Geoffrey James’ list of 7 vastly overrated business books
If you want to write a bestselling business book, write what your market wants to consume. This is no assurance, however, that you will produce good stuff, as Geoffrey James makes clear in his delightful piece, “7 Vastly Overrated Business Books.”
Here is his list. But you really should read his brief comments, which you can do by clicking here
- The One-Minute Manager, Kenneth Blancard, PhD, Spencer Johnson, MD
- Winning, Jack Welch
- The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey
- Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
- Who Moved My Cheese?, Spencer Johnson, MD
- The Art of War, Sun Tzu
- The Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith
What’s a good response?by Steve CunoAs seen in the current issue of Deliver magazine
If you have ever touted direct mail’s ability to deliver empirical results, you know about “The Inevitable Question.” Almost on cue, as you rhapsodize about testing, tracking, analysis and predictive results, the client will train an eyeball on you and ask, “What’s a good response rate for direct mail? One percent? Two? Three?”
Framed in that manner, “The Inevitable Question” happens to be a trick question. The direct mail industry holds up no percentage as its universal standard. Rather, a “good” response is one that achieves your objective. If your objective happens to be a response of 1 percent, then no less than 1 percent is a “good” response. If you require 17 percent, “good” starts there.
With that in mind, it might be a good idea to set an objective or two before creating and sending out your direct mail. Obvious? I agree. But I have seen companies launch costly campaigns without regard for such details, only to flounder about in an attempt to measure success afterward. That’s like throwing a dart nowhere in particular and then trying to evaluate your aim.
Other companies wait until results come in and then set their objectives to match. That’s like throwing a dart nowhere in particular, then painting the target where the dart happens to stick and bragging about hitting a bull’s-eye.
Doing the MathHere’s a saner approach to determining a good response:
1. Project the cost of your direct mail program. Since I’m no math wiz, let’s keep it simple by assuming that you plan to spend $1,000 on printing, addressing, postage, etc.
2. Calculate the profit you will clear, on average, with every response. Again, for simplicity’s sake, let’s say that each response will bring you $100 in net revenue.
3. Aha! You need only 10 responses to break even (10 responses x $100 = $1,000). So if you mailed to 1,000 people, just 1 percent would be a good response. If you mailed to 2,000 people, just one-half of 1 percent would be good. If you mailed to 2,000 people and each respondent made two purchases, then a mere response of one-quarter of 1 percent would be good. And so on.
Is It Possible?Upon completing the math, the client may say, “Now that I know the response I need, before going much further I’d like to know if that response is within the realm of possibility.”
There are two ways to tackle that one.
Way No. 1: Do the research. Find out if your product or service has been sold by mail before. If so, a track record may exist for grounding expectations in reality. Books, articles and the Internet may yield such information. While you’re at it, start networking and trading information with others in the field. I have had great luck simply by asking direct mail professionals to share their experience.
A caveat is in order: No two products, creative approaches, or sets of market conditions are alike. Even with historical data on your side, it’s wise to test before betting the farm. Which brings us to …
Way No. 2: Test. Send your direct mail to a small but representative, statistically valid sample from your mailing list. If the sample responds at the desired level, repeat the test to another sample. If results hold, you can be reasonably sure they will also hold when you roll out to the rest of your list.
Once you’ve determined what constitutes a good response, remember to clue in the boss ahead of time. Otherwise, “The Inevitable Question” may rear its ugly head after the fact. If your direct mail happens to pull an ROI of two-to-one, the last thing you need is a boss who expresses dismay because it was “… only X percent.”
I’m not kidding when I say “evidence-based”
or “scientific” marketing
Today a prospective client asked which of two strategies I thought would work better. “I don’t know,” I said, “but I can tell you how to find out. Send every other name on your mailing list one version. Send the remaining names the other version. Then count replies, repeat, and count again.”
“Wow,” he said, “that sounds scientific.”
How ethical is your marketing?NOTE: It takes courage for a trade journal to risk offending readers by challenging unethical practices. My compliments to Deliver for running this piece. Click here if you prefer to read it on the Deliver website.
A recent clinical study has shown that hiring my agency reduces your risk of getting cancer.
