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

Alan Rosenspan's
Improve Your Response Newsletter

Issue # 31: August 2004

1. They Know You
2. Is Your Marketing Worth Buying?
3. Offer Testing
4. Socrates on Direct Marketing
5. The Power of Choice
6. What are your Rocks?

Dear Friends,

If you're in direct marketing — there's one thing you can't avoid.

You're going to get measured.

General advertising people don't have that problem. For example, I used to work on Schaefer Beer. The year before we got the account, sales were flat (but not the beer) and the company lost $50 million dollars.

We launched a new campaign where we were one of the first to use athletes to endorse our beer. Sales picked up strongly, and the company only lost about $20 million. We had a big party to celebrate our "success."

But years later, I read in the Wall Street Journal that when the average temperature goes up .5 degrees in the summer — beer sales go up dramatically.

So to this day, I'll never know — was it our advertising? Or was it just a little bit hotter that summer?

But in direct marketing, you know exactly how well your work did or didn't do — because your response is measured — often to the tiniest percentage point.

That's what lets you learn from what you did before. That's what helps you get better and better. And that's why direct marketers are so much smarter than general advertisers.

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They Know You

A recent issue of 1 to 1 magazine focused on digital customization. Their theme was "connecting with today's customers at the speed of type." And they gave two remarkable examples.

The first example was for Reason magazine. Reason wanted to demonstrate the deteriorating state of privacy in America — but instead of just talking about it, they proved it.

The cover of their June issue had a personalized cover for each subscriber. For example, my copy read, "Alan Rosenspan, they know where you are." But that's not the scary part.

The cover also included an aerial photo of my house!

Over 40,000 subscribers received a similar cover with an aerial photo of their house. Reason worked closely with Entremedia, Xeikon, AirPhoto USA and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo to execute this amazing campaign.

The second example was for customized fulfillment.

When a prospect calls the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, they get more than just a referral.

They get a completely personalized fulfillment brochure. The cover reads, "You've made a good decision, Alan Rosenspan" and the inside is tailored to your specific request.

The ASPS finds that this approach is very helpful to prospects because it re-assures them about their decision, and gives them specific information about the procedure they are interested in.

Customized printing has been around for over 10 years, but it is becoming faster and easier to implement, and more affordable.

It might be worth looking at for your company.

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Is Your Marketing Worth Buying?

I just got back from New Zealand where they do some of the most creative and effective direct marketing in the world.

At NZ Direct Marketing Days, I heard a number of excellent speakers. Let me share two of them with you.

John Roska of Roska Direct in Philadelphia gave his highly entertaining "Ducks and Chickens" presentation. You may have heard him at one of the DMA Annual Conferences.

According to John, ducks are direct marketers and chickens are brand marketers. But a lot of ducks are trying to be chickens, and a lot of chickens try to pass themselves off as ducks.

The key, says John, is working together, and borrowing the best ideas from both.

For example, direct marketers use "Response Triggers" such as "Free!" and "Click Here!" Brand marketers use "Memory Triggers" that can include colors, shapes, and tag lines.

Incorporating both leaves a stronger impression on customers, and may also produce a higher response.

Alan Mitchell from the U.K. gave a presentation on marketing integration. He asked a provocative question, which I pass along to you.
"If your marketing was a product — would anybody buy it?"

He also cited the recent Yankelovitch study on marketing resistance, which is alarming.

  • 61% of people survey feel that marketing is "out of control."
  • 52% want less of it
  • 59% say that marketing has "little relevance to me."
  • And a whopping 69% are interested in products and services that block, skip or allow them to opt out of marketing.

How can you overcome this growing resistance? The challenge is to add value to your marketing. Give your prospects useful or valuable information. Engage them. Ask them their opinion.

I also gave a presentation on the impending "Death of Direct Mail" that discusses the challenges we currently face — and what we need to do to make our direct mail more relevant and more responsive.

If you'd like a copy, please send an email to

By the way, New Zealander's look at the world just a little bit differently than we do...if you're interested, I'd be happy to send you a PDF.

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Offer Testing

We all know that list is the most important part of any direct marketing program. You can't sell lawnmowers to people who live in apartment houses.

But after list, the offer is the next most important part. And unless you have an irresistible offer, don't bother doing direct mail or e-mail.

When I worked on winning people back to AT&T Long Distance, we tested dozens of offers — and here's what we learned:

Offer: We offered people $10. to switch back to AT&T. It didn't work.

What we learned: The offer wasn't valuable enough for someone to go to all that trouble to switch. So I used a trick I've used before — I changed the currency of the offer to something that seemed more valuable.

