5 Big Ideas You Haven’t Tried Yet
In his first book, "Confessions of an Advertising Man," David Ogilvy wrote: "Unless your advertising is based on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night." To which I add, "And in direct marketing, your ship will sink."
Having worked at Ogilvy & Mather for 11 years—and constantly being asked, "What's the big idea?"—big ideas have been ingrained into my thinking ever since.
Direct marketers sometimes feel that if they get the list right and create a compelling offer, that's all they need to do. And it's true that those are the most important elements of a successful campaign.
However, in an age where everyone has access to the same data, the same technology and the same production techniques, list and offer are just the starting points. Marketers still need a big idea to stand out from the crowd-and get enough people to respond to their communications, whether direct mail package, email or even mobile text.
For many years, old television shows were called "reruns"—and who wanted to watch those? Now they are positioned as "New to You!" which sounds a lot more attractive.
Here are five classic big ideas you can incorporate into your planning. They may not be new-but they may be new to you.
1. The Big Format
The first big idea is literally a big idea. In direct mail, bigger is always better. By enlarging the size of our direct mail packages, to a #11 or #12 or even going all the way to a 9" x 12" format, we have always increased response.
In one case, the response went up almost 300 percent. In another case, response went up-but not enough to justify the extra postal costs.
But I'm not suggesting you change everything in your package. Just don't fold it and tuck it away into an ordinary #10—simply insert it into a 9" x 12" package.
2. The Invitation
People love to be invited to things—almost anything. And an invitation-sized format, or even an invitational email, is always successful.
But you don't have to wait for a seminar to invite people. You can invite them to take advantage of an offer. You can invite them to try your product. You can invite them to discover all the benefits of using your service.
You even can invite people to a nonevent. The New England Quilt Museum recognized that the economy might not be ideal for an annual fundraising event. So it sent out an invitation-sized mailing, which included the following copy:
The Board of Trustees of the New England Quilt Museum cordially invite you to our first annual non-event in honor of Ms. Sew and Sew.
There will be no cocktails at 6:00 pm
There will be no dinner at 7:30 pm ...
The cost? Only $75 for a non-attending individual, $125 for a non-attending couple.
3. The Most Popular Offer
We're all naturally competitive—we have to be as direct marketers. And two of the best ways to get people to want something is to tell them: They can't have it, or everyone else has one.
For companies like The MathWorks, we've taken their most popular offers in the past-and used them again. We make sure we tell people that this was "our most popular offer ever," and we get a great response.
Has it worked well before? It probably will work well again. The corollary to this is to tell people whenever you've done something special. We've used phrases like:
- Our most popular tour ever
- Our most valuable offer ever
- Our best value
You can't expect people to know how many people have responded to your offer in the past, or whether or not it's been successful—so you have to tell them.
The New York Times Best Sellers list has been using the same principle for years. Ironically, once your book gets on the list, it sells better than ever before. I guess it has to be a best-seller to become a best-seller.
4. The Involvement Device
A great example of bringing a big idea back is when Reader's Digest recently added a penny in its package. This idea is more than 50 years old!
The original idea came from Walter Weintz, former circulation director, who mailed a record 100 million pennies as part of a subscription campaign.
The copy said, "Keep one penny for luck. Send back the other penny as a down payment on a subscription to the Reader's Digest."
The results? More than 1 million additional subscriptions in the first year. That's probably why it is testing it again.
Other companies, especially nonprofits, have tested different coins, including nickels and quarters. I've even received $1 and $5 to complete a survey.
But it's the idea behind the penny that I want to focus on—and that's the involvement device. Anything you can put inside a package, or add to an email, that gets people involved will invariably do two things:
- cause them to spend more time with your marketing efforts; and
- increase response
Other involvement devices include stickers and stamps, yes and no boxes on the reply form—anything that gets the prospect to spend just an extra three seconds with your materials.
Dale Carnegie said it best, "Nothing is sweeter to anyone than the sound of their own name."
When personalization first came along, direct marketers understood its power and used it ad infinitum and perhaps even ad nauseam. But do I really need to see my name in every other paragraph? Somewhere along the way, we forgot just how powerful it is.
Today, with digital printing and dynamic online personalization, it has become both an effective and cost-effective tool.
pURLs: Personalized URLs pull at a fantastic rate. Who can resist clicking on their names? (Just make sure the landing page they arrive at starts with a big "Welcome
Our big idea was to mail marketing directors a box. The outside of the box read, "We'd like to have a word with you." Inside the box was a dictionary with a yellow Post-it note on top. The note said, "Look up ‘visionary.'"
When prospects turned to that page, they found their names listed in the definition plus a URL that directed them to BeNOW's website.
Personalized emails: "Alan, please open this ..." is still a very effective subject line (for me, anyway).
According to Retail Info Systems News, retailers are personalizing their entire emails, based on customers' previous purchasing histories.
LoveSac, a multichannel furniture retailer, has boosted its conversion rates by 150 percent using this technique.
lPersonalization in direct mail: It may seem old-fashioned or corny, but it still works very well.
In a mailing for Modern Postcard's annual conference, it used the prospect's name six times—including printing it on a director's chair "reserved in their name." It pulled very well.
If you're not using the prospect's or customer's name on your printed pieces, you're missing an important opportunity. And the bigger the name appears, the more successful your piece will be.
How to Come Up With Your Own Big Idea
You may not like any of the big ideas I've discussed. You may have already used all of them. Even if you did, they may be worth bringing back.
So how can you come up with your own big idea? I have three suggestions.
First, study your competition. Chances are, your competitors are doing pretty much the same thing. You have the opportunity to do something different. And trying to be different is the first step toward getting a big idea.
Second, do some research. Have you ever been frustrated not being able to come up with an idea, and then you learn just one more thing ... and everything falls into place?
The more you know about your product, market, customers and prospects, the easier it will be to come up with a big idea.
Talk to your sales force; talk to customers; go into a supermarket and talk to shoppers—any of these things can give you a big idea.
Finally, take a few chances. The person who came up with the gecko for Geico absolutely did.
I wish I was there at the presentation. I'm sure the key executives said, "We're trying to portray ourselves as a top-level insurance company that people can trust. And you're recommending a lizard as a spokesperson?" The rest, as you know, is marketing history.
My Biggest Idea
Sometimes big ideas are born out of sheer desperation. A few years ago, I was hired by Myer-Grace Bros. department stores in Melbourne, Australia, to relaunch its credit card.
After an exhausting 17-hour flight, I was met at the airport by one of the marketing people who insisted on bringing me down to the store's headquarters to meet the marketing director.
"But I just flew in—I need to shower and change!" I protested. "He just wants to meet you for a few minutes," I was told.
And so I was led into the marketing director's office, where he had the following words up on a huge whiteboard: "The Myer-Grace Card."
"That's our challenge!" he said. "We need to relaunch the card and come up with a program that will get everyone excited about it."
Bleary-eyed and exhausted by my flights, I walked up to the whiteboard and crossed out a few letters. It now read: "My Card."
"That's it!" the marketing director enthused. "We can do a campaign on My Card, My Fashions, My Savings, My Family ..."
"Can I go home now?" I asked.
Alan Rosenspan is president of Alan Rosenspan & Associates, a direct marketing consulting and creative firm. For additional articles and a free newsletter, please visit www.alanrosenspan.com.