How to Use Psychology to Improve Your Direct Mail

Many marketers are struggling to generate leads that convert to sales, and it’s clear that more efficient strategies are needed. Most marketers are well aware of the power of direct mail, especially at times like these. But have they considered how psychology can be incorporated into their direct mail strategy?

Many marketers are struggling to generate leads that convert to sales currently, and it’s clear that more efficient marketing strategies are needed to generate profitability. Most marketers are well aware of the power of direct mail, especially at times like these. But have they considered how psychology can be incorporated into their direct mail strategy?

According to the USPS Market Research and Insights Report, “COVID Mail Attitudes,” 65% of those surveyed stated that receiving mail lifts their spirits, with 54% of respondents stating that mail helped them feel more connected. With people looking forward to getting mail each day, you should strive to be in the mail box. Let’s consider some of the best ways to leverage direct mail right now, and how can marketers use psychology to improve their direct mail pieces.

Customer Loyalty

  • Create special offers for your customers based on past purchase history.
  • Suggest new items they would like.
  • Help them feel how important they are to you and that you care.


  • Be very honest and transparent in your communication with prospects.
  • Vet your messaging well so that you are certain you’re providing a product or service they actually need.

Trusted Source

  • Provide needed information and ways people can help others — this is a great way to show how you care, and will help you build brand status with customers and prospects.

Did you know that the human brain is doing most of its work outside of our consciousness? If we are able to create a good strategy that enables us to tap into the subconscious decisions, we can generate a greater response from prospects and customers with direct mail.

Psychology is an excellent tool to help drive direct mail response. Consider the following when working on your direct mail:

  1. Use Emotional Triggers Appropriately – Both men and women need emotional engagement for direct mail to work. This requires the use of both good emotional copy and imagery. Segmentation can really help you target the right people with the right emotional copy and images.
  2. Avoid Overload – When there is too much clutter within messages, either from words or images, the brain cannot process it. Make sure that you leave white space and use concise copy so that the brain can easily process your message.
  3. Make It Interesting – The brain likes puzzles and humor. Keep them simple for easy understanding. They are effective with increased engagement.
  4. Understand Your Audience – For example, if your audience is made up of women you need to tap into empathy. Women engage with faces and direct eye contact images. Women also respond to group/community activity images and of course babies too. She will pay attention to messages that make life easier, celebrate her or allow her to do multiple things.

A complicated mail message will most likely be ignored by the brain. But there are ways to simplify your copy and images to capture attention and drive results. Here are two ways to capture attention:

  • Novelty: This is the No. 1 way to capture attention. Our brains are trained to look for something new and cool. A novel message or layout can really help you stand out in the mail box.
  • Eye Contact: Humans are social beings. Images of people or animals making eye contact with your prospects or customers grab attention and draw them into the mail piece.

As you can see the brain is powerful and is very good at ignoring messages. Taking the time to consider how all these psychological factors can really help you drive your direct mail response rates up. As always, focusing your messaging with targeted segments to really reach the right people with the right message will increase the success of your mail campaigns. Are you ready to get started?

3 Tactics to Stay Connected With Your Target Audience

What can you do today to help you to survive the current state of your market and thrive as it evolves? Consider these three tactics to help you maintain a strong connection with your audience.

Digital marketing — and marketing more broadly — is always about making it clear to your target audience that you can help them address the issue they need to solve. Nothing about the conditions we’re facing today changes that, though the issues your audience is facing very likely have.

So, as much as we’re all tired of hearing about our “unprecedented” times and “the new normal,” we do have to adapt our organizations to the conditions we see in our markets, or risk our own extinction.

What can you do today to help you to survive the current state of your market and thrive as it evolves? Consider these three tactics to help you maintain a strong connection with your target audience.

Trim Costs Without Negatively Affecting Your Audience

Where can you cut costs in a way that does not impact your ability to connect with your target audience? Begin by looking at what you’re doing now. For example, digital ad costs have fallen. If you can craft a message that still resonates with your prospects, you may be able to increase your impact at a lower overall cost, and certainly at a lower CPM. (Be careful, though, if your targeting relies on IP address identification. With many corporate folks working from home, their IP address will not be that of their organization unless they’re accessing the internet through a corporate VPN.)

What alternative to currently dormant channels have you shied away from testing in the past because of budget or bandwidth concerns? Virtual events rather than in-person events is the most obvious choice, but there may be other areas in your arsenal worth investigating.

Explore New Tactics for Your Sales Team to Employ

Speaking of alternatives, if your sales force has typically relied on face-to-face meetings to drive revenue, they’ll be itching for new ways to connect with potential buyers. They may be more open to new ideas than in the past; for example, creating a library of online resources.

The key here is doing the work to ensure that the resources you create align with the sales team’s needs. This makes creating a digital library a great way to get sales and marketing working together, even if they can’t be together physically. (I’m sure some of you are thinking about how that physical distance might make the process easier …)

Even better, a library like this works not only as a short-term play to get the sales team through a time of limited contact with prospects, but it also can pay benefits far down the road in the form of an expanded reach for the sales team as they become more comfortable using these tools in their sales process.

Improve Customer Experience

Don’t forget to check the possibilities already right under your nose. As difficult as it can be to connect with new prospects for many marketers at the moment, existing clients are likely far more receptive to your messaging, particularly if you focus on empathy, humanity, and being helpful.

Ask what help they need, share the struggles that your organization is going through, and make it clear that you will help them any way you can. Consider making a pre-emptive offer to clients that addresses problems you know they are facing. (See Point One above about asking what they need.) The short-term cost of any unpaid effort will pay long-term dividends in the kinds of trust and good will that lead to client retention and improved lifetime value.

Are Your Marketing Messages Worth Your Prospects’ Time?

With no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? But on the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

On the one hand, with no commuting, trips to the gym, or fun being had with friends and family, who doesn’t have more time today than they did a few short weeks ago? On the other hand, given the seriousness of our circumstances, we all have less patience for marketing messages that seem frivolous or unnecessary.

