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

A Direct Marketers Dozen
By Alan Rosenspan

There was a great TV commercial for Doritos corn chips a few years ago.

Jay Leno was the spokesperson, and he kept eating the chips as he talked until they were all gone. But he reassured us with the theme line, "Crunch all you want. We’ll make more…"

In that same spirit, it’s been a good two years since Direct Marketing magazine published my list of "101 Ways to Improve Response."

And what kind of a fool would I be if I hadn’t learned anything else since then?

So, we made more.

Here are 11 additional ways to improve response — based on recent experience. They include direct mail, advertising and e-mail. There are even some ideas than transcend media.

And there’s also one to avoid at all costs.

One of the great things about being a working Creative Director is that I not only get to come up with ideas, I can actually test them and see how well they work.

But as before, I must add a disclaimer. These are all techniques and ideas that I’ve used for my clients. They are presented to you as food for thought, things to consider, and ideas that may spark your own thinking.

Only testing can determine what will work best for your specific product or company. But here are some places to start:

1. Use e-mail to test

We just did a program with Datawatch, makers of Monarch report mining software.

They wanted to target companies who had Enterprise Reporting Systems, but we weren’t sure exactly which message would be the most effective. I came up with the idea of using e-mail to test the different approaches.

We came up with five different messages, and split each of the e-mail lists into five cells. We sent them out, read the results and then rolled the winning message out into direct mail. All in a remarkably short timeframe.

If you haven’t used this approach yet, it can be extremely cost-effective and allow you to do more message and offer testing than you could with any other media.

2. Show a satisfied customer.

We recently did a direct mail campaign for American Management Equities that advertised a seminar called, "The Secrets of Selling Your Business."

There were three successive mailings, sent a week apart. Each

focused on a different benefit of the seminar.

According to my clients, the program was four times as successful as anything in the industry.

The secret? Instead of the usual dry, business-like approach, we showed photographs of happy, successful business people on the cover and presented their stories.

For example, the first brochure had the headline, "This Man Sold His Business For $2 Million More Than He Expected."

If you can show customers — and they don’t even have to be real customers — who look like they are enjoying the benefits of your product or service, you might dramatically lift response.

3. Show your product in use.

Which do you think generates higher readership scores? Business-to-business advertising or consumer advertising?

You might guess B2B because the ads usually appear in more targeted publications. After all, if I’m reading Waste Management News, I’m probably in that business.(And what makes you think you aren’t, Alan?)

Not only that — but every single one of the ads are probably about stuff I need, right? And even if I don’t need it, I need to know about it. Because my boss may walk in at any moment and ask, "Alan, what are we doing about trash compacting?"

However, it is consumer advertising that typically gets significantly higher readership scores.

Why? According to INRA Starch, the research company, it’s for one simple reason. Business-to-business advertising rarely shows the product in use. The sell is conceptual, not visual.

And so you may see an advertisement for computer systems that shows snowflakes, with a lyrical headline like, "No two are alike…" Instead of an advertisement for washing powder, which shows clean clothes, and says, "Gets Out the Deep Down Dirt."

So if you want to improve response, show your product, show your product benefits, and show satisfied customers using your product.

4. Humanize the product

    Technically, it’s called anthropomorphism — assigning human characteristics to non-human things.

    It’s always been an effective technique in TV commercials. Do you remember the Jolly Green Giant? Or Mr. Clean?

    It can also work for you in direct marketing. We did a usage-stimulation campaign for American Express Connections Calling Card. We wanted to remind people that they already had the card, and that they should start using it more often.

    We tested seven different creative approaches. The winner was a postcard, which was a huge blow-up of the Connections Card.

    Across the face of the card was this message, "Remember Me?"

5. Be topical

You are not marketing in a vacuum. You can take advantage of the things that surround your prospect — things in the news, the season, the holidays.

• For a retractable awning company, we sent out a special Mother’s Day package. The outer envelope read, "This Mothers Day, give her a gift she’ll love to open."

• For CreditAware from American Express, we did a campaign that focused on a very topical issue, "Identity Theft." This is when someone steals your name or social security number and uses it to open phony accounts and credit cards.

The mailing substantially beat their long-standing control.

• For a high technology client, we came up with a very topical offer — a free box of Dilbert "Manage-mints."

