The Plight of the Bottom-Feeder Brand

When my wife and I wanted some pine trees removed from our backyard, we made some calls to local companies. Most had full voicemail machines, while others simply didn’t return calls. One guy showed up and didn’t even turn his truck off. He stepped out of the cab, barked out a number, shook my hand, and left in his $65,000 Silverado.

This past spring, we in the Boston area experienced four Nor’easters in the period of three weeks. The cleanup continues, and there are more than a few in the tree removal business driving around in brand new pickup trucks. When my wife and I wanted some pine trees removed from our backyard, we made some calls to local companies. Most had full voicemail machines, while others simply didn’t return calls. One guy showed up and didn’t even turn his truck off. He stepped out of the cab, barked out a number, shook my hand, and left in his $65,000 Silverado.

Taking a walk on Monday morning, Allison and I came across a tree crew setting up and we asked for a business card. To our surprise, the owner (a young man of about 25 or so) showed up two hours later to give us a price that was $3,000 less than his closest competitor. I immediately got the feeling that he would’ve come down even lower, had I balked. When I asked how soon he could get the work done, he replied, “How’s Wednesday look?” Still, his team showed up in their Sanford & Sons-quality pickup truck and, despite the fact that they were lousy communicators (days went by without hearing from them), they completed the work and did a great job.

Here’s the thing, you don’t need me and my little blog to tell you that selling on price can lead to financial disaster. And just about everything that I do has the common message, “Sell solutions, not print.” But today, I want to step away from that theme and speak to those who low-ball that first order just to get in the door.

The mistake that our young tree-remover made wasn’t just that he left money on the table, it’s that he missed on a few opportunities to expand on his $2,900 sale. What about thinning the other trees on the property? And stump grinding? Could we stick his sign in our front yard for a couple of weeks? Do we know of anyone else who needs tree work?

Returning from Print 18, I learned that he left a helmet and the toolbox behind, so I will be seeing young Zach again and hope to get the chance to sit down with him and offer some advice.

You can undercut the competition on price, but make up for it with service and quality and that low bit becomes an investment.

This example isn’t a perfect correlation to print sales, because there are not a lot of solutions to be offered in the tree removal business. Price and reputation are your door-openers. The key is to make the most of the opportunity, or else you will go the way of those low-budget airlines like Primera Air, which announced on Oct. 2, 2018, that it was shutting down operations just two weeks after flying my youngest daughter from London to Boston and back.

The Post One-to-One Era of Marketing?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Over the past few years, several people have said to me, “Wow, with all this technology, you can finally put the right marketing message in front of the right person at the right time. That’s truly one-to-one. That’s living the dream!” … But is that still the dream in 2017?

Last week I was at the Engagement Marketing Executive Symposium hosted by Ricoh, and I got to hear Carla Johnson talking about the book she’s  written with Robert Rose: “Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing.” In the presentation, she laid out the whole history of marketing in the six “eras” we’ve been through so far:

  1. The Trade Era: 1850s to 1900s focused on where you can buy the product, because distribution was very limited.
  2. The Production Era: 1900s to 1920s focused on quality of the product and dangers of other products.
  3. The Sales Era: 1920s-1940s focused on making a sales argument and price, highly influenced by “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
  4. The Marketing Department Era: 1940s to 1950s, focused on promotion of product benefits.
  5. The Marketing Company Era: 1960s to 1990s was the high “Mad Men” era, focused on brand. Think the Pepsi Challenge and Apple’s iconic ads.
  6. The Relationship Era: 1990s to 2015, one-to-one marketing highly influenced by the books “The One to One Future” and “The Cluetrain Manifesto.”

Out of these eras, Johnson said the first four represent the classic four Ps of marketing: Place, Price, Product and Promotion. Then we see the development of the commercial mass-media era, followed by the rise of modern direct marketing.

Looked at this way, I can certainly see a progression. The question is, are we now past the one-to-one era? It feels like we just recently found the technologies to actualize the ideas Peppers and Rogers wrote about, but have those techs already missed the boat?

Well, if all this personalized digital marketing was loved by the masses, would we be seeing both Apple and Google add built-in ad blockers to their web browsers? Or laws like CASL and GDPR threatening access to data and channels we use to reach one-to-one?

Clearly, consumers are having a bad experience with these kinds of marketing. In theory, very good one-to-one marketing should always be relevant and a pleasure for the audience to receive. In practice,  lot of marketing that’s meant to one-to-one is actually one-to-none, and nobody wants to engage with it.

The only way to fix a bad experience is to start offering a good one, and that’s where the seventh era comes in:

7. The Experience Era: 2015 to the future, experiences “transform” business through customer-centricity.

Where the one-to-one era was built around direct, personalized communication, the experience era is built on providing an experience around your brand that your target audiences will choose to engage with. It’s the art of marketing without interrupting; the art of opt-in engagement.

Is that the era you feel like we’re in?

One thing’s for sure: We can’t keep frustrating the audience and expecting them to be happy to see us.

 

In a Contest of Opinions, You’ll Lose — Research in Healthcare Marketing

How do you know? It’s a question difficult to answer and defend without supporting data. That’s why research is so important to healthcare marketers.

How do you know?

It’s a question difficult to answer and defend without supporting data. That’s why research is so important to healthcare marketers.

Healthcare is a field used to working with data. Physicians use it when considering treatment options. Administrators use it for assess performance and trends in financials and patient satisfaction. Insurance companies rely on it to gauge claims risk and establish premiums. So, a healthcare marketer who doesn’t use data as the foundation for strategy, messaging and tactics faces an uphill effort.

There’s a growing risk to marketers who don’t conduct research. When resources are constrained, leadership looks to marketing to demonstrate ROI. If marketing only relies on taking internally popular messages or assumptions to market, the audience response rate may be underwhelming.

Marketing strategies and campaigns need to be based on the attributes, values and preferences of the intended audience. The only way to gain that level of insight is through objective, third-party research.

Why third-party research? Because it’s easy to unintentionally incorporate biases in the wording of questions, the sequence of questions, the scale that captures feedback, the population being included in the survey, and reporting of statistical significance and findings. An experienced research firm can probe for insights using a methodology that stands up to scrutiny, creating a credible foundation from which to start. The only thing worse than not doing research is to conduct it and have someone point out flaws in its methodology.

Thought it’s tempting, research shouldn’t be conducted to advocate a pre-existing position. It’s to obtain insights that allow you to better advocate for how the organization can go to market most effectively. My recommendation is to do quantitative studies first, to give you hard numbers, and then do qualitative research among a subset of the same participants to provide emotional context and verbatim quotes that illustrate your quantitative findings.

There are several types of research you might consider based on your needs:

Awareness, Usage and Preference (AUP)

This is the most common type of market research. It should be conducted to set a benchmark and repeated either after a major campaign or on an annual schedule to track changes. Its objectives are to measure unaided, aided and total awareness of your brand within your service area, how those numbers compare to competing brands, perceptions of all brands based on various attributes, and the likelihood of yours being chosen over others. You might conduct this for your Masterbrand, a facility or a service line.

To get an accurate picture of what the market thinks, a great deal of thought should go into screening criteria for who you include/exclude from the survey pool, the quotas to set based on demographic criteria, the geographic dispersion of respondents and total sample size. These criteria should be stated whenever you report results.

Drivers of Choice

One of the hardest marketing challenges is determining what to emphasize in messaging. This can be the subject of internal bias and fierce debate. Whether it’s a short online video ad or a 60-seond radio commercial, there’s only so much information you can include. And you already know, as a marketer, that the more you pack into a message the more likely it is to be forgotten. A ‘drivers of choice’ study sheds insight on how the overall market ranks certain attributes or features when considering a choice.

When Your Price Really Is Too High

When I get asked by sales professionals all around the county how they can overcome the “Your Price is Too High” objection, my response is you must first understand that in their operating reality, your prospect is right. Your price is too high. For now.

when-your-price-really-is-too-high[Editor’s note: Though this post talks about sales, it does get into issues marketers find vexing. It also provides solutions marketers may be able to use.]

When I get asked by sales professionals all around the county how they can overcome the “Your Price is Too High” objection, my response is you must first understand that in their operating reality, your prospect is right. Your price is too high. For now.

Your price is too high because you have not done one or both of the following:

  1. You have not uncovered a good and compelling reason for them to buy from you. Put simply, they have not recognized a need.
  2. You have a value problem. You have not established what your product or service will provide to them financially, operationally or personally and what problem you are solving for them.

You have choices when you hear that objection.

You can ask “Where do I need to be with my price in order to close this deal?” which many salespeople resort to. Selling on price, however, is always a losing proposition. You might win a deal, but you are left defenseless because someone can always come along with a cheaper price and take your client away. The other option is that you can take the time to uncover needs and sell value.

The most effective strategy against the price objection is preventing it in the first place.

What’s the Problem?

Let’s assume we have a great handle on all the features and benefits of our product/service. We also have a target set of clients that have been predetermined to likely need what we are selling. We might have even been trained on why they need what we sell. This combination can often be deadly — especially to the seasoned sales rep. We think we know the problem our client has (because we’ve seen it before) and so we charge in to solve it! Even if we are right, we set ourselves up for failure. Why? Because we didn’t take the time to ask about their situation, really listen to them and create something that will be meaningful to them personally. You must show that you care and that you want more than anything else to understand their operating reality and see if you can possibly make it better. If you do this, they will acknowledge a need for what you are selling. The only way to accomplish this is to use effective questioning skills and active listening skills.

So What?

True sales professionals concentrate on first understanding the client’s current challenges and identifying how your product or service will solve their problem. Think of it like this, no one buys the product or service you sell, they buy what it will do for them. 

WIIFM. What’s In It For Me. That is what they buy. Picture your prospect thinking to themselves with every sentence you utter about your product or service. “So What? So What does that mean to ME? What’s In It for ME?” If you can take the problem you uncovered and communicate the value you can deliver in those terms, you are well on your way.

Value = Benefits – Cost

Value has a price tag. And it varies depending on the buyer – not the product/service. Long before the price is ever mentioned, the sales professional must uncover what their prospect perceives as valuable and what the consequences of not buying are worth. With that in mind, they can position it so that the buyer feels as though the price was a great deal for them, regardless of the price. ROI! The equation Value = Benefits – Cost shows that we put a price on cost AND we put a price on the benefits. If in our mind, the benefits are greater, than there is value in making a purchase.

Let’s use buying a highly commoditized item as an example. A cotton, short-sleeved, T-shirt. These types of T-shirts can range in price from $5 to $100 or more. Things matter to buyers; color, sheen, logos, convenience of purchase, weight, etc. And, they often also appeal to emotions such as a souvenir of a great vacation, your favorite band, college, a show of super-fan for a favorite sports team. Personally, I wouldn’t pay much for a Mets T-shirt, but would spend plenty more on a Cubs T-shirt and even more still if I bought it at a game, where I had a great time watching them beat the Mets. But, that’s just me.

You can be prepared in advance to uncover the problem, position what you are selling in terms of what it means to them and in terms of their perception of value, AND help them justify their purchase when they state your price is too high. Or you can lower your price. It’s your choice.

 

Dysrationalia and Other Consumer Disorders

It’s true. Most consumers suffer from a bad case of dysrationalia which, according to Keith Stanovich, emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, is the “inability to think and behave rationally, despite having adequate intelligence.” He should know, he coined the term.

It’s true. Most consumers suffer from a bad case of dysrationalia which, according to Keith Stanovich, emeritus professor of applied psychology and human development at the University of Toronto, is the “inability to think and behave rationally, despite having adequate intelligence.” He should know, he coined the term.

Yep. I’m guilty, as well. And assuming you have adequate intelligence, you are, too. I came out when I bought a Suburban a couple of years ago. The slightly used car sat on the dealer’s lot for about four months when other Suburbans that were older and had more miles were selling within days of showing up on the lot. The only noticeable difference, other than the year and miles, were price. The older models that sold almost immediately were priced higher! For four months, I toyed with testing the car that wouldn’t sell, but my rational mind decided it would be a waste of time because, after all, it was priced nearly $6,500 below Kelley Blue Book value. Clearly, something had to be wrong with it.

WAKE UP!!! How did my rational mind know that there was something wrong with the lower-priced, newer car with fewer miles, unless my irrational mind was telling it so? And why does my irrational mind have more influence over my actions than my rational mind?

