Part I: Psychology of the Mailer
Some marketers are in a pickle. The dual go-to components of a direct mail campaign—the list and the offer—may not (and often cannot) change much, as lists are better targeted and cleaner than ever before, and many companies, are giving potential customers "best offers" already. Yet for many mailers, response is down because of tough economic times that many prospects are facing.
One way out of this trap? A "head trip," of course. I'm referring to the so-called psychology of the mailer, and the key part of the creative. If we accept famed direct marketer Ed Mayer's 40-40-20 rule (40 percent lists, 40 percent offer, 20 percent everything else), we're only talking a portion of that 20 percent—but the emotions that the mail piece is able to stir in the prospect (and cooked up in advance by the copywriter) may determine whether he responds or not, or if that package lives or dies.
I spoke with several renowned and successful direct mail copywriters to get a sense of the history of the mail piece's "psychology" and how it can be better leveraged in the future.
It's Time to Reapply 'Psychology'
With so many stressed-out and stretched-thin prospects, the careful psychological design of the mail piece becomes even more important. "I think in this economy, marketers have to work harder at getting it right," says Bob Martel, principal consultant at JMB Marketing Group, located in Marlborough, Mass. "They have to understand the perceived value and give people a compelling reason to part with their hard-earned money—whether it's B-to-B or consumer—because you are competing for their shrinking, expendable revenue right now. So a smart marketer knows how to do that with good copy and an offer that doesn't give away the store, but uses the psychology of marketing to get the points across."
One of the big (40 percent) parts of the package—the offer—relies on such psychology to convince prospects, often quickly and forcefully, to take it. That doesn't necessitate an overhaul of the package, which is good news to budget-conscious mailers. Indeed, it can mean a shift in copy rather than design. Accordingly, Grant Johnson, president/CEO of Johnson Direct in Brookfield, Wis. and author of "Fairytale Marketing," mentions that design tests are far more expensive than copy platform tests, and that the latter is the perfect kind of test to run in a down economy.
Copy king Herschell Gordon Lewis, author of recently released "Creative Rules for the 21st Century—the Richest Resource of Copywriting Secrets for Today's Market" and president of Lewis Enterprises in Pompano Beach, Fla., agrees, but for a slightly different reason. "In a struggling economy, attention to design can be counterproductive. Design, used as a recognizable major element, cancels both immediacy and verisimilitude ... and immediacy and verisimilitude are key factors in mounting an effective 'tough times' campaign," he shares.
Of course, applying psychology of the mailer to today's economic times is not always appropriate. "There is no cookie cutter approach to this stuff," states Josh Manheimer, copywriter and president of J.C. Manheimer & Co. in Norwich, Vt. "We live in rocky economic times right now, and if you're selling, say, Consumer Reports magazine, it would be foolhardy not to try and connect with the reader by acknowledging the hardships we all face these days. However, if you're working on the launch for Yacht & Hound, and your prospects have not been affected by the financial crisis, nor are even aware there is one, then why go there?"
Driving Your Copy Home
In that above answer, Manheimer indicates that copy must go somewhere in the prospect's brain, and to get all the way "home," straight to the head, heart or even the gut, the primary copy drivers must be utilized. Acclaimed direct marketing entrepreneur Axel Andersson, who compiled the original list of Who's Mailing What! Grand Controls (mailings circulating in the mailstream for three years or more), said most successful packages appealed to greed or flattery. Direct marketing guru Bob Hacker has mentioned six copy drivers: fear, guilt, anger, greed, exclusivity and salvation.
Denny Hatch, direct marketing consultant and author of the Business Common Sense e-newsletter, listed 28 copy drivers in his book "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success." He agrees that Hacker's six, plus Andersson's "flattery," are the top seven. "Since 9/11, patriotism might be added to the list, making eight," he e-mailed to me recently.
One of the leading experts on copy drivers, Lewis adds a few other crucial motivators. "As far back as the late 1970s, my books listed as the principal motivators exclusivity, greed, fear, guilt and need for approval ... plus two 'soft' motivators: convenience and pleasure. Then and now, greed is the safest weapon and the one that in head-to-head tests tends to win," he relates. Changing up these copy drivers make for smart, inexpensive tests, says Johnson. "If you normally lead with greed, maybe you would test fear or exclusivity as a copy platform," he suggests. Martel mentions two other effective copy tests: "You could use scarcity or a gift to try and stimulate reciprocity."
Manheimer says copywriters still must be keenly aware of their audiences before wielding these motivators. "It depends on what you're selling, the lists you're mailing to and the approach you've chosen—or has been chosen for you. I mean, revenge is a pretty powerful emotion, but it's not the first place I'd go to if I were selling a Christmas cookbook," he states.
Put These Drivers in the Right Seats
The "driver's seat" is clearly the letter, say experts. Hacker's famous quote is, "If your letter isn't dripping with one or more of the above, tear it up and try again." But should copy drivers be confined to the letter, or do they belong in other elements as well? And should they begin on the outer husk? Hatch says copy drivers work "anywhere and everywhere." Manheimer offers a useful paradigm, "Usually, you want to start on the outer, repeat in the letter, touch on it in the brochure and hammer away again at it on the order card. This is not a subtle business, for the most part. You want to bang them over the head."
Lewis reveals what the most recent tests with his copy show. "They show the overline to be the most powerful driver, with the postscript next. Careful with envelope copy. If the recipient concludes, 'I've seen this before,' your brilliant message winds up in the circular file. Consider using, in a font such as American Typewriter, the opening of the letter as envelope copy. Be sure to leave the words hanging—no complete thoughts or sentences. And, of course, start the actual letter, after the overline, with those words."
Experts will unveil more ways to get inside the customer's head in part two of "Psychology of the Mailer" in next month's issue.