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

Thinking Like A Direct Marketer
By Alan Rosenspan

If you haven't seen Lester Wunderman's terrific new book Being Direct, stop reading this right now -- and go pick up a copy.

Okay, are we ready to continue?

As you can see, in the first chapter, he lists "19 Things All Successful Direct Marketing Companies Know" and the list includes everything from 1. Direct Marketing is a Strategy, Not a Tactic, to 2. The Consumer, Not the Product, Must be the Hero. I couldn't agree more.

However, I believe that Mr. Wunderman left out something on his list -- possibly because he does it so naturally, it would never occur to him to imagine that other people don't. And that's this -- to be successful in our business -- you have to think like a direct marketer.

What I mean is that you have to keep alert for opportunities to reach your prospects, to understand how to recognize potential direct marketing opportunities, to know what will appeal to people, to develop and enhance relationships, and to take advantage of market dynamics. Let me give you some examples.

The Bay State Gas Solution

Bay State Gas is the leading provider of clean natural gas in Massachusetts and most of New England. Their marketing focuses on getting people who use oil to switch to gas, and over 3000 of them do every year.

In previous years, they would offer cash rebates of up to $500 to switch as well as other incentives. These mailings would go to everyone who lived in the area served by Bay State Gas, and generally received a pretty ordinary response. Now let's see if we can think like a direct marketer.

First, we segmented out those people that lived on a street where Bay State Gas already had a gas line. We reasoned that switching to gas would be much simpler and much cheaper for these folks. Plus they had neighbors who already enjoyed all the benefits of gas.

This group was sent a highly personalized postcard that said, "There's a gas line running right down (your street). And that means you can connect for free!" This was followed up by a direct mail package with an outer envelope that said, "This is your street. This is our gas line. Now Alan Rosenspan can make the connection for free."

At this point, the client raised a problem. "We can't say you will be able to connect for free -- because there are some homes that are set so far off the street that we can't easily reach them."

This changed the outer envelope and the letter somewhat, but it had a bigger effect on the reply card, which read, "Free Connection!" Here were the options:

1. We could still say "Free Connection!", and accept that fact that 1 out of every 100 people didn't qualify for one. If they complained, we could give it to them anyway. This didn't seem like the right thing to do, but it was tempting.

2. We could still say "Free Connection!" and put a big asterisk on the word free. I didn't want to do that because I think that says to the reader "It's not really true." Plus it directs them to stop reading and go down to the bottom of the page.*

3. We could say "You may be able to connect for free" but I think that weakened the reply card pretty drastically.

"Hmmm," I thought, "How could I use the fact that 99 out of 100 people will qualify for a free switch, but that one wouldn't? I know that people like to feel special and enjoy having an advantage other people don't have."

So here's what I did. I changed the reply card to read "Do You Qualify for a Free Connection?" and invited people to find out -- even if they had no intention of switching to gas at this time. And the really great part is that 99 out of 100 people will receive the following letter:

"Congratulations! Your home does qualify for a free connection, and that means you can be enjoying all the advantages of clean natural gas for much less than other people have to pay."

The Mazda Truck Strategy

Mazda was offering a tremendous financing deal on trucks for farmers -- but there was a problem. Everyone they were talking to already had a truck. How could they know if and when they needed a new one?

Of course, they knew which farmers had bought trucks from them before, and when they bought them. However, they wanted to expand their market with people who had bought trucks from other companies. And, at the time, this information wasn't available. So let's think like a direct marketer and ask ourselves the question, "How could we reach farmers who didn't need a new truck just yet -- but might need them six months from now?"

The answer was we sent out a mailing offering the financing deal, but also offered something else -- a certificate that guaranteed the same terms for the next six months. "Think of it as an insurance policy for your old truck." I wrote, "If it breaks down next week, or next month, you'll still be able to get this great deal. But you have to send for your certificate."

The response was phenomenal -- and why not? All we were really doing is asking people who were worried about their truck breaking down to self-identify. And, once they did, we marketed to this highly targeted group, every single month. "You have only two months left on your certificate." "If you choose to pay cash, your certificate is worth $500 off" And, of course, "We are extending your certificate for an additional six months -- just in case."

We sold more trucks to more farmers than Mazda ever did before. Is this an idea you could use in your next mailing?

The NEC VARS Campaign

When NEC launched it's new computer, it wanted to make an impression on it's most important VARS (Value Added Re-sellers). The strategy was to create a seminar that helped VARS understand and sell the benefits of the new computer. And the agency -- who shall remain nameless -- created a series of advertisements that would appear in Computer World and other industry publications. The total budget was $250,000.

NEC invited me to look over the proposed ads and see if I could add some direct marketing elements. Instead, I began thinking like a direct marketer. My first question was "How many VARS are you trying to reach?" "Only 1100," they answered, "but they're each responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars or even millions in sales."

"Well, it strikes me as a little wasteful to spend $250,000 to reach 1100 people." I answered, "Heck, you could mail something to them that costs $100 each and still do it for less than half your budget. And think what an impact that would make!"