Upon discovering I, too, suffered from dysrationalia, I bought the car. And two years later, we have discovered absolutely nothing wrong with the car, other than the time my husband didn’t put the brake on and it rolled into a neighbor’s garage.

This same type of decision-making thought process and resulting behavior takes place daily among consumers of all ages, in all cultures, in all parts of the world. It’s human nature. For the most part, consumers never become aware that they are driven by irrational thinking and therefore, it never changes. So the reality is that we marketers have to address it, instead.

A great example of dysrationalia is found in the book of another one of my favorite psychologists, Daniel Kahnemann. In “Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow,” he asks the question, “A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?”

Your first thought, if you’re like the majority of students at MIT, Harvard, Princeton and other prestigious schools, was 10 cents. Admit it. That’s the smart person’s answer. But it’s wrong. Do the math. If you do the simple math associated with this question, it’s 5 cents, because if you add 10 cents to the cost of the bat, which would be $1.10 if the bat is $1 more than the ball, you get $1.20. Wrong.

So why do most intelligent people get it wrong intuitively? Because we rely on our first thoughts to guide us, because in most of life’s circumstances, we don’t want to bother to really work out solutions and just want to go with our “gut.” Just like my “gut” told me the car was a lemon because it was priced below value, many consumers convince themselves to make poor choices daily.

Think back on the last time you went grocery shopping. Did you really stop to look at the shelf notes telling you the price per ounce of various items so you could see which brand and which price offered the best value for the money? And did you take the time to compare the price per ounce of the generic brands vs. the advertised brands? If so, get a life! Of course we don’t spend hours comparing price per value for every purchase we make. We rely on our “rational” thinking to do that for us quickly, and that “rational” thinking tells us that bigger boxes give us more value, and generic brands costs less. Pay attention next time you shop and you’ll realize it just isn’t always so, even at those big box warehouse stores.

Not only do you make irrational shopping choices daily, but so do your customers. To compensate, we marketers must present our messages in a way that fits our consumers’ irrational decision processes. As Dan Ariely pointed out in his book, “Predictably Irrational,” there are many ways we can do this. For one, when giving customers three options to choose from, put the one you want them to purchase in the middle. Consumers are not gong to do the math to see which offer provides the best price for the money, but instead are going to make a quick “gut” choice and purchase the one in the middle, because our intuitive mind tells us the first option is too basic, and the third option is likely extravagant or superfluous. So the middle option is most practical and therefore intelligent.

Another way we can appeal to irrational thinking is through price. Most of us will never buy the highest priced option, as it seems irresponsible. But we will buy something less expensive and feel good about it — even if it, too, was overpriced. Many studies show that if a salesperson shows us a clearly overpriced item, say a Lady Date Pearlmaster Rolex watch for $38,000, we will say “no, thanks.” But when they immediately afterward show us the Cartier Santos Demoiselle watch for roughly $15,000, it’s suddenly a bargain we have to have. Really? $15,000 for a watch is a bargain? My conscious mind tells me that it isn’t intelligent for anyone, regardless of income. (Yes, call me cheap.) The difference was our “rational” mind suddenly kicked into “irrational” thinking due to pre-set reference points created by someone trying to sell us something, and $15,000 is less than half of $38,000, so that is a practical and intelligent decision. For some.

So how do you, as a brand, create sales outside of marketing campaigns through psychologically driven pricing strategies, and how do you as a marketer position your products to sell precisely the items you want to sell most? Offering sales and promotional pricing can often backfire, as you saw in my car purchasing example.

Appealing to how our mind thinks, processes information, and calculates solutions — rational or not — is the key to “winning customers and influencing behavior” for life. Integrating other psychological drivers, such as authority and reward, will keep those same customers coming back for more.

Some key takeaways:

  • Never assume your target consumer is really going to read all the details of your message. Make it clear and actionable with a scan of the eyeballs.
  • Price according to what is reasonable and credible for the generation and mindset of customers you are targeting. Not too low and not too high.
  • Don’t make your customers think. Simply create a promotion that is simple and appeals to key psychological drivers: social proof, our need for rewards and authority.
  • Immediately recognize your customers with a “Thank You” (there are no excuses with automated emails today) and reward them at least with a gesture of appreciation for their business.
  • Finally, spend some time studying shopping patterns of your most valuable customers to identify rational and irrational behavioral trends. Plan future promotions accordingly and enjoy a strong ROI!

