How to Tell If Your Marketing Works

My live Target Marketing Group Webinar yesterday, “How to Tell if Your Marketing Works,” deals with my favorite topic: measuring the results of direct marketing beyond traditional response rate metrics. Direct Marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. They often don’t know what’s working and what’s not, because their real ROI is hidden inside their data.

My live Target Marketing Group Webinar yesterday, “How to Tell if Your Marketing Works,” deals with my favorite topic: measuring the results of direct marketing beyond traditional response rate metrics. If you missed it, you can access it on-demand here.

Direct Marketers are their own worst enemy when it comes to measurement. They often don’t know what’s working and what’s not, because their real ROI is hidden inside their data.

Analyzing direct marketing campaigns was a lot easier before the advent of the multichannel consumer. Sure, there were a certain number of orders that we couldn’t attribute to a specific promotion, but for the most part response rates ruled. Now, people check out products in stores and then buy online to get a better deal (think flat screen TVs). Or they shop online, decide what they want based on features and product reviews, and then buy in-person (think cars).

And they do all of this on multiple devices: their home computers, their work computers and their mobile phones and tablets. So it’s hard to track them.

Even though consumers engage with brands on their own terms across multiple platforms, many marketers are stuck measuring the results of individual tactics rather than taking a holistic view of measurement. So when a single email or display ad fails to achieve the target level of attributable sales within a specific period of time, then they consider it a failure. Even though the communication has made an impact on those who didn’t respond, they can’t measure it, so they don’t count it. And while many direct marketing practitioners now embrace the idea that their advertising has a cumulative effect of building a brand over time, most fall short of being able to quantify that ROI with meaningful metrics.

This webinar examines four ways to uncover hidden ROI from your direct marketing promotions:

  1. Using your database to look beyond response rates
  2. Benchmarking your brand awareness and tying increases in awareness to sales
  3. Creating an engagement score to measure the cumulative effect of various promotions over time
  4. Measuring the value of your social media

If you’re interested, check it out here.

Consumers Like Direct Mail

For the past several years, direct mail has been bashed for being too old school and past its time. The reality is far from that. Direct mail response is on the rise. Consumers enjoy getting direct mail that is applicable to them. When direct mail is targeted correctly, it will not be considered “junk mail.” Yes, even millennials like to get mail

For the past several years, direct mail has been bashed for being too old school and past its time. The reality is far from that. Direct mail response is on the rise. Consumers enjoy getting direct mail that is applicable to them. When direct mail is targeted correctly, it will not be considered “junk mail.” Yes, even millennials like to get mail.

Here are a few reasons people like to get mail:

  • Its delivered to their home through no effort on their part
  • It can be fun (get creative and think outside of the box)
  • A way to save money (people like a good deal)
  • It’s informative (people are curious)
  • It’s easily kept for future reference or use (use a magnet, they can then post on the fridge)

Direct mail statistics you should know (as reported in “From Letterbox to Inbox 2013”):

  • 79 percent of consumers say that they act on direct mail immediately
  • 56 percent of consumers stated that they found printed marketing to be the “most trustworthy” of all media channels

So what do people do after they get a direct mail piece? (“Consumer study reveals ‘direct mail matters’ in connected world,” July 11, 2013)

  • 44 percent visit a brands’ website
  • 34 percent search online for more information about the product
  • 26 percent keep the mailing for future reference

Keeping all of the above in mind, how can you change the way you send direct mail? Are you focused on the consumer and what is in it for them? Do you have a clear call to action and the benefits they get by responding? When you think you do, get someone from outside your organization to critique it for you. You will be surprised with what you can learn.

Using the fact that almost half of the recipients will go online and check you out after getting your direct mail piece, do you have landing pages designed with them in mind? Are you using responsive design so that they can view your website and landing pages on mobile devices? These days, using responsive design is the best way to have your online content look correctly no matter what device is looking at it. Direct mail will drive people to online engagement; make sure you are ready for them.

The only way that direct mail will continue to work is if we as marketers send direct mail to consumers that is designed well, has a clear call to action and is targeted to the right people. This keeps recipients happy and increases your response rates.

LinkedIn InMail Changes: What B-to-B Sellers Should Do Next

The new LinkedIn InMail changes are in effect—leaving sales reps and managers upset and confused. InMail just got much more expensive for average B-to-B sellers. However, you can now access a nearly unlimited supply of InMail credits under the new policy—by making one small change to how you craft InMail messages.

The new LinkedIn InMail changes are in effect—leaving sales reps and managers upset and confused. InMail just got much more expensive for average B-to-B sellers. However, you can now access a nearly unlimited supply of InMail credits under the new policy—by making one small change to how you craft InMail messages.

Yes, I said nearly unlimited. No, I’m not kidding, nor risking my integrity.

There is a way to send 100 InMail messages and get 193 credits back (for you to re-use again).

Briefly, What Changed and Why?
When InMail was introduced, LinkedIn’s “guaranteed response” policy rewarded spammy messages. Oops. So, as of January, LinkedIn gives InMail credits (that you buy) back—BUT only for InMails that earn a response in 90 days.

This is radically new.

Under the old system if you did not receive a response within a week, the InMail credit you purchased was given back. LinkedIn guaranteed a response. However, this rewards you for failing.

For example, let’s say you purchased 50 InMails and sent them. A (poor) 10 percent response rate allowed you to earn credits and send over 400 InMails per month. Thus, the policy increased the amount of spammy InMail messages being sent. The system rewarded it.

What the New Policy Means to You
Going forward, you will receive a credit (get your money back) for each InMail receiving a response within 90 days. You can re-use the money to invest again … and again and again. But if you earn no reply (or a poor response rate) your money is wasted.

LinkedIn’s old InMail policy rewarded sellers who weren’t successful with InMail.

LinkedIn’s new InMail policy rewards you (only) for writing messages that get good response. How good?

If you send 100 InMails per month, with a steady 20 percent response rate, you will end up with about 125 total InMails to send-based on InMails credited back to your account.

How to Send 100 InMails and Get 193 Credits Back
If you’re an average InMail user, you’re seeing credits vanish lately. But there is a way to send 100 InMail messages and get 98 returned to you. Or even 193 credits back (for you to re-use again).

How? Write effective InMail messages.

For example, let’s say you earn a 50 percent response rate on your first batch of 100 InMails sent. Over time (as you use the InMail credits returned to you) you earn a total of 98 credits. Not bad. You get nearly all of your investment back for re-use.

But what if you were really good? Let’s say you earned a 70 percent response rate to your InMail messages? Hey, it’s possible. I have students who earn 73 percent response rates.

With a 70 percent response rate, you would earn 193 InMail credits (of your original 100) to re-use for prospecting.

In actual practice the math is a bit messy, due to the delays between prospects responding and LinkedIn’s re-issuing credits. But you get the picture.

Should You Stop Using InMail?
As much as it may hurt, your never-ending stream of InMail credits were part of LinkedIn’s lack of foresight. If you are considering investing in InMail you’re in luck. Learn from this experience. Most B-to-B sellers who invested in LinkedIn Sales Navigator (and InMail) are complaining loudly. Many are resigning accounts.

And they should.

As Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”

Change for the better.

What to Do Next
LinkedIn’s InMail policy change is another signal. Another warning. A reason to abandon fairy-tale beliefs like:

  • Email prospecting doesn’t cost anything when it fails-or under-performs
  • It’s mostly a numbers game
  • Getting response and appointments means sending more emails

Yes, it is a numbers game. Just like cold-calling. But what is the basis of an effective cold-call routine?

An effective communications process. More specifically: A systematic, repeatable, scalable way to turn calls in to leads. I recently described this technique—gave next steps and templates to help make it easy.

If you aren’t serious about learning an effective process, you won’t experience predictable success.

“Lazy individuals will still be able to send indifferent InMails, but they won’t be rewarded for it.” says Bruce Johnston of The Practical Social Media blog.

“The new InMail system will reward people with imagination that experiment to get optimal response rates,” says Johnston.

Whether you pay cash for LinkedIn InMail credits or send standard emails to prospects … if it doesn’t work, it costs you. Cash or wasted time-time you should have spent doing something productive!

