Wish I’d Written That
Smart targeting is the first step to a successful direct mail program. A spot-on mailing list puts your mail in the right hands, but it’s powerless to reach minds. For that, you need writing that connects with your reader. When you have both—mail in the right hands and writing that resonates—ah, that is targeting at its most effective. Free Inquiry, a magazine published by the Council for Secular Humanism that debunks nonsense and promotes critical thinking, reached me in both ways. Since critical thinking and debunking happen to be passions of mine, it appears that they had a good mailing list. As for resonating, well, I’m an iconoclast, I care about evidence, and I have no patience with dogma. Knowing that much about me, perhaps you can imagine how receptive I was to the headline on their envelope: “For many centuries the world’s most opinionated fuddy-duddies have known exactly where independent thinkers who write, edit, publish, read or discuss magazines like FREE INQUIRY will end up. And that was even before I decided to tempt you with one hell of an offer.” Inside, the sales letter does a wonderful job of flattering me. It opens with, “Dear Intelligent Reader.” Yup, I thought, that’s me. Never mind if it’s true. I like to think it. The letter goes on: “There’s something I like about you. Maybe it’s a cause you contributed to, or another publication you subscribe to, or a petition you had the courage to sign.” Bingo on all three.“Whatever it is,” continues the letter, “I’ll make no bones about how I got your name and address. You landed on the sort of mailing list that told me you’re probably my kind of person—a list of people who are especially bright—independent thinkers with social consciences and an active interest in why individuals and organizations behave as they do.”Again, bingo. Right nor not, critical thinkers indeed flatter themselves that they are especially bright, and that they are unusually enlightened when it comes to social values. We may be critical thinkers, but we’re not above being irrational when it comes to vanity.
From there, the letter goes on to describe the problems that irrationality causes, in pretty much the same terms I have used myself. In short, they had me. I read every word of the sales letter, brochure, lift letter, and reply form. The copywriter did a brilliant job of convincing me that this magazine truly was written for me. Every now and then I stumble upon a direct mail package that I envy, that I wish I’d written. The Free Inquiry package is one of them.By the way, I subscribed. You should, too.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association has launched a national radio effort to reassure potential visitors that its beaches remain unaffected by the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. The campaign, which also includes a full-page ad in USA TODAY, features the message that "our coast is clean and our beaches are open.”
I see the need for the campaign. It makes sense for Florida to reassure, retain and attract would-be visitors.
But I hope the strategy doesn’t blow up PR-wise. It would be all too easy to accuse Florida of trying to capitalize on Louisiana’s tragedy. I make no such accusation; yet, as one who just plain loves New Orleans, even I can't help a purely emotional reaction, where I wince at the campaign just a little.
Never forget to spend time in the real world. Last week our agency created marketing pieces to promote art classes, taught by popular Utah artist Jo Hanks. The pieces were to be distributed at a busy arts and crafts superstore, where Ms. Hanks would draw a crowd by working on a painting live. I stopped by to see how things were going. Crowds gathered to watch Ms. Hanks turn a blank canvas into a stunning still life. In plain view of the crowd, a large, hand-painted sign said, "Sign Up for Art Classes." Everywhere were stacks of our marketing piece advertising the classes and urging people to sign up. Yet — despite the sign and the flyers — one person after another expressed utter surprise upon learning that classes were available. They had seen an artist at work, but tuned out everything else. The sign and the flyers were lost on them. It served as an important reminder to me that: 1) People don't pay attention. 2) What seems persuasive in the quiet of your office can fall flat in the real world. 3) Subtlety is for wimps. Be willing to bonk people over the head. 4) Take time to leave the office and watch how your stuff performs — or fails to — on the job. With the benefit of having witnessed this scene for myself, I can tell you that this agency will do its next flyer very, very differently. —Steve Cuno
My good friend and direct marketing genius Mike Denison just proved — again — that good selling ain't necessarily sexy. In his own words: "I sent a client’s list an email series (4) pointing them to a page to opt-in. "Then, when the offer was ready, we sent an email to this opt-in list pointing them to a video. "The video is basically just the client reading the script, and then showing the script almost verbatim on screen as she reads it. "There are no control buttons on the video… the viewer must watch it all to get the info. "The order button doesn’t appear until I want it to show up, which is at 11:29. “In FOUR DAYS I sold more than twice as much of that specific product than they had been able to in the previous THREE YEARS. "The final tally was 20.9% response from 9.2% of the list. "When we were getting ready to do it, I told them to pinpoint their worst product. I wanted a total dog that was doing nothing. They let me do whatever I wanted to try selling it." Though unabashed when it comes to promoting himself and his clients' products, Mike in person is a humble guy. Thus, when he summed up the test results, I had to smile at his characteristic understatement: "It’s my first test using this approach, and I’m pretty happy with the results." —Steve Cuno
I love authors who agree with me. Surely that is a sign that they are in possession of uncommon intelligence... I have long argued against the folly of relying on gut intuition when it comes to matters of consequence. In marketing or, for that matter, any other endeavor. With apologies to Obi Wan, you are much better off trusting evidence, not your feelings. On that subject, please read this brilliant piece in the Harvard Business Review by Michael Schrage.
I have reservations about vilifying marketing, as suggested by the White House under Mrs. Obama's leadership, as the culprit for childhood obesity.
