How to Generate Response With Your Direct Mail

A lot of marketers go for flashy design with their direct mail. This can grab attention, but what if you could do something more? Can your direct mail make people think and react without even realizing it? Of course it can. So how can you design your mailings with that in mind?

Seebe Hydroelectric Dam near Exshaw at NightA lot of marketers go for flashy design with their direct mail. This can grab attention, but what if you could do something more? Can your direct mail make people think and react without even realizing it? Of course it can. So how can you design your mailings with that in mind?

Before we get into the how, we need to know more about this phenomenon. This is commonly referred to as neuromarketing — marketing that focuses on the brain and how it responds. People are not aware of where their first impressions come from, nor do we always understand what they mean; they just are. This means we can use that to our advantage as marketers and incorporate messaging and design to illicit a snap response once pulled from the mail box. This is thought to happen in the lower, old parts of our brain. Now, let’s see how we can do this:

  1. “Either or Scenario”: Create only two options to choose from in your direct mail. The good choice is your product or service and the bad choice is the other option. This is a great space for snap judgments, so make sure your distinction is very clear.
  2. Story: Use a real world story that shows your product or service and how it has helped other real people. This should be a short story that is clear and to the point. Testimonials are great!
  3. Messaging: Keep it short and simple. There is no need to get technical or to list a bunch of features — no one cares. Benefits sell for you so find the biggest one and use that in your message.
  4. Solve Problems: Your product or service solves problems for people show them how in your direct mail. Short and right to the point, you have this problem, our widget will solve it. One big benefit is your focus.
  5. Images: Invoke emotions and convey your message through powerful images and without a lot of copy.

On average, you have about 5 to 6 seconds for your message to be understood before the prospect or customer moves on. So in order to be most effective, you need to be using all five suggestions above while keeping your focus on your one overarching theme. Remember that the most important thing is to only be selling one thing at a time with your direct mail. The KISS method is your friend.

Your mail should never focus on reason or logic; that’s not what gets people to buy right away. It makes them think harder and slows down the whole buying process. Additionally, it is an instant turn-off for mail pieces. Do not end up in the trash! You highlight a big benefit when you solve their problem, just focus on that.

Take a look at your current mail pieces based on the five suggestions above: What could you change before you send out your next piece? Are you already doing some of them? Great, now just add the ones that are missing. Another thing to consider is to look at mail pieces you have received, which ones worked well on you? What did they have in common? This can help you build a better response with your direct mail campaigns. Do you have a great mail piece that worked really well for you? I would love to hear about it!

The 3Ls That Can Kill Your Brand. Forever.

As marketers, most of us pride ourselves for adhering to truth in advertising and being honest in all we say about our products and brands. Copywriter, strategist, social or content marketers, we always tell the truth. Right? Actually you shouldn’t be so quick or sure to answer that question.

"Red Bull Gives You Wings"
This “Red Bull Gives You Wings” image from Michelle Ramey Photography via DeviantArt.com illustrates a brand slogan that cost the company millions.

As marketers, most of us pride ourselves for adhering to truth in advertising and being honest in all we say about our products and brands. Copywriter, strategist, social or content marketers, we always tell the truth. Right? Actually you shouldn’t be so quick or sure to answer that question.

In many cases, we marketers unwittingly lie about our products all of the time.

Remember that adjective in a social post about being the “leading” brand in your category, or claiming that you have a “scientifically proven” solution because one survey with a small sample was in your favor? We can say these things if there is at least one incidence of truth, right?

To many marketers, little claims which can be substantiated in at least one incident, e.g., leading for just one month’s sales reports, or scientifically proven in a study that only covered a small portion of your markets, are perfectly acceptable. Yet to many consumers, these claims are fodder for lawsuits, let alone the lost loyalty from those who don’t sue you.

Here’s a couple of examples from a Business Insider article, March 2016, about how those innocent words or “suggestions” can get brands in big trouble.

  • Tesco, a SuperMarket in the U.K., got caught up in a scandal for using horsemeat in its “beef” products. So the company decided to run an ad explaining how this happened. However, Tesco also chose to imply that this was happening industry-wide. That resulted in the U.K. advertising regulator banning the ad and about a $300 million drop in the brand’s value.
  • Kellogg’s got its hands slapped by the FTC for claiming its Rice Krispies could boost a child’s immunity as the FTC couldn’t find anything but dubious data to back that up.
  • And one of the most interesting lawsuits that actually cost a brand a lot of money and respect was over Red Bull’s tagline claim that their drink could “give you wings” and intellectual energy. Obviously just a fun slogan to most. However, a consumer claimed he had been drinking Red Bull for 10 years and had no wings to show for it, or improved intellect (that last claim rings true). But a judge bought it and Red Bull had to pay out $13 million and $10 to every customer buying its drink in the past 12 years. True story!

If you Google “honest advertising that works,” you’ll get a few articles featuring logic-defying “honest” ads that expose a product’s flaws, almost to the point of dishonesty of how bad something is. These include ads for real estate and hotels saying how awful their places are in ways that are so bad they spark curiosity and make one want to experience the property to see for themselves. So yep, they worked. By being “honest” to the edge of being “dishonest” about your product, some clever copywriters have discovered the power of sparking curiosity to sell products. But there’s a deeper lesson here.

Let’s Get Creative (If We Have the Time …)

PUT ON THOSE THINKING CAPS, it’s time to talk creativity! How do you flick on that creative switch when you’re focused on 483 non-creative, deadline-centric tasks per day?

PUT ON THOSE THINKING CAPS, it’s time to talk creativity!

“But Dani,” you might say, “Your blog is literally called Creative Caffeine, isn’t that what you always talk about?”

Yeah, I know bud, but I don’t usually talk about creativity itself. That is, how to foster it, how to flick on that switch so the creative cup runneth over, particularly when you’re focused on 483 non-creative, deadline-centric tasks per day, as most of us are.

Even in marketing positions like mine, where creativity is an essential in the day-to-day, it can be nearly impossible to find the time, place and stimulation to mine those brain gems. Take me, for example. I’m a fraud. I write this blog supposedly about all things creative, but I only post once a month because I never feel like I have the creativity to spare or the time to find more. I didn’t even come up with this topic, editor-in-chief of Target Marketing Thorin McGee did!

So how do you feed your right brain in a work day full of left-brained tasks? Do you set aside time for it? Do you have a playlist you listen to, or a podcast, or a calendar of inspirational quotes that you go back to time and time again when you need that extra spark?

workplace-2303853_1920

This image was a free result for “creativity”, but also it reminds me of that one episode of Black Mirror. Bonus.

Personally, I often just have to hope I can find the time to completely zone out and/or doodle, usually while listening to a showtunes playlist, for a little while, because that’s honestly my most successful brainstorming method. I have to disengage before I can find a way to be engaging, or something like that. Unfortunately, that opportunity is rarer than desired.

Fortune published a great post just last week, “Why You Can’t Force Creativity at Work,” offering a few alternatives to the “sit at your desk crying and avoiding your other work until something comes to you” method, such as:

  • Encourage Outside Interests
  • Provide Flexible Deadlines (This one is KEY in my world!)
  • Allow for an “ideas before measurement” mindset

I found another great article on Huffington Post from a couple of years ago, but its points feel evergreen: “Fostering a Culture of Creativity in the Workplace.” One suggestion it offers is to take cues from classic improv theater games, like every theater kid’s favorite “Yes, and …” As a former (is it something you ever really grow out of?) theater kid myself, this one’s definitely on my To Try list.

Oh, obviously, I also rely on coffee. While some sources will tell you caffeine stunts creativity, this article from the Atlantic gives a lot of science-y reasons those sources are wrong and confirmation bias leads me to believe it.

So how about you? Do you use any of these ideas, or have your own methods? Do you find it difficult to balance the scales between creativity and productivity? As always, let me know.

Talk to you in July!

The Kitty Poop Conspiracy: PetSafe’s Hilarious Litter Box Campaign

My favorite marketing campaign as-of-late is for a product centered around cat doo-doo, but not a single shred of The Kitty Poop Conspiracy stinks.

If the viral success of the FurKids Animal Shelter commercial a few months ago is any indication, sometimes a good marketing campaign only needs two key ingredients: 1) cats and 2) the low budget aesthetic.

My favorite creative campaign I’ve seen as-of-late makes exemplary use of both traits, and this will be a pretty quick post but I had to give it a shout meow-out. It’s a product centered around, well … cat doo-doo, but there’s not a single shred of it that stinks.

