2001 Direct Marketer of the Year
Brandt Crashes the Diskette Market
Brandt had no idea what floppy discs should cost. What's more, results were so fantastic, she did not pay much attention. One day on a hunch she called all the disc makers and said she felt she was being overcharged and they were taking advantage of the young staff who were placing the disc orders.
Brandt was spot on. At $1.19 per diskette, floppy makers had been reaping usurious profits and driving AOL's cost to mail up to a mind-blowing $1,750/M. By the time AOL switched to sending out CD-ROMS, she had pushed the cost of floppies down to 8 cents or 9 cents.
Around this time, Brandt battled with Steve Case over sending out floppies. Because the software had become so complex it required two floppies to accommodate all the features, Case wanted to switch entirely to CD-ROMs.
Brandt said no dice; too many potential members were still using diskettes and she flatly refused to send out two of them. "It would be too complicated," she recalls, adding, "Even if it wasn't too complicated, it would appear to be complicated." So for a short while, to Case's rising irritation, AOL's development was limited to how much programming would fit on a single floppy. During this period, Brandt was sending out mailings that contained both a floppy and a CD-ROM, eventually switching over entirely to the latter.
Case also came to the realization that a monthly fee for unlimited usage was the way to go. Coming out of the continuity world, Brandt understood the effect of strong upfront offers and the power of the word "FREE." For a while she offered one-month free, which was immediately aped by CompuServe.
It occurred to her that offering 50 hours free sounded stronger. She upped that to 500 hours free and even 700 hours free—which is the same thing as one month free, but sounds better (just as "Buy one, get one free" sounds like a better offer than "50 percent off" or "half price," even though they are all the same thing).