Is your company’s brand doing its job?

Everyone’s talking about Brand … many brand managers promote it to the exclusion of sales! Now that’s pretty ass-backwards, eh.

But everyone assumes their brand is doing its job, and supporting new and ongoing customer relationships. Their agency does all they can to make the client feel that way!  But, more often than not, a company’s brand is not doing its job. Is yours?

It’s easy to fall off track – in some cases, no true understanding of a company’s brand has ever been established. There are lots of ’branding agencies’ out there who are simply designing logos but don’t really have a clue as to how to define or grow a brand.

Really doing it right – defining your brand, establishing it, supporting it – is not an easy task. It’s not something for the ego-driven agency who wants to win awards. It’s not for the client who is hoping to get kudos in the company meetings.

And — It’s not something that just happen on its own – it must be worked on with sincere effort and in most cases an outside eye or guidance to hit the mark. But it’s well worth some concentrated effort to get it right.

What is “brand”?

It’s MUCH more than a logo or a tagline; it’s your company’s DNA. Without a thorough understanding of your brand – and a clear definition of it – you’re missing the most important key to your success now, and in the future.

Historically in direct selling, brand was not considered important, or even relevant until the mid to late 90s.  In fact, brand advertising was scoffed at by direct marketing folks who themselves were attuned to measurement of response.

Even today, the imbalance in over all expenditure between ‘brand’ work and direct selling is mind-boggling. I’ve been inside tech companies where they were wringing their hands over whether to spend $500,000 to have a single outdoor board up for six months, or to spend it on a direct marketing campaign to measurably generate quality leads and renew customer relationships. D’oh! They think an outdoor board is an essential step in branding. So far from the truth!

In today’s world of convergent marketing, establishment of your brand, and your brand itself is an essential tool your relationships with your customers, and your bottom line. But it has to be done with wisdom and careful expenditures in appropriate channels — not thrown into the most visible to a world that frankly doesn’t care or need to care about your product. Brand matters to the customer who is YOUR customer. All the rest is money down the drain.

Historically powerful brands

Think of the brands that you know by heart – and how they present themselves. L.L. Bean may not be the same old merchant it used to be, but the basics of the LL Bean brand are still strongly evident.

First and foremost, it’s about complete customer satisfaction.  It’s also about family, friends, and clean living that favors and celebrates the outdoors.  It’s about quality and goodness, the kind that will never go out of fashion. Test this brand as you peruse their many catalogs, visit their website, read their emails … it’s consistent and it’s all theirs.

A well-established and true brand endures through time and difficulty. Tylenol survived the poisoning incident in the 70s. Martha Stewart’s brand has come roaring back stronger than ever even after she spent five months in the slammer.  Williams Sonoma grows and expands, but in the words of its founder, Chuck Williams,  they’re known for “Quality good enough to last a lifetime”. Williams emphasized from the start that he would never sell anything he didn’t like or appreciate its beauty and functionality. That is one of the key elements to their very successful brand.

Brand is so important, it is to your advantage to establish it in writing, in your emails, in your catalog or on your website, using the form of a vision statement or mission. And when it’s present, the emphasis must be upon what your brand means to the customer in terms of advantages and benefits.

Check out Harry & David’s website and you’ll find their ‘guiding principles’ – it’s a great template to start your own thoughts on how you express your brand to your customers.

Where will brand show up?

When well-established, your brand shows up in far more than your logo. It will be part of your company culture, effecting customer service, merchandising, your offers, employee benefits, fulfillment, and of course, creative.  Your guarantee is a reflection of your brand as it pertains to customer confidence.

It also shows up in the company you keep (relationships with the community and with other like-minded companies), and even your PR.

How do I know my brand is relevant?

I highly recommend a few kinds of research to check, double check or even establish a valid brand positioning for your company. E-research is very valuable and affordable, but there are other options too.  And of course, plan on spending ample time speaking directly to customers and to your customer service personnel who spend many hours a day speaking with customers.

Through this research you will be able to cull a ‘vocabulary’ of language that defines your brand, and categorize these words so that you know how and when to use them to sell products, establish relationships and more.

