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

Alan Rosenspan's "Improve Your Response" Newsletter
Summer Issue
Issue #6: New Zealand Issue


Dear Friends,

Before I pack my heavy sweaters and thermal underwear and head off to New Zealand (...where it's Winter) I wanted to share a few ideas you may want to use over this summer.

Also, I want to thank you once again for subscribing. We've received a lot of very positive feedback over the past few months, and I am very grateful for your comments and suggestions.

Innovative Testing Idea

One of my clients is a large financial services company that mails over 10 million pieces a month.

With this extraordinary volume, every one-tenth of a percentage point lift in response can be worth an absolute fortune. However, the reverse is also true.

And so our challenge was to increase response without risking a lot of money, or a lot of lost opportunity.

The solution we came up with was very innovative, and I wanted to share the idea with you.

Use lift notes as a test bed before you create an entire direct mail package.

For example, for their unsecured loan product, one of our ideas was that "It's like a home equity loan...without the home." Now, rather than devote an entire direct mail package to this concept, we planned to test it as a lift note in their control.

If it does lift response, our next step would be to test the concept as an entire package. If it depressed response, we would abandon the approach and look for something else.

However, by testing it as a lift note, we could (A) reduce the cost of testing the idea, and so test more of them over the year, (B) minimize the "penalty" of failing -- because the control package still pulled well, and (C) gain a better understanding of just how well it might perform as a package.

Our plan is now to test 2-3 different lift notes for each wave of direct mail. And then create full direct mail packages from the winning concepts.

B2B or not B2B?

I just attended a presentation at the New England Direct Marketing Association on "60 ideas in 60 minutes." I'd like to share two of them with you.

Katherine Barr, who is an instructor for the DMA, gave a tip for the outer envelope. She said "never ask a question on the outer envelope that someone can give a yes or no answer to."

For example, here are two headlines:

"Do you want to make extra money in 2002?" or:
"How much extra money do you want to make in 2002?"

The second one is much better, since it can't easily be answered "no" and also causes you to think. It also seems like it would have more specific information.

The second tip came from Alex MacAaron, who is Creative Director and Senior VP at Direct Results Group. She said "there should be no difference between Business to Business, and Business to Consumer. You are still writing to people."

In my presentations, I make the same point. The best direct mail, the best e-mail, even the best advertising is always one person writing or talking to one person.

The World's Most Delicious Offer

Working Assets is a long distance company that really tries to make a difference.

They take 1% of their revenue and donate it to nonprofit groups working for peace, human rights, education and the environment. And they've donated over $30 million dollars since they began in the mid-80's.

Working Assets also has an innovative program that alerts their customers to important issues, and allows them to call specific decision-makers -- such as members of Congress -- absolutely free. So you can make your voice heard.

Plus they are the only long distance company that prints it's bills on unbleached 100% post-consumer recycled paper. And they plant 100 trees for every ton of paper they use.

It would seem that a company like this wouldn't need to make an offer to get new customers. After all, as they say, "Every call you make helps build a better world."

However, they've found that offers are critically important -- and after years of testing, they've found one that has been absolutely unbeatable.

When you switch to Working Assets, you get a free pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream every month for an entire year.

Or as they say, "Sign up for Working Assets and a deal so good you can actually taste it."

If your offer isn't as irresistible as free ice cream for a year -- you may want to keep testing.

Think of Yourself as a Customer

I recently visited MBNA America, the giant financial services company. Their main headquarters is in Delaware, and the building I visited had over 3,000 employees and almost as many doors.

Over every single door in the entire building is the following sign:

"Think of Yourself as a Customer."

Whenever you're putting together a marketing program, or creating a direct mail package, you may want to follow that advice.

What would a customer think about this? Why would a customer want this? If I were a customer, how would I feel about this?

This is such an important concept, that I made a copy of their sign, and put it above my computer.

7 Mistakes in Direct Mail

"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results." - Anonymous

We all make mistakes from time to time, but the trick is not to make the same mistake twice.

And so, having created, evaluated and reviewed thousands of direct mail packages around the world, I'd like to share some mistakes that I have seen over and over again.

Mistake #1: Just Sell Benefits

We've all been told that benefits are the most important thing you can tell people.

They want to know "WIIFM" -- What's In It For Me? Why should I buy your product? How does it benefit me? What do I get?

In other words, don't just tell me that your car comes with anti-lock brakes because that's a feature. Tell me that it's a lot safer and easier to drive, even in wet weather. Because that's a benefit.

But benefits alone are not enough.

And there is some evidence to suggest that people are motivated more by the avoidance of pain, than the promise of pleasure.

A study by an energy company proved it.

The study was done among people that had energy audits. The person conducting the audit asked the homeowner one of the following questions:

"Did you know you can save an extra 75 cents a day by implementing these recommendations?"
"Did you know it costs you an extra 75 cents a day if you don't implement these recommendations?"

Which do you think was more effective?

If you selected the 2nd one, you're absolutely correct. So how could this work in direct marketing? You may be able to improve response by focusing on what will happen to your prospect if they don't use your product or service.