How do you feel about LinkedIn’s new InMail policy? What do you intend to do about it, looking forward?

How Big Is Your Halo? 3 Ways to Measure the Branding Effect of Your Direct Promotions

Direct marketers take pride in accountability. But as I’ve said before, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to measurement. They’re good at measuring things that are easy to count—clicks, page views, response rates, cost per lead, etc. But they struggle with measuring the long-term or cumulative effects that the branding in their promotions has on current and future sales—people who buy, but not as a result of a specific promotion, the so-called halo effect.

Direct marketers take pride in accountability. But as I’ve said before, they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to measurement. They’re good at measuring things that are easy to count—clicks, page views, response rates, cost per lead, etc.

But they struggle with measuring the long-term or cumulative effects that the branding in their promotions has on current and future sales—people who buy, but not as a result of a specific promotion, the so-called halo effect.

Consider big direct marketing brands like 1-800-Flowers.com or Omaha Steaks. These brand names have been built through direct marketing promotions over time and, as a result, people self-direct to their Web and phone sales channels.

But most direct marketers don’t know how to account for this halo effect, and when they work with response rates only, at best, they shortchange their results; and at worst, they get fooled by failing to account for those who buy without responding.

Case in point: A few years ago, I analyzed a data set from a multivariate direct mail matrix test that had 12 cells: four list segments, four offers and four creative executions.

Working off of response rates alone, we identified the winning list segment, offer and creative. But digging deeper by matching the solicitation file to the sales file, we discovered that from a revenue-per-prospect standpoint, these response rate winners were not the best revenue producers. Further analysis showed that from an ROI standpoint, they were actually the worst. In fact, the offer with the highest response rate (a free trial) produced a negative ROI when compared with a control cell: People in the control group who did not receive this offer actually spent more than the ones who responded to the offer for a free trial.

Here are three ways you can account for the halo effect:

1. Compare customer sales data to your promotion history. This is a good starting point. See who was exposed to your promotions and purchased without responding

2. Index brand awareness to sales over time. Take a look at this post for a methodology to measure this metric.

3. Create an engagement score that counts brand exposures and index it to sales over time. More on a methodology to measure this metric next time.

Making LinkedIn Sales Navigator Work for You

LinkedIn Sales Navigator can be great investment. But recovering the money you invest means having an effective, repeatable way to get buyers asking about your product/service.

LinkedIn Sales Navigator can be great investment. But recovering the money you invest means having an effective, repeatable way to get buyers asking about your product/service.

Having a reliable way to provoke response from buyers is the piece most sales reps and recruiting professionals are overlooking. Today, I’ll give you that piece and three templates to take action on—start improving your ROI with Sales Navigator.

“What Does Navigator (Alone) Give Me?”
Sales Navigator provides more access to the LinkedIn database.

Navigator also:

  • makes automated lead suggestions for you (however, my clients rarely get quality leads this way);
  • allows 700 search results (vs. 100) when querying the database;
  • lets you access prospects you don’t know—via InMail messages.

InMail Rules Totally Changed in 2015
Since Jan. 1, 2015 LinkedIn gives “credits” (you buy) back—but only for InMails that earn a response in 90 days.

This is NEW!

Remember the old system? If you did not receive a response within a week, it was credited back to you. You were rewarded for your success AND for failures. Whoops! This encouraged way too much spam.

Today you receive a credit (get your money back) for each InMail receiving a response within 90 days.

What the New InMail Rules Mean to You
Your money is wasted when your potential buyer:

  • hits the “Not interested” button this COUNTS as a response!
  • replies negatively or
  • ignores your message.

Hence, InMail is not guaranteed to be effective. Plus, if it’s not you’re punished by LinkedIn.

InMail also is monitored and rated by LinkedIn—and you must maintain an InMail reputation score in order to send messages. If enough prospects mark you as spam, you’re out of the game.

That’s another reason why you need a reliable communications process that sparks customers’ curiosity in InMails you’re sending.

Do This Right Now
When writing InMails, be sure to state a clear reason the other side will benefit from hitting reply. Make inviting you to speak an attractive idea. Sound crazy? It’s not. Give it a try. It works.

Here are simple guidelines to follow:

  • Be brief, blunt and basic: Write four to five sentences MAX.
  • After drafting, reduce the number of “I’s” and “my’s” in your message.
  • State a clear reason you want a reply in your InMail.
  • Conclude with the customer’s name again. (hyper-personalize)

This will help you put an insane amount of focus on the prospect.

A Few (Proven) Templates for You
For example:

Subject line: Let’s decide?

Hi, [prospect first name].

Are you looking for a better way to ________ [insert goal]? If so may propose a short email exchange—to decide if a deeper conversation is warranted? I __________________[insert description of you] who helps businesses like _______ [insert target business name]. If not, thanks for your time in considering. Please let me know your decision, [prospect first name]?

Sincerely,
[your name]

Why does this template work? For a handful of reasons. If you’re curious ask me in comments and I’ll explain.

When you write, make taking the next step:

  • rewarding to the prospect;
  • predictable and
  • crystal clear to them.

Want to learn this system now? Here are two more free templates to get you started.

Will You Waste Time and Money on LinkedIn?
LinkedIn Sales Navigator can be a good investment, but you are only buying access. Knowing what you do now … having invested time in reading this … what will you do?

Will you rely on a systematic approach this year? Or will you struggle and risk failing?

Will you make quick work of prospecting—or will this feel like slave labor? It’s in your hands. Let me know if I can help.

Stand Out With Texture

How can you get your direct mail to stand out in the mailbox? Have you considered using texture? Coatings do more than just protect the print from scratching damage in the mail. They can capture interest for your direct mail piece. With all the different types of coating available, you can now choose one that really emphasizes touch. By creating a unique textured feel, your response rate will increase. Think of all the different ways you can add texture to your piece to grab attention to it.

How can you get your direct mail to stand out in the mailbox? Have you considered using texture? Coatings do more than just protect the print from scratching damage in the mail. They can capture interest for your direct mail piece. With all the different types of coating available, you can now choose one that really emphasizes touch. By creating a unique textured feel, your response rate will increase. Think of all the different ways you can add texture to your piece to grab attention to it.

Some fun coatings for you to consider:

  • MiraFoil: Create metallic effects in a precise fashion.
  • Raised: Gives the embossed look without actual embossing.
  • Pearlescent: Gives an elegant shimmer look.
  • Sandpaper: Gives a rough sand paper like feel.
  • Soft touch: Creates a velvet texture for a nice soft feel.
  • Glitter: A large glitter flake that is available in a variety of colors.
  • Metal Flake: Fine metal flakes similar to car paint.
  • Thermochronic: Temperature activated, changes color when heated.
  • Photochromic: This coating is activated by sunlight to change color.
  • Glow in the dark: This is a high gloss coating that will glow in the dark.
  • Scratch off: Available in gold or silver provides a non-see thru coat

Now that you have selected your coating, imagine how creative you can get with your design. You want to have the feel of bricks? No problem. 3D raised steps? No problem. It’s like the old “Pat the Bunny” books: You can have so many textures at your fingertips to choose from. It is not advised to go crazy and put several on one mailer, but you can mix a couple to really get a pop. Show your recipients how your product or service feels; grab that sensory emotion to increase response.

The standard coatings are:

  • Varnish: This is basically like a colorless ink and can be applied in gloss, dull or satin forms as the piece is printed. This is not environmentally friendly.
  • Aqueous: A water based coating applied as the piece is printed. It protects better than varnish and is more environmentally friendly.
  • UV: This provides superior protection and comes in glossy or dull.
  • Laminates: This is best for protection from water as it seals in the paper. This is not usually needed for direct mail pieces.

With any of the above coatings, it is a good idea to check with your mail service provider to make sure they can inkjet over the coating. You do have a couple of choices if the coating is not inkjet compatible. You can knockout the mail panel when coating to leave it unfinished for inkjet. Or you can use and envelope/poly bag as a cover. Just one more thing to consider is that a paper envelope can be inkjeted, but a poly bag will require labels. Make sure to consider all your options and costs before proceeding.