PetSafe’s ScoopFree litter box is a mechanical, self-cleaning litter box that rakes your furry best friend’s droppings into a covered trap as soon as kitty leaves the box. As all cat owners know, this pretty much sounds like a dream come true. The appeal of a self-cleaning, odor-trapping litter box speaks for itself, right?

That being the case, PetSafe took their product messaging to the next level. They created catspiracy.com to promote the litter box and all its incredible features, in the style of a late 1990s amateur-created conspiracy website, complete with neon type and terrible animations. Oh, and it’s from the cats’ POV.

siteThe concept: Humans are harvesting cat dung for profit using these high-tech machines. Cats around the globe demand to know the truth, and to keep their valuable droppings for themselves! The Catspiracy!

Check out the hilarious commercial here.

As a lover of both cats and great copy, I couldn’t possibly be more on board with this whole thing.

They’ve even got testimonials from the brilliant cat minds connecting the dots. Dr. Bottomsworth has a higher degree than I do, he must be a credible source.

testimonialsThe most impressive part of the whole thing is that, while hilarious and ridiculous, the promos still clearly depict why the ScoopFree is a great product. It absolutely made me want to buy one.

Definitely check out the site and videos if you’re looking for a Monday pick-me-up. And if you don’t hear from me again for a while, assume the shady powers that be got me for spreading the cat’s honest truth.

Discovering the Big Idea

What’s holding you back from creating your next breakthrough marketing campaign? It’s probably you. Why? Because instead of coming up with a new big idea that you can test, you may be just shuffling the same deck of cards. So how do you discover the big idea? Here are a few …

Content Creation IdeasWhat’s holding you back from creating your next breakthrough marketing campaign? It’s probably you. Why? Because instead of coming up with a new big idea that you can test, you may be just shuffling the same deck of cards. So how do you discover the big idea? Here are a few tips.

Copywriters and marketing professionals see a lot of copy. And it must be evaluated. The trap is in deceiving yourself that “breaking through” is simply rearranging the words from a past promo and calling it new. Fact is, this approach isn’t likely to produce a new winner.

Recently I evaluated copy from several seminar attendee copywriters where I presented a client case study and the challenge to write a subject line, headline and lead for an email promo. They only had about a day to work on it. The copywriters who had their game on were those who spun an existing message into a new idea, metaphor, perspective, or story.

That’s what I was looking for, because a new, big idea, has the power to beat a control. I believe it’s because big ideas create new memory for a prospective customer. Turned into long-term memory with a follow-up, longer-form message, the big idea has better odds of converting into a sale.

Ideas sell. Here are a few tips about how you might identify a big idea worthy of testing:

  • Interview customers — or better — interview prospective customers and ask what it will take to earn their business. Phone calls are good; focus groups can be better. Ask them why they buy. Then, ask them a follow-up “why?” to peel back the layers.
  • If you’re a marketer, you surely have data — all kinds of data ranging from demographics to behavioral information. Examine your data through a new lens to inspire yourself and imagine the possibilities for a new big idea.
  • Look at the characteristics of your best customers. You know, the Pareto Principle; often simply called the “80/20 rule.”
  • What are your competitors doing? But don’t knock them off. Steal smart, add your own twist and rise above them.

Conversations with peers and co-workers can also inspire copywriters and marketers. Ask “what if” questions. Ask “why” questions. Ask what the driving emotion is that tips a prospect into becoming a customer.

Then, let your copywriter digest the research, discussion and background materials, and take a step back with these “4 Ways to Get Creative” to let the big idea reveal itself.

Gary Hennerberg gives you the detail of his “Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES!” in his book, Crack the Customer Mind Code, available from the DirectMarketingIQ Bookstore. For a free download with more detail about the seven pathways, and access to Gary’s videos where he presents them, go to CustomerMindCode.com.

Direct Mail for 2017 

How did 2017 come upon us so quickly? Time is flying so we need to get started on planning direct mail campaigns for 2017. I really do mean planning, too. It takes time to plan out an effective direct mail campaign. Before we start though, let’s look at what we will not do in 2017.

screen-shot-2016-11-07-at-2-35-33-pmHow did 2017 come upon us so quickly? Time is flying, so we need to get started on planning direct mail campaigns for 2017. I really do mean planning, too. It takes time to plan an effective direct mail campaign. Before we start, let’s look at what we will not do in 2017.

