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

Alan Rosenspan's
Improve Your Response Newsletter

Issue # 58: Winter 2009 Edition

1. Outliers
2. Opportunity Knocks
3. HEMA Goblins
4. Q&A on Q&A
5. The President's Letter
6. In the Know on SEO
7. Secrets of Screenwriting
8. Agencies Versus Clients


Dear Friends,

I'm sure you're all aware of the miraculous water landing of U.S. Air Flight 1549.

As someone who has more frequent flyer points than most pilots, I was reassured and grateful that no one had been injured.

But, as a recent Wall Street Journal article pointed out, it wasn't luck that saved the 155 people on board. It was skill.

Capt. Chesley Sullenberger was an expert, who had been fully trained for exactly this kind of situation. He had even taught courses in emergency landings on water.

What's the connection to direct marketing?

We need experts.

Direct marketing is our job; what we do for our company, our clients and often ourselves. And we are obliged to be as knowledgeable, as informed, and as skilled as we possibly can.

So make yourself a promise – and become an expert in direct marketing. Read the latest books and journals. Study what works and doesn't work.

The more you know – the better you're going to be able to survive and even prosper in this difficult economy.

All the best, Alan


I've written about Malcom Gladwell's books before – but his recent one is his best ever.

It's called Outliers and it describes the less-obvious factors that influence success.

For example, back in the 1970's there was only one high school in America that had a personal computer hooked up to a mainframe (at a nearby university.)

Only one kid who went to that high school began fooling around with the computer, and then spending more and more time on it.

As you may have guessed, his name was Bill Gates.

Gates owes his amazing success to many different things, including his obvious brilliance, his willingness to take risks, and his ability to work long and hard.

But the point of the book is – he also owes it to where he was born, and what was available to him at that time.

These are factors that are outside your control to some degree, but Outliers also talks about a magic number that is under your control.

The number is 10,000 hours.

Gladwell believes that if you spend 10,000 hours doing something – anything – you can become a master at it. And almost every "overnight" success you've ever heard about, has put in countless hours of practice.

Outliers really has nothing to do with direct marketing – but it is a book that will stimulate your thinking, and I highly recommend reading it.

*The Tipping Point, Blink

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Opportunity Knocks

In my last newsletter, I talked about the importance of protecting your customers in these difficult economic times.

Many companies do; most companies don't.

That means that the bad economy may actually afford you an opportunity to attract more customers away from your competition.

Customers who were previously satisfied with less - are now asking for more.

And when they do, you can be right there to offer it to them. How can you do that?

1. Add value. Think of ways you can add value to your product or service that your competition doesn't have. Let me give you an example: Many companies use an automated inter-active phone system. "Press one to get more information. Press two for a brochure. Press three for…"

Companies love them because they save money. Consumers hate them. So several companies – such as Capital One - have actually included "talk to a live person" as a benefit of their product. But doesn't it cost more?

Southwest Airlines has always resisted the temptation to cut costs on customer service. When you call, you always speak to a live person. Funny how they are always one of the only airlines to make a profit.

2. Look for stronger offers. In bad economic times, the temptation is to cut back on offers. That's the wrong place to save money.

Suppose your company is offering a free report or white paper. Some bright young marketing person might suggest that instead of a written report, you offer it only as a PDF ("Just think of all the money we'll save on printing and postage!)

Yes, you will. However, a few other things will also happen:

(A) The weaker offer will reduce response. And these days, you just can't afford to lose a single good lead.

(B) Without a real document in their hands, the person who responds will have a harder time convincing their boss, or even their spouse, to purchase your product.

And (C) You have lost the opportunity for your information to be placed in a file, which they can go back to when they are ready to buy (and this might be in several months.)

3. Measure everything you do. And then do more of what works. In a difficult economy, it becomes even more important to know the Return-on-Investment on every marketing dollar you spend.

Sure, that giant billboard looks great – but can we quantify how many extra sales it produces?

Maybe that same amount of money would be better invested in an e-mail campaign. Direct mail is working well? Great, let's find more lists to mail to, or mail more frequently.

