How I Beat the Control: Simple Graphic Design Tricks Give 14-Year-Old Control a 58% Lift
The graphic design tricks you'll read about in this articlewhich gave Gene Schwartz's 14-year-old control a 58 percent liftcan work in any mailing.
The late Gene Schwartz, author of "Breakthrough Advertising" and one of the best copywriters and direct marketers who ever lived, owned a publishing company called Instant Improvement Inc. One of his most successful products, "The Complete System of Self-healing," was made famous by the long-standing control he wrote with the teaser, "How to Rub Your Stomach Away."
The Design Challenge
It's generally agreed that it's copy that sells. And the more you tell, the more you sell. But unfortunately for direct marketers, people don't want to listen to a sales pitchespecially a long one. They don't want to read a sales letter. In fact, they don't want to read, period. Therefore, the purpose of designthe sole purposeis to make people read the copy. If you can improve on that, you'll lift response.
Schwartz had never seen a mailing get a significant lift just from graphics, so he was curious about my claim that graphics alone can generate higher response. He asked me to tackle his unbeatable control, saying I could do whatever I wanted as long as I didn't change his copy or the offer. I followed his orders and to his surprise, my redesign gave him a 58 percent lift. Here's how.
"A" Is for Anticipation
I've learned that good envelopes awaken anticipation. The teaser copy on the control envelope previewed what was inside. Like a carnival barker, the envelope shouted. But human nature is such that prospects are leery of salespeopleespecially those who clamor. Advertisingregardless if it's TV, radio, telemarketing, spam or direct mailoften awakens negative
reactions. Essentially, a sales pitch holds little value in people's minds. Therefore, it helps to present your materials as something other than a sales pitch. Instead, make it appear to be something of value.
In this case, I took the sales letter and called it a "special report." Then, on the envelope, I took the preview of what's inside one step further by giving the reader a "visual preview." On the front, I showed the first page of the report. And on the back, I laid out three inside pages of it.
People Don't Want to Read
The best way to force people to read is to make copy the star. And the easiest way to achieve that is to leave out photos. No photos and they're forced to read. It can be effective.
But there are times when you need visuals. In those cases, I will subordinate the visuals. I'll give the impression that the copy is the main event and the visuals are the support. In this case, I used visuals to create the appearance that the copy was instructional rather than a sales pitchthus raising the perceived value of the letter. And the higher the perceived value, the higher the readership.
Another thing: Every book about direct mail design says you need a caption because everyone reads captions. I agree; people do read captions. But I don't always want them to read captions. Why? For the same reason I left out subheads from the sales letter: They encourage people to skimskipping through pages, just reading the subheads and captionsnot bothering to read the body copy. I try to make people read the entire sales letter. Note that the images in this sales letter do not include captions, forcing prospects to read the letter to understand what the images mean.
The original control didn't have a photo of the product and normally my mailings don't either. The problem with a product shotespecially in publishingis that it telegraphs. It tells the reader too soon what the sales pitch is about. The prospect sees the book, reads the title on the cover, says, "I'm not interested," and bypasses the copy. There goes your response.
In some situations, however, it can help to show a photo of the product
because when you describe the benefits they'll enjoy from your product as larger than life, they can feel a bit disappointed to receive a simple book. "Where's the magic?" they wonder. But when they know exactly what they're receiving, you reduce the risk of a letdown, and you also improve your back end.
I also would like to offer a note of caution: When I show a photo of a product, I avoid putting it on the front of the letter or brochure. In most cases, I bury it in the letter, putting it toward the end at the point where the offer is introduced.
In this sales letter, I placed a shot of the book on the final page of the sales letter with the slug, "TRY IT RISK FREE."
During the late 1980s when computers and high quality desktop printers appeared, I often was asked, "With typewriters out of fashion, shouldn't sales letters be printed in Times or Helvetica instead of Courier?"
Back then, I believed that a sales letter should look like a letter so that when it's read it sounds as if a human being is speaking the words. Helvetica and Times, which are associated with printing presses and mass distribution, sound mechanical, distant and corporate. Couriera typeface associated with a typed letterreads as if it's spoken by a real person. It's human and intimate.
Today, I still feel the same way. For that reason, I changed the typeface of the control letter from American Typewriter, a modernizedbut cold and unnaturalversion of Courier, to the original Courier.
Few people use typewriters today, but I still believe that Courier makes a letter appear and sound more human, and thus helps response.
A Better Response Device
The problem with many response devices is that they are about as exciting as a legal contract.
I don't mean that you should add flashy colors and visuals. But a response device should look valuable. By valuable, I mean instead of looking like an order formand feeling like a legal contractit should appear as if it's redeemable for something of value.
The control response device was labeled a no-risk coupon. I called my version a certificate redeemable for a risk-free trial and free gifts, and I added an old-fashioned certificate border.
To make the prospect feel more comfortable accepting the offer, I purposely gave three times as much space to the guarantee. And I set it in Courier to give it a human voice, and included the signatures of both Gene and Barbara Schwartzjust like on the sales letter. This tells the prospect that two people stand behind the words.
There are hundreds of different ways graphics can generate higher response. Each target audience is unique and requires different design techniques. But the basis of designthat its purpose is to make people read the copyis common to all mailings.
The design tricks that gave Gene Schwartz that 58 percent liftusing the envelope to create anticipation, increasing the perception of value to the sales letter, forcing people to read the copy, making the response device look like a redeemable certificate, and visually removing the risk associated with accepting the offerwill generate higher response in any mailing. Try them yourself. And good luck.
Passionate about what he does, and open with what he knows, Ted Kikoler writes, designs and consults to clients in the United States and Europe. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (416) 444-6631.