Direct mail is about engagement, pulling the recipient into your marketing by creating interest in your mailer. The more interesting it is, the better response you are going to get. You will also find that when you create a direct mailer that people really enjoy, they show it to others. The more people who see your mailer, talk about it and share it, the better your response will be. Sensory input leaves a lasting impression on the recipient. If you want to add another layer of input, check out our blog post on adding scent to mailers. A good combination of texture and scent can knock your ROI out of the park!

When All Hell Breaks Loose

With automation comes risk. In the course of drafting, testing and deploying automated programs, many of us have suffered through the terrible realization our automation didn’t work exactly as expected. Do you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further?

With automation comes risk. In the course of drafting, testing and deploying automated programs, many of us have suffered through the terrible realization our automation didn’t work exactly as expected.

After auto-sending many emails to clients in the span of a few hours, we find ourselves faced with a dilemma. Do you send yet another email and risk alienating our clients further? Do you stop all communication until the recipients have been given enough time to forget you spammed their inboxes? Do you remove them all from your list entirely? Do you respond to the dozens or hundreds of hate emails? Lastly, what do you do to salvage unsubscribes?

Many of my peers believe you should always apologize when you make a mistake in your automated program—be that a simple typo, an unfortunate parallel (when your marketing message inadvertently aligns with an unfavorable situation, e.g. “Retailer Apologizes For ‘Unfortunate Timing’ Of Isis Lingerie Line”), or, as in this instance, when your automated program goes haywire and sends your subscribers 37 emails in the span of 14.6 minutes (or something like that).

If this happens to you, remember to keep the gravity of the error in perspective. Panicking will not help you, but this checklist may.

  1. Evaluate the extent of the damage: For most errors of this type, you can get a feel for how angry your constituents are by reading the reply emails. As you do this, keep in mind not everyone feels the same way. Don’t let a vocal few represent the entire list, but do give these responses careful consideration and use them as a guide to gauge the overall impact. Take a look too at opens, clicks and unsubscribes. Though irritated, your list may have actually engaged with the content to an acceptable level and this should help you to decide next steps.
  2. Choose an appropriate response: With a clear understanding (and some best guesses) at the level of damage, think next about what you would say to these recipients. Don’t draft a response to the most annoyed and most vocal, deal with those persons individually and separately in more personal emails if the group is small enough to do so. Your response should instead target the group just below the most angry; those who are smoldering in silence. Pick up the phone and dial one or two of your best customers and ask how they felt about receiving three dozen emails and in what way could you best show your concern for the event and desire to lessen the impact. For best results, act quickly, be frank and forthright about what happened, do not make excuses, and do apologize.
  3. Choose a response method: You may learn sending another email would only worsen the situation, but everyone has likely been the recipient of more than just your wayward program. A simply apology with an offer designed especially for them may do the trick. If you’re not retail, perhaps a small gift card at a local coffee shop or Amazon.com (which typically has a very low redemption rate) might be in order. Find a vendor that charges you only for gift cards redeemed. If another email is not recommended, try reaching out through social media or direct mail. Admit your mistake, take it in the chops, and perhaps add in a bit of self-deprecating humor to lighten the mood as you extend the olive branch.
  4. Distill the analytics. Go beyond opens/clicks/unsubscribes and look at visits to the landing page, form completions and more. This is a golden opportunity to learn something, so don’t consider the entire event a disaster. Even tornadoes leave a trail useful for educating storm chasers about patterns and other types of data, which can influence prevention and protection.

You are not alone. Even software/hardware giant HP apparently experienced issues with its automated program and sent a few too many emails to subscribers. HP sent an email apology with oops in the subject line and title. As a side note, this is the subject line I receive most often, and for me it’s effective. Short and sweet, and though I don’t have statistics to support this, my guess is it elicits good open rates—even when tempered by the influence of the multiple emails preceding it.

If you choose to promote your oops in social media, know that some people who did not receive the multiple emails will also use the discount code, but that’s probably a good way to turn a bad situation into a redeemable fiasco. That’s not such an awful thing—is it?

