Position Your Offer as a Solution
When you get down to it, everything we do in direct marketing is based on coming up with a solution to a problem. The way we sell our products and services is to identify people’s needs and wants, and then position our offerings as the fulfillment of those desires.
When I think of problem/solution marketing, NetFlix immediately comes to mind. What’s the problem with Netflix? Nothing. As far as I can tell, it’s the perfect Internet-driven direct marketing business. In fact, it’s a solution to a problem.
What problem? It goes back to the birth of the Internet, when everyone who could write code was setting up Web businesses. Most of these Internet companies treated the Web as just another medium and tried to jam an existing business model onto it. Most of these companies went broke, and the few who didn’t saved themselves by cutting costs, scaling back and changing their modus operandi ... just in time.
Netflix did the opposite. It created a business specifically for the Internet. (Think mail-order movie-lending library.) I suspect it’s only about 20 percent of the way to where it’s going. (Think downloading movies directly to your home.)
What Netflix Does Now
The way Netflix works: you go online and open an account by giving Netflix your credit card number. The company charges you $20 a month. You then can browse its library of 15,000 movies and create a queue of those you want to rent. If the movie hasn’t been released, Netflix puts it on another file and moves it to your queue when it’s in-stock. It sends you three DVDs at a time, by mail. They arrive within a day or two, and come in an ingenious envelope that, with a few simple rips and folds, transforms into the return envelope. You pay no postage and handling costs coming or going. And you can keep the movies as long as you want; no late charges. When you send a movie back, the next one on your list is shipped.
Compare Netflix to Blockbuster
Visit Blockbuster.com. You can research movies, find a nearby store or buy (not rent) a movie. Just for fun, I clicked on “Buy Online” and tried to buy the first movie I saw, “American Wedding.” It’s on back order!
If you want to rent a movie, you can locate a Blockbuster store, go there, find a movie, get in line, pay and finally leave. And you’d better return the movie on time, or you’ll get whacked with late charges.
Blockbuster forced an existing business onto the Internet, and it looks and feels lame. Netflix created a business for the Internet, and it looks and feels perfect.
Just before this issue went to press, I learned that Blockbuster plans to start a mail-order DVD rental service. Looks as if it got the hint.
A Week Without a Mattress Sale?
We’re not likely to see a week when no mattresses are on sale. This illustrates another problem/solution: Marketers who keep humming the same tune month after month.
Mattress marketers always are offering a 50-percent discount. I don’t think anyone in history has ever paid full price for a mattress—except maybe at Macy’s. Is the mattress any good? Is the service any good? Problem? The offer’s getting tired. Solution? Rethink it.
A snap-pack from Kiplinger’s Personal Finance newsletter landed in my mailbox with a “professional” rate offer of $10 for 12 issues, save $32 or 76 percent, risk-free, money-back guarantee, act by Feb. 26 to get this special deal. I received 12 or 13 mailers—from different publishers—that same month with the exact same offer. Maybe it works. I suspect it’s fading. Needs new thinking. Same problem, same solution.
Quality Paperback Book Club states that it’s “gonna make you a welcome-back offer you can’t refuse”: five books for $5. No kidding? This is new thinking? Maybe … they used to offer three books for $3.
Offer: 11 CDs for a penny. How about that whopping invoice for shipping and handling we all know we’ll find with our CDs when they arrive?
Here’s what I think:
• Don’t force things that don’t fit. Think it through. Be a Netflix, not a Blockbuster.
• Don’t leap on every bandwagon. Try to listen to the contrarians. Sometimes if it’s too good to be true, it is.
• Value customers, not just sales. Most people will fall for something only once before they’re on to you. Your job isn’t the quick and easy sale. Your job is to get and keep customers.
• Beware of becoming a commodity. Use unique positioning, personality and character to make your company stand out.
• Try new things. You never know. Even if what you’re doing now works fine, it will get tired. You’ll need something tested to replace it. Bring in someone new to come up with a different approach, and never, ever say, “That’s not the way we do things here.”
Lois K. Geller is president of Mason & Geller Direct Marketing, a full-service, direct response agency in NYC. Geller is the author of “RESPONSE! The Complete Guide to Profitable Direct Marketing” and “Customers for Keep.” E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.