What works in direct mail works online. Entrepreneur Bill Bonner owns two historic chateaux in France, real estate all over the world and is founder/proprietor of the billion-dollar Agora Publishing. He accomplished it using direct mail. Now he has adapted direct mail know-how into a powerful Internet pitch.
I have been a customer of Yahoo since Nov. 12, 2005. In Yahoo's searchable archive is the massive collection of 21,284 emails—including myriad long attachments—I have sent over the past seven-plus years. As well as using Yahoo to send and receive emails, I use it as a storage and backup service for important documents. For example, every time I update and revise my new book, I date the file and email it to myself.
I have spent 50 years in direct marketing. It is a precision business model with three elements that can be described in 85 words: 1) Testing. If something works in a small quantity, you run confirming tests in a larger arena. If the results hold up, you roll out and cream the market; 2) Discipline. Be it direct mail, off-the-page advertising or broadcast, the overriding constraints are size and accessibility of the specific universe and cost-per-thousand; and 3) Measurable Arithmetic. Rules include: allowable cost per order, ROI and lifetime value of the customer. Direct marketing arithmetic is precise right down to tenths and hundredths of a percentage-otherwise known as a gnat's eyebrow.
I have spent the past 50 years as a copywriter. OK, I also ran book clubs, started a newsletter about junk mail, wrote eight books of fiction and nonfiction and launched this publication.
But my bread-and-butter has always been writing copy. I learned to start with a headline that grabbed the reader by the throat, and then create copy that won't let up until I get the order, inquiry or donation.
Look at the Google entries IN THE NEWS at the right. Search Engine Optimization is the current rage—grabbing the attention of spiders and crawlers in the hopes that the message will surface all over the Internet.
Yet it's flesh-and-blood people that want information, spend money on goodies and give to charity—not emotionless, pre-programmed electronic robots.
Go ahead, fascinate robots. But if your message is a bore, you are a mouse click away from oblivion.
Call me Luddite or troglodyte, but I will continue to write headlines and copy for people, not robots.
And I'll study the work of the great copywriters, such as Mel Martin.
For years I have been preaching that successful advertising efforts must contain at least one of the key copy drivers:fear, greed, guilt, anger, exclusivity, salvation, flattery. “If your copy isn’t dripping with one or more of these,” said Seattle guru Bob Hacker, “tear it up and start over.” “Why don’t you put these into a book,” asked my wife Peggy, “so the marketers and writers can see actual examples how they are used?”
“Great idea,” I said. Last month DirectMarketingIQ.com published “The Secrets of Emotional, Hot-Button COPYWRITING,” by yours truly, with the invaluable assistance of the brilliant Who's Mailing What! Archivist, Paul Bobnak.
Of the seven drivers, “exclusivity” may be the most overused and corrupted word in the English language. For example, when I entered “exclusive” into Google, I was instantly informed of 30.4 million new entries in the past 24 hours.
Nellie’s paean to the hilltop resort in Mallorca (see “IN THE NEWS” at right) is harmless enough. “On the secluded bay, there are no other resorts besides Viva Cala Mesquida and its jointly owned Club and Vanity Hotel Suites,” she writes a couple of paragraphs later. “Such exclusivity gives guests plenty of privacy and privilege.”
“Privacy and privilege.” Isn’t that what many folks crave in this epoch of Internet social media, Web cams, street-corner security cameras, paparazzi, GPS tracking devices and thousands of behavioral databases where your most intimate demographic and psychographic secrets are being rocketed around the country hundreds of times a day?
If you can persuade people that you offer privacy and privilege―along with the opportunity to get rich―you’ve got yourself a tidy little (or maybe a very big) business.
Here’s how some entrepreneurs did it.
Of the eight key copy drivers—the emotional hot buttons that make people act—the most mysterious is exclusivity.
I never really understood exclusivity until Bernie Madoff’s $50 billion Ponzi scheme put a spotlight on it. As Laurence Leamer wrote in The Huffington Post:
It was an honor having him handle your fortune. He didn't take just anybody. He turned down all kinds of people, and that made you want to give the man even more of your money. When he took your fortune, he told you that he would tell you nothing about how he achieved his returns. He was a god. He had the Midas touch.
Web sites have been built on this exclusivity thing. Among them: Gilt.com, RueLaLa.com and HauteLook.com. They offer to “members only” the same upmarket designer merchandise sold by Saks, but at deeply discounted sale prices during specific time periods.
Saks is fighting back with an exclusive online “private event” that the CEO of HauteLook.com calls “the new way of retail.”
It ain’t new.
Saks is engaging in a technique as old as the hills. It’s called good, ol'-fashioned, time-tested, accountable direct marketing.
On Tuesday, March 31, my daily Web prowl came across the mention of a major story about The New York Times Publisher Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr. in the upcoming May issue of Vanity Fair.
I hied over to VanityFair.com and found the story, which I downloaded into my archive. The tedious, 11,415-word piece could be compressed into a four-word sentence: “Pinch is a weenie.”
But Pinch is not the story here. While I was at it, I downloaded articles about Rush Limbaugh; hottie cover girl Gisele Bündchen; Christopher Hitchens’ piece on Lebanon; a long story about the rich, conservative and powerful who attend summer blowouts in Northern California’s Bohemian Grove; and James Walcott’s “What’s Wrong with Washington.” I also swiped some terrific illustrations. Whereupon, I went away to ponder my loot—33,339 words plus pictures, the entire worthwhile contents of the issue.
All this was free from Vanity Fair. I paid nothing—nada, zip, niente. Were any advertisers on the scene hoping for a clickthrough? I didn’t notice.
What’s more, this material was in my computer and in my head a good week and a half before the May issue of VF hit the newsstands and two weeks before subscribers received it in their mailboxes. Meanwhile, VF’s insecure publisher and editors are so desperate for affirmation and buzz that they're happy to screw paying customers, causing them to be one-upped at cocktail parties by computer geeks like me.
Which takes us back to the lede from IN THE NEWS elsewhere on this page:
Multiple sources tell us that 20 or more employees were laid off at Condé Nast Digital today.
What’s wrong with this picture?
In part one, published in February, we talked about why now is the best time to releverage the power of psychology within the mail piece. With many best offers already out there and lists cleaner than ever, the creative-20 percent of the deal (within the notion 40 percent offer/40 percent list/20 percent creative)-should be tweaked or overhauled to reflect the current environment. Today, that means a mass of prospects more uncertain, skeptical and reluctant to respond than in decades.
Back in the ‘90s, when I was editor of Target Marketing, this strange thing called the Internet turned up on my radar screen. I did not understand it. In fact, nobody understood it. For one thing, with the dial-up modem, downloading was s-l-o-w. Investors fell in love with it and pumped billions of dollars into startup companies that promised to capture millions of “eyeballs,” and a large percentage of those eyeballs would turn into paying customers or cause advertisers to spend money. “The only bank that takes eyeballs,” Bill Bonner, brilliant founder and proprietor of the sprawling Agora Publishing empire, told me, “is the