Hiding Tax Increases: USPS Taps Mailers’ Budgets, Again

When the cost of oil and gas plummets, that’s when states—looking for revenue—make a move to raise taxes on gasoline, in hope voters will hardly notice. Of course, when the price of gasoline inevitably increases months or years later, that tax on gasoline becomes painfully obvious and more pronounced: Small cars get driven, while the big guzzlers stay in the garage or showroom. Conservation rules the day.

When the cost of oil and gas plummets, that’s when states—looking for revenue—make a move to raise taxes on gasoline, in hope voters will hardly notice. Of course, when the price of gasoline inevitably increases months or years later, that tax on gasoline becomes painfully obvious and more pronounced: Small cars get driven, while the big guzzlers stay in the garage or showroom. Conservation rules the day.

Like a tax-hungry legislature, the United States Postal Service is looking to raise postage again—a surprise rate hike request, given the exigency first taken from mailers’ pockets last year that is still in effect today. The U.S. economy may be back—but marketers aren’t stupid on postage, they well know the pain. Nothing takes business elsewhere and more rapidly than unplanned, surprise cost increases.

My mindset on the entire exigency has always been suspicious. Purportedly to recover lost funds from the impact of the Great Recession (2008-09), the USPS exigent increase, on top of the inflation-indexed release of 2014, has represented a collective 6 percent tax of a different kind. What business gets to pass along its Recession “losses” to its customers? Direct mailers, unlike drivers at the pump, have very much noticed.

Perhaps the economy is doing well—heck, even direct mail volume is holding up. However, better economic times—which can cover some fiscal sins—can’t hide what needs real fixing inside the Postal Service. We all know that USPS deficits and defaults, which postal management appeared to try hard to avoid, with cost-cutting, network rationalization and other initiatives, are really attributable to Congressional mandates, and not the Recession or digital migration.

Well the U.S. economy is moving in the right direction, and has been for six years, and may grow another 3 percent or more this year (2014 fourth quarter aside). Business outlooks are generally good, and Apple among others just set a quarterly earnings record in profit. Jobs have come back, though the labor participation rate lags, and pay packets have barely budged. The stock market, volatile yes, is booming again. Few may feel very secure, but the underlying data shows the recession of 2008-2009 is far behind us.

Even the USPS knows that the U.S. economy is growing. Direct mail volume held its own in 2014—the digital death knell has been greatly exaggerated. Perhaps cooking up the exigency, and another, surprise inflation-indexed increase this year, is the Postal Service’s way of taking another revenue injection when the going is good. Certainly that’s more reliable income than waiting for Congress to act on what is most meaningful: backing off ridiculously punitive, pre-funding requirements for retiree health benefits, letting the USPS offer employees its own healthcare plans, and halting silly moratoriums on USPS infrastructure needing to resize to fit the times.

I always thought Congress, with the USPS in fiscal crisis and default, and a difficult severe recession, would have prompted members to act. The White House, too. Nothing in the way of new reforms ever emerged. Maybe Congress, too, is waiting for “good times” again to stage its next postal act. Let’s hope this next one doesn’t cost mailers even more. The present situation is unsavory enough.

5 Positioning Ideas When Leading With Price

What works best? Selling product benefits, then revealing the price? Or revealing the price, followed by selling benefits? There are rarely absolute answers, and statistically valid A/B testing in a direct marketing environment will give you the answer that works for your situation. Still, findings of a new study suggest five ways for direct marketers to reveal price

What works best? Selling product benefits, then revealing the price? Or revealing the price, followed by selling benefits? There are rarely absolute answers, and statistically valid A/B testing in a direct marketing environment will give you the answer that works for your situation. Still, findings of a new study suggest five ways for direct marketers to reveal price.

Neuroscientists and professors from Harvard Business School and Stanford University conducted a study to see if considering price first changed the way the brain coded the value of the product.

