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

The Incredible Power of Credibility
By Alan Rosenspan

As I sit here writing this, the President of the United States is going on trial in the U.S. Senate.

He's been accused of perjury. Obstruction of justice. But that's putting too fine a point on it. Let's just say he lied, early and often, to the American people.

And according to the polls, almost nobody seems to care.

The reason, I think, is cynicism not compassion. Everyone knows all politicians lie, don't they? You can't really believe anything they say, can you? Well, as you nod your head smugly, consider this:

They feel the same way about advertising and direct mail.

You and I know that the claims you make today have to be substantiated. And the days when soup advertisers used to stash a handful of marbles in their product shots, to make the soup look more "hearty," are long gone.

But I don't think consumers really know or believe that. They just don't trust us. And I think it's beginning to have an impact on response.

Response rates seem to be going down in almost every company that calls me in. (Um, Alan, maybe that's why they call you in). Lead generation is down. Seminar registration is down.

Progress Software in Massachusetts recently offered to give away a Porsche to generate more attendance at one of their seminar series. Will it work, or will it just attract "tire kickers?" (Sorry for the pun). I'll let you know what I find out -- and if I win.

Today, more than ever, it is essential to build trust and create credibility among prospects and even customers. And those direct marketers who do have an enormous advantage over the rest of us. Let me share a recent case-history:

UpToDate is a medical information service based in Wellesley, Massachusetts. They make a comprehensive CD-ROM with over 25,000 pages of the very latest medical information and recommendations on patient care and treatment.

The company sells directly to physicians, through the mail, and they have clients in over 70 countries around the world.

The creative problem was -- how do you convince busy specialists that your CD-ROM has the information they need and all the information they need? Let's take it step-by-step.

Don't try to be everything to everyone -- specialize

First, you version your product directly to each target market you're selling to. That means, instead of selling one CD-ROM -- UpToDate in Medicine -- you sell it as:

UpToDate in Cardiology...
exclusively for cardiologists

UpToDate in Nephrology...
exclusively for nephrologists

UpToDate in Gastroenterology....
exclusively for gastroenterologists.

Every UpToDate CD-ROM also includes every specialty, however it's positioned and sold as being specifically for each individual specialty.

Of course, their direct marketing is also heavily versioned. Each specialty has it's own direct mail piece, featuring it's own faculty of writers and editors, and whenever possible, includes testimonials from other physicians in that specialty.

In fact, our control letter starts with "As one cardiologist to another..."

Include endorsements whenever possible

Next, you pursue and then promote the endorsement of relevant medical societies. UpToDate is currently endorsed by five major medical associations.

We often use the association on the outer envelope, to increase our opening rate and to promote credibility. And we include the logo's of every one of them on the back of our brochure.

Overkill? Maybe, but we don't want physicians to miss them.

But these two steps weren't enough. The vast majority of physicians who received our mailing just didn't believe that a single CD-ROM could possibly include so much information.

How best to demonstrate it to them? UpToDate was reluctant to send out a demo or sample CD-ROM's. Their experience had shown that when they distributed them at trade shows, physicians rarely took the time and trouble to look through them.

In one creative execution, we compared the CD-ROM to one of the most famous and authoritative text books. Our headline read, "Over twice as much information...and far more current." But there was no appreciable lift in response.

Then we came up with another idea. 25,000 pages was an impossible figure to imagine -- even the Table of Contents for each specialty ran over 20 pages. But what if we actually mailed the Table of Contents, along with the articles included and the authors?

The 1st Table of Contents Test

The first Table of Contents mailing went out to Cardiologists -- traditionally our toughest market.

It included a short letter from our editor, a top Cardiologist, and included an order form and a brief description of the package.

We also used another breakthrough technique -- a 9 X 12 inch vellum, see-through envelope.

We were careful not to let any "advertising" material show through the envelope. The package looked like it might have been a special report, perhaps from a hospital or even a colleague.

The results were nothing short of extraordinary. Response jumped over five times over.

And by the way, this wasn't a lead generation package. Our direct mail had always asked for the order. So the five fold lift in response had a direct impact on the bottom-line.

We were so delighted we immediately planned a roll-out to each of the other six specialties.

