In the current issue of Communication Arts, a graphic designer suggests that typography offers an inexpensive way to give a message more punch. Fair enough. I wish he had stopped there, and not shared any examples.
He shows a series of posters for a ski resort, with dramatic photos of snowboarders upside-down in mid-leap. The headlines, all caps, appear upside-down at the bottom of the page. This, he alleges, conveys "…the subliminal message that there are no limits at the resort."
Quite a feat, considering there's no such thing as subliminal advertising techniques that have any effect. But let's be fair; maybe he meant they convey that impression. Fine. Exactly how does he know that anyone besides him is getting the no-limits message from his upside-down type? Saying “this is what happens” doesn’t make it so.
Oh, and by the way, setting a line of type in all caps reduces readership. So does putting it upside down. I know this from testing, not speculation. It's a lesser sin for short headlines, which these are. But ... subliminal? Please.
Next he shows a shopping bag for a lingerie store. On the bag is an admittedly cool illustration of a bra, with copy set in calligraphy of varying sizes swirling about to form the cups. He says it tells "…an evocative story in an engaging manner." Evocative the story may be. I wouldn't know. I was unwilling to rotate the bag (or myself) to read the message.
It doesn't matter how cool the type looks if no one can read it. If you turn it, swirl it, reverse it, set it in caps, use goofy fonts, erratically change fonts or sizes or shape it into a bra, no one will read it. It's too much work — and no one cares enough about what an advertiser has to say to work for it.
Do not think that by making text challenging to read you will motivate people to dig in and decipher it. That would be like saying diners will be more motivated to eat a meal if you make it smell bad.
Right after I fired him, one designer hurled this accusation at me: "You refuse to admit that design is the most important part of advertising."
Guilty as charged.
A question from someone who was kind enough to read my latest Deliver column, followed by my answer:Q: Is an order form equally important when it’s a nonprofit arts group selling tickets? I always push for including a user-friendly order form or invoice for subscription brochures, but am getting increasing pushback. Clients feel they’re unnecessary, take up space, people go on the internet anyway, so why bother? I’m assuming we should include them for the same reasons you cite for reply cards. I don’t have pushback about using reply cards when requesting a donation, but subscriptions are much more complicated so order forms take up more space.A: The most responsible answer to any "what works best" question is, of course, test. That said, my own experience is that you should ABSOLUTELY include a reply card, invoice or order form (I'll just say "reply card" from here), even when people can respond online. My reasons:• Even the technologically adept follow the course of least resistance. If checking YES on a card and dropping it in the mail is faster and easier than logging on, people will do it. We recently mailed a subscription offer for an email newsletter. Online sign-up was easy, yet half of the response came from people who checked YES on the reply card and snail-mailed it.• The reply card does more than enable snail-mail and phone replies. It is often the first looked-at piece. A good one impels readers into the other materials. They may reply online, but the reply card set the sale in motion. The trouble is, if that's happening, it's invisible to you and the client. Only split testing will tease it out.• People often discard the rest of the mailer and hang onto the reply card to revisit later. Omitting the card takes that option away, possible at the cost of sales. Again, the card may drive them to the web. But with no card to hang onto, they may do nothing at all. Some quick notes on split tests (at the risk of repeating what you already know):To split-test your mailings, send half of your list a package with the card and half without, and see if there is a difference in response over time and over multiple tests. Over time and over multiple tests, because flukes happen. Allow time for all responses to drag in, and be wary of drawing a firm conclusion from one or even two tests. I'd also be wary of generalizing for all clients based on test results for one. And, be wary of carving test results in concrete. I'd retest from time to time, as behaviors sometimes change.
The so-called power of positive thinking has found its way into marketing. "So-called," because most of the lore regarding the power is assumed, not established.
This can have an ill effect on marketing in the form of clients wanting to change lines like "Don't miss this chance" to "Take advantage of this chance."
Sounds great in theory. In practice, beware. People are usually more motivated by the prospect of avoiding loss than by the prospect of gaining. For instance, most people would rather be the only person in a room to win $100 than to win $200 in a room where everyone else wins $1,000.
