Seabiscuit and Direct Marketing
By Denny Hatch
The best nonfiction book I've ever read is Laura Hillenbrand's "Seabiscuit." For a brief period of my life, I spent every Saturday with The Daily Racing Form the way some people do crossword puzzles. I loved studying the past performances, and once in a while a horse would pop out of the numbers as a sure winner, and I would bet a couple of bucks. But mostly it was mental exercise.
Several years ago a Midwest circulation group invited me to do a talk on direct marketing, and the meeting was held at Arlington racetrack outside Chicago. I decided my talk would be about the similarities between horse racing and direct marketing. Both disciplines are governed by rules:
>Never bet on a maiden (a horse that has never won a race). Never hire a copywriter, agency or a consultant that has never put a client in the winner's circle.
>Bet on horses as you would bet on customers—using RFM.
Recency and Frequency: To win, a horse needs workouts and races. If a horse has not worked out and raced—and finished well—in the past month, take a pass.
Monetary: "Cheap horses know it," says racing guru Tom Ainsly. An expensive horse always will beat a cheap horse. A customer who spends a good deal of money with you is your best customer.
>Horses for courses … or do not bet on a dirt horse that's running on turf or a distance horse that's running in a short race, and vice versa. In direct marketing, don't offer a high-end item with a bill-me option to a prospect in bankruptcy or make a toy offer to a family with no children.
>Become your prospect or customer. To be successful in direct marketing, you have to get inside the head and under the skin of your customers and prospects—think how they think, feel what they feel—and literally become those people.
In horse racing, you have to get inside the heads of:
The owner/trainer: The majority of horses are in a race for reasons other than to win. For example, a dirt horse in a turf race is probably out for the racing experience and to be toughened up. A six-furlong horse is in a mile race for the same reason.
The crowd: The odds are not determined by the quality of the horses. Rather they are set by the amount of money bet—the perceived value of the horse by the horse players. You can't make money betting a favorite that pays 2-to-1 or 3-to-2. Dig deep into the numbers to figure out why a horse is the favorite, and find something that the majority missed that will cause the favorite to lose.
In direct marketing, dig deep into the datacard of a recommended list, and figure out why a list may be wrong for you.
The horse: How is the horse feeling? If the numbers in The Daily Racing Form point to two entries as being likely winners, go down to the paddock and examine the horseflesh at close range. Are the front legs bandaged? Bandages on the back legs usually are all right, because often the front legs can clip the back ankles in the running process. Front bandages could indicate a weakness.
Is the horse sweating and acting up? Last week at Delaware Park I had two contenders in one race and went to the paddock. The No. 9 horse was being saddled up pretty much out of sight. The No. 3 horse, on the other hand, was surrounded by caring people—a trainer, owners, a jockey, stable boys—all fussing over him the way mechanics would baby an Al Unser, Jr., car before the Indy 500. At the last moment the stable boy unwrapped the bandages from the front legs and everyone stepped back as the jockey was given a leg up. "That horse is the winner," I said to myself. And he was.
Alas, the odds were lousy, so I bet a longshot and lost.
In short, if you want to sharpen your direct marketing skills, get into The Daily Racing Form. And read "Seabiscuit"!
Denny Hatch, contributing editor, consultant and freelance copywriter, is the author of the books "Method Marketing" and (with Don Jackson) "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." Visit him online at www.methodmarketing.com.