Just a Song Before I Go
After five years and some 30 columns for Inside Direct Mail, it’s time to say, “Goodbye” … not only to readers of this column, but to the industry. I’ll be officially retiring in February to “pursue other interests,” writing a novel among them. As the last verse of this great Crosby, Stills & Nash oldie indicates, I’ll leave you with “just a song before I go, a lesson to be learned.”
So what is that one overriding “must,” the most important lesson in making direct mail work? It actually has to do with writing a novel because writing direct mail is strikingly similar. Direct mail, after all, is the supreme fiction. I say direct mail more than other forms of direct response because you have the room and time to emulate the characteristics of great fiction.
Focusing on character (prospect, customer) is a hallmark of great fiction as it is of great direct mail copy. In both arts, story (plot line or product story) must flow from character. In both arts, character never exists in a vacuum: The writer must skillfully describe how the character interacts. In fiction that means interaction with other characters and the environment; in direct mail that means interaction with the product, or at least the product category, and with the offer.
If you don’t know your prospects and customers, you make the wrong offer to them, and that hurts results. Recently, in a lead generation test for a Canadian health insurer, the client wanted to go with a 5 percent discount as an introductory rate. Looking at the audience—educated people with relatively high household incomes—I argued against it. The 5 percent discount offer lost out to the no-discount offer in terms of response by more than
The truth of “Direct Mail Is the Supreme Fiction” raised its beautiful head in a phone conversation with a potential client: