Strategy Session: Do Not Mail Gentle Into That Good Night
You know the line in the famous Dylan Thomas couplet: "Rage, rage against the dying of the light" ... Well, in direct mail, we call the dying of the light
"I-N-E-R-T-I-A." We can't get prospects for our products and services to switch from their current source, or even to inquire about the possibility of switching.
This is not the kind of inertia that's easily solved with direct marketing calls to action like, "Act now!" and, "Call today!" Those calls to action helpparticularly if they're tied into a strong benefit for acting or dire consequence for not actingbut the problem is much more deep-rooted.
What's the Cause? What Can You Do?
The culprit is commoditization. Most of the time, consumers (be it in the personal or business spheres) perceive no differences between products/
services in a category. Or, and this may be even worse, they don't want to think about the category at all.
So, what do you do to make prospects "move off the dime"? Well, you could bribe them with a premiumparticularly if none of your competitors is doing it. But, last month in Inside Direct Mail's Editor's Notebook, Hallie Mummert reported that premium use is indeed on the rise. You'd need to test what you'd have to spend on the premium to boost the response rates significantly enough, and also what offering that premium does to net sales. Maybe your particular operation needs a lot more leads, but can stand a lower conversion rate from leads to sales.
You could run a giveaway or a sweepstakes. That certainly takes attention away from your product/service and from the category. If it's a generic/umbrella sweepstakes and the prizes in no way relate to what you do, that's even better, of course.
Humor might be the inertia-breaker in some circumstances. You may recall the famous National Lampoon magazine effort with the message to the effect of: "If you don't renew now, we'll shoot your dog." Your eyes really can't glaze over something like that, can they? The problem is that humor can work in broadcast and perhaps online, but most of the time it doesn't translate to direct mail.
Make Someone Mad Today!
What does all this have to do with the Dylan Thomas couplet? The advice when you really want to skyrocket in your low-interest category is: Do not mail gentle. To differentiate in a commodity situation, get your prospects screaming, steaming mad! Not at you, of course, but at the situation, at your competitors, at the previous lack of a solution before you came along.
Of course, raising hackles is the modus operandum of political direct mail. You generate more and higher contributions by getting recipients angry at the other candidate and what he/she stands for, not by talking positively about your candidate's accomplishments and platform. Political magazines essentially live by the "make someone mad today" mantra.
Other fundraisers should think about using anger in their appeals. ... Aren't you angry that there are still millions of Americans without enough food to eat? Isn't it terrible that more and more children are being diagnosed with autism?
We can move this anger strategy to the B-to-B world. Suppose you were selling "Help Desk" support to IT managers. The outer envelope might play into their often disgruntled moods with copy like:
"Mutter, mutter. They cut my budget and turned up the flow of work orders. Mutter, mutter. The harder I work the more problems I seem to get hit with. Mutter, mutter."
"Mutter, mutter. Even the software solutions I read about seem to make my job tougher. Mutter, mutter. Months to install, expensive training, kills my budget."
"We hear YOU! Before mutters get worse, take a look at this ..."
Then consider using anger in consumer product or service appeals. Take automobile insurance. It's decidedly low interest; most drivers don't have an option; and buyers don't see much difference between companies. GEICO made the distinction years ago: You either buy through an agent or buy direct. That's muddied now because many carriers go both ways.
So if you're with a company specializing in insuring safe, respon-
sible drivers, you need to get your prospects stirred up. Otherwise, they will stay with their current carriers (it's the safe thing to do). Get your prospects MAD at:
drivers who are irresponsible
and cause accidents.
insurers of these irresponsible
presumably charge higher
premiums to make up for all
carriers and agents who try to
make it very complicated to
switch insurers when it isn't
Know When to Stop and What to Do Next
There are some key things to know about inciting anger:
1) You'd better choose the right flash point. Trying to get someone angry about a matter of little significance will backfire. Talk to your prospects. Consider attitudinal overlays. For example, in one attitudinal segmentation system, you can mail to "family-centereds." They are skeptical about institutions, so you can get them angry about what some institutions are doing.
2) The "get mad" strategy is just an attention grabber. Use it, then move on.
3) Move on to a strong benefit message. In the case of auto insurance, this message definitely will be saving on premiums. You'll want to position the savings as the reward for taking action on the anger.
Lee Marc Stein is an internationally known direct marketing consultant and copywriter. In addition to having his own clients, he also works with clients of Horah Direct, a full-service agency, as creative director and chief strate-
gist. Read more of Stein's articles at www.leemarcstein.com.