Don’t:

  • Overcrowd: Using too many images or too much copy is overwhelming.
  • Be Generic: You need to target your offers — they should never be generic. Specific offers get responses.
  • Rush: Just because you can push to get your mail out fast does not mean you should. Thorough effort in strategic planning is essential for sending quality mail.
  • Send alone: Your direct mail campaign should be tied to other channels, in order to amplify your reach and increase response.
  • Send once: Direct mail works best when you reach out to people several times — particularly if they are prospects and unfamiliar with you.

So now that we know what we won’t do, let’s take a look at what direct mail should entail in 2017. Technology will be the key to improvement. There are now so many ways to integrate direct mail with mobile and online content. Integration increases engagement, and new varieties of integration surface all the time. The pace of change in marketing right now is staggering.

Focus on direct mail’s strengths: it is targeted, tactile, scheduled and trustworthy. Take full advantage of these characteristics by applying tailored lists, textures, smells, inks and tracking. Make your drab direct mail fab. Customers and prospects will notice and appreciate your creativity.

Here are some ideas for fun direct mail:

  1. Textured or coated paper: Make your message pop with textures and coatings that will alert your targets via fingertip. This is relatively inexpensive and will boost response.
  2. Dimensional: Dimensional mail is any mail that is not flat — boxes, tubes or any other 3-D shape pops in the mail. Note that postage on dimensional mail is more expensive.
  3. Endless folds: Create fun and entertaining mail by sending a folded piece. These go beyond visual stimulation by requiring recipients to touch and manipulate the piece.
  4. Video: These mailers have an audiovisual player that is embedded within them. The video content is played after opening the mailer or pushing a button.
  5. Scavenger hunt: Launched with a direct mail piece, you can send your customers on a fun adventure.
  6. 3-D: Create a mailer with 3-D images, send some 3-D glasses along with it and let the fun begin.
  7. Ink: Try using some of the new, reactive inks that change color with temperature, and more.

These are just some of the creative ways direct mail can be used. Get your customers excited about your direct mail. There are so many new and fun options you can be taking advantage of. Not everyone has a big enough budget to take advantage of the more expensive options, but there are plenty of ways to spice up your direct mail while staying within your budget.

Let 2017 be the year you create better direct mail, and have fun doing it!

Top 3 Questions I Hear About Direct Marketing

Clients and friends who are traditional marketers often seek my advice on direct response. Here are the answers to the three questions I hear most frequently:

Unknown peopleTraditional marketer clients and friends often seek my advice on direct response. Here are the answers to the three questions I hear most frequently:

Question No. 1: What Kind of Response Rate Should I Expect?

There are response rate benchmark studies published by the DMA and others, usually organized by industry and type of offer (lead generation, free information, cash with order, etc.). These reports can provide you with some guidance in setting your expectations, but they can just as easily lead you astray. How? If you’ve seen one campaign, you’ve seen just that: one. But some marketers fall into the trap of applying previous results to various campaigns.

Your response rate is driven by three factors, listed here in order or importance:

  • Media: If you don’t get your message in front of the right people, your response will suffer. It is the single most important driver of response, so choose wisely.
  • Offer: What’s your value proposition to the prospect? Simply stated, your offer says, “Here’s what I want you to do, and here’s what you’re going to get when you do it.” If your offer is not appealing or relevant to the prospect, the response — or lack thereof — will reflect that. Also, keep in mind that soft offers, which require little commitment on the part of the prospect (e.g., get free information, download a whitepaper, etc.), will generate a higher response than hard offers, which require a greater commitment (request a demo, make an appointment with a sales rep, payment with order, etc.).
  • Creative: It’s hard for traditional advertisers to believe that this element is lower in importance than the first two, but it is. And the biggest driver of response from a creative standpoint is a clearly stated prominent call to action.

Question No. 2: We Have a Strong Campaign Coming Out of Market Research. My Client/Management Wants to Get This Out As Quickly As Possible. Why Do I Have to Test?

