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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. Well
In that same spirit, its
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 hadnt 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
And theres 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 Ive 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
They wanted to target companies who had Enterprise Reporting
Systems, but we werent 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 havent 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 dont even have
to be real customers who look like they are enjoying
the benefits of your product or service, you might dramatically
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 Im reading Waste Management
News, Im probably in that business.(And what makes
you think you arent, Alan?)
Not only that but every single one of the ads are probably
about stuff I need, right? And even if I dont 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, its
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
" Instead of an advertisement for washing powder,
which shows clean clothes, and says, "Gets Out the Deep Down
So if you want to improve response, show your product, show your
product benefits, and show satisfied customers using your
4. Humanize the product
Technically, its called anthropomorphism
assigning human characteristics to non-human things.
Its 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
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
Mothers Day package. The outer envelope read, "This
Mothers Day, give her a gift shell 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
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 doesnt have to be limited to using the
prospects 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 theyre (NAME OF PROSPECT). Theyre
using your name to open credit accounts, take out bank loans and
commit fraud. How would you even know?"
8. Involve your audience
Im 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 "Wed 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
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. YourName@BeNow.com
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: "Its
okay to have more than one MasterCard."
Response jumped 17%.
Apparently, a lot of people believed that they couldnt
accept the card because they already had a card.
If you can figure out the main reason why people arent
buying your product, or taking advantage of your offer, and overcome
it you will almost certainly improve response.
10. Test a blind envelope
Ive just attended a dizzying round of focus groups in New
York and Florida, where people talked about direct mail.
Now you cant 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
11. Use e-mail
Ive 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 youre not testing and using e-mail whenever possible
hopefully to "opt-in" lists,
you are missing a major opportunity.
And, by the way, if youd like to receive my free newsletter,
just e-mail me at Arosenspan@aol.com.
12. Heres the one to avoid
For years, Ive been preaching that you should never,
ever send an unsolicited CD-ROM or software package through
People just dont pay attention to it, or they put it aside
to look at later, or it disappears into some direct marketing
black hole, but Ive 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, its 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
it turns out I couldnt.
So the next time someone suggests sticking a CD-ROM into the
package, tell them to save their money.
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