In other words, attention is even more valuable, so you’d better be sure that your messaging is worth the time you’re asking your prospects to invest. Here are a few ways you can help your prospects see why it’s worth it to engage with you.

Advise and Connect

Forget the hard sell. Gain trust and attention by offering help in your marketing messages. What advice can you offer your prospects that they will find value in? What questions do you know prospects are asking as they begin their buying journey? What questions are they asking later in the process?

Those are the questions you need to answer. The trick is in answering them not only in a way that helps prospects solve their business problems, but also in a way that positions you as an expert and helps engender trust.

All without giving away your secret sauce.

Probably not something you can whip up off the top of your head, but most definitely something that will pay great dividends. Create content that matters and resonates, and you will connect with your desired decision makers.

Another Kind of Connection

Beyond the connection you want to make with your prospects, you can also make connections for your prospects. Are there colleagues you work with you can stand behind that will make your prospects’ business lives better? Make the connection and you’ll a happy prospect and a happy colleague.

Obviously, this doesn’t scale and isn’t appropriate for early funnel prospects, but it can be a great way to remain in contact with prospects as you nurture them over time.

Demonstrate Through Your Marketing Messages

Finally, create opportunities to demonstrate that you have the experience and expertise to make a difference in their business. Case studies and testimonials are great, as are interviews and presentaiotnsr with clients who you have helped succeed.

So forget the “just checking in” phone calls and “we’re new and improved” emails. Provide value in your marketing messages and they will be greeted warmly more often, and your prospects’ doors will more frequently be open.

Tailoring Your Marketing Messages to Gen Y and Gen Z Consumers

Generation Y has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both of these generations.

Generation Y, or better known as Millennials, has been the apple of every marketer’s eye with 73 million strong, and spend a collective of $600 billion annually in the U.S. Now this group who is 24 to 39 years in age and a formidable force across all consumer markets, has another generation at their heels, Generation Z. And it is crucial for marketers to hone their strategy for communication with both Gen Y and Gen Z consumers.

As marketers continue developing and refining their Millennial-targeting strategies, they are now shifting their focus to Gen Z. This group of anyone 23 and younger is now coming to financial maturity, and consists of a massive and influential cohort made up of 65 million individuals. According to Gen Z Insights, as of 2020, this generation makes up 40% of all consumers in the U.S.

This youngest generation will soon outnumber the Millennials, and graduate from allowance-based buying power, bringing their own likes, dislikes, and opinions with them. But if there’s one thing that marketers should know about both Gen Y and Gen Z, it’s this: Don’t assume these are just huge, homogeneous groups who will respond to generic marketing messages.

The Millennial who turns 40 next year, for example, will have decidedly different media consumption and buying habits than, say, a 25-year-old who is just beginning to sort out life’s intricacies. Geography, gender, education level, income, and other individual attributes all have to be factored into the equation when targeting these broad, generational segments. Skip this step and you could find yourself wasting money, time, and energy chasing down way too large of a potential customer segment.

Apple, Xerox, and Nike have all found innovative ways to carve out specific niches within the larger context of both Gen Y and Gen Z. According to YPulse’s latest “youth brand tracker,” for example, YouTube, Nike, and Snapchat are the top three “top cool brands” for Gen Z, while Nike, Netflix, and Savage x Fenty claim the top spots for Gen Y.

Let’s dive into exploring generational segments, identifying some incorrect assumptions marketers make when tailoring their messages to Gen Y and Z, and highlighting some of the most effective platforms for getting messaging across to the nation’s two youngest generations.

Effective Platforms for Messaging Gen Y and Gen Z

Here are the main platforms that marketers use to deliver very targeted messages to Gen Y and Gen Z:

Connected TVs and Devices. This includes any TV or device that’s connected to the Internet and allows users to access content beyond what’s being shown on screen at the time. Connected advertising is an extension of the traditional TV buy that complements a brand’s existing presence on a specific platform. The connected nature of this medium allows companies to measure their reach and frequency across all devices, drill down into specific audience segments (i.e., iPhone users between a certain age range) and gain insights across the full customer journey.

Instagram. Not limited to celebrities who upload their well-posed vacation photos to the platform, Instagram’s photo-and video-sharing social network is actively used by nearly three-quarters (73%) of Gen Z adults (ages 18 to 23 years old). This presents a major opportunity for marketers who want to get their products in front of these young consumers, and who start forming bonds and creating brand awareness with these young adults early in their lives.

TikTok. A social media app where Gen Z vies for 15 seconds of fame on the small screen, TikTok is the fastest-growing social media app, with about 500 million regular users. Users post 15-second videos on the app, which is estimated to have been downloaded more than a billion times on app stores. Marketers can use TikTok to create a channel for their brands and then use it to upload relevant, engaging videos. They can also tap into the platform’s large “influencer” base and leverage it to expose their content to a broad, yet well-targeted, audience of Gen Z consumers.

YouTube. This well-established video-sharing platform has 2 billion users who log in on a monthly basis, including the 81% of American 15 to 25 years old. Among 18 to 34 year-olds, the platform is the second most-preferred platform for watching video on TV screens. With people uploading 500 hours of video every minute, the platform is pretty cluttered. Standing out and growing a YouTube channel requires a targeted approach that includes a unique channel name, a good viewing experience across all devices, calls to action (i.e., to subscribe, share videos, etc.), and incorporating the channel into emails, blog posts, and other social media posts to improve its ability to be discovered.

SnapChat. With 51% of Gen Zers viewing their generation as more creative than any of its predecessors, social apps like SnapChat give them the space they need to be creative in the digital world. They use it to create videos, share images, communicate with friends, and share moments throughout their days. Marketers can harness this platform to post their stories, push out user-generated content, and connect with influencers. For example, Taco Bell was an early SnapChat user that leveraged the platform’s storytelling capabilities to spread the word about new products.

Additional Social Media Channels. As a whole, social media has opened the doors for marketers who can creatively use platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr to connect with their audiences, build their brands, drive website traffic, and grow their sales. Because each platform has its own mission, goals, and user base, the companies experiencing the most success on social media are the ones that take the time to segment their audiences and use very specific targeting strategies for those consumers.

