How I Beat the Control: Success Comes From Selling the Solution
Beating a control is always satisfyingbut beating an American Express control is like beating the New York Yankees. (Sorry, I'm a long-suffering Red Sox fan!)
The product was the American Express Legal Services Plan, which is designed to protect card members against rising legal costs and unexpected emergencies. The plan gives card holders and their families 24-hour emergency access to a highly qualified attorney, for $14.99 a month.
They also receive a number of extra benefits such as: an annual two-hour legal consultation or review; a simple will, prepared or updated; and telephone calls and letters from an attorney, on the card holder's behalf.
American Express Legal Services' control mailing was a 6" x 9" Kraft-simulated envelope with a two-page letter and a 16-page brochure. This service performed very well for a number of years. But response was going down, and the new manager at American Express wanted to re-launch the program.
What's in a Name? Everything!
Research revealed that the primary benefit to this legal services plan was access to a qualified attorney. We believed we should change the name of the service to focus on this benefit.
We came up with about a dozen ideaseverything from My Personal Attorney to Attorney on Call. Some of the ideas were already registered from other companies, some were voted down.
The new name agreed on was: The American Express Attorney Access Plan. We felt this was much more benefit-oriented and personal than the Legal Services Plan.
Now it was time to think about the offer. The control package used a stylish American Express document bag as a gift when prospects enrolled. Branded merchandise always performs strongly when you have a well-known and well-respected name, so we kept the gift.
We added a no-risk, 30-day trial. If the respondent wasn't satisfied for any reason, he or she could simply cancel the plan and receive a 100-percent refund.
The interesting thing about this offer is that most companies have a guarantee, but they don't advertise it. They may be afraid people will take advantage of it. But I've always found the use of a guarantee is a very effective way to increase response.
Testing, Testing, Testing
For this program, my agency tested two direct mail packages against the client's control.
The first was a simple #10 envelope package, including a personalized letter, brochure and order form. The inside of the brochure had what we believed was a very compelling headline:
Now you can have 24-hour emergency access to a highly qualified Attorney for an entire year for less than the cost of a single consultation.
We also added an element that I recommend in virtually every mailinga Q & A section.
This enables you to present the key elements of your story in a short, easy-to-read format, and also address any possible questions your prospect may have.
My last question in the section is always the sameregardless of what kind of company or product I'm
writing about. It always reads something like this: "Q. I'm convincedhow do I order?"
And my last answer always tells prospects exactly what I want them to do.
But there was one thing more: Identify the main objection.
Whenever we do a direct mail package, I try to answer this question: What would stop people from responding? If you can anticipate their main objection, you often can come up with a way to diffuse it. For American Express, we reasoned that some people might think, "It sounds interestingbut I don't think I'll need an attorney."
So we started the letter as follows:
Dear Samantha A. Sample,
Chances are, you may not need an Attorney.
But why take chances?
We also cited statistics that talked about the likelihood of an individual needing the services of an attorney in the coming year. The chances are surprisingly high.
And finally, we addressed this issue with a small lift note, which was very effective.
The cover of the lift note read:
"Don't Think You'll Need an Attorney?"
Inside it admitted:
You're Probably Right
... but with the rising costs of legal services and the growing number of lawsuits filed every year ... it makes good sense to protect yourself and your family with this Plan.
Our Creative Breakthrough: State the Problem First
The second package was a 6" x 9" envelope format, like the original control. But the new brochure was very different. It didn't start out talking about the product. In fact, you have to fully open it and view three panels before you even get to the product. Instead, the brochure starts with three panels that ask the prospect three specific questions:
You have a big problem with a small contractor. How can you resolve it?
You'd like a simple will to protect you and your family. Who can you call?
You want to talk to an Attorney, but you don't want to spend a fortune. Where can you turn?
Only then, when you fully open the brochure, is the answer revealed. And surprise ... it's the American Express Attorney Access Plan.
This technique of first identifying the problems that people may be havingthat your product will solveis very powerful. If the prospects reading your letter or brochure agree with even one of the problems, then they are already nodding their head "yes" when they get to the product.
This "questions" package was very different from anything else American Express had tried for this program. But lucky for us, the client was committed to testing.
The Results Come In
I'm always delighted when a client is willing to test two or more alternatives. It gives us additional opportunities to succeedand it often provides an important learning experience that can be applied to future programs.
To our surprise, both of the new direct mail packages beat American Express' long-standing control, which is like beating the New York Yankees twice in a doubleheader!
But the winning package, which outpulled the other by far, was the "questions" mailing. While I can't share the specific response rates, I can tell you this package outperformed the control by close to 600 percent.
The "problem first" idea worked really well for American ExpressI knew it would. We've used this technique with several of our other clients ... and my own company.
The goal is to get prospects to nod their head and murmur, "That's exactly what we've been experiencing." After that, they're yours.
Alan Rosenspan is president of Alan Rosenspan & Associates, a direct marketing consultancy and agency in Newton, MA. He can be reached at (617) 559-0999, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.