It even seems to hold true in religion. When I ask people why they returned to the fold after years of prodigal living, only sometimes do they credit a desire to go to Heaven. More often they say, "I was afraid of going to Hell."
Steve Cuno’s newest Deliver magazine columnEons ago, when I’d been hired to work on the client side, my new employer’s ad agency invited me for a tour. The umpteenth person who had to feign being happy to meet me was the copy chief. This fellow’s ego would have fit easily inside a retail giant’s main warehouse (yeah, yeah, I know, look who’s talking), so the account executive who introduced us decided to needle him. This day’s needling took the form of introducing him as “the guy who writes those reply cards in direct mail.”
While they yucked it up at the intended slight, I smiled inwardly at the unwitting betrayal of their lack of knowledge… (Read the rest of this article by clicking here now.)
Scientific American just emailed me a survey. An avid reader, I was eager to respond. (I admit that I was also eager for an excuse to take a momentary break from the project I was working on at the time.)
A survey question asking readers to opine as to whether a gift offer would motivate them to subscribe troubled me. That’s no way to determine direct marketing strategy. So, I emailed them. Yeah, like they care what I think.
I sent the email to the link they provide for “feedback or concerns.” It bounced back as “undeliverable.”
Not that my effort in writing it was wasted. My unasked-for advice might be useful to others doing market research, so I have pasted it below. If you know anyone at Scientific American whom you think might be interested, please send him or her a link to this post.
My would-be advice to Scientific American
May I make an observation about your survey questions regarding gift offers?
Any direct response pro — which I happen to be — will tell you never to ask such a thing in a survey. People don't know and cannot accurately predict what will motivate them to purchase. The valid way to find out if a gift offer works is to test it in the real world and count the replies.
That said, I can already tell you the answer, because our industry has been testing gift offers nonstop for over 100 years. The answer is an unqualified YES. Gift offers always increase sales.
Perhaps I should qualify that. The right gift offers always increase sales. Which is the right one? Again, don't ask your subscribers. Test various gifts and see which one emerges as the winner. Then, take that winner and "roll it out" to the rest of your market. Based on my experience, I'm betting that offering an item like a calculator, Starbucks gift card or duffle bag will outperform offering literature. But I've been wrong. Which is why I always test.
In short, I recommend a more scientific approach. Which would seem to make sense, given who you are.
I love the publication. Please keep up the great work.
Last week the RESPONSE Agency ordered reprints of a BusinessWeek article to use in a direct mail program. One day after the reprints arrived, a live body from BusinessWeek called to ask if we had received the reprints and if all was well. The guy was good. If he was reading from a script, I couldn't tell. He sounded like he actually gave a darn about making sure they had done a good job for us.
To put this in perspective: we had never ordered from them before, they had never heard of us, the order was admittedly small, we are a small company, BusinessWeek is a major publication, and its parent, Bloomberg, is a giant.
So I have to admit I was impressed. I felt like our business was important to the caller and to BusinessWeek.
Also last week, I had a new refrigerator delivered to my home. A few hours later, the phone rang. A recorded voice told me that my business was appreciated, and then told me which buttons to press to indicate my level of satisfaction with the product and delivery.
Guess which company I truly believe values my business.
RESPONSE Agency's Steve Cuno was the guest speaker at a recent webinar sponsored by the Target Marketing Group. Here's what Inside Direct Mail Weekly had to say about Cuno's presentation. In April 13's "Direct Mail Testing in 2010 — Copy, Offer, Lists, Formats, Personalization and More" webinar, we heard from two prominent direct marketers — Grant Johnson , president of Johnson Direct and author of "Fairytale Marketing," and Steve Cuno , chairman of Response Agency and author of "Prove It Before You Promote It." Both have rosters of big and small clients that still test, and both discussed why testing is more important than ever in the current climate. (The webinar is available for the next 90 days via on-demand; click here if interested.) During one section of the hour-long webinar, Steve Cuno illustrated, in his colorful fashion, "five irrational leaps" that marketers use every day in their businesses, thus demonstrating in a fun way why everyone must test! (Read the rest of the article by clicking here now.)