The Power of TV and Mail

In the rush to select platforms that they think Gen Y and Z naturally gravitate toward, marketers often overlook the power of TV, direct mail, and other mainstays. They wrongly assume that these channels don’t work with younger audiences, but they shouldn’t be overlooked.

In a world where Nielsen says U.S. consumers spend nearly 12 hours daily across TV, TV-connected devices, radio, computers, smartphones, and tablets, the opportunity to engage the younger generations from different angles definitely exists.

Americans aged 18 to 34 watch a daily average of just under two hours of traditional TV and spend an additional hour per day using apps and the web. Consumers aged 12 to 17 watch about an hour and a half of TV daily. Craving personalized, non-digital experiences, younger generations spend about 9.7 minutes reading mail daily (versus about 8 minutes for both Gen X baby boomers).

These numbers translate into real opportunities for marketers that take the time to segment their audiences versus just lumping them into different generational groups. Where you still need a presence on mass platforms like TikTok and Instagram, for example, the messaging itself must be customized, targeted, and experiential.

Not Just Another Number

Marketers who overlook traditional platforms just because they assume Gen Z or Gen Y can only be reached on pure digital platforms are setting themselves up for failure. That’s because both generations are obviously still digesting video content, movies, and TV series via cable, a connected TV device, or on a platform like YouTube.

Target your audience properly, customize it for that consumer group, sell that group an experience (not the product itself), and you’ll come out a winner.

Regardless of which platforms you’re using, remember that Gen Z and Gen Y aren’t cohesive, homogeneous groups. As you use geotargeting and other strategies to segment your audience, be sure to personalize your messages in a way that makes your customer feel like a VIP — and not just another number.





Data Will Lead Marketers Into a New World in 2020

What will be so different in this ever-changing world, and how can marketers better prepare ourselves for the new world? Haven’t we been using data for multichannel marketing for a few decades already?

The year 2020 sounds like some futuristic time period in a science fiction novel. At the dawn of this funny sounding year, maybe it’s good time to think about where all these data and technologies will lead us. If not for the entire human collective in this short article, but at the minimum, for us marketers.

What will be so different in this ever-changing world, and how can marketers better prepare ourselves for the new world? Haven’t we been using data for multichannel marketing for a few decades already?

Every Channel Is, or Will Be Interactive 

Multichannel marketing is not a new concept, and many have been saying that every channel will become interactive medium. Then I wonder why many marketers are still acting like every channel is just another broadcasting medium for “them.” Do you really believe that marketers are still in control? That marketers can just push their agenda, the same old ways, through every channel? Uniformly? “Yeah! We are putting out this new product, so come and see!” That is so last century.

For instance, an app is not more real estate where you just hang your banners and wait for someone to click. By definition, a mobile app is an interactive medium, where information goes back and forth. And that changes the nature of the communication from “We talk, they listen” to “We listen first, and then we talk based on what we just heard.”

Traditional media will go through similar changes. Even the billboards on streets, in the future, will be customized based on who’s seeing it. Young people don’t watch TV in the old-fashioned way, mindlessly flipping through channels like their parents. They will actively seek out content that suites “them,” not the other way around. And in such an interactive world, the consumers of the content have all the power. They will mercilessly stop, cut out, opt out, and reject anything that is even remotely boring to “them.”

Marketers are not in charge of communication anymore. They say an average human being looks at six to seven different screens every day. And with wearable devices and advancement in mobile technologies, even the dashboard on a car will stop being just a dumb dashboard. What should marketers do then? Just create another marketing department called “wearable division,” like they created the “email marketing” division?

The sooner marketers realize that they are not in charge, but the consumers are, the better off they would be. Because with that realization, they will cease to conduct channel marketing the way they used to do, with extremely channel-centric mindsets.

When the consumers are in charge, we must think differently. Everything must be customer-centric, not channel- or division-centric. Know that we can be cut off from any customer anytime through any channel, if we are more about us than about them.

Every Interaction Will Be Data-based, and in Real-time

Interactive media leave ample amounts of data behind every interaction. How do you think this word “Big Data” came about? Every breath we take and every move we make turn into piles of data somewhere. That much is not new.

What is new is that our ability to process and dissect such ample amounts of data is getting better and faster, at an alarming rate. So fast that we don’t even say words like Big Data anymore.

In this interactive world, marketers must listen first, and then react. That listening part is what we casually call data-mining, done by humans and machines, alike. Without ploughing through data, how will we even know what the conversation is about?

Then the second keyword in the subheading is “real-time.” Not only do we have to read our customers’ behavior through breadcrumbs they leave behind (i.e., their behavioral data), we must do it incredibly fast, so that our responses seem spontaneous. As in “Oh, you’re looking for a set of new noise-canceling earbuds! Here are the ones that you should consider,” all in real-time.

Remember the rule No. 1 that customers can cut us out anytime. We may have less than a second before they move on.

Marketers Must Stay Relevant to Cut Through the Noise

Consumers are bored to tears with almost all marketing messages. There are too many of them, and most aren’t about the readers, but the pushers. Again, it should be all about the consumers, not the sellers.

It stops being entirely boring when the message is about them though. Everybody is all about themselves, really. If you receive a group photo that includes you, whose face would you check out first? Of course, your own, as in “Hmm, let me see how I look here.”

That is the fundamental reason why personalization works. But only if it’s done right.

Consumers can smell fake intimacy from miles away. Young people are particularly good at that. They think that the grownups don’t understand social media at all for that reason. They just hate it when someone crashes a party to hard-sell something. Personalization is about knowing your targets’ affinities and suggesting — not pushing — something that may suite “them.” A gentle nudge, but not a hard sell.

With ample amounts of data all around, it may be very tempting to show how much we know about the customers. But never cross that line of creepiness. Marketers must be relevant to stay connected, but not overly so. It is a fine balance that we must maintain to not be ignored or rejected.

Machine Learning and AI Will Lead to Automation on All Fronts

To stay relevant at all times, using all of the data that we have is a lot of work. Tasks that used to take months — from data collection and refinement to model-based targeting and messaging — should be done in minutes, if not seconds. Such a feat isn’t possible without automation. On that front, things that were not imaginable only a few years ago are possible through advancement in machine learning or AI, in general.

One important note for marketers who may not necessarily be machine learning specialists is that what the machines are supposed to do is still up to the marketers, not the machines. Always set the goals first, have a few practice rounds in more conventional ways, and then get on a full automation mode. Otherwise, you may end up automating wrong practices. You definitely don’t want that. And, more importantly, target consumers would hate that. Remember, they hate fake intimacy, and more so if they smell cold algorithms in play along the way.

Huge Difference Between Advanced Users and Those Who Are Falling Behind

In the past, many marketers considered data and analytics as optional items, as in “Sure, they sound interesting, and we’ll get around to it when we have more time to think about it.” Such attitudes may put you out of business, when giants like Amazon are eating up the world with every bit of computing power they have (not that they do personalization in an exemplary way all of the time).

If you have lines of products that consumers line up to buy, well, all the more power to you. And, by all means, don’t worry about pampering them proactively with data. But if you don’t see lines around the block, you are in a business that needs to attract new customers and retain existing customers more effectively. And such work is not something that you can just catch up on in a few months. So get your data and targeting strategy set up right away. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but this month being January and all, you might as well call it that.

Are You Ready for the New World?

In the end, it is all about your target customers, not you. Through data, you have all the ammunition that you need to understand them and pamper them accordingly. In this age, marketers must stay relevant with their targets through proper personalization at all stages of the customer journey. It may sound daunting, but all of the technologies and techniques are ripe for such advanced personalization. It really is about your commitment — not anything else.

7 Interactive Direct Mail Marketing Ideas

Direct mail marketing can be fun! The more interactive it is, the better your results are going to be. With all the marketing messages people see each day; you need to make your mail stand out. How are you doing that now?

Direct mail marketing can be fun! The more interactive it is, the better your results are going to be. With all the marketing messages people see each day; you need to make your mail stand out. How are you doing that now?

Getting your customers and prospects excited about your mail creation is the key to driving better response rates. There are several ways to do this; the one that is right for you will depend on your goals, your message and your audience.

7 Direct Mail Marketing Ideas to Make Your Mailings Fun and Interactive

  1. Consider 3D Mail: There are so many choices for dimensional mail. These can be expensive for postage as most are considered parcels; however, the response rates for this type of mail are significantly higher. They are well worth the postage costs.
  2. Use Cut-Outs: Create cut outs that, when put together, create fun objects: such as paper airplanes, buildings, dolls and so on. Make sure to send instructions on how to assemble your design. You can also create a special hashtag for social media sharing.
  3. Print a 3D Image: Create 3D art for the recipient to enjoy. This is a fun throwback technology. Make sure to send glasses, too.
  4. Try PopUps: These are fun and surprising for people to interact with. The recipient pulls out the piece and it pops from a flat form into a 3D one. This is usually accomplished through the use of tuck tabs and rubber bands.
  5. What About Scratch-Off or Scratch-and-Sniff? This can really be a fun one when doing contests; people like to scratch off and see what is beneath. The fun twist is when you have scratch and sniff, which works really well for floral, food, perfume or anything that smells good. It’s probably not a good idea to have them scratch a bad smell.
  6. Incorporate Augmented Reality: Bring your mailer to life with the technology of Augmented Reality (AR). This is a really great way to showcase how interactive direct mail can be. It is super cool and fun to play with. If you think this is too expensive, you are wrong. Check out Layar or HP Reveal.
  7. Think About Video: You can add video to your mailers! These have actual screens embedded into the mailers. They can launch content when the mailer is opened or when a button is pushed. These are on the more expensive side, but if you are selling a high-end item and want to really showcase it, this can be a great choice!

These ideas can spice up your mail campaigns and get your customers excited to see your mail pieces. Get creative and have fun, but remember that there are many postal regulations. So before you create your desired format, check with a mail service provider. You will want to avoid paying extra postage. What interactive and fun mail pieces have you seen or created?

How 5 Aspects of Storytelling Influence Your Brand

Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.

Stories work because throughout history, in every culture and place, human beings have had one thing in common: We love great storytelling with compelling characters.

Over time, the ways we tell stories may have changed, but the reason why we tell stories remains the same. We all want to hear and feel something meaningful and emotionally true.

The good news for brands is that we’re all hard-wired to respond to storytelling devices.

MRI studies show that the human brain literally lights up when confronted with information told in story form.

Most of us have seen reports and studies about the number of marketing messages we receive each day — some peg it between 4,000 and 10,000. If that range is accurate, then directly connecting with your audience is harder than ever. And if it’s harder to reach your audience, then using a technique that’s faster, more effective and more powerful seems like the easy choice. That’s where storytelling comes in.

Storytelling for Marketing

The technology to make an accessible video — a very compelling way to quickly tell emotional stories — has enabled brands to touch the heartstrings of their customers. Beyond video, however, is a host of marketing communications techniques that brands need to access so they can best resonate with their audiences.

When building a messaging framework to write the copy for a web page, landing page, mailer, email, etc., businesses have numerous options and resources. Just Google “Messaging Frameworks,” and you’ll see what I mean.

Marketing firms and agencies have done a good job sharing their approaches to garner more web traffic and authority, so the secret sauce of how to build a good framework is not-so-secret anymore. It’s just how your marketing team best fits its skills and talents into an approach that works for your business.

For a storytelling approach to messaging, there are tons of resources to help with this, ranging from Donald Miller’s business StoryBrand, to Jonah Sachs’ “Winning the Story Wars,” to all of the on-line videos about how to tell a good marketing story. What I’ve outlined below isn’t new. But what I hope it does is challenge your team to better understand how to meaningfully engage with your audience.

