For Millennials, Direct Marketing Books Aren’t Catching Up

Lucy and Ethel on the Chocolate Factory conveyor belt faced a daunting task. That’s what it must like to try to create a current direct response marketing book.

direct marketing books
Direct marketing books | Credit: Chuck McLeester

Lucy and Ethel on the Chocolate Factory conveyor belt faced a daunting task. That’s what it must like to try to create a current direct response marketing book.

I’ve been teaching as an adjunct for more than 10 years — mostly advertising research and marketing courses. But only recently have I had the opportunity to teach a class devoted entirely to direct response. When I began to put the course together for Rowan University, I was looking for a general direct marketing book that students could acquire inexpensively (used on Amazon or another used book site) that I would supplement with additional resources. I came up empty.

The available direct marketing books rely heavily on mail as a medium with a lot of content about lists and crafting direct mail letters. I could only imagine the eye-rolls I’d be looking at standing in front of a group of Millennials talking about direct mail lists.

The standards I’ve relied on for years, Ed Nash’s “Direct Marketing” and Bob Stone’s “Successful Direct Marketing Methods” (updated by Ron Jacobs) haven’t been revised since 2000 and 2007, respectively. Lisa Spiller and Martin Baier had published a textbook for Pearson, but the third and most recent edition from 2010 is out of print. Some books, like Dave Shepherd’s “The New Direct Marketing” (1999) and Arthur Hughes’s “The Complete Database Marketer” are focused on database and response modeling, the precursors to algorithmic targeting. Richard Tooker’s “The Business of Database Marketing” is very practitioner-focused, and other titles are specific to subsets of direct marketing, like “Managing Customer Relationships” by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers (2011).

The newer online marketing books focus on driving clicks, web analytics and retargeting, but they don’t address the fundamental principles of allowable acquisition cost and customer lifetime value.

There’s nothing that brings together online marketing with traditional direct response principles.

I combed through my library of DR books, reached out to publishers and even purchased a few things on Amazon.

For a moment, and just a moment, I considered writing one. Then I realized that with the amount of new information coming at marketers every day, I would be stuffing chocolates in my mouth and under my hat — like Lucy and Ethel.

What’s on Your Summer Reading List?

Summer is such a great time to slow down a bit and pick up a book. Here’s what’s made my list.

Have you read any good books lately?

Summer is such a great time to slow down a bit and pick up a book. There was a time when I’d head home from a visit to the Strand, New York’s great bookstore, with a dozen purchases. Not to mention house sales, yard sales, etc.

Last summer, I wrote about the books that were on my reading list.

Books and ebookThey were:

And I have two recommendations from the last few months:

21 Reasons Creativity Is Like Sex by Courtney Smith Kramer

Sure, the title’s provocative, to say nothing of some of the content. So you’ve been warned. But assuming you can get past that – and there’s a lot – this is a fun, leisurely read with lots of exercises, factoids, and little insights to help make new connections in the creative process, and so much more.

Got Your Attention? by Sam Horn

This is a useful, concise handbook with many practical tactics for getting others to pay attention to you and your ideas. To be an effective communicator, you have to create “intrigue,” and she tells you how to do it.

For this summer? Here’s what’s made my list so far.

The King of Madison Avenue by Kenneth Roman

I wanted to include a biography this time, and who better to start with than David Ogilvy, the advertising legend? I read Ogilvy on Advertising years ago, so learning more about one of the great copywriters/mad men of all time should be a real treat.

Everybody Writes: Your Go-To Guide to Creating Ridiculously Good Content by Ann Handley

Even though I write every day, I’m not as good a writer as I’d like to be. I need a lot of help. Ann’s the  Head of Content for Marketing Profs, so I know she’ll have plenty of tips and recommendations.

The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann

It’s been a while since I’ve read a really worthwhile business parable. So I want to check out their take about how success depends on helping others. As much as I think that’s what my job is all about, I’m certain there’s so much more I can learn.

So, how about it, marketers? What books can you recommend that have inspired and motivated you? Please share!

Digital Onslaught: I’m Losing My Brain, and What’s Left Is Being Rewired

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command?

I am convinced that the ubiquity of and access to knowledge—largely digital and increasingly mobile—that I have come to depend upon today is rewiring my brain. What I used to commit to memory, I increasingly assign to libraries on my computer and in the cloud. Am I being lazy, or old, or am I equipping myself to a new age of information—and analysis-on-command? While the pursuit of knowledge is universal, perhaps how the next generation learns is different from how I learn, or used to learn. I’m late to the party, and I am either caught or willfully going through the transition.

I am not alone. The collective universe of the human brain is being rewired by digital communication: Out of necessity, the brain is being “trained” to skim instead of read. Even worse, British researchers are now theorizing and calling for further study on the possibility that simultaneous multi-screen viewing may destroy brain grey matter.

To counteract this “danger,” perhaps it is necessary to set aside time to read—the way we used to. Parents should assign books for their kids to read from cover-to-cover, and preferably in print and not on tablets. I make sure to read The Economist in print from cover to cover, but I had better put some books back in the mix fast. Discipline dictates that you should not rely solely on screens to absorb knowledge—because maybe you won’t absorb any all, and even if you do, it won’t be accurate.

One expert—who is committed to reading books online—says the only way to absorb knowledge on a screen is to physically take notes on what you’ve just read. The act of writing helps to commit the content to memory.

This is pretty serious stuff. I wonder if we really are having our brains rewired—or diminished—by digital media, just what do society, education and family households need to do counteract this phenomenon? Yes, we need to skim, but the Slow Reading Movement needs to take hold.

You can start by not reading this blog—online that is.

The 3 Habits of Successful Social Publishers

Publishers who represent non-fiction authors and experts can use social media to drive sales of books and information products by following the three habits of successful social publishers. Successful publishers who know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it rely on developing three habits.

Publishers who represent non-fiction authors and experts can use social media to drive sales of books and information products by following the three habits of successful social publishers.

Successful publishers who know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it rely on developing three habits. These are:

  1. Getting back to basics by solving readers’ problems on social media.
  2. Designing to sell, provoking responses from prospective buyers in ways that connect with authors’ books, coaching and other products.
  3. Translating, discovering customers’ evolving needs and desires, using them to induce sales transactions.

You can immediately begin selling books and other info products on social media platforms by applying these three success principles. Let’s look at each more closely and make them actionable in your everyday work life—let’s make them habits.

Habit No. 1: Solve Problems and Create Experiences
Here’s how the idea of solving problems to create sales works for non-fiction books, reference kits and informational products like webinars, DVD collections, etc. The main idea is to use social media platforms to:

  1. Provide answers to potential buyers’ most common questions in ways that provoke more questions (that your books answer!);
  2. Make it easy for the prospect to take action—to actually do something that puts them on the path to understanding why your book/product features THE hands-down expert/knowledge; and
  3. Give prospects a chance to actually begin to experience the power of your publications’ wisdom/method/solution through a small sample of the real product.

This is the best way to effectively coax or nurture prospects toward buying books, webinars or any kind of published information products. The objective with social media is to convert visitors to a lead. Then it’s up to you to nurture this lead into becoming a buyer of your books and information products.

But good news: This is easy work if you follow the formula.

Habit No. 2: Provoke Response and Earn a Lead
Blogging using this technique helps buyers discover answers to specific problems in search engines and make subtle yet direct, controllable connections with what you want to sell them. You see, when readers type specific questions into Google or Bing, your blog (or your authors’ blog, assuming you’ve coached him/her on this technique) will pop up and direct them to experts and authors with terrifically useful answers—yours.

The trick is to supply prospects with answers (within the blog post) in limited, short-form ways that provoke them to interact more with you/your author… so they can more clearly understand the thought you just provoked.

