30 Timeless Direct Marketing Principles by Bob Stone
Just 16 steps will take you to the top of the Direct Marketing ladder!
"The difference between an amateur and a professional is that the
professional can produce work of a consistently high quality,
continuously, to order and on time.
You naturally need talent for it. Without talent you can't even begin and talent itself can't be taught.
Another important attribute of the professional is experience and there is no substitute for experience. It comes with time, and although you can glean some of it learning from the experience of others, the best experience is gathered from the successes and failures you have had yourself."
Christian Brann is a direct marketing professional with over a half-century's experience in direct marketing. I had the privilege to meet with him more than 15 years ago and we shared the same passion - direct marketing! We talked at length about "Profitable Direct Marketing." And this is what he had to say on some of the basics:
There are two vital skills required for creative work, which can be taught and learned. These are technique and analytical thought. The greatest enemy to creativity is mindless, unthinking, imitation and unproductive repetition, which lead to insincerity and falling response rates.
When people tell me that you can't necessarily have great new ideas on time, I always think of Mozart, who died at the age of 35 and created some 700 separate works, including 16 operas and 41 symphonies. The humiliating thing is that he died a poor man. He certainly didn't have a talent for making money.
In my view, creativity in direct marketing starts with analytical thought. I will define the principles as I see them, to take away with you and use as a checklist when you sit down to have your own great ideas.
And I make you a promise - if you take the principles and check that you have obeyed every one of them in every promotional effort or piece of creative work that you do, or ask others to do for you, your response rates will go up.
There are 16 of these principles altogether. The first and most important one, is this:
1. First Convince Yourself
If you do not believe in your product or offer, if you are not convinced that it is good for your prospect, then throw it away. Go back to the drawing board and start again. First convince yourself.
I employed a highly qualified graduate of Oxford University to become a copywriter. He was a good writer and a Doctor of Philosophy, and the first piece of copy he wrote for me was appalling. My first question to him was "Do you really believe this stuff?" And he looked at me in amazement, "No, of course I don't believe it." He thought quite sincerely that he could write a letter, which he did not believe, but which would convince the prospect it was addressed to.
I will give you an example of the opposite in action. One of the greatest compliments that anyone has ever paid me came from a temporary typist I employed when I was a copywriter. I gave her a letter to type which I had written and rewritten many times. When she was half way through typing my letter, she stopped and turned round to ask me if she could buy the product.
So, first convince yourself and you may then have a chance of convincing others.
Let us begin with the sequence of events, which you want to achieve in a direct response package whether it is an advertisement or a mail shot.
2. Get Attention
At the outset you need to get attention. This is vital, because if you cannot gain attention you do not have an audience. If your advertisement cannot gain attention then the reader will move on from your page to the next, from your advertisement to an editorial article or a picture.
If your mail shot does not get attention right at the beginning it may never get opened; it may never get read. You may never have a chance to plead your case.
This is one of the main reasons why it pays to have a strong message on the envelope: it gets attention, it makes your reader eager to learn more.
3. Personalise In Depth
Personalisation works because it gets a special kind of attention. A personal communication concerns the reader. It is not a public speech, it is not an announcement, which may concern him, or not. It is addressed to him or her.
As a result, it gets read more than an impersonal message. But personalisation needs to be convincing; you need to personalise in depth. Putting a name, address and salutation at the top is not enough any more.
But when you add other personal details in the letter and referred to events, which were unique to the person you addressed and referred to his personal circumstances, response will go up and cost-effectiveness will be better.
4. Establish A Need
Once you have your reader's attention and have addressed him personally, the most urgent thing is to establish a need for your product or service.
If I do not have a need - I may not listen. If I am not hungry - I will not walk into a restaurant.
5. Make A Promise
Once you have established a need, you quickly need to make a promise. If you have convinced me that I have a need and that you are able to satisfy it, then you will keep my attention.
6. Achieve Credibility
Your next task is to achieve credibility. Potential customers are sceptical. They realise that you have something to gain from their acceptance. Therefore, credibility of your promise is vital.
7. Retain Attention
Now, at this time I will slip in a repetition. Attention ... you must retain attention. Every paragraph, every word you write, every picture, illustration, the background colour - all need to be examined from the point of view of retaining the reader's attention.
This can be done by words, layout, colour, sequence and it is vital. Like a fish on a line, until he ends up in the landing net, there is a fear of losing him.