Offer: We offered 75 free minutes. It worked better, but not better enough,

What we learned: I broke one of my own rules. I wasn't clear enough. I know this because one of our prospects complained, "I don't want 75 minutes. I want a whole hour!"

Offer: We offered 75 flower bulbs. This offer died on the vine.

What we learned: We tried so hard to tie this one in, and used lines like, "We'd like to plant some new ideas about your long distance service..."

But what's the connection between AT&T and flowers? Nothing, and that's why this failed.

Also, who plants the bulbs? Was AT&T going to come to your house and ask where you wanted them? This created too much work for the prospect.

Offer: We'll plant a tree in your name if you switch...

What we learned: Isn't this heartwarming? Isn't it noble? I think we planted three trees.

People may believe in higher causes like saving the environment and world peace — but they tend to act in their own, immediate self-interest.

And by the way, our most important mistake — we neglected to print this on recycled paper...

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Socrates on Direct Marketing

In ancient Greece, Socrates was widely lauded for his wisdom.

One day the great philosopher came upon an acquaintance that ran up to him excitedly and said, "Socrates, do you know what I just heard about one of your students?"

"Wait a moment," Socrates replied. "Before you tell me I'd like you to pass a little test. It's called the Triple Filter Test."

"Triple filter?"

"That's right," Socrates continued. "Before you talk to me about my student, let's take a moment to filter what you're going to say". The first filter is Truth. Have you made absolutely sure that what you are about to tell me is true?"

"No," the man said, "actually I just heard about it and..."

"All right," said Socrates. "So you don't really know if it's true or not.

"Now let's try the second filter, the filter of Goodness. Is what you are about to tell me about my student something good?"

"No, on the contrary..."

"So," Socrates continued, "you want to tell me something bad about him, even though you're not certain it's true?"

The man shrugged, a little embarrassed. Socrates continued. "You may still pass the test though, because there is a third filter — the filter of Usefulness. Is what you want to tell me about my student going to be useful to me?"

"No, not really..."

"Well," concluded Socrates, "if what you want to tell me is neither True, nor Good nor even Useful, why tell it to me at all?"

I think the same may be true of direct marketing copy — it has to pass the Triple Filter Test. It has to be true, good and useful to the prospect.

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The Power of Choice

I just read a brilliant new book called The Paradox of Choice by Professor Barry Schwartz.

He argues that we have more choices than ever before — but that hasn't made us happy. And the more choices you offer your customers, the more you may create confusion and even dissatisfaction.

In one study, an upscale food store set up a display featuring a line of exotic jams. Customers were invited to taste samples, and they were given a coupon for a dollar off if they purchased.
In one study, 6 varieties of the jam were available for tasting. In another, 24 were available.

Here's what happened:

The larger display of jams attracted more people to the table — but when it came to buying, a huge difference became evident. 30% of people exposed to the small array of jams purchased one. Only 3% of those exposed to the larger array bought one.

That's 10 times as many customers.

  • How does this relate to direct marketing?
    Give people a choice — but don't offer too many choices. On a typical reply card, there are sometimes lots of choices. Research has shown you can improve response by narrowing this down to two or three.
  • Help your customers make fast, easy decisions. For example, a travel company labeling one of their tours "Our Best Selling Itinerary." They improved response (to the tour and in general) by over 25%.

Why? They made it easy for people to focus in on that one tour — and not have to wade through their entire catalogue.

The Paradox of Choice also talks about the emerging "Voluntary Simplicity" movement. People increasingly feel that they have too many choices, too many decisions, and too little time to do what is really important.

And that leads me to my next point.

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What Are Your Rocks?

The need for "Time to do what's really important" reminds me of one of my favorite parables — the story of the rocks.

Imagine you are sitting in the audience, and a man comes on stage with an empty jar. He then fills it with large rocks. "Is the jar full?" he asks? Everyone agrees that it is.

"No," he says, and then fills up the spaces with tiny pebbles. "Is the jar full now?" he asks? Everyone agrees that it is.

"Not really," he says, and begins to pour sand into the jar. "How about now?" he asks. Everyone thinks that yes, now the jar is finally full.

Or is it?

...The man finally pours water into the jar — and now the jar really is full. What's the point of the story?

Well, if you're like most people, you might say, "You can always squeeze something else in!"

But here's the real point:

If you don't put the rocks in first, you'll never have room for them.

If you don't put the big things in your life in first, you'll never have room for them.

The rest of your time will fill up, with small things, insignificant things, petty things. You don't have to worry about them — they'll come. But it is absolutely essential to make room for the big things.

The same is true of direct marketing. When you are putting together a direct mail package, e-mail or print ad — make sure you put in the main rocks first. The most important selling feature; the main benefit; or what makes your product or service unique.

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Thank you, AlanAlan Rosenspan & Associates

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