The key to selling more books and products is to answer potential buyers’ questions in ways that allow distribution of small samples of the more comprehensive solutions your books or products provide. To accomplish this, simply give prospects a clear pathway to “get more of that kind of thinking” into their heads/companies; give prospects something to sign-up for.

Help prospects act on their impulses by giving them a way to “get more” of what you just sampled. Mix in a direct response marketing element—a clear, irresistible call to action.

Habit No. 3: Begin a Courtship, Not a Drive-By
It is best to not ask prospects to trade their email for a whitepaper or access to a single video. Yes, most B-to-B marketers do this, but please don’t do it yourself. Don’t do a drive-by!

Grabbing at email addresses (just because you can) will reduce both the take and conversion rates. Ultimately, prospects likely will not connect taking the offer with your lead follow-up routine. They will feel spammed and unsubscribe.

Think about it in your own experience. Ever download a paper only to become part of an irrelevant sales follow-up call? Compare this to opting-in to a series of logical email messages that helped you get clear on something or learn a new skill.

Bottom line: You don’t need prospects’ email addresses to deliver a single piece of knowledge. Instead, when you give prospective buyers a way to act on their impulses, just be sure to set the context.

This (action your prospect takes) begins an educational process or journey for them. This approach will make it easier to connect your ultimate product pitch to that journey in ways that create more conversions.

Don’t Quit!
If you’re feeling overwhelmed join the club but don’t quit. Social media marketing is heaping on more work—and you’ve already got too many to-do’s on your list, I know. You may even be skeptical that social media can help publishing companies create sales. It’s tough moving beyond being liked, followed or re-tweeted.

Successful publishers know the difference between wasting time with social media and selling with it relies on developing three habits. These are solving readers’ problems on social media, designing it to sell (by provoking responses from prospective buyers in ways that connect with books, coaching and other relevant products) and translatin—discovering customers’ evolving needs & desires, using them to induce sales transactions.

Worst. Letter. Ever.

The other day, I ran into a friend who asked me how he and his wife could market their small business better in our shaky times. That’s a topic for many days, of course, but he wanted to know specifically about the value of a letter. I could have said that there are some big pluses and minuses for mailing a letter package, depending on the industry and target audience. Entire books, seminars, and much more are devoted to the art of writing a great sales letter. At the time, though, all I could think of was what not to do.

The other day, I ran into a friend who asked me how he and his wife could market their small business better in our shaky times. That’s a topic for many days, of course, but he wanted to know specifically about the value of a letter. I could have said that there are some big pluses and minuses for mailing a letter package, depending on the industry and target audience. Entire books, seminars, and much more are devoted to the art of writing a great sales letter. At the time, though, all I could think of was what not to do.

I flashed back to what I regarded as the worst letter I had ever read when it first landed on my desk in 1999. It’s from American Appliance, a chain of retail stores in the Mid-Atlantic states that, not surprisingly, went bankrupt in 2001. You can see it in the mediaplayer at the right. From the top, literally, something bothered me: There was no salutation. How can you have a letter without one? It just got worse from there:

  • misspellings (“Veterans Day” is the official holiday name),
  • bad grammar (e.g., “there” and “Audio products”), and
  • dicey usage of a trademarked name (American Airlines owns “AAdvantage”).

Looking at it today, it hasn’t gotten better with age.

I’ll admit it — I’m a stickler, but when I see mistakes like this in direct mail and email, I’m not overly worried about it being the result of bad education. At least that can be remedied a little bit by taking a one-day workshop, or at least, reading Lynne Truss’ “Eats, Shoots & Leaves.” What’s more bottom-line is that this letter should never have been dropped in the mail in the first place. Someone along the line — a marketing director or an administrative assistant — should have sent this clunker back to be fixed. But no one did. There is no excuse for not thoroughly reviewing all materials for basic rules of the English language before they are deployed in the mail, on the Internet, or wherever. Carelessness, and a less-than-professional look gets noticed, and loses business, deservedly so.

What’s the worst marketing letter you’ve ever read?