The Fear Factor
Translating an Emotional Conflict Creates a New Control for a German Publisher
David R. Yale
One of the most successful direct mail packages I've worked on looks like someone doodled on the outer envelope, set a coffee cup on it, and left a ring-shaped stain.
It's a design that's guaranteed to get attention, and once it has that attention, it involves prospects by presenting an emotional conflict they identify with immediately.
When a German publisher of a loose leaf service, "The Best Speeches From A to Z," asked me to create a coffee stain package for it, I jumped at the chance. I would write the package in English, and the publisher would translate it.
The design is simple, but choosing and portraying the emotional conflict involves major strategy decisions. Finding the theme for the conflict wasn't difficult. The publisher's research showed that, just like Americans, Germans are more afraid of giving a speech than dying. And the marketing material the client translated into English gave me a pretty good idea of exactly what would set that fear resonating.
Even though I don't know how to read or speak German, I looked through the actual product to get a feeling for it. I discovered a wonderful German word: Lampenfieber. It means stage fright, and the publisher agreed that Germans would respond to it.
That gave me a headline for the front of the outer envelope: the single word, Lampenfieber. Next, in a handwritten typeface, I added the biggest questions amateur speakers face:
* How do I start?
* How do I end my speech?
* Why do I always speak too long?
The next ingredient in the emotional conflict is the self-doubt that consumes so many speakers, whether they are American or German, and the nagging internal question that sets up the big question:
* Why don't people pay attention when I speak??
Portraying the emotional conflict is not enough. You have to let prospects know there is an answer to their problems. I began by including a hint:
I want people to remember my speeches!
There has to be a better way!!
And then I let them in on the doodler's agenda:
Joachim speaks so well, no wonder he's gotten ahead.
Maybe he will tell me his secrets.
Ask him! Top priority!! Contact him today!
Telling prospects about the doodler's emotional conflict is good. But actually showing them this conflict, is even better. To convey a sense of frustration, I crossed-out words on the back of the outer envelope, which looks like someone's attempts at planning a speech:
My esteemed colleagues and friends:
Too formal-No good!
Good evening, ladies and gentlemen: everyone
We are gathered here this evening to honor
Sounds stuffy - I've heard this before.
glad all of event
I am pleased to welcome you to this very special gathering
to honor a very special person
I'm repeating myself
Tonight I have the honor to present
Everyone says that—I sound like a broken record.
My boss, Herr Alpner, asked me to make a speech honoring
It sounds like I don't want to do this.
How do I get started???
With the envelope completed, I began the letter with a headline paying off the implicit promise on the outer envelope: Joachim Muller's secrets make lampenfieber just a memory!
Then, after a large notice about a free gift, the letter starts with a story about Gunther, a gentleman who sounds a lot like the doodler. By the third paragraph, we know that Joachim is the letter's narrator, and that all of the outer envelope's promise is being fulfilled.
The letter uses a narrative technique that involves prospects because they don't realize it's a sales pitch. It just sounds like a darned good story. And when the polished speaker Joachim admits his first speech was a disaster, prospects can identify with him. That gives them hope that they, too, can learn to speak well and easily.
As this product is offered on a free trial basis, and pay-up is critical, one of the most important things the letter does is to deal with price objections right in the narrative:
I turned to Gunther, who was waiting nervously. "I have some of the best speech writers in Germany working for me. They've taught me a lot," I told him.
He looked disappointed. "I can't afford that," he said. A top speechwriter charges at least 2,000 Deutschmarks. I don't have a budget for this."
Joachim explains that "The Best Speeches From A to Z" doesn't cost that much, and a speech just like the one Gunther needs will set him back about 26 Pfennig.
The letter closes with three postscripts. The first reiterates the free gift offer. The second tells prospects that Gunther just called to say his speech was a great success. And the third asks them to drop Joachim a note when they become master speakers because he'll enjoy hearing about their successes.
Finally, since the publisher was not using a BRE, I reminded prospects right on the reply envelope that they can get the fastest possible service by faxing their replies. If a prospect did not have a stamp and got frustrated, this offered them an immediate solution for getting their order in.
How did this creative strategy perform? Front-end performance was good, but the back-end return was spectacular. Although the response rate was marginally better than the control, the test had a higher package cost that made it comparable to the control. The three-color envelope (red, black and brown) is not common in Germany and made it a relatively expensive package to produce.
But customers who bought from the coffee stain package had a higher pay up rate after the free trial—and a much higher renewal rate after a year. Judged on one-year total return, this package is a winner.
Of course, a coffee stain envelope is not the only way to grab prospects' attention with an emotional conflict. Cartoon strips and old-fashioned headlines and text can work as well. The critical strategic decision is determining which creative tool will work best with each audience.
David R. Yale is a freelance copywriter who specializes in breakthrough direct mail and electronic marketing creative. He is the editor of "Yale's DM Breakthrough Tips." You can see his work at www.controlbeaters.com, and reach him at (718) 225-8248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.