Note: Denny Hatch personally replies to all correspondence.
Readers respond to “When a Marketer Breaks All the Rules” published June 1, 2006, which described a mailing piece that featured a car and test drive, but was really offering digital printing.
Beyond your excellent points that this piece—for a generous and presumably effective offer—misses the mark with misguided creative and poor copy, the logic even within the piece itself is inconsistent. People shopping for “high performance,” in a car aren’t usually too concerned about price. So the word “affordable” in the headline is a bad choice, because most people don’t associate that with something that for most people is a luxury. More generally, I’m amazed at how bad a lot of advertising and direct mail is that comes from traditional and digital printing firms. I smell a market opportunity.
I strongly support benefit versus feature selling. Reflecting this, we suggest moving from USP to URB ... Unique Reason to Buy.
Denny, I agree with your points, mostly. And I find your system of arriving at a USP intriguing. However, I want to add another element to “why people buy.” I would also add: “fear.” I have more than 10 years’ experience in writing copy for insurance products, particularly direct mail; none of the 3 reasons you provide truly captures the main reason people buy some forms of insurance, and that is fear. It could be fear of the unknown, fear of being unprotected; fear of loss; fear of ____. I say this because not all people take that next step and compare insurance coverage (which would then lead to your 3 points: price, service, exclusivity.)Therefore, I don’t believe you can reduce all direct mail copy to those 3 reasons.
Thanx for writing. The Price-Service-Exclusivity trio refers to the reason for buying AFTER they have made the buying decision. Seattle guru Bob Hacker came up with 6 key copy drivers--the emotional hot buttons that cause people to act: Fear, Greed, Guilt, Anger, Exclusivity, Salvation. Florida guru Axel Andersson added to this: flattery. He did a study of direct mail control and found that 42 percent used flattery. I added one more after 9/11—patriotism. If you can make the wings of the eagle flutter, it helps to make a sale.
On a more fundamental level, after 36 years in this business, I have never, NEVER seen a self-mailer outpull a so-called “classic” package (envelope, letter, etc.) in a true, head-to-head test. Yet, I now see more and more self-mailers in my in-basket. What’s your viewpoint on this?
I absolutely agree. When I got into direct marketing in the 1960s, the linchpin was the letter—”the main salesman” as freelancer Mal Decker said. The letter—that intimate, me-to-you message that talks benefits (as opposed to features, which belong in the brochure—is designed to make an emotional connection between writer and reader. The folks writing today do not seem to be comfortable with emotion. Exception: the fund raising crowd. The late guru Dick Benson said that the more stuff in a direct mail package, the better it pulls. Obviously this cannot apply to self mailers.
Denny, today’s column was the best short course in DM core principles I’ve ever seen. Put a cover on it, sent it to a POD publisher, and call it DM Marketing/Creative 101.
I always enjoy your newsletter but I had to write to tell you how delighted I was to see today’s issue which quoted my mentor and dear friend Dorothy Kerr. Dottie was my first boss; she hired me as a direct mail copywriter for her agency in Washington in 1976 and she’s still my idol. I ended up following in her footsteps and started my own DM agency 14 years ago. Thirty years after I met her, I still find myself remembering and practicing the tried-and-true best practices of direct marketing that Dorothy taught me so many years ago! What happy memories your column brought back to me today!
It’s ironic that Vermillion’s main product is a powerful dm tool, but they lack basic dm skills. Saw a huge billboard today, right on I-94 in downtown Milwaukee, advertising CRM software. Seems to me that a company capable of designing CRM software should have the skills to find their target audience a bit more directly.
I agree. Another reader raised the same point and here was my response: “Small companies—whether they be digital printers or the corner dry cleaner or retailers—-are generally good at what they do, but are not expert marketers. Nor can they afford expert marketers—ad writers, strategists, etc. One of the problems I found when I ran Target Marketing magazine—a direct marketing trade publication—was that advertisers complained they got little response. One reason was that the advertiser never made an offer—never gave a reason to respond.” Sigh…
The late, great guru Ed Mayer suggested that success in direct mail depends on the following formula: 40 percent lists, 40 percent offer and 20 percent everything else.” Ed was the person who got me into direct marketing ... back in the late ‘50’s. I took his one week saturation course and he became such a close personal friend that he gave me the key to his Sutton Place apartment to use when he was out of town.
—Peter K. Crone
Another excellent piece, Denny (“When a Marketer Breaks All the Rules”). Do you know who did the Vermillion creative? It looks like one of those situations where a general ad agency assured the client that “of course we do direct response” and then pulled out all the stops in typical “cult of creativity” fashion. You alluded to this is your last take-away bullet point, but didn’t explicitly get into the whole general vs. direct agency issue, and the fact that in so many situations the former literally don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to direct response.
I loved your review of Vermillion in “When a Marketer Breaks All the Rules”, and wanted to see if you could expand on “Cleverness and humor have no place in direct marketing”—I just ran a postcard campaign with 1 funny/clever image (within our company brand) and 1 serious image (same tagline, same call to action, features, benefits)—I’d love to send images of the creative—in any event the funny one is not doing well at all. So why is that the clever aspect means that the sale is lost ... wouldn’t it generate show-a-friend (same as in the email space) or at least keep our company/brand top of mind for the recipient?
—Charles Dupin de Saint Cyr
Thanx for writing. The job of a direct marketer is to involve the prospect totally in the product or service, the benefits and the offer. Humor or cleverness interrupts that involvement. The thread of the argument is lost as the person sits back and says, my, isn’t that clever (or funny). Very seldom does humor work when you are selling something. (Unless it is a New Yorker book of cartoons.) Charm, yes. The late Bill Jayme was a master of exuding charm and making the reader fall in love with the product (usually a magazine). Humor, no.
The Vermillion mailing. I agree with everything you wrote. The only thing missing, and the only thing that matters, is did it work? I don’t see how it could but you never know.
Shortly after your e-question arrived I got a call from Vermillion. It wasn’t in response to the column, but rather a follow-up to the mailing. “Are you in Derry, New Hampshire?” I asked and he acknowledged that he was. “But you aren’t a New Englander.” “Nah,” he said. “I’m a Limey.” I was not surprised that a Brit would be involved in this effort. With the exception of David Ogilvy and his associate, Drayton Bird, UK copywriters love metaphors, puns, humor and generally clever copy. The Vermillion sales rep said the response “has been fantastic” so far and asked me what I thought of the piece. I told him his offer was terrific but that his self-mailer did not mention any of the many reasons why digital printing would be of enormous value to direct marketers (e.g., turnaround time, testing, personalization on the fly, economies of small print runs, no press set-up time, etc.). What’s more, the piece did not even announce that it had been printed digitally, thus laying to rest the shibboleth that digital printing is not as good as offset. Instead it talked cars and test-drives. I suggested that even though it apparently was successful it should probably be tested against the work of a direct response copy professional.