8. Accentuate The Positive
Let me state another pair of principles, which I have found to be true. You must accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. Don't rely on the disadvantages of other products.
Concentrate on the positive advantages of your offer. I am convinced that being positive gets things done, being negative turns people off.
9. Create Confidence
Create confidence with every word, every sentence, and every paragraph you write. And there are many other ways of creating confidence. Quality for one thing. If the quality of your advertisement, the quality of your design, the quality of the illustrations is poor, this will reflect on your product or your service.
You can, of course, overdo it. For instance, if you are promoting a charity asking for donations, it will not help you to send out an obviously expensive mail shot. Four-colour printing can actually detract from the effectiveness of a charity promotion, but simplicity can be achieved with quality, and quality creates confidence.
You have gained the attention of your prospect. Established the need for what you have to offer, made a promise to satisfy that need. Achieved credibility, retained attention, accentuated the positive and eliminated the negative. You have continued to create confidence.
10. Prove It
Now, prove that your promise will satisfy the need. You can seldom find a case where you could produce too much proof. Of course, you must not be boring, but remember your prospect is a cynic, your fish knows you are an angler. It is for you to prove that your promise will satisfy the need.
One way is to call witnesses. Testimonials always work. If someone, with whom your prospect can identify himself, someone in similar circumstances, with a similar need, will testify that he has been satisfied, this will work better for you than any number of claims from you.
11. Accelerate Satisfaction
Once you have established the need and the desire and made the promise, you must accelerate satisfaction. Once you have made me want it - I want it now and any number of things may stand in my way.
12. Delay The Pain
Filling in a boring form at great length may turn me off. Even filling in my own name and address will delay a positive reply. Having to find facts, which are not readily to hand, will postpone my decision. Having to pay now, even if I can afford it, or having to wait too long brings down the response rate.
So, accelerate the satisfaction, delay the pain.
13. Repeat Yourself
Now, you see you have gone a long way in the creative process, from getting attention to promising immediate satisfaction. Before you close the sale, let me urge you to repeat yourself, summarise, and give your prospect all the advantages at a glance.
And speaking of repetition, remember to repeat your basic statements, your basic promises on every piece that you send in a mailing.
You must not assume that your prospect will read every piece. Therefore, every piece should be self-sufficient and self-contained.
14. Force For Action
Now you come to the climax - force for action. It is amazing how many people make an excellent case for a product, do their utmost to convince, provide testimonials and never really ask for an order.
Not only should you force for action, but also you should do it with the greatest urgency. Limited time offers, early closing dates, the need to act now, all help to increase your response.
15. Facilitate The Reply
And, of course, you must facilitate the reply; make it as easy as possible for your prospect to give you a positive answer. The process of replying in itself should be pleasurable, attractive and easy.
We found once, for instance, that a loose insert in publications pulls better if the reply card sticks out, asking to be detached and mailed. It is rather like the card trick where the magician makes you take the card he has selected and memorised.
16. Give One Last Push
Finally, give one last push. This is the reason why a postscript on a letter generally improves results. It gives you the opportunity after all has been said to give one last push. This may be an additional positive point brought up at the last minute, or it may be one last reason for urgency.
In my experience, it always works. It need not be a postscript of course. One way to create the last push is to include another element in your mailing, addressed only to those who have already decided not to reply. You would be amazed how many of them change their mind when you give that last push.
I have tried to give you principles to judge your own work by. Try it out for yourself. Take a successful promotion package and judge it by these principles. You may find that you have instinctively obeyed a good many of them, or perhaps you will find that some of these principles could be applied even to a winning campaign to make it work even better.
Acknowledged and credited to Christian Brann
The days of mass advertising and scattergun TV campaigns are over, according to the worlds leading marketer, Philip Kotler, who says that companies should shift to target and one-to-one marketing in light of increasingly fragmented media channels.
What lies ahead for us in marketing direct? The Americas and other countries are optimistic and from talking to various friends in our industry and although there are a multitude of factors influencing our decisions we are moving forward in Relevant, Responsible and Result-driven direct marketing activities. This is good news.
Dollar-for-dollar nothing brings in more business than direct marketing used correctly.
Pitney Bowes Inc., Stamford, CT, began airing a new flight of DRTV spots this month as part of its ongoing campaign to reach the small office and home office (SOHO) markets that are difficult to reach through direct mail.