“I Want to Go Back” Is Not a Solution

If you’re a baby boomer-aged marketer, there may be a good chance that you want to “go back.” That is, go back just a few years when we didn’t have to juggle so many marketing channels. In the past, as direct marketers, we relied on direct mail and catalogs mostly. We used print advertising, inserts, direct response television or radio, and other alternate media as well. And we’d have an in-house mailing list of customers.

I’ve too often heard a phrase from news commentators during interviews and politicians in recent debates that puts me off. The commentator or politician chirps, “I want to go back” after a point had been made minutes earlier, after the flow the conversation had moved on. “I want to go back,” is often not a solution that serves anyone.

There is no going back. Once the genie is out of the bottle, an attempt to “go back” is usually futile.

If you’re a baby boomer-aged marketer, there may be a good chance that you want to “go back.” That is, go back just a few years when we didn’t have to juggle so many marketing channels. In the past, as direct marketers, we relied on direct mail and catalogs mostly. We used print advertising, inserts, direct response television or radio, and other alternate media as well. And we’d have an in-house mailing list of customers.

Today, mailing list ownership gets fuzzy. We need to build more than a direct mail list. We need to entice customers to opt-in for email or SMS. If you get a lot of spam, you see, first-hand, the abuse of lists. Marketers build social media followers, but those followers aren’t like a customer a list, and they are never ours to own. They are merely rented, so to speak, and who’s to say that someday the big social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and others won’t suddenly start to charge us for the use of the list (or somehow otherwise hold us hostage to access our followers)? Already, if you want your social media content to appear to your followers before sinking to oblivion at the bottom of the news feed, you have to pay.

Then there is the need to have a presence in multiple new channels to meet your prospects where they are in the world. Websites, landing pages, email, social media, video, remarketing, search engine marketing — the list of channel opportunities grows every season.

With concepts like nurture marketing and content marketing, sometimes we ask ourselves “is this different, or the same as, direct marketing as we knew it?” or “is this a subset of direct marketing?” So we ask: where do we, as direct marketers, fit in the mix with so many buzz phrases?

The speed of change and new channels is dizzying. As marketers we must prioritize what channels we’ll use. It’s tempting to boil it down to the numbers. But I don’t think it’s always that easy. Social media, for example, based on my experience and what I hear from others, generally doesn’t provide great conversion. It’s a glance-and-forget channel. It may be low-cost, but there is a real commitment to using effective content marketing and social media. Many organizations, depending upon the category, must have a social media presence to be considered relevant. If you’re going to play in that game, you must have a plan to bring those individuals into your sales funnel so you can monetize all of that time and effort.

Having a strong working knowledge of all these marketing channel choices is challenging, but I don’t want to go back to limited channel options. I want to look forward and embrace what’s new and coming on the horizon. Channel choices that better identify where to find, and how to serve prospects and customers, makes us more effective marketers.

“I want to go back” is the problem. “I want to look forward” is the solution.

Copywriting Showstoppers and One-Two Punches

What makes a direct mail package a success? It’s usually a combination of elements. Marketers and copywriters tend (rightfully so) to spend the most time developing the big idea and writing the perfect headline and lead for a letter. But two components are often relegated to being afterthoughts.

What makes a direct mail package a success? It’s usually a combination of elements. Marketers and copywriters tend (rightfully so) to spend the most time developing the big idea and writing the perfect headline and lead for a letter. But two components are often relegated to being afterthoughts.

  • Your outer envelope should be a showstopper.
  • The order device should pack a one-two punch to close the deal.

By showstoppers on the outer envelope, I mean six to eight graphic elements, each worth about a half a second of gazing time so the recipient pauses and looks more closely at the envelope. That extra involvement of a half a second per showstopper could mean three to four seconds of additional time that gets the reader more involved and inside. Showstopper ideas include:

  • Vivid colors and design
  • Tactile texture
  • Emblems (both front and on the flap)
  • Official-looking indicia
  • Handwriting fonts (Marydale Bold is a reliable choice)
  • Strong teaser copy
  • Personalization

Then there is the order device. Now, think about yourself: when you open an envelope, what’s the first component you look at? For many, it’s the order device. But these days, it’s my observation that many direct mail packages no longer include an order device (or what’s there is weak). Perhaps it’s a belief from direct marketers that the printing expense can be saved, since most of the time a prospect is being driven to the Web to complete the transaction. But a strong order device visually communicates something to the recipient.