4. Cherry-pick your prospects. You may not be able to afford to market to everyone - so make sure you are marketing to prospects with the highest potential.

Can you select those prospects that might spend more on your products or services? Is there any way you can target your competition's best customers?

Finally, one of the best ways to attract new customers is to ask your existing customers for referrals. It's also one of the most cost-effective ways.

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HEMA Goblins

If you haven't seen this – you're going to love it.

In the past, I have often written about adding content to your website – either useful information or entertainment – anything to get people to spend just a little more time.

HEMA, the Dutch department store chain, does a fabulous job of keeping you on their webpage.

Rather than attempt to describe it – simply go to and see for yourself. You'll need to wait a moment or two, but once it starts....

And by the way, HEMA isn't some hot new store – it's been around since 1926. So your product or company brand doesn't have to be new to do new and innovative things.

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Q&A on Q&A

Several years ago, I agreed to interview for the job of Creative Director with a major New York direct marketing agency.

I didn't want the job for a variety of reasons, but my friend and mentor, Jerry Reitman, asked me to go through with the interview.

So I flew into New York for lunch with the President of the company, who began his conversations with a provocative question.

"What's your philosophy about direct marketing?"

The question was a little too broad for an intelligent answer, so I gently lobbed the ball back over the net to him.

"That's a great question," I responded, "But before I answer, I'd love to know what your philosophy is."

He spoke eloquently for 40 minutes, then glanced at his watch, shook my hand, and told me he had an important meeting back at the office.

He later got back to Jerry, who got back to me with the following comment:

"You made quite an impression! He loved talking direct marketing with you, and he thinks you're one of the few people who really understand it. The job is yours, if you want it."

As I recall, my only contribution to the conversation was "uh huh" and "can you please pass the rolls?"

Questions are not only a powerful conversational tool, but also an essential part of any direct marketing program.

Whenever someone gets your direct mail package, or an e-mail from you, chances are they are going to have some questions.

They may not know how your benefits will apply to their specific situation. They may be confused about how to put your product to use. They may not fully understand your offer.

Directing people to a Q&A page is an excellent way to keep your e-mails short, but give interested prospects a way to learn more.

I include a Q&A in every direct mail package I write, and I've found it always increases response.

So let me answer a few questions that you might have about this technique.

Q. Why are Q&A's so effective?

A. They force you to put yourself in the mind of a prospect and address any possible objections they may have.

They also allow you to present your information in little, easy-to-digest "nuggets" – rather than long paragraphs of prose. (Ever wonder why USA Today is so popular?)

Q. How do I know what questions to use?

A. One way is to ask your telemarketers or salespeople. They can tell you what questions people ask when they call in – and which are the most important ones to answer.

Q. Where should the Q&A go in the package?

A. I usually recommend putting it on the back of the letter, which some direct marketers still leave blank (what a waste of space!)

For an e-mail, I recommend having the prospect click to a page of Q&A.

Q. What kinds of questions should I include?

A. The questions that have worked well for me include "What are the key benefits of this product?" "Why is it important for me to respond now?" and "What do I get when I respond?"

Q. What kinds of questions should I avoid?

A. The questions I would avoid are those that create more questions. Remember that the goal of the Q&A is not to fully inform your prospects – it's to get them to respond, which is why the sequence of the questions is so important.
The order that you present them can have an important impact on response.

By the way, my last question is always the same – whether I'm writing about health insurance, collectible coins, coffee makers, travel, or anything else.

I call "The Q&A Segue" which is the most important question of all:

Q. Sounds great. What do I do now?

This question does two things: it plants a positive notion in the prospects mind – "let's do this!" And it sets up my last answer, which tells them exactly what I want them to do. For example:

A. Simply call 1-800-000-0000 or send in the reply card before March 1, 2009. Or visit


Do You Have Any Questions?

How could I end this section in any other way?

If you have any questions about how or when to apply these techniques to your specific program, I'll be happy to answer them.

