Break Out of Your Comfort Zone
By Lois K. Geller
It started with a phone call. A pleasant female voice asked, in delightfully accented English, did I want to speak about direct marketing in Istanbul?
The next thing I knew, Mike McCormick, our creative director, and I were relaxing in the business-class section of Turkish airlines. Nine hours later, we met the wonderful Meltem Karateke, president of IMI Conferences and the greatest hostess in the world.
Until then, I had only a vague idea of where Turkey is.
I wasn't at all sure I wanted to go there, but it was a new and exotic place, and I'm a big believer in trying new things.
Boy, am I glad I tried this new thing. Istanbul is a wonderful city, about twice the size of New York, and the people are terrific. You feel rich in Istanbul because US$1 buys about 1.4 million Turkish lira.
Michael and I spoke in three sessions to 250 Turkish businesspeople at Karateke's conference. A few days later, we met the director of the Turkish Export Board. Turkey is ready to do business.
They have carpets, of course, jewelry, magnificent textiles, very good beer and wine, outstanding food, and a can-do attitude about everything, including customer service. They also import tons of stuff for sale at Fifth Avenue/Rodeo Drive-style shopping districts.
They like Americans, and they definitely have a middle class and upper-middle class. Our hostess brought her family to meet us, and the kids wore Converse sneakers. One daughter had read "Anne of Green Gables" in English.
The Turks are a bit behind the curve in direct marketing, though. The samples I saw at the seminars looked like old-fashioned trade catalogs. They don't really have lists or lettershops. Telemarketing's getting hot, but it'll be a while before they get a do-not-call-list going.
And they're ready and willing to try new things. They already know how important it is to build relationships with customers and, I expect, once they get the kinks out, they'll be a direct marketing powerhouse—maybe in five years.
Here are a few new things I wish we'd all start doing:
1. Test letters. I've seen one letter beat another by 1,300 percent! Everything else in the package was the same. Letters are cheap to test which gives you a wonderful opportunity to find the best approach, voice, edge and personality—the perfect combination to get a response. Test a letter from one of your customers, a letter from someone who works on the manufacturing side of your program, or, if you're in publishing, a letter from the author of the book you're offering. Just make sure the letter is signed by one person, not a group.
2. Try really wild things. Offers are fun, but we seem to get stuck in the discount-price categories. Try hard offers, information, books, contests, surprise gifts, or even a choice of gifts for a change. A few years ago, a medical publishing client told us she could pay only 20 cents for a premium. So we created a bumper sticker that read "Say Thanks to a Nurse." Response went up, and people called to order bumper stickers for their hospitals.
3. Test all kinds of segments in your database. Invite people to buy from you again by testing a simple letter asking them to come back. Some Doubleday Clubs use the image of a little cat begging on hands and knees in their come-back appeals. It's irresistible.
If people are defecting, ask them why. Maybe it's your product or your customer service. A survey might help you fix what is broken. (Unhappy customers who get their complaints resolved often become best customers.)
4. Test other segments. "You just purchased this suit from us, maybe you might want to see how this blouse will look with it."
5. Try new lists outside of your usual category. Creative list testing is critical. If you key your letters to your lists, you can directly address each new type of customer.
6. Test radio. We've been creating some new spots for an insurance client, and they are making the phones ring at a decent cost per order. Direct response radio is interesting, especially during talk shows when the prospects actually pay attention to what's being said.
I listen in the morning to an all news station, and I hear spots for eye surgery, vitamins, hair restorer, insurance, stock brokers and exercise equipment. I hear the same spots again and again, so I know they work.
7. Free-standing inserts in newspapers can be part of your media mix, too. The circulations can be huge, and if your product has a wide appeal and good price point, it might be a way to add new customers to your database at a low cost.
8. Try testing geographic areas. For example:
Someone in your neighborhood just bought a beautiful new BMW. Maybe you'd like to come in and test drive one this week.
We've just installed a luxurious new kitchen a few blocks from your home. Maybe you're interested in updating yours.
9. Seminars work, too, for everything from financial products to do-it-yourself. Home Depot's doing very well with their in-store training of customers who want to know how to fix their homes.
10. Drive people to your Web site. Make it interesting enough that people want to come back and visit again; buy things from you; and refer their friends, too.
11. Consider going out of your own geography. Maybe test Canada, the United Kingdom ... or Turkey.
The general idea is to try new things. Even when you're not sure you want to. It's tough to take that first step outside your comfort zone, but once you do, your horizons expand.
E-mail me when you try something new.
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service direct response agency in NYC. She is the author of "RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.