These are real mints in the shape of the cartoon characters in the Dilbert comic strip — a perfect offer for engineers. We received over 6000 responses.

6. Use a referral device

One of my clients uses a double reply card in every mailing. It reads, "One for You. One for a Colleague."

It lifts response an average of 40% -- for very little incremental expense.

You can use the same idea when you do a magazine advertisement by including a multiple response card. This can be one panel with three reply cards that readers can tear off and send in.

It is particularly effective in business-to-business advertising where there is a great deal of pass-along readership.

7. Push personalization

Personalization doesn’t have to be limited to using the prospect’s name in the salutation.

You can also take it further.

In my CreditAware from American Express package, I used a highly personalized letter with the following Johnson Box:

"They say they’re (NAME OF PROSPECT). They’re using your name to open credit accounts, take out bank loans and commit fraud. How would you even know?"

8. Involve your audience

I’m a consultant to an innovative e-marketing company called BeNow. We wanted to do something dramatic to launch the company, create awareness and generate leads.

I came up with the following idea for a box mailing:

The outside of the box read "We’d like to have a word with you." Inside the box was a dictionary with a yellow post-it note on top.

The note said -- Look up "visionary." When the prospect turned to that page, they found their name listed in the definition.

We also had a remarkably innovative response device. BeNow created a personalized website for each prospect — with their name on it. For example, your address would be www.

At the site, you would be welcomed with a big banner — "Welcome (YOUR NAME)" and it would give you more information about our unique e-marketing solutions.

And every time someone comes into their office, they will probably hand them the dictionary and say, "Look up visionary. It has my name!"

9. Address a barrier

How many credit card applications do you receive every week?

We get dozens — for my wife and me, as well as our children, and once — our dog, who apparently is very credit-worthy.

One of my clients is a major affinity card marketer. They included a lift note in one of their packages with this message: "It’s okay to have more than one MasterCard."

Response jumped 17%.

Apparently, a lot of people believed that they couldn’t accept the card because they already had a card.

If you can figure out the main reason why people aren’t buying your product, or taking advantage of your offer, and overcome it — you will almost certainly improve response.

10. Test a blind envelope

I’ve just attended a dizzying round of focus groups in New York and Florida, where people talked about direct mail.

Now you can’t always take what they say as true. But time after time, I heard, "If it looks like advertising, I just throw it away without even opening it."

You might want to take your control letter and other elements of your direct mail package, and test them in an envelope with no message on the outside. Just your company name and logo.

This is particularly effective if you are dealing with existing customers. They have to open the envelope because it might be a bill or have an important message inside.

It is also very effective for financial institutions, for the same reasons.

11. Use e-mail

I’ve already suggested that you use e-mail to test. But it can also be your most effective stand-alone medium.

In August, I launched a free e-newsletter on how to improve response.

I sent out about 2,000 letters in what I hoped was a distinctively different (purple) envelope. I got about a 20% response, which I thought was pretty good. And it was — for direct mail.

But at 8:00 a.m. on a Friday morning, I also sent out over 500 e-mails. By 10:00 a.m., I had over 180 responses.

They continued to come in for the next two weeks, resulting in a total response of about 65%.

So if you’re not testing and using e-mail whenever possible — hopefully to "opt-in" lists,

you are missing a major opportunity.

And, by the way, if you’d like to receive my free newsletter, just e-mail me at

12. Here’s the one to avoid

For years, I’ve been preaching that you should never, ever send an unsolicited CD-ROM or software package through the mail.

People just don’t pay attention to it, or they put it aside to look at later, or it disappears into some direct marketing black hole, but I’ve never seen it work. (The only exception I know of is America OnLine, but they had to send out hundreds of millions of them.)

Of course, it’s very different when someone requests your CD-ROM. Then it can be very effective, and deliver an enormous amount of text, visuals and even multimedia.

So knowing this, what do I do when a client insists on sending out a CD-ROM demo of their product?

I argued. I cajoled. I begged and pleaded. And ultimately, I ended up saying to myself, "Okay, Alan, if anyone can make it work, you can…"

Um…it turns out I couldn’t.

So the next time someone suggests sticking a CD-ROM into the package, tell them to save their money.


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