Creative Techniques That Work
What's the difference between direct response copy and creative for front-end prospects vs. back-end customers? In a nut shell, it's the credibility you have with your audience—or how you establish it and then use it to your advantage.
Your customer knows your company and hopefully trusts it. He or she has a relationship with your company. You've already met or surpassed your customer's expectations. But a prospect is daring you to: "Show me."
What does this mean as you're developing the creative strategies for your direct response advertising? To answer that question, start by defining your objective, including the audience(s) you want to reach. Are you targeting customers, prospects or both? To reach both effectively and efficiently, create at least two versions of your direct mail piece, e-mail, etc. Otherwise, you're missing one of the greatest opportunities to maximize response and return on your advertising investment.
Which type(s) of media should you use to reach your objective? As an example, package and statement inserts are best for reaching customers, while Yellow Page ads attract prospects. With direct mail lists, you can rent or trade lists of prospects and use your house file to talk to customers. The same applies to e-mail.
After selecting the media, decide how you're going to capture the attention of your audience. It's especially important to understand and capitalize on the credibility you have with your targeted audience. A customer may recognize, seeing your company's name and logo. When that customer sees your return address on the outside of an envelope or your company name as the sender of an e-mail, hopefully there's automatic anticipation. The more times a customer has bought from you, the stronger your credibility and the more likely your message will be read.
Following are some key points to keep in mind:
• Include your company name and logo on every component in a mailing. It doesn't need to be large; in fact, it should not be the focus of the piece but merely a "signature," a gentle reminder of who you are. You never know which piece(s) will get retained for later action.
• With a customer, you may not need to devote as much copy describing your company and why it's "the expert." At the same time, never assume. For example, many catalogers have a tag line that appears under the catalog name as a reminder of its area of authority (e.g., "Purveyors of Fine Food"). Even if you're not a cataloger, you may want to have a line of copy that reminds customers of the domain in which you're the authority—something to include in letters, brochures and other communications.
• To a prospect, however, you're a stranger. He or she may have heard of you or seen your company name and logo, but any credibility you have is based merely on hearsay, not experience. Work diligently to establish and build credibility in everything you send, say and do. This includes how your customer service phone calls are handled, what's featured in your outgoing package inserts, and what's noted in your letters, e-mails and on your Web site—as well as how each of these forms of communication look.
Credibility Builders and Boosters
Customer testimonials are highly effective third-party marketing tools for establishing credibility. Better than celebrity endorsements, they allow customers to communicate to your prospects from the vantage point of having once been in their non-customer shoes. Use testimonials as headlines, on outer envelope teasers, and in brochures, e-mail messages and more. One short testimonial that sounds sincere in addressing a potential major buying objection is far more powerful than any copy claim you can make or any size logo.
The reassurance your guarantee offers is primarily for your prospect; use it generously when talking with them. Make your guarantee short and to the point, then use it in every piece of prospecting communication you send. And don't let your attorney write it! The more hedge words and "hoops to jump through" you include, the weaker the guarantee and your credibility. Take a tip from a company that states: "Your satisfaction guaranteed. Period." Then stand by it. (P.S. While your guarantee is critical to prospective customers, it's also a good reminder for your current customers, but you may not have to mention it as frequently in a single advertising effort.)
No matter how well known you are, you can't assume the notoriety translates into automatic credibility when asking individuals to send money. Earn a customer's trust by making solid promises and keeping them. For example:
1. Don't make promises in copy about friendly, responsive customer service unless you know for a fact it's true.
2. Don't make superlative claims (e.g., bigger, better or ours exclusively) unless you know they're true. Otherwise, the immediate impression is that of typical advertising puffery.
3. Direct response copy is benefit-based and offer-driven. When asking people to make an immediate buying decision followed by sending money, your company name alone isn't enough. Give readers primary benefits that apply to them.
Understand Customer Expectations
Another major difference in creating direct response advertising for customers: They have expectations of you—expectations based on past experience, hopefully, positive past experience. If you've always mailed customers 81⁄2˝ x 11˝ catalogs with 48 pages and a special offer promoted on the front cover, then suddenly switch to a different-sized catalog with no special offer, you may not generate the same response. You've lost the immediate visual recognition you've developed among your customers.
That's why established companies such as Fingerhut, American Express and The Wall Street Journal, which, for years, have used mail order to sell their products, understand their customers' expectations and don't make major changes in mailing formats without testing them against the control.
Because a change in format, copy, design or offer can affect response—positively or negatively—you may need to explain to customers why you're making the change. And it's always a good idea to position any change in terms of a customer benefit.
The most important thing to remember as you develop creative strategies for communicating with your customers and prospects is that they are distinctively different audiences. To ignore this difference is to run the risk of minimizing rather than maximizing your response.