Bob Doscher

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.

A bunch of Decembers ago, Peggy and I were in Vienna. On Mariahilfer Strasse — the central shopping district — we stopped into a coffee shop. The place was jammed — people at tables with empty cups relaxing with books, piles of newspapers or intensely working over laptops.

My colleague and client, Bob Doscher, loves FSIs. "When a Valassis FSI ('shared mail') goes out, CEOs of love it!" Doscher once said to me. "When these cents-off coupons are delivered, he can look out the window and see the trucks full of his products leaving the warehouse to stock supermarket shelves." FSIs are generally for down-market products and cashed in by those who love savings.

red·line, /'red,līn/, intransitive verb: to withhold home-loan funds or insurance from neighborhoods considered poor economic risks; and transitive verb: to discriminate against in housing or insurance—Merriam Webster. My six-word definition of marketing: Find profitable customers; avoid unprofitable customers. In actuality, that's redlining.

When I came across the obituary of Milton Levine, it struck a chord deep within me.

Here was a 43-year-old salesman of toys and novelties watching some ants at a July 4, 1956 picnic when he suddenly saw his future—the ant farm—a 6” x 9” two-sided plastic frame with sand, tunnels and live ants busily doing their thing as mesmerized kids watch and learn.

A half-century later, kids are still enthralled with ant farms. The basic model sells for $10.99.

Last year, Levine sold his business for $20 million. His website, UncleMilton.com has a slew of wonderful scientific gadgets for kids.

Milton Levine—described by one magazine writer as “anty-establishment”―gave pleasure (and inspiration) to millions of kids, made pots of money, obviously had great fun and went to the great beyond at 97.

Life doesn’t get any better than that!

So what does a fledgling entrepreneur do following a “eureka moment?”

How do you translate an idea into a profitable business?

My suggestion: go the dry test route.

I spent 15 years creating dry tests for clients and my own little business—the WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service—started out life as a dry test.

Technically the dry test is illegal, but many years ago I discovered a possible loophole.

Kim Zinda's five ways to use e-mail marketing are:

* Provide subscription visibility.
* Employ e-mail onboarding programs.
* Use promotional activities to acquire new e-mail names.
* Append e-mail names to an existing database.
* Fine-tune your data.

I have no quarrel with anything Zinda says in her 937-word piece and have provided a hyperlink below FYI. Zinda's dealing with the technical aspects of e-mail marketing.

But once the electronics are in place--the right audience and the ability to reach them--what do you say and how best to say it?

I just ran across a Forrester Research report from July 2008 that predicts the volume of e-mail marketing will hit a high point of 838 billion messages by 2013.

Yes, the cost of e-mail is low. But with this huge blitz of traffic, the message must be compelling and relevant--from the subject line in the inbox to the landing page and the follow-up.

Always remember that, at any point along the way, the effort is a mouse click away from oblivion--whereupon ROI is nonexistent and your time spent is wasted.

Most consumers know that their buying and bill-paying habits are closely monitored by the three great credit rating agencies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. What is less understood is the highly complex algorithm of scoring—taking all that bill-paying data on an individual and determining the chances that he or she will fail to pay a credit card charge or default on a loan. The dollar amount of credit extended and the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) charged are pinned to a consumer’s score. The unquestioned master of scoring alchemy is Fair Isaac, on whom some of the blame for the sub-prime crash—and perhaps the coming

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