Category Archives: Direct Marketing

The true secret of the Yes/No response

Big TickI received a marketing email today from an expert in direct marketing, in which he wrote about sorting out the dead ducks from those who are really interested.

He referred to the Reader’s Digest Yes and No reply envelopes.

He called it the Yes/No option, implied that it was how to sort out the ones who are not really interested, and went on to say that is does not work in face to face selling.

I agree with that, but I believe he got it slightly wrong about the Reader’s Digest envelopes. Their intention was not merely a Yes/No option to separate tyre kickers from real prospects.

In direct mail, your objective should be to encourage response. Even negative response.

The more Noes you attract, the more Yeses you’ll get as well.

Encourage people to reply, and you have a dialogue going. That develops the relationship. Along the way, you’ll tip some Undecideds into the Yes camp as well.

Test it. Run one stream with a straight Yes or No response, and another which allows everyone to respond, some with an order, some without one. That’s what a Prize Draw does. Everyone can enter, whether they order or not.

In face to face selling the same thinking applies. In my Five Key Questions for Sales people, the fifth question is: What’s the least you will settle for?

It’s about planning for a fall-back option if you do not get the sale. Something to keep the door open, to maintain a dialogue and develop the relationship.

That’s the real secret behind the so-called Yes/No option.

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7 Key elements of Direct Mail

Post boxes

1. The List comes first
• Who is your target market?
• Must be relevant to your product or service
• Is the Database up to date, accurate, fully named?

2. Make the envelope look right
• Use a stamp not a franking machine
• Make it look like personal correspondence
• Don’t put sales messages for the sake of something to say

3. Create an offer that’s hard to resist
• You must MAKE AN OFFER
• Address the question, What’s in it for me?
• Make a ‘soft offer’, i.e. one that requires minimal commitment. If you require a ‘Yes/No’ response it’s a Hard Offer.

4. Aim to create ACTION
• Always have a response device
• Write the response device first
• Give a compelling reason to reply

5. Stop expecting only a 1% return
• With the right ingredients you CAN get double digit response
• Avoid trying to convert non-users
• Focus on getting users (others’ customers) to switch to you

6. Testing can make all the difference
• How will you know what works? By testing
• How will you know what works BEST? By testing
• Use a rolling test programme to stay ahead of the game

7. Monitor your results
• Things change. So keep your eye on all results
• Change only one key element at a time and note the effect

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Long copy or short copy?

 Depends on how you see it.

The debate in direct marketing circles is a long-standing and on-going one. Which works better – long letters or short ones? The answer may surprise you. It arises out of a significant shift in our reading habits.

I experienced it at first hand this week, when I found myself reading a number of blogs in a hurry.

I read them because they were discussions on topics that interested me, and had attracted quite a few comments from well-informed people. However, I struggled with them

The reason I found them hard going was this: the paragraphs were too long.

And there were too many paragraphs.

In some blogs, for example, the text is set in 10 point, with a line length of about 110 characters. That’s hard to skim read, and you have to move your head as you read each line. Too much work.

Easy on the eye

In contrast, some online sales letters from the USA run to many pages, but the paragraphs usually consist of a single sentence and are almost NEVER more than four lines long. The line length is short too.

Some paragraphs are one-liners like this.

They also have subheads like the one above, to segment the subject matter and break up the grey text.

Why that works

We all suffer from Attention Deficit. It may not be a Disorder (yet!) but it gets in the way when we are at work.

Every day, we are all assailed by huge numbers of messages and calls for our attention: radio, TV, emails, newspapers, magazines, advertisements, posters, tannoy announcements, traffic, phone calls, conversations, meetings …

We cannot cope with more than one thing at a time, so we have developed the ability to switch off. In fact, it’s a reflex that kicks in very quickly.

So what’s the answer?

The answer is to deliver your information in small bites. Like this blog. Make it easy for the reader to take in each new idea or piece of information, and it will increase your chances of being read all the way down the page. Page after page.

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What is your brand proposition?

Every business presentation must reinforce the brand. The brand is the way your company is perceived in the market place. If your presentation is about yourself, if you are a consultant, for example, then it’s about how you are known.

The brand is about your values, your place in the market, the quality of what you offer, and the instinctive reaction it brings about when you or your company is mentioned. Everyone is a brand. It’s just that some are better known than others.

What’s your favourite car, washing machine, soft drink? What is it you like about them, and where do they stand (in your mind) against the alternatives? Now think about famous politicians, footballers, business leaders. What do you think about them? You probably have a clear impression of them, and opinions about them, even if you have never actually met them. That’s branding.

In simple terms, reinforcing your brand means telling your audience more than what you can do. It’s saying, “We can do this for you because …” That “because” is your brand, it’s what distinguishes you from alternatives, and your product or solution must always be related to that.

In these competitive times, it is increasingly important for us all to distinguish ourselves from our competitors. To help you focus your mind on your own brand values, here’s a 6-point plan:

1. Know what you do – for others. Yes, it is important to know what you do, but don’t focus inward. I say a bit more about this under Point 6, but your starting position is to consider what your market wants, and how you can be of commercial benefit to others.

2. Identify a pain that you can remove. Is there a weakness that your listeners encounter, to which you have the solution. Focus your ‘offering’ on magnifying the pain and then showing how you can remove it. You then become the long-awaited Solution.

3. Do something right. Apart from removing a pain, there could be something positive that you could do, something that adds to the collective good, something that no one else has thought of doing.

4. Mix with the right people. We all need reinforcement, and we get that from like-minded people, whose own thinking reassures us that we are on the right track. If you network, be selective and don’t commit to regular meetings that lead nowhere. If you don’t feel uplifted after spending time with certain people, and if they don’t understand the things you say, it may be time to move on. Remember, too, that we are judged by the company we keep.

5. Drop the toxic folk. Some people are just plain bad for you. Maybe they are chronically negative, maybe they don’t respond well to your enthusiasms, maybe they drag you down in other ways. Leave them to the professional therapists and move along. Don’t let them infect your mind or use up your energy.

6. Project your one defining benefit. What’s the ONE thing that defines you and distinguishes you from the following pack? Spend time finding out. Get feedback from those you trust. Challenge your first thoughts about it. Then make it the core of your business offerings and everything you say about yourself.

Finally, why not add your own thoughts about branding in a comment below?

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Something to say

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala has died. Reading her obituary I recognised a kindred spirit. She had to write. Author  of a dozen novels and scriptwriter for the Merchant Ivory films such as Shakespeare Wallah and Howards End, she said, “One doesn’t choose to become a writer. One is just born that way.”

It’s easy to identify with that. Like her, I have something to say. At boarding school it got me called a gasbag, but I turned that to advantage by becoming a speaker. These days I refer to myself as a Wordsmith, having used words for most of my working life, in sales, in copywriting, in public speaking, and in imparting those skills to others.

I have written eight business books and one of poetry, as well as countless articles and blogs. Analysing what I do on a computer, I realised that it is principally Word, Emails, Blogs and contributions to social media. Writing.

The balance, however, is shifting. Most of my wordsmithing has tended, in recent years, to be about others’ concerns. Helping others with their speeches and presentations, for example, is about their concerns, their ideas, their initiatives. Gradually I am finding time to express what is inside my own head.

Writers like Ruth Prawer Jhabvala have a compulsion to set down on paper not only what they think, know and feel, but also how events of the day should be expressed. It takes a certain kind of self-assurance to do that, a conviction that their point of view is valid and, if you excuse an expression I use, that nobody says it better.

For many years I avoided committing myself wholly to writing for a living, perhaps for fear of proving to be less good than I thought I was. Aged 15 I received the greatest compliment of my school days when the Professor of English at the University Department of my College, a Canadian Jesuit called Fr Joseph Killoran, called me the best writer of English prose in his experience.

It has taken decades for me finally to declare that I have something of my own to say. And I shall be writing it.

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How to write letters that SELL

We all write letters. Some of them are emails, some of them are to sell our products or services. Most of it is junk mail, and therefore a waste of time and money.

Consider the junk mail you receive. What makes it junk? Is it because the product or service being offered is of no value to you, or some other reason? Do you reject it out of hand within, say, 3 or 4 seconds? Well, perhaps that’s exactly what happens to the letters you send out. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

If your letter is dumped immediately, you have wasted your time and money.

If your letter gets read and then dumped, you have not only wasted your time and money, you have also begun the process of training others to ignore you.

What’s worse is the low level of expectations. I once saw a testimonial from an SME thanking a copywriter for increasing their conversions from 0.58% to 0.7%. Although that was a 21% improvement, it was still a 99.3% failure rate!

There will almost always be a high rate of wastage, but you can improve your results quite easily, and at no extra cost.

Here are 10 elements to include in sales letters to transform results:

1. Strapline: at the top of the page, it sets the scene for the Headline’s ‘come on’.
2. Headline: absolutely essential, it must contain your strongest ‘come on’ and is worth 90% of your budget. (What – you don’t have a headline?!).
3. Sub-heads: these are short headlines in bold type that break up the text and project a series of benefits, while making it easy for readers to skim read.
4. Problem/solution: the best structure.
5. Stories: they illustrate your message in memorable ways and allow you to make your points indirectly.
6. Bullet points: use these to make your letter more visually interesting.
7. Testimonials: third party endorsements are powerful.
8. Transitions: these bridge the gaps between different ideas and maintain the flow.
9. Call to action: Always tell people what to do next, but first make sure you have given them enough reasons to accept your offer.
10. PS: this is the third most read part of a sales letter (after the Headline and salutation) and should never be omitted.

In addition, elegant language and good grammar play important parts, but I assume these are ‘given’. The 10 points listed above are all in the armoury of good copywriters.

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Changing the headline can make a BIG difference!

Advertising gurus like David Ogilvy and others have long maintained that the headline is worth 90% of your advertising spend. It has also been written that a change of headline can produce an uplift of up to 10 times the previous level of response.

As a direct response copywriter, I believe implicitly in testing, so I decided to get my own results.

Recently I posted a blog on Ecademy and titled it “Poison kills the Big Society”. Not bad, I thought … carries the message. But after a couple of days the blog had registered about 240 views and one comment.

I then changed the headline to “What has made this nation so vicious?” The viewing figure rocketed upwards, and this morning stands at 1,221 with 11 additional comments.

What has made the difference?

Two things, in my opinion: first, the original headline invoked a reaction to a specific concept, The Big Society, whereas the second headline prompted an opinion that anyone could have, whether or not they knew what the Big Society meant. Secondly, it asked a question, which invited a response.

The purpose of a headline is to signal a target group and to say, in effect, “Stop! This is for you!” It should be consistent with the body copy and say enough about the story to enable people to respond without reading any further. Ogilvy said that Headlines get five times the readership of the body copy.

My second headline was more universal and invited participation. But there are other reasons why headlines work. I’d be interested to know what you think about the four headlines below – would they make you want to know more?

• They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but when I started to play! –
• Will you only discover the value of AA membership by accident?
• My 9 year old son’s reading & sums were worse than when he was 7
• Cash if you die. Cash if you don’t.

Is it time to refresh the copy on your website, for example?


Filed under copywriting, Direct Marketing

Open up your creativity

What is Creativity?

It is the ability to solve a problem, see something that others do not see, represent a commonplace thing or notion in a new or novel way.

It is the ability to spot an ‘angle’ – some unexpected or beneficial attribute that has the potential to produce a desirable outcome. It does not have to be completely original, except in the way it applies to the current situation.