NEC agreed, and we developed a mailing box that said, "What will make you thousands of dollars, take only three hours, and only knocks once?" Inside were the words, "Opportunity" (which became the name of our seminar) and a beautiful brass doorknocker with the name of the VAR inscribed on it.

The mailing achieved a 70% response, and won many awards, including "Best of Show" in New England. Was it a clever package? Yes. Am I proud of it? Absolutely. But they key to the campaign's success was in "thinking like a direct marketer."

How To Think Like A Direct Marketer

Let me first explain how not to think like a direct marketer. My first job in advertising was as a jr. copywriter for Ogilvy & Mather in New York. One of the first big campaigns I worked on was for a huge conglomerate called SCM. They made typewriters (Smith Corona) They made aluminum cans. They made toasters.

The campaign I came up with was simple. It showed an extreme close-up of an ordinary object -- like a keyboard -- with the following headline, "SCM Re-Invents The Typewriter."

The advertising ran full-page in the Wall Street Journal. The ads also included a coupon that offered "more information" -- but only because I knew absolutely nothing about direct marketing at that time. I remember one time I went to visit the client at their offices on Park Avenue. "How's the advertising going?" I asked. "Just great, " the client replied, "I think it's really making an impact."

"Umm...get any coupons?" I asked. The client then proceeded to pull out a large box from under his desk. Inside were hundreds of coupons. "You bet!" he answered. I nodded happily. He put the box back under his desk. And, as far as I know, they remain there to this day. But that was years ago. If you do want to think like a direct marketer -- I have 5 quick suggestions.

1. Look for opportunities to segment. Not all customers are created equal. Not all prospects are worth the same amount. Instead of creating a "one size fits all" ad or direct marketing package, try to tailor your approach to the most valuable, or the folks with the biggest problem, or the ones who will most likely become customers. Remember that the average American family has 2.2 children, but there's isn't a family in America that actually has 2.2 children. And one size doesn't fit all -- it fits nobody.

2. Look for innovative ways to reach prospects. The person that said, "Why don't we put American Express applications at restaurants?" was thinking like a direct marketer. It's still responsible for a huge percentage of new cardmembers. National Photos of Australia put their message on the motion sickness bags on Quantas airlines. It says "Use this strong bag to send your film in, and we'll have it back to you in seven days."

3. Keep thinking of your existing customers. A few years ago, we did a 55-cell test for a large mutual fund company. At the very last minute, I did a buckslip that went into the statements of their existing customers. The buckslip outpulled the entire 55 cell test, sold $32 million worth of funds and won a Gold Echo.

As Laertes told Hamlet, "Those friends thou hast., and their adoption tried Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel. But do not dull thy palm with entertainment Of each new-hatched, unfledged comrade" The direct marketing translation is: bind your customers to you, and treat them better than prospects.

4. Adopt the Kasparov mentality. Even though he lost to "Big Blue," Kasparov has a lot to teach us about thinking a few steps ahead. If a prospect raises their hand, what do we do? If they don't buy, what do we do? If they do buy, what do we do?

One of the most successful campaigns I did at AT&T was called "Speedy Delivery." The way it worked is that the telemarketer asked you to switch to AT&T. If you said "No", the telemarketer was required to ask you why not?

The "Why Nots" were grouped into three different buckets. They then received a direct mail package targeted to their specific answer. For example, one said, "Thank you for spending time with us on the telephone the other day. You indicated that you thought you were saving money with your new long distance carrier. We don't think that's true..." The campaign regularly pulled a 50% response.

Even if someone buys your product -- you must think ahead towards solidifying your relationship, getting them to buy more, and getting them to refer you to others.

5. Try to find a way to get everyone to respond. In previous articles, I've described that as the "100% mentality" in contrast to the 2% mentality, but it means even more than coming up with a great offer. Try writing this into your letters, "Even if you don't need our product or service right now, here's why you should still take advantage of our offer." I've even had luck with, "If by some chance this package should not have been sent to you, may we ask that you please pass it along to someone in your company who you believe will benefit."

New Technologies Thinking

Thinking like a direct marketer is also extremely important when it comes to new technologies and the Internet. The saying -- "If you build it (a web site), they will come" -- just isn't true. And more and more companies are discovering that the way to make the Internet work is to make it part of their overall direct marketing strategy.

One company I've worked with offers a service to find people's name and address through the Internet. The problem was that users weren't registering for the service. They were skipping over that part and going directly to find who they were looking for.

My recommendation came from thinking like a direct marketer. From now on, I advised them, make people find themselves first. If they can't, they obviously need to give their name, address and contact numbers -- which, buy the way, was the registration process.

Finally, if you want to think like a direct marketer -- read what other direct marketers have thought and done. Unlike advertising, direct marketing can be studied, learned and mastered by anyone who has the energy and dedication to do it. And I can't think of a better place to start than with Lester Wunderman's new book.

*See what I mean?

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