Picking the Right Social Selling Training: A Cheat Sheet

Social selling training is on the agenda for B-to-B sellers in 2014. Sales reps and dealers are under increasing pressure to speed-up prospecting using LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter and more. But how can you choose the best social selling training or trainer for your organization?

Social selling training is on the agenda for B-to-B sellers in 2014. Sales reps and dealers are under increasing pressure to speed-up prospecting using LinkedIn, blogs, Twitter and more. But how can you choose the best social selling training or trainer for your organization?

Here’s where to start. Follow these steps to make the best decision. Plus, I’ll show you a way to make sure you, personally, benefit in the eyes of your boss.

7 Point Social Selling Checklist

  1. Create selection criteria and request for proposal email.
  2. “Short-list” candidates and solicit proposals.
  3. Review proposals.
  4. Interview best candidates & check references.
  5. Negotiate, review and sign contract.
  6. Assess your team.
  7. Start the training and report effectiveness.

Want to get started on this process? Print-off this Social Selling Training Cheat Sheet PDF. (No registration needed)

Selection Criteria
Will your sellers learn social selling tactics or will they start doing? Only consider training that:

  • teaches a practical, repeatable system based in traditional copywriting skills,
  • helps sellers take “first steps” to apply the system,
  • promises outcomes like more appointments & more response for sellers, in less time.

The more you stick with the above criteria the more you’ll be able to measure the performance of your training investment.

When considering what social selling trainer is best for you consider the instructional design. Only invest in training that:

  • includes worksheets that get sellers DO-ing, (not just learning)
  • is directly relevant to current challenges, goals and ambitions of your sellers,
  • focuses on a balance of platform (eg. LinkedIn) and prospecting tactics and

Beware of social selling training promising outcomes other than measurable increases in response to—and appointments with—your reps and dealers. Hire a trainer who measures his/her own success based on sellers taking action. (not merely repeating what they learned)

Place all of your criteria in a short, focused request for proposal (RFP) email. You’ll put this list of requirements to work in the next step.

Cost and Delivery of Training
Overall quality of the trainer, skills the training will develop and delivery of the training. These factors drive cost.

If your team is geographically disbursed an online training will be most cost effective. Are your sellers ambitious do-ers? Will they actually make time for the training? If so, a self-paced, “home study” program may work.

If your sellers will be reluctant to take the training, mandate attendance from your sales leader. Also, choose to deliver training using a live Webinar format. Make the training assignable to a date on their calendar.

Short-List Candidates
Using Google and LinkedIn search, scan the horizon for training candidates. Identify a short-list of potential social selling training trainers.

Use your selection criteria to solicit proposals from trainers. If you don’t wish to mail out a formal RFP, no problem. Use your selection criteria as a guide to identify the most capable vendors.

Review Proposals: The 3 ‘Must Have’ Components
Effective social selling training must result in sellers getting better response from prospects, faster. Make sure training you invest in focuses on a process that creates:

  • attention from a targeted group of potential buyers,
  • engagement that is provocative enough to spark
  • response—conversation that generates a lead or sale.

Choose a social selling trainer that basis his/her training in direct response copywriting that helps get more attention, engagement and appointments.

Assess: Make Sure You Succeed
Make your social selling training relevant and effective. Start with an assessment. Discover your team’s strengths, weaknesses and challenges—right now.

Require your social selling trainer to perform a low-cost assessment to guarantee your success and avoid disaster.

Make sure the assessment:

  • justifies your investment,
  • identifies and sets performance metrics,
  • uncovers current attitudes & experiences with tools like LinkedIn,
  • identifies both resistance to social selling and early adopters.

Identifying early adopters will insure success in the eyes of your boss. By finding reps and dealers eager to sharpen their skills you can focus the training on increasing their success (and reporting back to the boss on it).

You can stack the deck in your favor!

How to Avoid Failure
One of the most common reasons social selling and/or LinkedIn training fails is lack of focus on how to get response. Make sure your training provides more than how-to lessons on managing LinkedIn’s privacy settings and controls.

The primary goal of your training should be earning more appointments by increasing response.

When interviewing final candidates ask them for references who can tell you how their sellers are generating more response after the training.