I conducted the study myself. It’s poorly designed, shamelessly biased and wholly unscientific, but that doesn’t mean I can’t slap words like “clinical” and “study” on it. And though I’m no attorney, I’m pretty sure that, with carefully chosen weasels and the right disclaimers, I can use it to relieve the gullible of cash while I avoid fines and jail.
OK, OK. I’m not serious. At least, not about offering my shop as a cancer preventative. I am quite
serious about the ease with which one can mislead while remaining technically within the law. In fact, if you work in direct marketing, you may someday be asked to execute such a strategy. What course will you choose?
I hope and suspect that most of you would decline any product that relies on blatantly false claims (“Take this pill tonight and wake up a millionaire tomorrow”). I think we’d also dismiss as foolhardy anyone who insists upon full, unvarnished disclosure (“Please buy our cologne, but face it, nothing short of overhauling your looks and personality will get you dates”). The real dilemmas lurk in between, in those darned shades of gray.
It doesn’t help that each shade is only slightly lighter or darker than its neighbor. One person’s “OK” may be another’s “not OK.” I recently declined a prospective client whose product was popular, legal and backed by testimonials from happy customers. I turned it down because blinded tests showed the product to have no effect. Colleagues accused me of being too stringent. If customers are happy, they argued, no harm done. They would have taken the account. I would have thought no less of them for it.Six ways to keep direct mail ethics in check
How much or how little gray you’ll abide is your decision. What’s important is to draw that proverbial line, and to draw it well before you need to refer to it. Ethical challenges seldom seem to come along when declining is convenient. One well-funded company has a habit of reappearing and asking me to reconsider their flimflam products only at times my shop needs business most.
As you ponder which products to accept or decline, and which tactics to embrace or reject, here are six points to consider:
- Does the small type contradict the large? Not all fly type is underhanded. Much of it is useful and appropriate. But when what’s buried in fly type is the antithesis of what’s conveyed in headlines, subheads and body copy, it suggests something about the overall integrity of the piece. Not to mention of the advertiser.
- How many weasels will you indulge? Here’s a revealing exercise: count the use of terms like “may,” “can,” “believed to,” “said to,” “no claim is made,” “not evaluated by,” “not intended to,” “not typical,” “may vary,” “not verified by” and so forth. See if the total falls within your personal limit.
- Get real. Come on. You know when “results may vary” means “works nine out of 10 times in properly conducted, controlled tests” vs. “works no better than you’d expect from randomness.”
- Does evidence back the claim? If your client and 1 million passionate customers assert, but cannot demonstrate, a claim — on demand and repeatedly — you have testimonials, but not evidence. Given the power of testimonials in direct mail, that’s good reason to check the evidence before using them.
- Do you use the product? Does the client? When a company selling a get-rich-quick scheme contacted me, I found it telling that none of their employees — even those who were great at selling the product on the phone — used the product themselves.
- Would you recommend the product to your kids? How about to your aging, fixed-income parents?
Not everyone agrees that marketers bear responsibility for what and how they sell. The prospective buyer, they say, is free to check facts. But search the how-to literature of direct mail. It brims with advice on building credibility, winning trust and giving readers information for taking immediate action. We cannot urge readers to buy now
and then blame them when they do.
Most direct marketing is aboveboard and honorable. But I’m painfully aware, as I’m sure you are, of glaring exceptions. I hold no delusion that drawing a proverbial line will bring such practices to an end. But there’s no need for you and me to take part in them.
Misnomer: “Energy” drinks (et al)
In the late 19th Century, Doc Pemberton set out to create a soft drink that Georgia residents could enjoy in the muggy summer months. The darling wonder drugs of his day were cocaine and caffeine, so Pemberton put both in his recipe. His cocaine source was the coca leaf and his caffeine source was the kola nut, so he dubbed his product Coca-Cola. As you may be aware, the product turned out to be reasonably successful.
Of course today cocaine is a controlled substance. But caffeine, which isn’t, is enjoying a resurgence of sorts. It is the not-so-secret ingredient in myriad so-called “energy products.” A recent entry is Sheets brand “energy strips,” from Purebrands, soon to be endorsed by Miami Heat star LeBron James.
If you consider the definition of energy, these products are nothing of the sort. For some reason, marketers seem to have chosen against the more accurate term, “psychoactive stimulant.”
A bit of Yellow Pages insanity...