The focus on the research was on brain activity when the participant saw the price and product presented together. They were most interested in the area in the brain that deals with estimating decision value (the medial prefrontal cortex), and the area of the brain that’s been called the pleasure center and whose activity is correlated with whether a product is viscerally desirable. This pleasure center is called the nucleus accumbens.

Fundamentally, the research indicates there are differences in how a person codes information, based on whether the product has a greater emotional attachment, or whether the product was more practical.

They found that brain activity did vary in the sequence of product versus price first. A conclusion of the report is that when the product came first, the decision question seemed to be one of “Do I like it?” and when the price came first, the question seemed to be “Is it worth it?” Three other points made in the research suggest that showing price first can make a difference:

  • The order of price or product presentation doesn’t matter when the product is desirable and easily understood and consumed (e.g., movies, clothes, electronics), and fulfill an emotional need. If the product is affordable in this instance, then it’s an easy decision no matter how price was presented.
  • When a product is on sale or bargain-priced, showing price first can positively influence the sale.
  • When the product is practical or useful (more than emotional) showing price first prompted participants to be significantly more likely to purchase a product.

“The question isn’t whether the price makes a product seem better, it’s whether a product is worth its price.” said Uma R. Karmarkar, one of the research author. “Putting the price first just tightens the link between the benefit you get from the price and the benefit you get from the product itself.”

For direct marketing, copywriting formulas often dictate that the price comes toward the end of a sales message, after the product has been presented—particularly in letters and longer-form copy. This study suggests an A/B test of revealing price first is in order.

If you are going to test revealing price first, here are five positioning ideas:

  1. When a product is on sale, prominently show the price. Use dollars, not percentages. Percentages aren’t easily calculated in the mind (or worse, they are miscalculated in the mind and you risk losing a sale).
  2. Incrementally break down the price. Show it as the cost per day, cost per use, or some other practical way to reveal increments of the price.
  3. Compare the price to an everyday item. One of my most successful direct mail packages included a letter with a headline that said, “For about the cost of a cup of coffee a day, you can have …”
  4. Compare to your competition. If you have a price advantage, show it. If you don’t, then compare at a different level that includes longer product life, more convenience, or other benefits.
  5. Position the price presentation as a cost of not buying now. In other words, show how the price could increase in the future, or the loss that can happen by waiting. This positioning also creates urgency.

It’s important to acknowledge is that the research didn’t study emotion-based long-copy with storytelling and unique selling positioning of the product. Using emotion, story and a strong USP before revealing price in a direct marketing environment may be more effective to sell your product. Every situation is different. The only way to conclusively know if revealing price first will generate a higher response than presenting the sales message first is to A/B test.

Direct Mail Design: Copy

At this point, after you have looked at the layout and color/images in the last two blog posts, you should have a general idea of what you want your direct mail to look like. There is another important factor that goes with your design, and that is the copy. Words have the power to inspire, empower and create desire

At this point, after you have looked at the layout and color/images in the last two blog posts, you should have a general idea of what you want your direct mail to look like. There is another important factor that goes with your design, and that is the copy.

Words have the power to inspire, empower and create desire. Direct mail marketing is especially vulnerable to a bad choice of words. The visual design catches their eye, but if the words do not convince them to take action, you will not get the desired response.

With that in mind, let’s look at the top five list of the best words to use in direct mail:

  1. Free: Who doesn’t love free stuff? This is very eye catching and sucks people in. We all want a good deal and nothing is a better deal than free.
  2. Amazing: We all want the best things, and if it’s amazing we have to have it!
  3. Discover: This is a challenge to find out new information. It makes us curious and we want to know more.
  4. Easy: These days we all need easy. There is just not enough time in the day to get things done. Whenever it can be easier it’s a good idea.
  5. You: It’s all about the recipient! What is in it for them? There should be lots of “You”s in the copy to show them all the great things that will happen to them when they buy from you.