The 5 Universal Aspects of a Story

  1. The Hero: From Gilgamesh, to Elizabeth Bennett, to Luke Skywalker, to Carol Danvers, the hero is to whom we attach ourselves. We follow heroes through their struggles, hopes, and their desires to somehow transform their lives. Your hero is your customer. What does s/he struggle with? What is s/he motivated by? What kind of transformation is your customer looking for?
  2. The Villain: The best villains represent something bigger than themselves. In “The Grapes of Wrath,” the villains were shown as police, farmland holders …and most importantly, the system. It was The System that uprooted the Midwestern grasslands. The System planted nutrient-draining cotton, which depleted the soil, and helped cause the great Dust Bowl. The System ended up forcing the share-cropping farmers to migrate. The villain is what your customer/hero has to overcome. Is it high prices for poor service? Is it lack of confidence? Inconvenience? The gap between the increase of the cost of education vs. the increase in wages? This is your team’s hard work. You need to deeply dig into who or what the villain is.
  3. The Mentor: All stories have a guide or mentor, some kind of facilitator who steps in to help the hero. The guide helps lay out the path. The hero has to do the actual work. It’s the independent work of the hero that makes the journey worthwhile. As every parent knows, children learn and grow and gain confidence when they do it themselves. You and your business are the mentor. You help show the customer-hero how to overcome obstacles and get to a place they want to go.
  4. The Journey: This is how the hero actually transforms. In fiction, the journey could be physical, psychological, emotional or all of the above. It’s the path the hero takes that results in a transformed state of living … happier, healthier, stronger, wiser … all of the things we want to be. Every human wants to become more than they are. We have an innate desire to improve and grow. Your customer-journey is the plan, the path, that you lay out for them. You, as both mentor and business, show the customer what the journey looks like, and so facilitate his or her growth.
  5. The Transformation: This is the golden reward, the place the customer wants to go. Like I explained in “3 Types of Brand Stories,” this can be a functional, emotional or moral transformation. It is a clear and hopeful resolution, when confronting and besting the villain. As a business, you need to make the transformation extremely clear for the customer, so s/he can see how life will be better because of trusting you as a mentor and following your suggested path.

I recommend you Google “Storytelling for Marketing” and explore two or three pages deep into the rich set of helpful resources and firms that have outstanding advice. You become their hero, they become your mentor, and these resources help you best the villain of audience attrition on your journey to transform into a stronger storyteller and brand professional.

I hope this helps, and as always, I welcome your feedback.

storytelling secondary art

Brain Research: The Next Direct Marketing Breakthrough

What will be the new exciting breakthrough for direct marketers in 2016? I believe its brain research. Insights from the BRAIN Initiative can give direct marketers new perspective and ideas for creating more attention-grabbing and emotion-based messages that lead our prospects to give themselves …

Gary Hennerberg's upcoming book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code," goes deeper into the neurological mysteries of marketing.
Gary Hennerberg’s upcoming book goes deeper into the neurological mysteries of marketing.

What will be the new exciting breakthrough for direct marketers in 2016? I believe its brain research. Insights from the BRAIN Initiative can give direct marketers new perspective and ideas for creating more attention-grabbing and emotion-based messages that lead our prospects to give themselves permission to take action.

Why is brain research in the spotlight now? Because millions of dollars are being poured into brain research that exposes fresh perspectives on how we think, and how we respond to marketing messaging. In a moment, I’ll share three primary benefits for direct marketers that are expected as an outcome of continuing brain research.

This new research is recognized as the Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. It’s intended to massively deepen our understanding of the human mind. The goal is to uncover new ways to treat, prevent and cure brain disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy and traumatic brain injury.

At first glance, brain research may seem to have nothing to do with direct marketing. But look closer, and the implications are game changing.

The links between how to understand deeper thinking and how the pathways in the mind motivate people to take action are spelled out in my new book, Crack the Customer Mind Code, Seven Pathways from Head to Heart to YES! It will be published soon by Morgan James Publishing and available to readers of Today @ Target Marketing.

I’ve long had a curiosity about the mind. Here’s why:

I have lived with a mysterious obsessive-compulsive disorder since the age of 6. Having consumed me since I was a child, it has driven a lifelong curiosity of how and why the mind is wired and works as it does.

The compulsive — and uncommon — disorder that has highly influenced my life comes with a rather unflattering name: trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling. As a child, I believed that I was the only person in the world who pulled my hair. Yet today we know the medical and psychiatric communities estimate that perhaps 2 percent of all children will pull noticeable clumps of hair. Most of us live with the disorder in silence, full of shame. I was no different. But in 2007, I resolved to go public with my disorder and be a role model for children and adults who suffer in shame. I shaved my head, lifting decades of burden from my shoulders. I wrote a book, titled Urges, about my childhood of living with this disorder, and have met with other hair pullers at conferences from coast-to-coast.

Knowing my brain was different from others, I’ve always wanted to peer inside and see if a wire was crossed. I dreamed that my brain could be opened up, the misguided wire that created those urges to pull hair would be gently moved to its proper place, and that I would stop pulling and my life would be normal, just like everyone else.

But of course, the brain can’t be opened and misconnected wires and pathways uncrossed to change the code. And certainly, a “normal” brain is a matter of perspective.

Since the BRAIN Initiative was announced in April, 2013, dozens of technology firms, academic institutions, scientists and other key contributors to the field of neuroscience have made significant research commitments. Millions of dollars continue to pour into the BRAIN Initiative.

The impetus for funding the research was borne from a disturbing World Health Organization statistic, and with this additional reporting of the economic impact of brain injuries, diseases and disorders in the Washington Post:

One in four families worldwide includes someone with a brain injury, disease or disorder, including psychiatric illnesses and developmental disorders, according to the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology. In the United States, the economic burden for neurological problems is nearly a half-trillion dollars every year.

The good news is that research is already in progress. The findings and treatment could have a profound impact on the health of people everywhere.

But the findings of these studies could also reshape how marketers approach how to access deeper emotional, and logical, levels of thinking through our messaging. Studies are already revealing insights about how short- and long-term memory influence how the brain processes information and makes decisions.

