Strategy Session: Think Like a Direct Marketer
According to Wikipedia, the few employees who know the recipe must fly on separate planes when traveling and cannot be left alone with strangers while they are together. As recently as 2006, three people were arrested who were trying to sell the secret recipe for Coca-Cola to the company's arch-rival, Pepsi, for $2 million. Pepsi was decent enough to decline and called in the FBI.
KFC also has kept its recipe a secret since the 1930s. The Colonel-Harland Sanders-carried the secret formula for Kentucky Fried Chicken in his head and the mixture of 11 herbs and spices in his car. Today, the recipe is locked away in a safe in Louisville, Ky. Only a handful of people know that multi-million dollar recipe, and each is obligated to strict confidentiality by contract.
Now at this point, you may be wondering: What the heck does direct marketing have to do with soft drinks and fried chicken?
There are few secrets in direct marketing. And I have always been amazed at how much information the great direct marketing professionals were willing to share with others-what worked, what didn't work and why.
Lee Marc Stein is one of the top experts in our industry, and I enjoyed his Strategy Session columns in Inside Direct Mail for years. Beyond being a brilliant strategist, Stein is a wonderful writer who made his columns both informative and entertaining. I know how much I'm going to miss his columns, and I promise to do my best to live up to the high standards he set, along with Ethan Boldt, Hallie Mummert and all the excellent editors at Inside Direct Mail.
But, I admit, that's going to be a challenge for me.
Many years ago, when I was first hired at Ogilvy & Mather, the executive creative director said, "We're offering you a job as a junior copywriter ... but you can't write well."
I was astonished. "If I can't write," I stammered, "why hire me as a writer?"
"Because you can think," she answered. "We can always teach you to write."
Now whether or not they succeeded is still an open issue, but one of the things
I'm going to attempt to do in this column is not just share my ideas or techniques with you, but also the thinking behind them. When something worked, I'll share it with you. But so you won't make the same mistakes that I have, I'll also share when I fell flat on my face.
My intention is to get you thinking like a direct marketer, which is not as easy as it sounds.
Let me give you three examples.
The Scatological Self-Mailer
I recently spent a day with a leading company that helps students prepare for their college and graduate school tests. It used a self-mailer with a photograph of a No. 2 pencil on it. The headline read, "Does the SAT or ACT Scare the No. 2 Out of You?"
It's admittedly a funny and creative headline, and the firm markets to college kids, but there's a problem. Many people feel these are the most important tests of their lives!
Think back to the days when you were taking these tests. It may have been the SATs, the LSATs for law school or even the MCATs for medical school. You may have been trying to get into a specific school. You were competing with hundreds, if not thousands, of other students. Your SAT or ACT scores were vitally important to you. And so, this headline was remarkably off the mark.
Our new creative wasn't as creative, but it was much more appropriate to the market. It read, "What's the most important test you'll take in the next four years?"
It's so easy to be seduced by funny headlines and clever approaches. But you have to ask yourself: How do my prospects and customers feel about it? What message would resonate most with them?
That's thinking like a direct marketer.
The Guide That Got You Nowhere
I do a lot of direct marketing for financial services companies these days, but I cut my teeth on Invesco Funds. When I started working with Invesco, I was asked to do a lead generation piece on sector funds, which are mutual funds that concentrate on only one area of the economy-for example, telecommunications companies.
I knew nothing about sector funds at the time, but I welcomed the opportunity to learn more about them. I did about a month of research in five days and wrote a comprehensive six-panel brochure on sector funds. It included the history of sector funds, their growth, our philosophy about choosing sector funds and everything else I had learned. The brochure answered every question you could possibly have and provided a wealth of specific information.
It failed miserably.
Why? Remember I said it was a lead generation piece?
After someone waded through all my copy about sector funds, he knew just about all there was to know. He could choose to invest or not. But the very last thing he needed was our offer: a free "Guide to Sector Funds."
Lead generation, whether in direct mail; e-mail; or even radio, print and TV, must give people just enough information to get them to move forward ... but not enough to allow them to make a decision. I guess I just hadn't thought it out.
The Survey Strategy
One of the most successful techniques in direct marketing is a survey. It regularly pulls 10 percent to 20 percent response and sometimes much higher. When sent to customers, it gives them the feeling that you truly care about their opinions and improves retention. When sent to prospects, it involves them-and may help them understand that they really do have a need for your product or service.
Let me give you two examples:
1. I spent time with Derek Glass, who does fundraising work in Australia and New Zealand. He showed me a recent package for a nonprofit called Seeing Eye Dogs of Australia. He added a short survey to the donation card, with each question reinforcing the need to donate. He included relationship-building questions, such as, "Do you own a dog?" and, "If yes, what is his or her name?"
The package performed five times better than the previous control.
2. I used the survey technique with one of my for-profit clients last year. The SCOOTER Store is a Texas-based company that sells power chairs and scooters for people with mobility problems. We did a mailing for it that offered a "Free Mobility Test." Inside the package was an insert with seven questions to determine whether or not you might benefit from a power chair or scooter.
I used this technique because some people are reluctant to admit they actually need assistance-and these questions made them realize that they did.
It's a good example of thinking like a direct marketer and putting yourself into the mind-set of your prospects and customers. The questions described some of the problems you may encounter with limited mobility, such as ,"Are you usually exhausted at the end of the day?"
And the copy said, "If you answered, ‘yes' to more than three of these questions, please call us immediately."
The final question was designed to plant a positive action in their minds. It was, "Would you like to have more energy to spend time with family and friends?" The package lifted response dramatically over the long-standing control and was entered into the 2008 ECHO Awards.
Thinking like a direct marketer makes me think of the best way to teach children:
"Tell me, and I'll forget.
Show me, and I'll remember.
Involve me, and I'll understand.
And I'll respond."
Are You Willing to Get Involved?
One of the reasons I used the last example is that I would like to get you involved. I'm grateful to Inside Direct Mail for this opportunity to share ideas with you, but it will be even better if we work together.
If you have any questions about anything I write, please let me know. If you disagree with anything, then it's even more important that you let me know.