Three reasons:

  • You may have a well-researched creative position but it can be executed in a variety of different ways (see the third bullet under Question No. 1, above). Furthermore, your market research couldn’t predict the response rates from different media. But knowing whether email lists, websites or social media fare best for your audience and offer will be crucial to generating the highest response rate.
  • You want to be able to optimize the three factors above to determine which combination gives you the most qualified leads at the lowest cost per lead.
  • Most importantly, you want to avoid a potentially catastrophic result if you’ve gotten one of the three key elements wrong. It’s better to do that with a small quantity rather than a full-scale effort. It’s always disconcerting to hear people say, “We tried direct. It didn’t work.” Keep in mind that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. Previous successes and shortcomings won’t apply when you tweak the context.

Question No. 3. How Big Should My Test Be?

Your test should be large enough to produce statistically significant results. There are two parts to this: the confidence level of your results and the variation you’re willing to accept.

There are statistical formulas for calculating sample size, but a good rule of thumb to follow is that with 250 responses, you can be 90 percent confident that your results will vary no more than plus or minus 10 percent.

For example, if you test 25,000 emails and get a 1 percent response rate, that’s 250 responses. That means you can be 90 percent confident that (all things held equal) you will get between 0.9 percent and 1.1 percent in a rollout.

A smaller number of responses will result in a reduced confidence level or increased variance. For example, with a test size of 10,000 emails and a 1 percent response rate at a 90 percent confidence level, your variance would be 16 percent rather than 10 percent. That means you can be 90 percent confident that you’ll get between 0.84 percent and 1.16 percent response rate, with all things being held equal.

Free Marketing Advice: How Far Is Too Far?

How much of our intellectual property should we be willing to give away to win a client’s business? Many prospects are willing to pay for creative ideas — some have been shamed into it, while others have finally placed a value on the time an agency will have to invest in conceiving, writing and designing creative ideas.

Email Roundtable: Creative Insights You Can StealAnyone who works in business development at an agency has encountered this dilemma: An RFP includes a request for a detailed set of strategic and tactical marketing recommendations that would solve some very specific business challenges.

But a recent RFP went even further: Forecast the response expected from each media channel recommended, and include proof of concept by detailing how that idea in that channel delivered for another client. Anyone in their right mind who answers this question is giving away proprietary results! Yet, we all know that if we don’t comply with the RFP, we can pretty much count ourselves out of consideration in the next round of reviews. But how much of our intellectual property should we be willing to give away to win a client’s business?

Many prospects are willing to pay for creative ideas — some have been shamed into it, while others have finally placed a value on the time an agency will have to invest in conceiving, writing and designing creative ideas (although we all know we never get adequately compensated).

However, there are other challenges facing our industry on price, value and just plain old fashioned respect. For example I’ve noticed that if someone does ask for some free marketing advice in a public forum, many experienced marketers will provide very thoughtful and insightful answers. But others are quick to dismiss the ideas that others present in order to promote their own answer. After I was publicly shamed for one of my recent responses, I decided the public forum may not be the best place to participate in a thoughtful discussion on marketing challenges.

Many new startups in Silicon Valley spend time on a site called Founders Dating, seeking advice and counsel on everything from marketing to HR, technology to investor-related challenges. Even after I responded to a question that was right in my wheelhouse of expertise, there were over 200 “experts” chiming in with their advice – so how could the individual raising the question possibly know what they should do next?

I’ve heard loads of complaints from creative freelancers about clients who were unclear in their initial direction, but were unwilling to pay for round after round of revision. And other freelancers admit that they’ve done work at a cut-rate price because the pipeline for new work has dried up, so they’re giving away their expertise. Still, others are complaining that all the new grads flooding the marketplace are driving costs down.

Are you feeling the same pinch — the same lack of respect for your experience or ideas? Should we all just retire and open a food truck?

See the Customer Inside the Idiot With Compassion

“A person is smart. People are dumb.” That’s been my best friend’s favorite quote since we were 16. But it has a flaw: Compassion.

“A person is smart. People are dumb.”
—Agent K, Men in Black

That’s been my best friend’s favorite quote since we were 16 years old. But it has a flaw.

It’s not numbers that make people stupid. It’s your distance from them and your angle of view that make them appear so.

Maybe it’s the customer who asks how many are in a dozen. Or the website visitor who says your pictures are too small, even though it just takes a click to enlarge them. Or the member who complains about your password protocol because they can’t figure out to write it down. (Full disclosure: I’ve been that idiot.)