On the other end of the spectrum, do not use these top five words to avoid in direct mail:

  1. Expensive: Duh! Who buys expensive stuff? We all want a deal!
  2. Charge: This word just makes me cringe! I don’t want to be charged! I want a positive, charge is negative.
  3. Price: It is never about the price! Do not even speak of it! It is about what you are doing for the recipient, like saving them time, money, headaches and so on.
  4. Cost: Just like price and charge, this is a turn off because you are focused on a negative.
  5. Sign: This is a real commitment it we have to sign for it. What if we are not ready? Think of ways to attract people, not scare them off.

These are by far not the only best and worst words to use, but they’ll give you a good start. When creating the copy for your campaign, be sure to consider how each word builds toward your message and call to action. Your call to action is the most important part. You need to give the recipient a reason to respond and how to respond.

Wonderful words mean nothing if they don’t drive the correct response. Tell your recipients exactly what you want them to do. Then provide them with multiple ways to do it. Keep in mind that we all have mobile devices with us 24/7, so you should allow for responses from tablets and cell phones. You will need your landing pages and website to have responsive design to accommodate this, but it will pay off for you big time. You can contact your mail service provider for help with the design, copy and pitfalls to avoid.

5 Proven Ways to Create a Blockbuster Unique Selling Proposition

You’ve heard of USP. A strong unique selling proposition can produce more sales because it works to engrain new long-term memory. A proven way to differentiate yourself from your competitors is through repositioning your copy and design. If you haven’t examined your USP lately, there’s a good chance you’re not leveraging your unique strengths as strategically as you could. Here are five proven ideas to help you refine your USP and create a blockbuste

You’ve heard of USP. A strong unique selling proposition can produce more sales because it works to engrain new long-term memory. A proven way to differentiate yourself from your competitors is through repositioning your copy and design. If you haven’t examined your USP lately, there’s a good chance you’re not leveraging your unique strengths as strategically as you could. Here are five proven ideas to help you refine your USP and create a blockbuster campaign.

Over the years, I’ve come to appreciate what repositioning a USP can do to skyrocket response. For client Collin Street Bakery, a number of years ago, we repositioned the product from what is widely called fruitcake to a “Native Texas Pecan Cake.” Sales increased 60 percent over the control in prospecting direct mail with a repositioned USP. For client Assurity Life Insurance, repositioning the beneficiary of the product, through analysis of data, increased response 35 percent, and for another Assurity campaign, response increased 60 percent (read the Assurity case study here).

First, it may be helpful to clarify what a Unique Selling Proposition isn’t:

  • Customer service: Great customer service doesn’t qualify because your customer expects you’ll provide great customer service and support in the first place.
  • Quality: Same thing as customer service. It’s expected.
  • Price: You can never win if you think your USP is price and price cutting (or assuming that a high price will signify better quality).

A strong USP boosts the brain’s ability to absorb a new memory because you’ll be seen as distinct from competitors.

Identifying your position, or repositioning an existing product or service, is a process. Most organizations should periodically reposition their products or services (or in the case of a non-profit, reposition why someone may be moved to contribute to your cause).

Here are five approaches I’ve used to better understand buyers, and create a repositioned USP to deliver blockbuster results:

  1. Interview customers and prospects. Talk directly with customers about why they have purchased or supported your organization. And for contrast, talk directly with prospects about why they didn’t act. You can interview by phone, but a better approach, in my experience, is in a focus group setting. Focus groups are an investment, so make sure you have two things in order: first, a completely considered and planned discussion guide of questions; and second, an interviewer who can probe deeply with questions. Key word: “deeply.” Superficial questions aren’t like to get what you want. Ask why a question was answered in a specific way, then ask “why?” again and again. Your moderator must be able to continually peel back the onion, so to speak, to get to a deeper why. Knowing the deeper why can be transformational for all concerned.
  2. Review customer data. Profile your customer list. A profile can be obtained from many data bureaus to review more than basic demographics, to more deeply understand your customer’s interests and behaviors. You need to understand what your customer does in their spare time, for example, what they read and, to the degree possible, what they think. Getting a profile report is usually affordable, but the real cost may be in retaining someone from outside your organization to interpret the data on your behalf, drawing inferences and conclusions, and transforming raw numbers into charts and graphics and imagining the possibilities. If you have someone on your staff who can lead that charge, another option is to have open discussions with your team as you review the data and to commit to describing the persona of your best customer. Make this an ongoing process. You’re not going to completely imagine and profile your customer in a one-hour meeting.
  3. Analyze only your best customers. As a subset of the prior point, consider analyzing only your very top customers. You’ve heard of the Pareto Principle, where 80% of your business comes from 20% of your customers. Over the years, I’ve conducted many customer analyses. I have yet to find exactly an “80/20” balance, but I have found, at the “flattest,” a 60/40 weighting, that is, 60% of a company’s revenue coming from 40% of its customers (this for a business-to-consumer marketer). At the other extreme, for a business-to-business corporation, the weighting was 90/10, where 90% of business came from just 10% of customers. Knowing this balance can be essential, too, to creating your position. If you were the organization who derived 90% of youir business from just 10% of customers, chances are you’d listen very closely to only those 10% of customers as you evaluate your position. In this instance, if you were to reposition your organization, you have to ask yourself at what risk. Conversely, in the 60/40 weighted organization, repositioning most likely doesn’t have the same level of exposure.
  4. Review prospect modeled data. If you are using modeled mailing lists, make sure you look at the subset of data you’re mailing for the common characteristics of your best prospect. Like the profile of customers (mentioned in the previous point), you need to transform the data into charts and graphs, to reveal trends and insights. Then have a discussion and arrive at your interpretation of results.
  5. Conduct a competitive analysis. Examine a competitor’s product or service and compare it to your offer. Be harsh on yourself. While conducting focus groups, you might allocate some of your discussion to your competitors and find out who buys from whom. As you look at your competitor’s products, make sure you analyze their positioning in the market. Much can be learned from analysis of a competitor’s online presence.

Follow these steps to smartly reposition your USP, and you’re on the way repositioning your own product or service that could deliver a new blockbuster campaign.

Copywriting for the Left Brain/Right Brain

Writing copy for how the left brain and right brain processes information can make all the difference in your sales outcome. The left brain is customarily considered the area where people process information logically. The right brain is considered to be more creative. But when writing direct marketing copy, you must appeal to both hemispheres. After all the effort to get attention and deliver your message, ultimately it’s in the closing where you

Writing copy for how the left brain and right brain processes information can make all the difference in your sales outcome. The left brain is customarily considered the area where people process information logically. The right brain is considered to be more creative. But when writing direct marketing copy, you must appeal to both hemispheres. After all the effort to get attention and deliver your message, ultimately it’s in the closing where you make your logic-based sales pitch and move your prospective customer to an emotional place where they give themselves permission to buy.

The left hemisphere of your brain does, in fact, have more of a logic and mathematical focus. But to be creative, research finds both the left and right brain hemispheres are used. As marketers, we strengthen our message when we appeal to both the left brain and right brain with a formula to move our message along to our end goal of generating a lead, sale or contribution.

In any successful direct mail letter, landing page or other selling channel there are certain attributes that work well for the logic side of how we process information. Importantly, you need to bring your prospect back to emotion for the final close.

You should always interpret information for your readers, listeners and viewers. It’s the nuance of interpretation-not just throwing out information and letting it sit idly by-that is transformational in generating response. Here are some ways to appeal to logic:

  • Features versus Benefits. It’s easy to talk features of a product or service, but they need to be translated into benefits. Taken a step further, you need to spell out why those benefits are important.
  • Guarantee. Make it specific-not some fluff language that gives you wiggle room that doesn’t assure the prospective buyer. Give your customer 30 days, maybe 60 or 90 days to get a refund. Or how about a lifetime guarantee?
  • Pricing Presentation. Break down the price. Cost per day or month. Another approach: relate price to the cost of not buying the product.

Then when you’ve made your logical left brain appeal, you must move your reader to the emotional right brain. It’s ultimately emotion that will convert to a sale. Bring your prospect to becoming a customer with these conclusions:

  • This is Good. You must lead your reader, listener or viewer to conclude “this is good.”
  • This is Smart. If it’s good, then show them how “this is smart for me.”
  • Open the door to Permission to Act. When in the closing of your message, your copy leads your prospect logically and emotionally, take them to a place where in their mind they give themselves permission to buy.

Using a journey from the logical right brain to the emotional left brain, you give your prospect permission to respond. Do this and you will have done your job as a marketer.