Lest this entry be dismissed as Obama-bashing, let me be clear that I am generally pleased with the direction in which the Obama administration is leading us.
Why the reservations? Here goes:
1. When we say "marketing," people tend to think "advertising." Advertising is an easy target. It is a politician's dragon, waiting to be slain. But evidence suggests that advertising, even that which targets kids, is not the root or even a major cause of childhood obesity. If so, limiting advertising won't solve and may not even dent the problem.
2. Advertising is a tiny part of marketing. The rest of marketing wields far greater power: manufacturing, economies of scale, distribution, supply, demand, culture, peer pressure, packaging, flavor — I could go on. Limiting advertising will have little effect on the above.
3. Beyond marketing, we need to consider other factors affecting how, when and what we eat. Lifestyles … microwave ovens … eating in the car … eating at the computer … the rise of farming and consequent disappearance of the nomadic lifestyle … machines and later computers which purged naturally occurring exercise from our daily routines … keeping ourselves and our kids so busy with soccer and piano lessons and who-knows-what that there isn’t time to sit down at family meals ... even self-imposed neoteny, which may have led to our forgetting how to properly feed ourselves.
4. We still need to address the overweight elephant in the room: that, ultimately, we are the ones who decide what to eat, and who teach our kids what to eat. Even if advertising is culpable as accused, we’re not off the hook for our own choices. Nor for our responsibility to act like parents, especially when kids are small and most easily taught.
So, sure, let's scrutinize marketing when addressing the nation’s obesity problem. But let's not stop there and dust our hands. Let's look at the whole picture. Including — and heaven help the politician who suggests it — personal responsibility.
Some years ago a large, successful chain of private schools invited us to pitch their business. Among the strategic benefits they wanted their advertising agency to play up: that the school's students consistently test in the highest percentile. What better testament to the school's abilities?
Just one problem. It is the school's policy to expel kids who don't score consistently high on tests. It appears that the school’s high overall test scores are more of a testament to their selection and expulsion criteria than to their teaching acumen.
Consumers, beware what "tests show." Marketers, please don't fudge your numbers.
Quick — what’s the first thing you see when you look at this Ferrari race car?
A lot of people saw a Marlboro cigarette box. Yeah, I see the resemblance. Then people started ranting about subliminal advertising. Oh, come on.
Ferrari did the smart thing and removed the bar code. They maintain they never intended the resemblance, and I believe them. After all, I know how these things can happen. I’ve been embarrassed often enough when my own work came out looking like I intended to do something I hadn’t.
(Like the time I created a brochure with a photo of a doctor standing in front of an X-ray. Only after printing and distributing 100,000 of them did I happen to notice that the X-ray was of a pelvic region. And that the pelvic region clearly belonged to a man.)
It doesn’t help that Philip Morris is a big Ferrari sponsor. But again, come on. If you were PM’s or Ferrari’s marketing director, would you be dumb enough to believe that something that blatant would only be noticed by the subconscious?
As for subliminal techniques: they don’t work. If you ever catch advertisers attempting to use them, don’t protest. Just let them waste their money.
What an honor! I wrote the following for Alan Rosenspan’s Increase Your Response Newsletter. It appears in the current issue. Rosenspan is an internationally acclaimed marketing guru. He is also one heck of a decent human being. If you don’t follow his work and his writing, you’re missing out. Click on the above link and subscribe to his free newsletter now.
I understand the leap of faith I ask clients to make when it comes to long copy. Throughout my 30-year career, many clients have expressed doubt about it. I would have a much easier time selling our services if I made everything short. And, it would be easier to write. The trouble is this darned fiduciary responsibility I have to give clients my best advice. The rule for direct mail copy length is: make it long enough to make the sale; no longer, but also no shorter. Number of pages is not the objective; making the sale is. Unless you’re doing a “dimensional” mailing, one page is rarely enough. We recommend long copy not because we like it better but because it sells more. The direct marketing industry didn’t learn this by surveying people and asking them what they’d be more likely to read; they learned it by testing it both ways and comparing the results. That’s why a direct response axiom is, “the more you tell, the more you sell,” and the industry standard has become long sales letters, long ads, and long commercials. Even though people love to complain about them, they work. The only ad agencies that say people won’t read long copy are the ones that don’t test and measure, or who don’t know how to write long copy that holds and persuades a reader. Provided it’s done right, long copy performs best. Speaking of “provided it’s done right,” if you're concerned about a long sales letter, you should also prepare for angst over the fact that the sales letter will indeed be a sales letter. It won’t sound like you. It will use an informal tone, push benefits, use contractions, speak in first-person singular, address itself to “you,” have a P.S., cover main selling points more than once, also cover main selling points more than once … use ellipses … use small, punchy words like “punchy” instead of big, esoteric words like “esoteric” — use dashes — and feature strong calls to action. We may use a preposition to end a sentence with. Might use fragments, too.For an example you’re sure not to like, click here to read the four-page sales letter we wrote for Westminster College. They had their doubts about its tone and length. It was so successful they re-used it over and over. Here is a two-page fund raising letter we wrote for an NFP organization. Also very successful. The decision to purchase your product is a big one. Before taking action, a serious candidate will want thorough information. If you fail to supply it, you will lose sales. We know what we’re doing. But I don’t want to push something you can’t get 100% behind. Please don’t hire us for our expertise and then not let us use it. It would be better not to proceed. —Steve Cuno