Here are some pointers to awaken your own creativity. It can give you the edge in business.

The Art of Problem Definition

Technical people are often self-limiting: they believe that the facts speak for themselves. This is known as the ‘engineer’s mentality’.

Engineers, however, need to be creative. They need to look for new solutions, and use their training to solve riddles and substantiate their findings.

Marvin Minsky, co-founder of the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, believes creative thinking involves two components: courage and critical thinking.

Burt Swersey, lecturer in mechanical engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic, teaches students a methodology for creative product development, including these steps:

1. Define the problem. Get past the obvious, and find answers that are valid all the time.

2. State the objectives. Don’t limit yourself by considering only what seems possible. Be visual, create flow charts.

3. Generate multiple alternatives. What other means are there of achieving the same result?

4. Evaluate alternatives. Create models and determine how each meets customer needs.

5. Build. Turn theory into practice.

A good starting place is to sit with another person somewhere other than your usual desk, (a) to get free of your ‘usual’ mind set, and (b) to get someone else’s perspective on the issue. Choose a topic that excites you, or a problem you need to solve.

Next, write the topic at the top of a sheet of paper and brainstorm the matter together, writing down all the ideas that you can think of in relation to that topic. No editing (i.e. reject nothing at this stage), as that can interrupt the creative flow. See what emerges.

Practise brainstorming regularly. It will open up your creativity.

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Let me tell you a story …

Make a point, tell a story; tell a story, make a point. That’s an easy enough mantra to follow in speeches and presentations, but what kind of story should you tell?

The three factors that work in story telling are:
1. They illustrate the point and are easy to understand and remember
2. We are all conditioned, from childhood, to like stories
3. They can connect with your listeners’ backgrounds

The first two are fairly obvious, but the third one often surprises people when I raise it during my training courses. Backgrounds?

Let’s take an extreme example, just to make the point. Suppose you are pitching to the owner of a small business. Did you stop to consider why he started that business? One such small business owner told me, only the other day, “I started this business because no one would give me a job.”

Another (geeky) micro business owner told me his technical expertise is such that he is always in demand, and he doesn’t have to market himself.

For people like them, you may want to avoid stories about gregarious situations and talk, instead, about self sufficiency and the virtues of independence. Talk about the injustice of bureaucracy and the triumph of the ‘small’ over the ‘large’.

At the same time, be aware of your own background story, and avoid pleading your own position. Remember, the main purpose of the story is to advance your business case, not to entertain or to beat the drum of self interest.

Think about how movies can touch your own emotions. That’s the power of story telling.Go ye and do likewise.


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Who would you trust to sharpen your presentation skills?

Is presentation skills training a waste of time and money?

Sadly, most of the time it is. Presentation Skills courses have attracted some opprobrium because they can be ‘same old, same old’ – routine trudges through PowerPoint slides and cliché-ridden accounts of platform skills. And soon afterwards people return to what they were doing before. (Hand on heart, have you changed the way you present, after being on such a course?)

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Presentations should never be linear descriptions of a business offering, with slides in attendance, however slickly put together. They should be about reaching the hearts of your hearers and bringing about a change in their thinking, attitudes or behaviour.

Not everyone knows how to bring that about. But the best speakers do.

Let me ask you this: if you were looking for some tennis coaching, would you prefer to engage Roger Federer or someone who qualified through a tennis academy? I would choose Federer in a heartbeat, for two reasons:

1. Roger knows everything that a tennis coach can tell you
2. In addition, he knows what it takes to win

Any number of coaches can teach you technique. A champion can give you something extra. Technique is something you need to practise, anyway, if you want to be good. What you get from a champion is insight into what it takes to be ‘special’.

Business presentations should be designed to achieve results. They should also project that certain ‘specialness’ which lies at the heart of your business proposition. If you’d like to know more about that, give me a call.

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