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

Alan Rosenspan's "Improve Your Response" Newsletter
Issue #23: What's Your Problem?


1. What’s Your Problem?
2. The Profit-ometer
3. Big Ideas
4. Creativity Test
5. Close Line

Dear Friends,

I just finished a brief book called "It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be" written by British creative director Paul Arden.

It’s a terrific little book — more aspirational than educational, but worth picking up. On the other hand, there was a book right beside it with the title — and I’m not making this up — "Your Marketing Sucks"

I was tempted to write the author a letter — your title sucks.

The reason I’m mentioning books is that David Ogilvy used to say, "The difference between a great surgeon and a good surgeon has nothing to do with their hands. A great surgeon knows more than other surgeons."

The same is true of direct marketing — the more you know, the more effective you can be. And there are dozens of excellent books and resources available.

If you’d like a list of my favorite books on advertising and direct marketing, just e-mail me at

What’s Your Problem?

My agency just completed a project for American Express to re-launch their Legal Services Plan. See more information in our Control section.

The results have been just terrific — early returns show that we’ve beaten their control by 4 to 1.

I’m not bragging…(well, maybe a little) but I just want to share with you the reason for those excellent results. Because it’s an idea you can apply to your marketing as well.

The brochure for the Legal Services Plan doesn’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 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.

We’ve used this technique with several clients — including 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?"

Once again —the goal is to get my prospect to nod their head and murmur, "That’s exactly what we’ve been experiencing…"

So for your next direct mail package — try not showing your product or benefits first. Start off with identifying the problem that your prospects are having.

Think of your prospects first — and they just may think about you.

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The Profit-ometer

All of my clients are smart — but one of them is an absolute genius.

And I’d like to share his big idea with you.

My client works for a high technology company. They wanted to launch a new product using direct mail, but there were some questions…

What’s the best price point? How many packages should we mail? How much can we afford to spend on the offer?

Most companies try to guess the answers — but my client was much more innovative. He put together an Excel spreadsheet that listed all the different variables of a direct mail program.

He started with his objective — which was to sell 500 units. He then rolled out several different scenarios based on response rates of 1%, 1.5%, 2% etc., plugged in the costs and figured out the net revenue for the program.

Based on these figures, we could then manipulate the numbers, "test out" several ideas, and see what would happen.

For example, we learned that if we increased the cost of each individual offer from $1. to $50. — then response would have to go up from 1.0% to 1.6% in order to keep the same net revenue.

This was enormously valuable information — and led to developing some very exciting offers. These were offers which most companies would say — "we could never afford that!" but my client proved that we could.

We were also able to determine mail quantities and even determine the best pricing for the product. No wonder he calls this tool -

The Profit-ometer!"

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Big Ideas

I talk about "Big Ideas" in all my seminars — but I’ve never written a lot about them. And today, they are more important than ever before.

We all receive so many advertising communications every single day, in our mail, in our e-mail, and virtually everywhere we look - that unless it has a big idea, it won’t even get noticed.

Here are 7 fast ways to get a big idea for your next project:

1. Get excited about your work.

If you can't get excited about it -- you can't expect anyone else to. And it makes no difference what kind of product or company you're working with.

My favorite example is a company that sells heavy-duty cleaning equipment. You can use their products to clean up the sludge in factories, oil spills, and industrial chemicals.

Serious products — but the company doesn't take themselves too seriously. And they get very excited about their marketing.

First, they came up with a great company name -- "New Pig." They don't send out catalogs, they send out "Pigalogs."

They even include a column that answers your toughest cleaning questions. But instead of "Dear Abby," they call it "Dear Flabby" And their toll-free number is 1-800-HOT HOGS.

New Pig has been highly successful in a very competitive category for many years.

If they can get excited about sludge, you can get excited about your next project.

The second way to get a big idea is to ask questions:

2. Ask questions.

You need to ask a lot of different questions, ask a lot of different people, and keep asking until you get the answer.

If you have small children, you may be familiar with the "why" game. The conversation usually goes something like this:

My daughter will ask me, "Why is the ocean blue?" I'll answer, "because it reflects the sky."

"Why is the sky blue?" she'll continue. "Um…because of the molecules."

"Why are the molecules blue?" At this point, I've usually had enough. "Look, I've answered two questions already, I can't answer any more."

Children love the "why" game. Adults hate it. Why?

Because it forces us to admit -- and very quickly - that we really don't understand a lot of what is happening around us.

