We all make mistakes from time to time, but the trick is to only make
the same mistake once.
And so, having created, evaluated and reviewed thousands of direct mail
packages around the world, Id like to share some mistakes that I
have seen over and over again.
Just Sell Benefits
Weve all been told that benefits are the most important thing
you can tell people.
They want to know "WIIFM" Whats In It For Me?
Why should I buy your product? How does it benefit me? What do I get?
In other words, dont just tell me that your car comes with anti-lock
brakes because thats a feature. Tell me that its a lot safer
and easier to drive, even in wet weather. Because thats a benefits.
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
"Did you know it costs you an extra 75 cents a day if
you dont implement these recommendations?"
Which do you think was more effective?
If you selected the 2nd one, youre 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 dont
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.
Dont 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 cute little Dutch girl.
Whats wrong with this picture?
The humorist Robert Benchley once wrote, "There are two classes
first class, and with children." The very last
thing that the average older adult wants on their vacation is to deal
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, "Whos 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.
Dont 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
Most business ads have pictures of boxes, or "concepts"
or anything except the product.
While I realize this may be difficult to do when youre selling
high technology products or even financial services, its well
worth the extra effort. And if you cant show the product in
use, at least show happy people benefiting from it.
Dont Worry About the Offer
If your product is good enough, you dont really need an offer,
do you? Lets look at an innovative company called Working Assets.
Working Assets is a long distance company that really tries to make
They take 1% of their revenue and donate it to nonprofit groups working
for peace, human rights, education and the environment.
And theyve donated over $30 million dollars since they began
in the mid-80s.
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 its
bills on unbleached 100% post-consumer recycled paper. And they plant
100 trees for every ton of paper them use.
It would seem that a company like this wouldnt need to make
an offer to get new customers. After all, as they say, "Every
call you make helps build a better world."
However, theyve found that offers are critically important
and after years of testing, theyve found one that has
been absolutely unbeatable.
When you switch to Working Assets, you get a free pint of Ben
& Jerrys 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 isnt as irresistible as free ice cream for a
year you may want to keep testing.
Let Me Postpone My Decision
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. Hed ask, "Why do we need
it?" And in fact, most salespeople are trained to give their
prospect whats known as "the elevator pitch."
Its called that because youre supposed to be able to
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 todays 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 products technical merits,
the chief financial officers decision takes forever."
This principle, by the way, can also be applied to your offer. Dont
leave it open-ended -- put a deadline on it. "You must respond
within 30 days" can be an excellent way of increasing response.
Speaking of travel, 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 dont read them.
For example, a recent ad in BusinessWeek was for AMD (Id
never heard of them either) Their headline across a 2-page spread
costing over $100,000 said "AMD Makes it Possible."
Thats Adspeak, and it really doesnt 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.
Dont Lead Them On.
The University of Maryland didnt 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 waited
a month or two.
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. Theres often not even a clue on
what the most important part of the package is, or why the prospect
Heres a final tip
I know I promised you 7, but theres one more that I wanted
to save to the end because thats exactly the mistake
that some people make.
Assume People Will Read Every Word
They wont .
I cant tell you how many direct mail packages Ive looked
at where they "save the best for last." Unfortunately, the
only person who got that far was the copywriter and the client.
Thats why it is absolutely essential to:
Put your main benefits in your headlines and other prominent
Put strong, selling captions under every photograph after
headlines, they are the "most read" part of any ad or
direct mail piece.
Highlight news, dont bury it.
Make sure the offer stands out, even when you quickly scan the
Tell people exactly what you want them to do. (And thats
exactly what Ive done below)