Three benefits of the BRAIN Initiative to direct marketers are:

  1. Economic Improvement. When one in four families is impacted with brain injuries or disease, their financial wherewithal or attention to engage with and respond to our offers is likely diminished. If some of these families are helped, it follows that the entire economy benefits.
  1. What Influences Emotion and Decisions. By understanding brain function, marketers can better understand the influences of how people absorb messaging, react with emotion, and make decisions. It can also deepen our ability to better imagine personas of our prospective customers.
  1. Focus Marketing Messaging. By unlocking mind mysteries, findings from research can help marketer’s better focus marketing messaging that connects and resonates more deeply with people.

The opportunities for individuals, families, our culture and the world will most surely be expanded because this research promises a better future for us all.

In 2016, more exciting breakthroughs in brain research will surely occur. New findings may well lead you to new insights about your marketing strategies and messaging. Get more insights on this topic and the seven mind pathways revealed in my new book at

Don’t Do It Just Because You Can

Don’t do it just because you can. No kidding. … Any geek with moderate coding skills or any overzealous marketer with access to some data can do real damage to real human beings without any superpowers to speak of. Largely, we wouldn’t go so far as calling them permanent damages, but I must say that some marketing messages and practices are really annoying and invasive. Enough to classify them as “junk mail” or “spam.” Yeah, I said that, knowing full-well that those words are forbidden in the industry in which I built my career.

Don’t do it just because you can. No kidding. By the way, I could have gone with Ben Parker’s “With great power comes great responsibility” line, but I didn’t, as it has become an over-quoted cliché. Plus, I’m not much of a fan of “Spiderman.” Actually, I’m kidding this time. (Not the “Spiderman” part, as I’m more of a fan of “Thor.”) But the real reason is any geek with moderate coding skills or any overzealous marketer with access to some data can do real damage to real human beings without any superpowers to speak of. Largely, we wouldn’t go so far as calling them permanent damages, but I must say that some marketing messages and practices are really annoying and invasive. Enough to classify them as “junk mail” or “spam.” Yeah, I said that, knowing full-well that those words are forbidden in the industry in which I built my career.

All jokes aside, I received a call from my mother a few years ago asking me if this “urgent” letter that says her car warranty will expire if she does not act “right now” (along with a few exclamation marks) is something to which she must respond immediately. Many of us by now are impervious to such fake urgencies or outrageous claims (like “You’ve just won $10,000,000!!!”). But I then realized that there still are plenty of folks who would spend their hard-earned dollars based on such misleading messages. What really made me mad, other than the fact that my own mother was involved in that case, was that someone must have actually targeted her based on her age, ethnicity, housing value and, of course, the make and model of her automobile. I’ve been doing this job for too long to be unaware of potential data variables and techniques that must have played a part so that my mother to receive a series of such letters. Basically, some jerk must have created a segment that could be named as “old and gullible.” Without a doubt, this is a classic example of what should not be done just because one can.

One might dismiss it as an isolated case of a questionable practice done by questionable individuals with questionable moral integrity, but can we honestly say that? I, who knows the ins and outs of direct marketing practices quite well, fell into traps more than a few times, where supposedly a one-time order mysteriously turns into a continuity program without my consent, followed by an extremely cumbersome canceling process. Further, when I receive calls or emails from shady merchants with dubious offers, I can very well assume my information changed hands in very suspicious ways, if not through outright illegal routes.

Even without the criminal elements, as data become more ubiquitous and targeting techniques become more precise, an accumulation of seemingly inoffensive actions by innocuous data geeks can cause a big ripple in the offline (i.e., “real”) world. I am sure many of my fellow marketers remember the news about this reputable retail chain a few years ago; that they accurately predicted pregnancy in households based on their product purchase patterns and sent customized marketing messages featuring pregnancy-related products accordingly. Subsequently it became a big controversy, as such a targeted message was the way one particular head of household found out his teenage daughter was indeed pregnant. An unintended consequence? You bet.

I actually saw the presentation of the instigating statisticians in a predictive analytics conference before the whole incident hit the wire. At the time, the presenters were unaware of the consequences of their actions, so they proudly shared employed methodologies with the audience. But when I heard about what they were actually trying to predict, I immediately turned my head to look at the lead statistician in my then-analytical team sitting next to me, and saw that she had a concerned look that I must have had on my face, as well. And our concern was definitely not about the techniques, as we knew how to do the same when provided with similar sets of data. It was about the human consequences that such a prediction could bring, not just to the eventual targets, but also to the predictors and their fellow analysts in the industry who would all be lumped together as evil scientists by the outsiders. In predictive analytics, there is a price for being wrong; and at times, there is a price to pay for being right, too. Like I said, we shouldn’t do things just because we can.

Analysts do not have superpowers individually, but when technology and ample amounts of data are conjoined, the results can be quite influential and powerful, much like the way bombs can be built with common materials available at any hardware store. Ironically, I have been evangelizing that the data and technology should be wielded together to make big and dumb data smaller and smarter all this time. But providing answers to decision-makers in ready-to-be used formats, hence “humanizing” the data, may have its downside, too. Simply, “easy to use” can easily be “easy to abuse.” After all, humans are fallible creatures with ample amounts of greed and ambition. Even without any obvious bad intentions, it is sometimes very difficult to contemplate all angles, especially about those sensitive and squeamish humans.

I talked about the social consequences of the data business last month (refer to “How to Be a Good Data Scientist“), and that is why I emphasized that anyone who is about to get into this data field must possess deep understandings of both technology and human nature. That little sensor in your stomach that tells you “Oh, I have a bad feeling about this” may not come to everyone naturally, but we all need to be equipped with those safeguards like angels on our shoulders.

Hindsight is always 20/20, but apparently, those smart analysts who did that pregnancy prediction only thought about the techniques and the bottom line, but did not consider all the human factors. And they should have. Or, if not them, their manager should have. Or their partners in the marketing department should have. Or their public relations people should have. Heck, “someone” in their organization should have, alright? Just like we do not casually approach a woman on the street who “seems” pregnant and say “You must be pregnant.” Only socially inept people would do that.

