clip, personalized handwritten mail is practically non-existent. So that gives anyone who’s using handwritten mail a pretty clear advantage. But the almighty yellow letter comes with a few drawbacks of its own.

When a homeowner gets one of these things in the mail, it’s an instant attention-getter. The yellow paper and red ink screams “Read me now!”. That combined with the punchy messange and clear call-to-action make for a pretty powerful package.

But the reason yellow letters work so well may also be their downfall. Mostly they produce too many unqualified leads. They’re often not the right fit and you end up having a conversation that goes in circles. While volume may seem like a great problem to have, in reality, most of the time will be spent disqualifying those leads.

Yes, it’s great to reach out and get more leads for your business. But if you’re getting the wrong leads, or bad leads that simply waste your time, how can you focus on growing your business?

The money is in the ____

No prizes for guessing the missing word.

We’ve heard it time and time again, the money is in the list. Whether it’s the email list, phone list or direct mail list, you need a pool of targets to reach out to that have a high probability of responding to your message.

But the way you go about targeting your list is just as important. You wouldn’t walk up to any old John on the sidewalk and hand your business card, would you? Or walk into a restaurant and make an announcement about your new business, expecting everyone to patiently listen while not throwing food at you.

So, first you need to choose a list. Some lists to look at include eviction lists, divorce and bankruptcy, tax evasion and absent homes. Listsource is a good resource to find one of these.

Secondly, you’ll need to use some sort of qualifier to filter out the time-wasters and ensure you’re only getting the high potential buyers to respond. This is where presentation and your message come into play.

Less is more.

The problem is yellow letters inspire too many people to take action.

Obviously not everyone and their brother is a potential deal. Instead of wanting your whole list to respond to your offer, focus on sending out non-gimmicky handwritten, personalized white letters with the right message. Response will be lower, but your sanity will be intact and your lead quality much higher – which frees you up to talk to the leads that may actually have an interest in selling.

Why handwritten? When you check the mail, don’t you find yourself flipping through the letters and junk, seeking out something a bit more personalized to open first? Those are the kind of letters that get opened and read.

But just because it’s handwritten, doesn’t mean it needs to be all sizzle and no steak.

Focus on sending premium, elegant yet professional letters with an honest and transparent message. Be upfront. Come across professional and those people who do respond will know exactly what to expect when speaking with you.

At the end of the day, you can’t be focused on selling when you have poor leads wasting your time. Getting quality leads to respond goes much further than the color of the letter you send.

Testing & tracking your way to success

Finally, you need to have a system in place for measuring success. The best way to know if your marketing is working is to test – rigorously. If you haven’t heard the term A/B testing, it’s time to get familiar. By splitting your list into groups and sending them different variations of the same marketing message, you’ll know which variation is the best performer based on the response rate and deals closed.

Your methods may vary, but the important things to track are how many letters were sent out, how many calls you received, and how many closed deals those calls lead to. To make sure you’re reaching your goals, you’ll need to have some numbers in mind already to determine how close you are to reaching your goals.

If the money is in the list, the gold is in the follow-up

One of the biggest mistakes people make when conducting outreach is not following up. You go to the trouble of choosing your list wisely, sending high-end, handwritten letters and testing and tracking like a mad scientist.

But if you spend all that time and energy on crafting a winning campaign, and don’t followup, you’re letting a large slice of the pie go untouched. A sound followup strategy should include multiple hits to the same list.

Mix it up. For your subsequent mailings, instead of sending a letter, try a handwritten postcard. And don’t be afraid to reach out to your list multiple times a year. A homeowner may not be ready to sell when you mailed her in March, but come July or August and who knows what unforseen circumstances now make her an ideal prospect.

Have you sent handwritten letters or yellow letters before? What was the result?

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