That’s hardly an exhaustive list of the ways the people you’re marketing to can look like idiots. I don’t have any idea of the myriad of specific ways your customers frustrate you, but I’m betting you have a list.

The job of marketing is to convince people, many people, people you’ll probably never meet, to do the thing you have painstakingly tried to make them want to do. You may have spent years of your life trying to make it as simple as possible for them to do the thing. You’ve probably bent over backwards to make sure they have everything they need to do it. And yet, sometimes we’re all just Happy Gilmore on the putting green trying to get the ball to go into the hole that’s its home.

Happy Gilmore, not showing compassionWhen they don’t do the thing, customers can all look like idiots.

Compassion in Business

This came to mind when I was at Dreamforce last week. A big theme of the show was compassion. Now sure, a lot of that was discussion about charitable works and Salesforce’s gifts to nonprofits (which are to be lauded), But there was a bigger point that Mark Benioff made: Businesses and people don’t succeed by doing what they need, they succeed when they start doing what others need.

That sounds counter-intuitive, but it makes sense when you think about the hallmarks of great products and services: They solve your peoples’ problems.

Compassion is the key to doing that. If you can’t sympathize with the people you’re marketing to, you can’t solve their problems — be it the problems your products are meant to solve, problems with your products, or problems with the path to purchasing your products.

Compassion is also the key to finding a sense of purpose in your marketing. It’s hard to feel fulfilled herding idiots. When you can look at your customers with compassion, empathizing with their problems and helping them in a worthwhile way, that’s what’s fulfilling and sustaining in business.

So by being compassionate to your prospects and customers, you’re also being compassionate to yourself.

Plus, you’ll make more money that way.

Creative Cage Match: Greetabl vs. Old Navy

According to Radicati Group’s “Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019,” the consumer inbox got hit with approximately 93 emails a day in 2015. That’s a lot of email, which means marketers have to nail the subject line in order to win the open, then deliver on the open.

There’s a reason that pro-wrestling is so popular — and it’s not just the juicy drama and bespangled costumes. People love a good fight, and have for millennia, dating back to the gladiators of Rome and beyond.

So, once a month I’m going to select two marketers and toss them into a Creative Cage Match. I’ll be looking at everything ranging from email to direct mail, website to mobile site. It’ll be a mix of objective and subjective, and each time a marketer will walk out of the ring triumphantly.

According to Radicati Group’s “Email Statistics Report, 2015-2019” (opens as a PDF), the consumer inbox got hit with approximately 93 emails a day in 2015. That’s a lot of email, which means marketers have to nail the subject line in order to win the open, then deliver on the open.

You had my curiosity, but now you have my attentionOn this side of the ring, we have Greetabl, launched in 2013 as a creative attempt to bridge the “Gifting Gap.” Consumers are able to select from curated small gift options, choose and customize packaging, all with a few clicks. Why send a $60 bouquet of wilted roses when you can earn mega brownie points for something outside of the norm (while also keeping your wallet from crying)?

Across the ring is the retail powerhouse Old Navy — from the same family that gives us The Gap and Banana Republic — known for its clothing and accessories. Founded in 1994, Old Navy has brick and mortar stores, as well as an e-commerce site, and is known for quirky commercials featuring celebrities such as Amy Poehler and Amy Schumer.

Email vs. Email

With a jam-packed inbox, you have to nail the subject line, then follow through with the content by way of copy and design. So let’s look at two that I received recently:

Greetabl email“You know she needs this” is the subject line from Greetabl. This definitely grabbed my attention, and I’m pleased with what I clicked through to. I enjoyed the preheader — Overworked friends need extra <3 — and while it doesn’t give me a benefit, it made me smile.

The email is about a new Greetabl gift you can send a friend. The image is great, the copy is simple, to the point and in Greetabl’s voice, and at the very bottom I really like the Unsubscribe copy:

If you really, really don’t want to hear from us anymore, you can unsubscribe. We totally won’t take it personal. I mean, it’s just an email, right? It definitely does not mean we’re not still friends. Right?? Are we overthinking this? Love you, mean it.

Two thumbs up Greetabl … which reminds me … I have a bestie’s birthday coming up soon …

Now, on to the behemoth that is Old Navy.