I just received a call from one of myriad Yellow Pages publishers. The rep wanted to verify that I had received my book. “If you mean,” I said, “the book that showed up on my front step two days ago which I carried and dropped, unopened, into the recycle bin, yes.”
The caller said, “Excellent. If you have any questions or would like to request more copies for your recycle bin, please call this number…”
He gets points for having a sense of humor. But if you happen to be an advertiser, think what this tells you about the distribution data your publisher uses to charge you an exorbitant rate.
Direct Mail and the Gorilla in the Room
Steve Cuno’s latest article in Deliver magazine
Note: Per its editorial policy, Deliver omitted the names of psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons from its published version of this article, plus made other, sundry changes. Chabris and Simons graciously provided me with advance permission to use their names, so the article appears here as originally written. You can view a PDF of the current issue of Deliver, where this article appears on page 8, by clicking here.
Imagine watching a half-minute video in which two teams pass a basketball. One team wears black shirts, the other wears white. Your task is to count how many times the team members in white complete a pass. If you are like most people, chances are you will report the correct number of passes. But there is about an even chance that you will completely miss the woman in the gorilla suit. Even though she walks through the game in plain sight, including pausing to face the camera for a bit of chest-beating before striding off.
We think this may provide a clue as to the continuing power of direct mail in an increasingly online world.
By means of the gorilla challenge and other ingenious tests, cognitive psychologists Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons have demonstrated that, try as we may, we humans simply cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. And though Chabris and Simons never marched a gorilla past a mailbox — at least, as far as we know — we cannot help seeing a possible connection between their research and this tidbit from a recent survey: about 79 percent of households read or at least skim their advertising mail, whereas only about 19 percent of commercial emails are even opened.
The same survey reports that it is emails from unknowns, or with too-long or irrelevant subject lines, that tend not to win attention. Seen in light of the gorilla test, this is hardly surprising. When people check their email, they rivet their attention on the “From” field for names they know and like, and on the “Subject” field for short, relevant items. When minds are engaged in that manner, emails from strangers, or with irrelevant or too-long subject lines, may as well be invisible gorillas, chest-beating and all. Assuming, that is, that they evade spam filters in the first place.
By contrast, as people retrieve and sort through their mail, they must focus on each piece one at a time in order to settle on which ones they will explore further. In its moment, each piece — including advertising mail — commands full attention. And not just so that people can avoid inadvertently discarding letters, bank statements or bills, either. Three out of four Americans say they like, trust and read advertising mail. In fact, for new product announcements, the open rate for direct mail is about 1.7 times that of commercial email. That includes Generations X and Y, even though they grew up with the Internet.
Moreover, a visit to the mailbox is a daily, anticipated event. Most people look forward to it. And, conveniently for advertisers, it’s an event that takes place away from the competing clamor of TVs, computers, stereos and video games.
The gorilla challenge and other ingenious tests are described in Chabris’ and Simons’ book The Invisible Gorilla and Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us
. To view the above-referenced video and test your friends, visit www.invisiblegorilla.com.
Meanwhile, there’s no need to don a gorilla suit and saunter by a mailbox to prove that direct mail packs a punch. Direct mail’s unassailably high open and response rates, along with survey data, do that on their own. So if you’re looking for a solid way to keep the market’s eye on the ball in an online world, count on direct mail. It is the antithesis of the invisible gorilla.
Hmm. If “the antithesis of the invisible gorilla” becomes the next slogan for the USPS, remember, you read it here first. —Steve Cuno
April’s big marketing stories?
Each day, the American Advertising Federation blasts out a marketing news brief. Here, for your interest, are their most-clicked headlines for April, in order by volume of clicks. I find it interesting that the Kardashians and Lady Gaga figured into the top 10. Sure, they’re brands, but they hardly rank with Kraft or Detroit automakers. Just goes to show that marketers, like anyone else, are normal people too.
- Kraft preps $20 million Lunchables campaign
- Retailing the Kardashian brand
- Agency is charged with making Cheerwine a household name
- Green takes backseat to pricing
- Will Lady Gaga get into gaming?
- Report: PepsiCo plans global approach to procurement
- Marvel’s mini-Thor taps appeal of VW’s Little Darth Vader
- Old Spice puts a new pitchman through his paces
- Ad shops look to reinvent Detroit
- Chrysler’s new “Imported from Detroit” ads spotlight 300 series