Q. Is there any cost for this service?

A. Absolutely not. Just e-mail me at

The President's Letter

I have to admit that not everything we do is an outstanding success.

We did a package for a major insurance company to the rural agricultural market, that didn't perform as well as their control.

The client was okay with it, and even comforted me, "This was just a test," he reminded me, "and we market to a very unusual group of people."
But I was devastated.

And I was determined to add value to his business. So at our next meeting, I asked him "What do you do with unconverted leads?"

Most companies simply put them back into their lead generation database and mail them again in 3-6 months with the same direct mail package that everyone else gets.

I recommended that they employ a technique called "The President's Letter."

This is a follow-up letter from someone high up in the company, checking to see whether the prospect has received the information they requested, and also inviting them to respond. It should be mailed 30 days after they originally respond.

"The President's Letter" serves several purposes.

1. It captures everyone that the sales force might have let slip through the cracks.

2. It lets the person know that your company cares about them – and someone important is following up.

3. It ensures that your salespeople contact everyone – because they know that follow-up letter is coming!

4. It usually works very, very well – since you are mailing to people who have already indicated their interest.

The insurance company followed through on this suggestion. That's why I was so delighted when I received this recent e-mail.


Hello Alan,

Thank you for the continued support and encouragement with our lead program. Your tenacity has paid off!

We followed thru with the Presidents Letter, sent 60 days after the original response was received, and the response rate was almost 10%! :)

What a great day! I give you all the credit so you can officially take me off the "Only Company I Have Failed" list. Your advice has not fallen on deaf ears but has taken longer to take root.

Will "The President's Letter" work for your unconverted leads? You'll never know unless you test it.

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In the Know with SEO

Dianna Huff is a marketing consultant based in Boston who has done a lot of work in Search Engine Marketing.

She recently presented a case-history that showed how she boosted web traffic and revenue for a local dentist – with up to $20,000 worth of new business every month.

It's a fascinating case-history – called "Same Marketing Budget, Greater Revenue" and it includes "Keywords: Do's and Don'ts" as well as "SEO Marketing Tips."

Dianna has given me permission to share it with you. Simply e-mail me at and I'll send it along.

You can also access Dianna's website (with lots of free reports) at and sign up for her free newsletter The Marcom Strategist.

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Screenwriting Secrets

I just took a screenwriting course in Hollywood, and over the course of four days, I learned...I better stick to direct marketing.

The reason why is that everything the instructor said seemed to apply to what we do, and how to do it better.

Let me give you two examples:

1. The instructor asked us the purpose of each scene, and we all answered "To advance the story."

We were wrong.

The purpose of each and every scene (and I should have known this) is to get the reader wanting to know what happens next.

In direct marketing, the purpose of every paragraph of copy – indeed every line – is to get people to keep reading.

That's why asking questions is a great copy technique. The prospect will keep reading to find out the answers. And that's why you should end every page of your letter with a broken sentence. For example:

"But the most important reason why you should buy this product is...."

2. In screenwriting, the structure of the story is very important.

The instructor said, "Imagine if you order a very expensive bottle of wine at a restaurant. Then the waiter comes and (A) pours it into a Dixie cup, (B) pours it into a cracked glass, or (CC) pours it all over you. You wouldn't enjoy the wine, would you?

"What you want to say and how you say it is the wine - the structure is the wineglass."

In direct marketing, the format of the package is the wineglass. If it's not consistent with the message or the offer, it won't work as well.

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Agencies Versus Clients

You may have already seen this, but it sums up how some marketers (and some agencies) think. It's well worth watching.

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Opt out, Opt in, Opportunity

1.  Please feel free to forward this newsletter on to a friend or business associate. I'd appreciate it.

2. You can access all our back-issues on our website at

3. To unsubscribe, just send me an e-mail that says, "Remove."

Please let me remind you that your name and/or e-mail address will never be shared, sold, circulated, or passed along to anyone else.


Thank you, Alan

Alan Rosenspan & Associates

5 Post Office Square Suite 8

Sharon, MA 02067
Tel: 617-559-0999





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