When the writer Kurt Vonnegut celebrated his 50th birthday, he was asked for his opinion of the world. "I don't know," he answered, "I just got here."

We all just got here - so there's absolutely no shame in asking questions. I've often asked a question in a meeting, and afterwards someone will come up to me and say, "Thank you so much. I had the same question…"

3. Focus on the negative

What happen if people don’t use your product? What do they lose? What happens to them?

I call this technique — "The Power of Negative Thinking" — and it can have some very positive results.

Several years ago, I worked on a mutual fund that concentrated on Gold stocks. The only problem was gold prices had just hit rock bottom. How on earth could we persuade people to invest?

Their previous work had simply ignored this — thinking that gold prices would eventually go up. I embraced it. My headline read:

"Will you catch Gold on the ground floor?"

The ad said, "Gold is at a very weak period right now — and that means that now may be the best time to buy."

It became the most successful ad they ever ran.

4. Think "around" the box.

That means not settling for one solution, but coming up with a number of different ways to do it.

As double Nobel-prize winner Linus Pauling said, "The best way to have a great idea is to have a lot of ideas."

Don’t struggle to come up with the single best solution. Instead, try to come up with as many different ideas as you can. I call this technique "Think around the box."

Each side of the box can be a slightly different appeal. For example, you can:

Appeal to your prospect's self-esteem

Take a factual, intellectual approach

Talk about the emotional benefits

Compare the product to something else

Challenge their knowledge

And once you "think around the box," you can then combine answers to come up with an even better idea.

5. Get emotional.

Emotion can be one of your most effective selling tools.

Yet, outside of fund-raising, few direct marketing packages ever use emotion.

Research shows that people justify decisions with logic — but tend to make them based on their feelings. And even in business to business, emotion can play a strong role in their decision-making process.

Erik van Vooren, founder of the Direct Marketing Know-How Institute in Belgium, cites a university study, in which people were asked the same question in two different ways. The first question was:

"Is it okay to smoke while you pray?"

94% answered "No, of course not."

The researchers then turned the question around, and asked a second group of people:

"Is it okay to pray while you smoke?"

They were amazed when 92% said "Yes." In this example, people answered based on their emotions — not their thinking.

By the way, it’s probably a very good idea to pray when you smoke.

6. Get visual.

People remember less than 10% of what they read -- but more than 50% of what they see.

So unless you’re advertising to another species — make sure your advertising has a terrific graphic.

Roy Grace art-directed many of the classic Volkswagen ads. You may remember "Think Small" and "Lemon."

Grace said, "The solution to most advertising problems is verbal. If you can come up with an arresting visual idea, you have a leg up on the competition."

7. Look for the "second best" idea.

This concept means that once you’ve solved the problem -- the pressure’s off. And that’s where most people stop thinking.

But if you keep on thinking, you may come up with an even better idea.

Now how do you know if you have a big idea?

A big idea is usually a leap -- and quite often, a leap of faith. But that's how big advances are made.

So ask yourself: Does it make you just a little bit nervous?

If you haven't done something that's made you a little bit nervous in the past 12 months -- something that involves taking a chance -- you may not be pushing yourself hard enough.

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Creativity Test

It’s been awhile since we did our last Creativity Test — so I’d like to introduce another one to you.

Several years ago, I had an Art Director who did an outstanding job on a project — and I wanted to thank him.

I couldn’t give him a raise — budgets were tight. I couldn’t even afford to give him a bonus. So I figured out a way to reward him that cost me less than $100. — but he was absolutely delighted with it.

My idea was based on the famous quote from Mary Kay Ash, founder of Mary Kay Cosmetics. She said: "Everyone has an invisible sign hanging from his or her neck saying, ‘Make me feel important.’ Never forget this when dealing with people."

I’ll tell you what I did in the next newsletter, but that’s the Creativity Test. Come up with a way to reward a valued employee for $100. or less.

Best answer wins…our special mystery gift that’s not available in any store (I promise you — you’ll love it.)

Deadline: September 1st 2003.

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Close Line

My good friend Ray Considine wisely suggested I need a closing line for my newsletters.

Ray is a brilliant Sales and Training guru who wrote W.A.Y.M.I.S.H. (Why Are You Making It So Hard…to give you my money?) so when he talks — I listen.

The legendary newscaster Walter Cronkite used to say, "And that’s the way it was." Porky Pig used to stutter, "…Th…Th…That’s all, folks!"

I used to get out of boring meetings by saying, "I’ve taken up enough of your time…"

Any suggestions?

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