Do you have more questions about investing in social selling training? Let me know in comments or send me an email. I’ll be glad to help! Or print-off this Social Selling Training Cheat Sheet PDF. (No registration needed)

38 Marketing Words That Sell in Social Media

Are the words that generate response from social media and blogs different than words that work for direct mail? Or are digital marketers finally figuring out the most responsive words that direct marketing copywriters have known for generations? Whether this is new information to you, or confirms what you already knew, today’s blog is about words, and how response to specific words in the online space could strengthen your

Are the words that generate response from social media and blogs different than words that work for direct mail? Or are digital marketers finally figuring out the most responsive words that direct marketing copywriters have known for generations? Whether this is new information to you, or confirms what you already knew, today’s blog is about words, and how response to specific words in the online space could strengthen your offline marketing initiatives.

A blog post titled “A scientific guide to writing great headlines on Twitter, Facebook and your blog” got me to thinking about how their findings correspond with that of direct marketer’s experience. In that blog, Leo Widrich answers his most asked question: “How can I write great headlines for social networks and my blog?” So with credit to Widrich’s research, and other research I’ll acknowledge in a moment, let’s compare how these findings relate to direct marketing.

Twitter Words
Here are two headlines tested in Twitter, both leading to the same blog post, and each tweeted to the same audience within an hour of each other. Which do you think had higher clicks and was considered a “top tweet?”

  1. How many hours should we work every day? The science of mental strength.
  2. The origin of the 8 hour work day and why we should rethink it.

If you answered “2,” you’re right. It had double the number of clicks.

To an experienced direct marketer, this would probably come as no surprise. A specific number was used in version “2” (8 hour work day) combined with a provocative statement (why we should rethink it). Version “1” asked a question (not always the strongest way to write a headline) and used big words (science of mental strength).

A study by Dan Zarrella of Hubspot analyzed 200,000 links containing tweets and found that tweets that contained more adverbs and verbs had higher clickthroughs (1 percent to 2.5 percent higher) than noun- and adjective-heavy tweets (2 percent to 3.5 percent lower). Once again, an experienced direct marketing copywriter would probably not be at all surprised.

Finally, the study finds that when you ask for an action in social media, it increases clicks and response. Ask for a download or a retweet (retweets are three times higher when asked), and, remarkably, people will do as told. As direct marketers, we already know that a solid call-to-action is a must to generate response.

The 20 most retweetable words (some of which, by the way, could be well suited to be used in subject lines in emails):

  • you
  • twitter
  • please
  • retweet
  • post
  • blog
  • social
  • free
  • media
  • help
  • please retweet
  • great
  • social media
  • 10
  • follow
  • how to
  • top
  • blog post
  • check out
  • new blog post

Facebook Words
The news, here, is that the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” holds true. But it’s not just any picture. The pictures that result in better click performance tell the story within the picture. In other words, the picture must be self-explanatory, more than just a graphic.

KISSmetrics says a photo with a Facebook post get 53 percent more likes, 104 percent more comments and 84 percent more clickthroughs. In addition, posts with 80 characters or less get 66 percent more engagement. These are trends that I can validate, based on an assortment of text-only posts, posts with photos, and posts with videos I’ve placed for an organization’s Facebook page that I administer.

The action item for direct marketers using offline media: First, when you use a picture, the picture should be self-explanatory. Second, photos combined with shorter copy in headlines and leads can result in creating curiosity for the person to keep reading.

Blog Post Words
In “The Dark Science of Naming Your Post: Based on Study 100 Blogs,” author Iris Shoor reveals how much the post title has an impact on the number of opens. (Akin to a direct mail outer envelope teaser or a letter headline or an email subject line—should there be any surprise the words you choose make a difference?) What is credible about this research is that the author analyzed these words with a script that evaluated blogs and sorted all the posts from the most read, to the least shared. All good information for direct marketers writing direct mail or other print media.

Here are examples of words (called “let there be blood” by Shoor) appearing in blog titles that yielded high opens.