An order device can be powerfully positioned to command attention and close the sale. Here are a few reminders about what you should include on your order device:

  • Re-use (or modify) the killer headline you’ve created for your letter
  • State (or restate) your guarantee
  • Specify pricing and terms (the order device serves as a contract of sorts)
  • Clearly state how to order
  • Add urgency to close the deal (if you fail, the recipient sets your package aside for another time, which often never comes)

Typically, when creating a new direct mail package, I start by developing these two components. They may not initially seem as interesting to develop as other items in the total package, but they may very well be the two most important items you spend time creating.

5 Tips to Position (or Reposition) Your Offer

Does bundling products together in your offer result in higher sales? Bundling can be an effective way to sell, but research suggests it can backfire if you don’t approach it thoughtfully.

Does bundling products together in your offer result in higher sales? Bundling can be an effective way to sell, but research suggests it can backfire if you don’t approach it thoughtfully.

Product bundling, good/better/best choices, add-ons and free bonuses have been a part of direct marketing offers for generations. Any smart direct marketer will test offers in small volumes first before rolling out the best performing test in larger circulation.

But product bundling can have its own set of purchase and perception challenges. Research from authors at Pepperdine University and Northwestern University suggests that consumers are not always willing to pay as much for a combination of items as they would for, say, two separate items. In this study, primarily for retailers but with application to direct marketers, reveals:

  • Consumers think in categorical terms. When an item considered expensive is combined with an inexpensive item in a bundle, consumers perceive the combination to be “moderately expensive.” Consumers forget they are purchasing multiple items and the bundle can result in a perception that they should pay less for the combination.
  • Sales declined 15 percent when an inexpensive item was added to the expensive item.
  • Consumers perceived that the combination of an expensive item and inexpensive item should result in a price decrease of 25 percent.

In direct marketing, our sales environment is different than retail. Fortunately, as direct marketers, we can test in a controlled environment. And we can be confident in the outcome of the test by applying sound statistical confidence intervals when evaluating the results. If you offer multiple products, here are a few bundling recommendations for testing. They can be done as A/B, A/B/C, or any combination of these five options:

  1. Bundle products together for one price.
  1. Charge full price for the expensive item, and give the less expensive item away as a free premium.
  1. Charge full price for the expensive item and price the second item at a deep discount.
  1. Create a “Good/Better/Best” offer, which makes it look less like a bundle and gives your customer choices.
  1. Position additional items as add-ons that enhance the primary product you offer.

Your offer is often considered to be a substantial contributor to the success of any direct marketing campaign. With multiple items, bundle thoughtfully and use your imagination to position your offer.

Stimulate Sales by Answering 4 Key Questions

When was the last time you performed a quick marketing check-up? Generations and attitudes continually change. A unique selling proposition from a decade ago may no longer resonate. Past customers, prime and ready for your product today, may have been overlooked in your marketing and sales plan.

When was the last time you performed a quick marketing check-up? Generations and attitudes continually change. A unique selling proposition from a decade ago may no longer resonate. Past customers, prime and ready for your product today, may have been overlooked in your marketing and sales plan.

Recently I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen in a while. He was desperate for some ideas to stimulate leads for his business. That conversation reminded me that we all need a check-up from time-to-time about how we’re approaching marketing. The outcome is captured in these four questions that you, too, should ask yourself:

  1. Do you have a good feel for the persona your audience? After the conversation with my friend, he came to realize that most of his market now comes from the millennial generation. He was still thinking and marketing like a baby boomer and realized his dated materials probably weren’t being seen. With each passing day the millennial generation is becoming a larger influence. They are starting jobs, buying houses, and making the purchases that 20- and 30-year-olds naturally do. On the business-to-business side, these younger people are taking over key business responsibilities from an older generation. Don’t look dated and use the media channel your market frequents!
  1. Is your position, or unique selling proposition, clear? Does it pop out in just 8 seconds (the average attention span these days)? With even less time to grab attention, your USP must be easy to digest in just seconds.
  1. Do you leverage sales from your raving fans? My friend, who’s in the real estate business, has the names and address of over 1,700 past buyers. But he hasn’t contacted them in years, thinking they likely weren’t in the market for his services. But they might be now. And they certainly can be good for referrals to family and friends. Are you reaching out to past customers?
  1. Do you think just having a website is going to deliver leads? You have to drive traffic, probably more today than ever before. If you aren’t emailing past customers with a link to a landing page, using content marketing, search engine marketing or retargeting to bring people to your website, your traffic will suffer. People search online differently today than they did only a decade ago. Social media is now a significant way people get news. People search for educational content or reviews.

If it’s time to evaluate your business and marketing approach, ask yourself these questions. With adjustments and updates in what you’re doing, you stand a better chance to stimulate your sales.

E-Laughter Shake Up: LOL is Dead

Tell me it isn’t so! “LOL” is dead! In now: “haha” and “hehe.” Oh, and emojis too. As summer comes to a close, today I share new research from Facebook that takes us to the lighter side of today’s vernacular. While you might think that an “e-laughing” movement from LOL to haha is silly (well, it is), it reminds us, as direct marketers, that our culture, language and customers continue to reinvent and evolve.

Tell me it isn’t so! “LOL” is dead! In now: “haha” and “hehe.” Oh, and emojis too. As summer comes to a close, today I share new research from Facebook that takes us to the lighter side of today’s vernacular. While you might think that an “e-laughing” movement from LOL to haha is silly (well, it is), it reminds us, as direct marketers, that our culture, language and customers continue to reinvent and evolve. This can impact your copy, especially if you’re marketing to people, irrespective of age, who think of themselves as current with the times.

Our conversation is evolving. E-laughing is one visible evolution, and you can expect it to migrate into printed messaging. The Facebook research reveals that 15 percent of people included laughter in a post or comment during a study of one week’s worth of comments across Facebook last May. The findings:

  • 51 percent use haha (or hahaha, or multiple ‘ha’s)
  • 34 percent use emojis
  • 13 percent use hehe
  • 2 percent use LOL

“Haha” conveys different levels of laughter. “Hahaha” is funnier than just “haha.” And “hahahahaha” (or higher) approaches deranged laughter (perhaps another relic of the past is “ROFL — rolling on the floor laughing”).

If you think these findings are skewed to a particular age group, that would be inaccurate. The research says this trend spans ages 13 to 70, although emojis tend to be used more by younger people.

Then, there is geography. “Haha” and “hehe” are more popular on the West Coast and emojis are used more in the Midwest. Southern states are still a bit more fond of “LOL.”

The research even breaks down the data by state (check here to see what e-laughter your state uses most). If you’re in California, you’re more likely to say “hehe.” If you’re in New York, emojis are used more. In Texas (where I live), you’ll find us laggards are still using “LOL.”

So back to a more serious side, what, if anything, does this mean to direct marketing and copywriting and content?

  • If you’re trying to be contemporary, stay in tune with the evolution of language, whether it’s use of e-laughter symbols or other word or abbreviation uses.
  • Watch for trends online first (especially on social media), then observe if or how it migrates to print.
  • With 15 percent of people using e-laughter in posts or comments online, if your product lends itself to humor, test it. Historically, marketers have avoided humor because of the risk of backfire, but maybe it’s time to venture out.

Finally, if you truly want to show you’re trendy, stop using LOL!

Words Matter

It’s said that in life, words matter. Simple phrases and how we say them as we interact reveals much about our inner character. I recently listened to a message about how three phrases have the power to change emotion. And it dawned on me that these same phrases, all filled with goodness, have a place in the tone of our marketing messages.

Words in a sales letter, email, website, blog post, social media post or video have the potential to shift emotion in a positive way. The most effective words are simple. Once you understand and empathize with the feelings of your reader or prospective customer, you can shift the tone of your message in a positive way.

While these three phrases could be literally stated in your marketing message, it’s really the tone you should strive to send. So today I suggest you think about how you can put an encouraging tone on the emotion you want your message to convey, and consider how your headline, body copy, or story, can move your audience to a positive emotion.