And, now a break while we enjoy the lighter side. Warning: reading these newspaper corrections may make you laugh out loud. One, for instance, reads: Due to incorrect information received from the Clerk of Courts office, Diane K. Merchant … was incorrectly listed as being fined for prostitution in Wednesday's paper. The charge should have been failure to stop at a railroad crossing. The Public Opinion apologies for the error. To read all eleven hilarious corrections, click here right now.
Yesterday I was a guest presenter in a webinar sponsored by DirectMarketingIQ. I thought I’d share two questions from participants, along with my answers.
Q: I've heard that a different headline would pull up to six times more than another. Is this true?
A: A headline change can certainly do that. Headlines (and, in a sales letter, the P.S.) are read first, so that's where you'll see a good deal of impact. Even changing a single word in the headline can make a significant difference. Decades ago, the legendary John Caples increased response 20 percent by changing "How to repair cars" to "How to fix cars." Sometimes surprisingly mundane changes work wonders. An educational institute for bankers once asked us how to get more branch managers to respond to their newspaper ad. We suggested simply adding the words "BRANCH MANAGERS" in large type at the top of the ad, leaving everything else, including the headline, unchanged. Replies shot up.
Q: Should we tell the client how they may feel about a collectible product? For example tell the customer this product will take your breath away or instead say this product is breathtaking.
A: "Breathtaking" merely describes the product, whereas "take your breath away" describes the effect on the reader, so it makes sense that the latter might pull better. BUT: what seems to make sense often fails in real life. It makes sense that a product priced at $24 would outsell the same one priced at $29, but the opposite is often true. So, rather than try to reason which wording will sell more, you can know by doing a split-copy test. (I assume you're dealing with a headline. If the wording is buried in copy, I would stress over other things first.) That said, I can't help observing that neither term is particularly convincing. Can a collectible really take one's breath away? There may be a more believable, more compelling claim as to the effect your product will have on its proud new owner.
Dear Blog Readers and Facebook Friends:
I'm writing to invite you to participate in one of the most significant educational events of the year.
I have to admit, when I attended my first TAM — short for The Amazing Meeting — I was a bit, er, skeptical.
I figured that two and a half days of presentations on science and critical thinking would either be fun … or boring beyond belief.
On the off chance it would be fun, I signed up.
How did it turn out? Let me put it this way. I registered for this year’s TAM the day it was announced. It will be my fourth consecutive TAM.
I had hoped for an intellectual experience, and maybe to be entertained. I vastly underestimated TAM. The speakers weren’t just good—they were riveting. Their styles ranged from funny to straight, from light-hearted to profound. Their topics were varied, fresh, informative, well-defended, and horizon-broadening.
I had a chance to meet people whom I’d only experienced as names on book covers or as faces on YouTube. James Randi, "Mythbuster” Adam Savage, Michael Shermer, Phil Plait, Richard Wiseman, Harriet Hall, Penn & Teller (Teller … talks!), Banachek, and others. They were all there. None of them avoided us fans. They milled about in the open, shook hands and chatted. With everyone.
Six hundred people attended TAM that year. (Last year there 1,000.) We all sat rapt from Thursday morning through Sunday noon. And regretted that it seemed to end so soon.
The information was great and the presenters were amazing. It was more than I’d hoped for. But I have to tell you about the emotional experience. That, I hadn’t expected.
There’s a sense of camaraderie at TAM. Of fellowship. It is heartening to gather with 1,000 like-minded people. To make new friends from throughout the world who are as passionate as you are about rational thought. To know you’re not alone. To realize you’re not the only critical thinker out there.
I draw strength from that. I admit that the malarkey-obsessed world can get to me. Connecting with others at TAM gives me hope and recharges my batteries.
Undecided about attending TAM? I shamelessly urge you to go for it. To sign up or learn more, click here. Why not take a moment to check it out now, while it’s on your mind?