People consider certain matters extremely private, in case some data geeks didn’t realize that. If I might add, the same goes for ailments such as erectile dysfunction or constipation, or any other personal business related to body parts that are considered private. Unless you are a doctor in an examining room, don’t say things like “You look old, so you must have hard time having sex, right?” It is already bad enough that we can’t even watch golf tournaments on TV without those commercials that assume that golf fans need help in that department. (By the way, having “two” bathtubs “outside” the house at dusk don’t make any sense either, when the effect of the drug can last for hours for heaven’s sake. Maybe the man lost interest because the tubs were too damn heavy?)

While it may vary from culture to culture, we all have some understanding of social boundaries in casual settings. When you are talking to a complete stranger on a plane ride, for example, you know exactly how much information that you would feel comfortable sharing with that person. And when someone crosses the line, we call that person inappropriate, or “creepy.” Unfortunately, that creepy line is set differently for each person who we encounter (I am sure people like George Clooney or Scarlett Johansson have a really high threshold for what might be considered creepy), but I think we can all agree that such a shady area can be loosely defined at the least. Therefore, when we deal with large amounts of data affecting a great many people, imagine a rather large common area of such creepiness/shadiness, and do not ever cross it. In other words, when in doubt, don’t go for it.

Now, as a lifelong database marketer, I am not advocating some over-the-top privacy zealots either, as most of them do not understand the nature of data work and can’t tell the difference between informed (and mutually beneficial) messages and Big Brother-like nosiness. This targeting business is never about looking up an individual’s record one at a time, but more about finding correlations between users and products and doing some good match-making in mass numbers. In other words, we don’t care what questionable sites anyone visits, and honest data players would not steal or abuse information with bad intent. I heard about waiters who steal credit card numbers from their customers with some swiping devices, but would you condemn the entire restaurant industry for that? Yes, there are thieves in any part of the society, but not all data players are hackers, just like not all waiters are thieves. Statistically speaking, much like flying being the safest from of travel, I can even argue that handing over your physical credit card to a stranger is even more dangerous than entering the credit card number on a website. It looks much worse when things go wrong, as incidents like that affect a great many all at once, just like when a plane crashes.

Years back, I used to frequent a Japanese Restaurant near my office. The owner, who doubled as the head sushi chef, was not a nosy type. So he waited for more than a year to ask me what I did for living. He had never heard anything about database marketing, direct marketing or CRM (no “Big Data” on the horizon at that time). So I had to find a simple way to explain what I do. As a sushi chef with some local reputation, I presumed that he would know personal preferences of many frequently visiting customers (or “high-value customers,” as marketers call them). He may know exactly who likes what kind of fish and types of cuts, who doesn’t like raw shellfish, who is allergic to what, who has less of a tolerance for wasabi or who would indulge in exotic fish roes. When I asked this question, his answer was a simple “yes.” Any diligent sushi chef would care for his or her customers that much. And I said, “Now imagine that you can provide such customized services to millions of people, with the help of computers and collected data.” He immediately understood the benefits of using data and analytics, and murmured “Ah so …”

Now let’s turn the table for a second here. From the customer’s point of view, yes, it is very convenient for me that my favorite sushi chef knows exactly how I like my sushi. Same goes for the local coffee barista who knows how you take your coffee every morning. Such knowledge is clearly mutually beneficial. But what if those business owners or service providers start asking about my personal finances or about my grown daughter in a “creepy” way? I wouldn’t care if they carried the best yellowtail in town or served the best cup of coffee in the world. I would cease all my interaction with them immediately. Sorry, they’ve just crossed that creepy line.

Years ago, I had more than a few chances to sit closely with Lester Wunderman, widely known as “The Father of Direct Marketing,” as the venture called I-Behavior in which I participated as one of the founders actually originated from an idea on a napkin from Lester and his friends. Having previously worked in an agency that still bears his name, and having only seen him behind a podium until I was introduced to him on one cool autumn afternoon in 1999, meeting him at a small round table and exchanging ideas with the master was like an unknown guitar enthusiast having a jam session with Eric Clapton. What was most amazing was that, at the beginning of the boom, he was completely unfazed about all those new ideas that were flying around at that time, and he was precisely pointing out why most of them would not succeed at all. I do not need to quote the early 21st century history to point out that his prediction was indeed accurate. When everyone was chasing the latest bit of technology for quick bucks, he was at least a decade ahead of all of those young bucks, already thinking about the human side of the equation. Now, I would not reveal his age out of respect, but let’s just say that almost all of the people in his age group would describe occupations of their offspring as “Oh, she just works on a computer all the time …” I can only wish that I will remain that sharp when I am his age.

One day, Wunderman very casually shared a draft of the “Consumer Bill of Rights for Online Engagement” with a small group of people who happened to be in his office. I was one of the lucky souls who heard about his idea firsthand, and I remember feeling that he was spot-on with every point, as usual. I read it again recently just as this Big Data hype is reaching its peak, just like the boom was moving with a force that could change the world back then. In many ways, such tidal waves do end up changing the world. But lest we forget, such shifts inevitably affect living, breathing human beings along the way. And for any movement guided by technology to sustain its velocity, people who are at the helm of the enabling technology must stay sensitive toward the needs of the rest of the human collective. In short, there is not much to gain by annoying and frustrating the masses.

Allow me to share Lester Wunderman’s “Consumer Bill of Rights for Online Engagement” verbatim, as it appeared in the second edition of his book “Being Direct”:

  1. Tell me clearly who you are and why you are contacting me.
  2. Tell me clearly what you are—or are not—going to do with the information I give.
  3. Don’t pretend that you know me personally. You don’t know me; you know some things about me.
  4. Don’t assume that we have a relationship.
  5. Don’t assume that I want to have a relationship with you.
  6. Make it easy for me to say “yes” and “no.”
  7. When I say “no,” accept that I mean not this, not now.
  8. Help me budget not only my money, but also my TIME.
  9. My time is valuable, don’t waste it.
  10. Make my shopping experience easier.
  11. Don’t communicate with me just because you can.
  12. If you do all of that, maybe we will then have the basis for a relationship!