As an example, we did two mailings for a software company that focused on ISO 9000 certification. The first mailing talked about how the software could help you pass certification and included all the benefits. It was a large and expensive mailing.

The second mailing was a simple #10 letter package. The outer headline read, "ISO 9000 certification. Will your company fail?" This was the winning package.

Mistake #2: Don't Show your Target Market

I did a seminar for a travel company that focuses on the 45-65 year old market. (One of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry)

On the cover of their catalog, they had an adorable photograph of a 4-year old girl.

What's wrong with this picture?

The humorist Robert Benchley once wrote, "There are two classes of travel...first class, and with children." The very last thing that the average older adult wants on their vacation is to deal with children.

Instead, I recommended that they show an attractive couple, in the right age range, that will immediately communicate the fact that this catalog and these vacations are for people aged 45-65.

One of the first questions any prospect will have about your product is, "Who's it for?" By showing a photograph of your target customer right at the beginning, you can answer that question and establish a rapport with your prospects.

Mistake #3: Don't Show Your Product in Use

Business-to-business advertising almost always gets lower readership scores than consumer advertising -- even though it appears in more targeted publications.

The reason? Most business advertising never shows the product in use.

Most business ads have pictures of boxes, or "concepts" or anything except the product.

While I realize this may be difficult to do when you're selling high technology products or even financial services, it's well worth the extra effort. And if you can't show the product in use, at least show happy people benefiting from it.

Mistake #4: Don't Give Them a Reason to Act Now

Several years ago, I had a boss who always asked me two questions whenever I wanted to purchase something like a new computer.

The first was pretty simple. He'd ask, "Why do we need it?" And in fact, most salespeople are trained to give their prospect what's known as "the elevator pitch."

It's called that because you're supposed to be able to provide, in the course of a short elevator ride, a fast explanation of why you need the product.

I could usually answer this question, but his next one often threw me, "Okay, why do we need it now?"

In today's economy, it is not enough to give people a reason to buy your product and service. You must also give them a compelling reason to act now.

The CEO of a high technology company recently wrote, "Companies are being much more selective. Even after our sales people have convinced the chief information officer of the product's technical merits, the chief financial officer's decision takes forever."

This principle, by the way, can also be applied to your offer. Don't leave it open-ended -- put a deadline on it. "You must respond within 30 days" can be an excellent way of increasing response.

Mistake #5: Use "Adspeak"

A friend of mine used to be the editor of Travel & Leisure magazine. She read dozens of prospective articles every month.

Whenever she came across a certain phrase, she would immediately stop reading and reject that article.

The phrase was "A study in contrasts..."

It was used to describe countries, cities, restaurants, just about everything, and it appeared in at least five articles a month.

In advertising and direct marketing, you must resist using cliches, clever lines, or headlines that impart no actual information. People either tune them out, or just don't read them.

For example, a recent ad in BusinessWeek was for AMD

(I never heard of them either) Their headline across a 2-page spread -- costing about $100,000 -- said "AMD Makes it Possible." That's Adspeak, and it really doesn't mean a thing. However, in the copy of the ad they mentioned that they were able to help a famous auto company cut their design time on a new electric vehicle from one year to 10 weeks.

A headline of "How AMD Cut Design Time from 12 Months to 10 Weeks" is much more specific, and much better.

Mistake #6: Don't Lead Them On

The University of Maryland didn't want their students to trample all over the grass on their new main promenade. So they planned to put concrete paths to connect the buildings.

However, instead of arbitrarily putting in concrete paths, they planted the grass, and waited a couple of months.

In that time, the students naturally created several paths through the grass as they walked from class to class.

Only then did the University add the concrete -- and only where the students actually walked.

In many direct marketing packages, there is no natural path to follow; no direction for the reader. There's often not even a clue on what the most important part of the package is, or why the prospect should respond.

Mistake #7: Assume People Will Read Every Word

They won't .

I can't tell you how many direct mail packages I've looked at where they "save the best for last." Unfortunately, the only person who got that far was the copywriter and the client.

That's why it is absolutely essential to:

  1. Put your main benefits in your headlines and other prominent places.

  2. Put strong, selling captions under every photograph -- after headlines, they are the "most read" part of any ad or direct mail piece.

  3. Highlight news, don't bury it.

  4. Make sure the offer stands out, even when you quickly scan the package.

  5. Tell people exactly what you want them to do.

See you in September

Have a wonderful summer.

We're doing a special show at the Annual DMA Conference in October, and if you're there, I hope you'll come up and say hello.

By that time, my book should be finished. The working title is "Pushing the Envelope. How to Improve Your Response To Your Next Direct Mail Package." If you're interested, please e-mail me at

We'd Love Your Comments

Please feel free to forward me your comments and suggestions on the newsletter or any of the topics I've touched on here.

You can reach me at:

Alan Rosenspan & Associates
281 Needham Street
Newton, MA 02464

Tel: 617-559-0999
Fax: 617-559-0996
E-Mail: Please visit:

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Thank you


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