  • kill
  • fear
  • dark
  • bleeding
  • war
  • fantasy
  • dead

Negative words are more powerful for shares than an ordinary word, like No/Without/Stop. “The app you can’t live without” will go more viral than “The app which will improve your life,” Shoor states.

Confirmation for direct marketers: negative works.

And numbers work. Bigger numbers are better than smaller numbers. Despite what your grammar teacher told you, use digits rather than words. And place the number at the head of the sentence. No surprise here, to a seasoned direct mail copywriter.

And we like to learn. Preferably in five minutes. Titles that promise to teach tend to go viral.

Other words that tend to appear in viral posts:

  • smart
  • surprising
  • science
  • history
  • hacks (hacking, hackers, etc.)
  • huge/big
  • critical

Words that suppress:

  • announcing
  • wins
  • celebrates
  • grows

A couple of comparisons that seem to not make a difference: “I” versus “you.” Nor does “how to” have an effect on how viral a post will be.

What does all of this mean to direct marketers? First, I’d observe that many of these findings shouldn’t surprise an experienced direct marketer or direct mail copywriter. Maybe the online world is finally catching up to what we have tested and proven for generations.

But second, this is a reminder that what works in the online space can translate well into improving response offline, too. That’s a lesson to take to the bank.

How Great Marketers Can Inspire Action

We, as direct marketers, often consider the people we’re selling to as our target market. But we’re selling to people, not targets. To generate response, it’s essential to understand underlying demographics and interests about your customer. While this is a starting point, it’s not likely the tipping point that leads to a prospect becoming a customer. Breaking through requires that you think deeply about your customer and lead them to the answer of “why.” Today we offer a new perspective on defining why

We, as direct marketers, often consider the people we’re selling to as our target market. But we’re selling to people, not targets. To generate response, it’s essential to understand underlying demographics and interests about your customer. While this is a starting point, it’s not likely the tipping-point that leads to a prospect becoming a customer. Breaking through requires that you think deeply about your customer and lead them to the answer of “why.” Today we offer a new perspective on defining why customers respond, along with recommended action steps.

A thought-provoking Ted Talk video of author Simon Sinek, titled How Great Leaders Inspire Action, elegantly speaks about the importance of the “why.” The title of this video could just as well have been “How Great Marketers Inspire Action.” Sinek describes a golden circle of “what,” “how” and “why.” The outside ring of the circle, where most marketers approach customers and prospects, is the “what.” The middle ring is the “how.” Direct marketers usually excel at filling in the “what” and “how,” as we translate features into benefits for the logical part of the brain.

But at the core of the golden circle, where decisions are often made in the brain, is the “why.” It’s the emotional response. If your messaging isn’t working, here’s a challenge for you to think more deeply about the “why” of your organization and the product or service you’re selling—to tap the emotions of the prospect.

Here are a couple of critical steps you should take so you can reposition your message in order to tap the golden “why” button.

1. Profile your customers. Most profiles are a treasure-trove of demographic, purchase behavior, interests and other fascinating data points. Profiles can be created for you by several data companies and it’s affordable to do. But the profile itself is merely the starting point. We’ve used the insights that a profile yields many times to successfully reposition messaging copy and increase response.

2. Interpret the data. Looking at reports and charts you’ll get from a profile isn’t enough. You must interpret the data. You have to think deeply about what this reveals about your customers. One example of how this works is for an insurance offer we created. The insight from the profile was that the buyer was usually a woman and she had an interest in her grandchildren and devotional reading. The approach to selling this product was the usual features and benefits of having life insurance. But we repositioned the message to reveal the “why.” The “why” message transformed the prospect into realizing that the proceeds from a life insurance policy could be a wonderful legacy left for her grandchildren or a favorite charity. The result for the marketer was a double-digit response increase.

So what can you do to improve your results? Here are some action items:

  • Profile your buyers to better understand the “what”
  • Interpret the data and align it with the “how”
  • Transform your message and reveal the “why”

Then test it.

(As an aside, if you plan to attend the DMA Conference next week in Chicago, I’d enjoy the opportunity to meet with readers. You can email me using the link to the left, or just show up at the Target Marketing booth #633 Monday afternoon between 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Or feel free to introduce yourself if you see me at any time).