2001 Direct Marketer of the Year
When asked what made AOL different from its competitors, Brandt unhesitatingly replies, "Prodigy and CompuServe thought they were selling software; we sold a service."
The Fulfillment Problem
Matt Korn, AOL's director of operations, whom Brandt calls one of the unsung heroes of the drama, had serious problems. New members were coming online so fast that the system had trouble servicing them. Once in frustration, Korn and a cohort locked Brandt in a safe and screamed through the door, "We'll let you out only if you agree to stop sending out those free floppies!"
AOL's peak times were at night. If 3,000 members were online at the same time—which was a common occurrence—the system was taxed to the limit.
Marketing reports could not be run until 3 a.m., because until that hour all hardware was employed servicing members. Brandt used to go home, walk the dog, eat dinner and fall asleep in front of the TV. Her wake-up alarm was the theme music from reruns of "Law & Order" at 3 a.m. She would groggily boot up her computer to look at the most up-to-date membership report—the flash counts of members, revenue in and cancellations. Every night for three years she lived in fear of the entire house of floppies collapsing. But the members inexorably kept rolling in. Since Brandt worked all day and Korn worked all night, their basic communications were via instant messaging during the wee hours of the morning. Her life was sheer madness.
The Secret of AOL's Success: Testing
In my 40 years of direct marketing experience, I have never heard the philosophy of testing put so succinctly as Jan Brandt articulates it. "We ratcheted up the number of free hours and tested insatiably—2,000 and 3,000 tests a year," she says. "Hundreds of tests on price, offer, format, copy and design. What's more, I never put a limit on the amount of testing to be done and never put testing into a separate budget line. And I asked all the various channel managers to incorporate testing."