  • “Thank you.” By themselves, the words can be a bit hollow. “Thank you for your business” is nice, but a sincere thank you that reveals the depth of your inner gratefulness can be much more impactful.
  • “I appreciate you.” Most of us like to be appreciated. Once again, the exact words you use don’t have to say “I appreciate you,” but rather, convey the appreciation of people as customers in your actions and with words.
  • “I love you.” You probably wouldn’t say this in your marketing messaging (although you’ve surely seen signs that say “We love our customers”). In this instance, think of it as affection for your customer or the pleasure you have in serving them.

The tone you convey using the emotion of these phrases does matter. Sincerely expressing these feelings can become a platform for building, retaining and strengthening long-term relationships with your customers.

Two Proven Approaches That Supercharge Headlines

The headline and lead are considered the most important pieces of copy that make or break direct marketing campaigns. So why do some headlines come out so feeble? I think it’s a combination of reasons. Today I share six culprits and two ways to review copy and strengthen weak headlines.

If your headline doesn’t grab the reader, all the effort to write the rest of a promo will probably be a waste. Some copywriters suggest that 80 percent of time should be allocated to writing the headline and lead.

Personally, I think it’s less about time and more about ideas.

There are hundreds of winning direct mail control packages available for review (and to wisely steal from) at Who’s Mailing What. And there are plenty of books and copywriting programs available with proven formulas, created by successful copywriters that are a lot less costly to purchase and apply than producing a losing promo.

Before I share two approaches to supercharge your headlines, there are, I believe, several culprits behind weak headlines that should be overcome first:

1. Lack of Information: The lack of information about the product, market and benefits usually results in the copywriter lobbing a powder puff headline that’s cute and doesn’t sell a thing. If you’re the product or marketing manager, it’s your responsibility to deliver a list of all features and benefits to the copywriter.

2. No Research: This is a shared responsibility of everyone, marketing managers and copywriters alike. Look for research studies that support the need for your product to build credibility in your message.

3. No Competitive Intel: The marketing team should have samples of competitive products and promotional materials. It can be tough to get samples of direct mail, but in this day and age, a website surely exists for competitors.

4. Lack of Copywriting Experience: We all start our careers somewhere, so it’s tough to suggest that you bypass an eager, up-and-comer copywriter. But if you are working with someone a little green behind the ears, point them in directions where they can hone their skill about how to write headlines by reading books, going to seminars, or other training (in a moment I’ll share another resource I recommend).

5. Lack of Identifying the USP: The marketing team should work with the creative team to identify the unique selling proposition to set your product or service apart from competitors.

6. Approval by Committee: A great headline isn’t likely to come via a committee of well-meaning critiques. Let the copywriter do his or her job. Better yet, read on for a better solution for producing the strongest headline possible with a team approach.

Two Recommendations
If you want to supercharge your headline and lead, I can think of no more powerful and effective tool than engaging in a peer review between the copywriter and a handful of marketing staff. More than a decade ago I was introduced to a peer review system that helped me write a headline, and carry the theme through an entire direct mail package, that resulted in a 60 percent lift over a long-time control package. Millions were mailed. That copy review process introduction came from American Writers and Artists (AWAI).

You can read about the AWAI peer review system by clicking this link, but in short, you gather a small group of people together to evaluate a headline and rate it on a scale of 1 (low) to 4 (high). If the average is under 3.2, brainstorm ways to improve it. If the rating is really low (perhaps 2.5 or lower), then it’s probably best to start all over. In all cases, let the copywriter do the job of rewriting and editing.

Another copy strengthening system that I like and teach for AWAI students is called the C.U.B.A. review. It’s simple, but effective. While reviewing copy, you ask peers in a group if any copy in the headline or lead is:

  • Confusing
  • Unbelievable
  • Boring
  • Awkward

Both the peer review and C.U.B.A. are fully explained in Copy Logic, a book by Michael Masterson and Mike Palmer.

If you’re having trouble with writing strong headlines, try these two peer review systems. They work, and I speak from first-hand experience.

And if you use another proven system that strengthens headlines and copy, please share your process in the comments below.