So, after more than 15 years of the so-called digital revolution, how many of these are we violating almost routinely? Based on the look of my inboxes and sites that I visit, quite a lot and all the time. As I mentioned in my earlier article “The Future of Online is Offline,” I really get offended when even seasoned marketers use terms like “online person.” I do not become an online person simply because I happen to stumble onto some stupid website and forget to uncheck some pre-checked boxes. I am not some casual object at which some email division of a company can shoot to meet their top-down sales projections.

Oh, and good luck with that kind of mindless mass emailing; your base will soon be saturated and you will learn that irrelevant messages are bad for the senders, too. Proof? How is it that the conversion rate of a typical campaign did not increase dramatically during the past 40 years or so? Forget about open or click-through rate, but pay attention to the good-old conversion rate. You know, the one that measures actual sales. Don’t we have superior databases and technologies now? Why is anyone still bragging about mailing “more” in this century? Have you heard about “targeted” or “personalized” messages? Aren’t there lots and lots of toolsets for that?

As the technology advances, it becomes that much easier and faster to offend people. If the majority of data handlers continue to abuse their power, stemming from the data in their custody, the communication channels will soon run dry. Or worse, if abusive practices continue, the whole channel could be shut down by some legislation, as we have witnessed in the downfall of the outbound telemarketing channel. Unfortunately, a few bad apples will make things a lot worse a lot faster, but I see that even reputable companies do things just because they can. All the time, repeatedly.

Furthermore, in this day and age of abundant data, not offending someone or not violating rules aren’t good enough. In fact, to paraphrase comedian Chris Rock, only losers brag about doing things that they are supposed to do in the first place. The direct marketing industry has long been bragging about the self-governing nature of its tightly knit (and often incestuous) network, but as tools get cheaper and sharper by the day, we all need to be even more careful wielding this data weaponry. Because someday soon, we as consumers will be seeing messages everywhere around us, maybe through our retina directly, not just in our inboxes. Personal touch? Yes, in the creepiest way, if done wrong.

Visionaries like Lester Wunderman were concerned about the abusive nature of online communication from the very beginning. We should all read his words again, and think twice about social and human consequences of our actions. Google from its inception encapsulated a similar idea by simply stating its organizational objective as “Don’t be evil.” That does not mean that it will stop pursuing profit or cease to collect data. I think it means that Google will always try to be mindful about the influences of its actions on real people, who may not be in positions to control the data, but instead are on the side of being the subject of data collection.

I am not saying all of this out of some romantic altruism; rather, I am emphasizing the human side of the data business to preserve the forward-momentum of the Big Data movement, while I do not even care for its name. Because I still believe, even from a consumer’s point of view, that a great amount of efficiency could be achieved by using data and technology properly. No one can deny that modern life in general is much more convenient thanks to them. We do not get lost on streets often, we can translate foreign languages on the fly, we can talk to people on the other side of the globe while looking at their faces. We are much better informed about products and services that we care about, we can look up and order anything we want while walking on the street. And heck, we get suggestions before we even think about what we need.

But we can think of many negative effects of data, as well. It goes without saying that the data handlers must protect the data from falling into the wrong hands, which may have criminal intentions. Absolutely. That is like banks having to protect their vaults. Going a few steps further, if marketers want to retain the privilege of having ample amounts of consumer information and use such knowledge for their benefit, do not ever cross that creepy line. If the Consumer’s Bill of Rights is too much for you to retain, just remember this one line: “Don’t be creepy.”

7 Shopping Experience Tips to Make Holiday 2013 Your Best Ever

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience

The holiday season is known as the time that makes or breaks companies dependent on seasonal sales. Competition is fierce. Already short attention spans are overstimulated with marketing messages, family demands and increased workloads. Breaking through the chaos requires more than super discounts and great copy. People expect a great shopping experience.

Companies that want to win the holiday challenge start early, plan well and focus on the customer. They invest their resources in understanding what their customers want so they can deliver. Surprisingly, price is not the top priority when people choose brand loyalty. They care more about the experience than the discount.

This is really good news for companies that don’t have the negotiating power of big box stores. Instead of creating promotions that destroy profits, they can invest in programs that improve the shopping experience. There is one caveat: If your company has been participating in the “how low can we go” marketing strategy, you will have to retrain your customers. Once people have been trained to expect deep discounts, marketing that doesn’t include them won’t be as effective.

Marketing for the holiday season needs to start now to optimize your return. Connections have to be established between your company and the people who will buy your products or services. If you already have good customer relations, focus on making them better. If your relationships need improving, focus on fixing them. The things you do today make selling easier tomorrow. To get started:

  1. Think lifetime value when creating the shopping experience. Most marketing plans focus on sales for specific campaigns instead of looking at the long term value of loyal customers. This can create an environment where hit-and-run customers generate revenue while reducing profitability. By the time the problem is recognized, it may be too late to save the company.
  2. Walk in your customers’ shoes to find the pain points. The easier and more enjoyable you make the shopping experience, the less people care about the price. Test every marketing channel to see how easy it is to understand and navigate the buying process. When you have finished, watch someone who doesn’t normally shop your business test it. Fix everything that needs it.
  3. Integrate channels for efficiency and effectiveness. Consistent messaging and the ability to cross channels with ease provide quality branding and keep people engaged. Find ways to make the channels work together where they leverage strengths in one to offset weaknesses in others.
  4. Optimize communication to insure exposure and accessibility. Email deliverability, copy effectiveness, website usability and social media engagement can be optimized to maximize the return. Paying attention to the details makes the difference between a good communication and a great one.
  5. Educate visitors on products and processes. People that understand the products your company offers and how to use them tend to buy more. Create content that teaches the best ways to use products and services. Your prospects will convert and customers will keep coming back.
  6. Simplify Everything. Making the buying decision and purchasing process simple endears people to your company. Life is complicated. Shopping with your company shouldn’t be.
  7. Target to provide the right offer at the right time. Part of the simplification process is making it easy for people to buy what they need with minimal effort. Targeting people with the right message based on their behavior improves the shopping experience.