The 2nd Table of Contents Test

The vellum envelope was much more expensive than an ordinary white envelope, so our next mailings tested several different alternatives.

These included plain white plus a "faux" priority mail envelope. Because our first test had included several different elements, we wanted to learn exactly what was working so well.

Was it the Table of Contents? Was it the vellum envelope? Was it something else?

The results of the test were as follows:

Every one of the Table of Contents mailings outpulled the original control by 2 to 1 or better. The "faux" priority mail package outpulled the plain white envelope, but only marginally.

The vellum outpulled both by over 2 to 1.

So we had a winning outer envelope, a winning format, and a very happy and satisfied client.

Truth, where is thy sting?

My favorite story about credibility is from many years ago, when I worked for Johnson Wax.

Johnson Wax makes Pledge furniture polish among many other household items. And because of this, their scientists are experts in wax technology.

When I worked on their business, they created an antiseptic spray with a unique and very important benefit.

Now if you have young children, you know that they usually scream when you spray on an antiseptic. The reason is that they use alcohol as an active ingredient. Johnson Wax used wax.

So, as you can imagine, this wonderful product took the world by storm and shortly afterwards you just couldn't find an alcohol-based antiseptic anywhere... ...except it didn't happen.

The product failed in test market. The reason was that the benefit -- it doesn't sting -- just wasn't believed by mothers. They sprayed it on their children and when the child didn't cry, they thought -- it doesn't work.

Unless you can make people believe your claims, believe in your company, your direct marketing won't work either.

Prove it!

One of the biggest failings of most direct marketing packages that I see is the credibility factor.

You tell me that your product fights cavities. Kills germs. Helps my plants. Makes me more attractive to the opposite sex? Improves my chances for promotion on the job? Fine, prove it!

For this exercise, take your current direct marketing package and ask yourself the following questions:

1. Do you have any testimonials?

Third party endorsements are a great way to add credibility. But don't have your copywriters write them. They should be real...or at least sound as real as possible.

And don't worry if you can't get permission to use names. Simply include the quote and attribute it to "Title, Kind of Company." For example, "CIO, major manufacturing plant."

By the way, headlines or captions in quotes tend to get higher readership and increase credibility even if they're not attributed.

2. Do you include a client list?

Failure to do so is almost always fatal in business-to-business direct marketing. Your prospects want to know who, if anybody, you've done business with in the past. It reassures them.

Most companies consider their client lists public information. However, if you think there may be sensitivity, make sure you get approval from your clients.

3. Do you back up your claims with specifics and examples?

People tend to forget vague, general claims. They also remember examples and stories. The best way to get people to remember and believe what you say is to be specific.

Wonder Bread was famous for "building healthy bodies 12 ways."

How many people do you think would remember that if they simply claimed they "built healthy bodies?"

This leads me to my next point.

4. Do you include numbers?

Human beings constantly try to fit things into patterns of perception. Does this make sense? Do they sound like they know what they're talking about? Numbers can add credibility to the pattern.

For example, if I told you I know how to lose weight, you might or might not believe me. (See my photo below) However, if I told you I know the "5 proven ways to lose weight", it sounds a lot more authoritative and believable.

And by the way, that's an old photo.

5. Do you include product reviews, endorsements, awards, or affiliations?

Remember the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval? It didn't come from a medical association or a government agency -- it came from a magazine. But it helped promote the credibility of the products that earned the seal.

Chances are your product or company has won an award, received a favorable product review or article, was approved or endorsed by somebody somewhere. Use it.

If your direct mail doesn't include some or all of these elements, you will substantially strengthen response by going back and putting them in. In fact, it's one of the 101 Ways to Improve Response...

Should you believe Alan Rosenspan? He and his teams have won over 100 industry awards1. He teaches the Creative Strategy course for the Direct Marketing Association.2 His clients include Dale Carnegie, Datawatch, Hitachi, iMarket, PictureTel and UpToDate3. Steve Humphrey, Chairman of FCB Direct calls him a "master strategist.4." You can reach him at or 617 578-9088.

1 good use of numbers, specifics
2 prominent endorsement
3 impressive client list
4 glowing testimonial

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