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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order


The American Express Legal Services Plan: How We Beat the Control
By Alan Rosenspan

Beating a control is always satisfying — but beating an American Express control is like beating the New York Yankees. (Sorry — but I’m a long suffering Red Sox fan…)

The product was The American Express Legal Services Plan, which is designed to protect Cardmembers against rising legal costs and unexpected emergencies.

The Plan gives you and your family 24-hour emergency access to a highly-qualified Attorney, for only $14.99 a month.

You also receive a number of extra benefits such as; an annual 2-hour legal consultation or review; a simple will prepared or updated for you and your family; and telephone calls and letters from an Attorney, on your behalf.

Their control mailing was a 6 X 9 Kraft colored envelope with a 2-page letter, and a 16-page brochure.

Now, in our increasingly litigious society, you would expect a plan like this to do very well — and it did for a number of years. But response was going down, and the new manager at American Express wanted to re-launch the program.

What’s in a name? Everything

Research revealed that the primary benefit to the Legal Services Plan was access to a qualified attorney.

We believed that we should change the name to really focus on this benefit.

We came up with about a dozen ideas — everything from My Personal Attorney to Attorney on Call. Some of the ideas were already registered from other companies, some were voted down.

The new name we agreed on was: The American Express Attorney Access Plan. We felt this was much more benefit-oriented and personal than the Legal Services Plan.

Now it was time to think about the offer.

The control package used a stylish American Express document bag as a free gift when you enrolled. Branded merchandise always works well when you have a well-known and well-respected name — so we kept the free gift.

We added a no-risk 30-day trial. If the respondent wasn’t satisfied for any reason, they could simply cancel the plan and receive a 100% refund.

The interesting thing about this offer is that most companies have a guarantee, but they don’t advertise it. They may be afraid that people will take advantage of them. But I’ve always found it’s a very effective way to increase response.

Testing, testing, testing

American Express is one of the few companies that are really committed to testing — and it often pays off very well for them.

For this program, we tested two direct mail packages against their control.

The first was a simple #10 package, which included a personalized letter, brochure and order form. The inside of the brochure had what we believed was a very compelling headline:

"Now you can have 24-hour emergency access to a highly qualified Attorney for an entire year - for less than the cost of a single consultation."

We also added an element that I recommend in virtually every mailing — a Q&A section.

This enables you to present the key elements of your story in a short, easy-to-read format, and also address any possible questions your prospect may have.

My last question is always the same — regardless of what kind of company or product I’m writing about. It always reads something like this:

"Q. I’m convinced — how do I order?"

And my last answer always tells them exactly what I want them to do.

But there was one thing more to consider:

Identify the main objection

Whenever we do a direct mail package, I try to answer this question:

"What would stop people from responding?"

In other words, why would people not buy this product or not send away for this service? If you can anticipate their main objection, you can often come up with a way to diffuse it.

For American Express, we reasoned that some people might think, "It sounds interesting — but I don’t think I’ll need an attorney."

So we started the letter as follows:

"Dear Samantha A. Sample,

Chances are, you may not need an Attorney.

But why take chances?"

We also cited statistics that talked about the likelihood of an individual needing the services of an attorney in the coming year. The chances are surprisingly high.

And finally, we addressed this issue with a small lift note, which was very effective.

The cover of the lift note read — "Don’t Think You’ll Need an Attorney?" Inside it admitted, "You’re Probably Right…

"…but with the rising costs of legal services and the growing number of lawsuits filed every year — it makes good sense to protect yourself and your family with this Plan."

Our creative breakthrough: State the problem first

The second package was a 6 X 9 like the original control. But this brochure was very different.

It didn’t start out talking about the product. In fact, you have to fully open it, and view three panels before you can even get to the product.

Instead, the brochure starts with three panels that ask the prospect three specific questions:

"You have a big problem with a small contractor. How can you resolve it?

"You’d like a simple will to protect you and your family. Who can you call?"

"You want to talk to an Attorney, but you don’t want to spend a fortune. Where can you turn?"

Only then, when you fully open the brochure is the answer revealed — and surprise — it’s the American Express Attorney Access Plan.

This technique of first identifying the problems that people may be having — that your product will solve -- is very powerful. If the person reading your letter or brochure agrees with even one of them — they are already nodding their head "yes" when they get to the product.

This "Questions" package was very different from anything else American Express had tried for this program. But — lucky for us — they were committed to testing two very different alternatives.

And so the three packages were mailed…

The results come in

I’m always delighted when a client is willing to test two or more alternatives.

It gives us additional opportunities to succeed — and it often provides important learning that can be applied to future programs.

To our surprise, both of the new direct mail packages beat American Express’s long-standing control, which is like beating the New York Yankees twice in a doubleheader!

The "problem first" idea worked really well for American Express — but I knew it would. We’ve used this technique with several of our other clients - and my own company.

Our brochure cover asks these three provocative questions:

"Are your response rates going down, and you know you could be doing much better?"

"Did your agency show you just two or three ideas, and you think you’ve seen one of them before?"

"Is your next direct marketing project important to you as well as your company?"

The goal is to get the prospect to nod their head and murmur, "That’s exactly what we’ve been experiencing…" After that, they’re yours.

Why not try this idea for your next mailing?

Back to Beat the Control



© Alan Rosenspan & Associates
5 Post Office Square
Sharon, MA 02067
Phone: 781-784-8283