You’ll also learn what language you are using now that is inappropriate to your customer.  In addition, you get a much clearer view of your customer, which will empower your merchandise selection and what directions you can effectively grow your company.

The language you develop will be key to identifying and communicating your value propositions as well as your core identity.

Does everyone need to work on brand?

There are some companies who tend more than others to lose their way when it comes to a well established and valid brand. Those companies in which the founder is no longer present sometimes lose the ‘heart and soul’ of their brand – the keeper of the ‘flame’ so to speak. With the financial advantages that happen through the sale of a catalog comes this disadvantage. It takes sincere diligence and continuation of longstanding employee relationships to keep it intact.

Companies who have grown ‘seat of their pants’ without brand being part of the mix often find themselves with multiple logos and no real establishment of good brand practice. These companies are at high risk of being eaten alive by their more organized competitors who look more stable and trustworthy if their own brand is better established. If this is you, it’s time to take a serious look at brand across the board, and once it’s established in a unified way, police it with vigor to keep everyone on track.

If your customer base has changed a lot since you first established your catalog, it’s important to revisit brand to find out who you really are speaking to at this point. You could find yourself using a brand that doesn’t ring true enough to your customer base – and they are more likely to leave for your competition when that happens.

8 steps toward a more powerful brand identity

These steps should serve as a checklist for you to review where your brand shows up, how valid it is to your customer base, and opportunities you have yet to explore.

1. Understand your customers, both existing and incoming – and acknowledge customer behavior

2. Know who your opportunities lie with, and don’t abandon your core customer group

3. Link all communication they have with your customers – silos hinder brand strength

4. Set standards and expectations for all contacts made – keeping the bar high with no exceptions

5. Map out and plan the total customer experience and relationship, right from the start. When changes occur, look at the whole plan, and don’t band-aid solutions

6. Clarify your selling and service proposition
across all their internal network
– for consistent customer experience …

• Merchandise quality
• Service, including customer service, fulfillment, etc

7. Never omit the basics of solid marketing:
• great offers
• quality, intelligent and focused creative
• personal service for one-on-one experience

8. Seek out partnerships with companies whose customers have similar demographics and psychographics – including merchants and even service providers – to support and grow their brand

 Last thoughts

When you take on this brand project remember that you are unlikely to be able to take an unbiased path doing it all internally. As one of our marketing research affiliates describes it, “when it’s done internally, the research results are most often tainted because there is nobody in the company who does not have a view of where the company should be going”.  It’s just human nature.

The team you DO use internally should be kept small and focused – ‘grandfather’ research in a company, or asking random opinions, is more likely than not to drive the process off track. Keep in mind that people’s opinions often do not match actual response activity – thus the reason why even with research, we back-test in the real world.

Your work on your brand fine tuning or actual establishment is a great investment, but establish a budget to get it done and set a timeline so that the project doesn’t drift out to sea. In the heat of daily work, a project like this can lose its place in the chain – but it’s a project and an outcome that can move you more successfully into the coming years.

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Pitch your product with passion: enjoy improved sales!

When we think of those infamous sales pitches on TV, we immediately think, “That’s not MY style!” Yet while we cringe at aggressive step-by-step and example-driven selling, most people who watch those commercials find themselves transfixed by the demonstrations and personal language that exemplifies these selling approaches.  Nobody wants to come across like that—but boy, oh boy, would we ever like to get their sales numbers!

One would think that in an economy such as ours this past year, we’d see multichannel sellers of product and services trying many new tactics to engage and capture more customers—but it’s been my observation that many companies are frozen in place and not willing to step out and test some new, yet historically proven approaches.  And one of the most obvious places this shows up is in the creative.

Look at it this way:  if nothing’s working now, it’s time to take a bit of a risk with methodology that works well for others, even if you’ve never thought to try it yourself before.

This stalemate is everywhere—from American automobile manufacturers to books to college course catalogs.  They keep doing the same thing over and over, thinking that THIS time it will work.  Someone told me once that one definition of insanity was someone doing the same thing repeatedly when it always comes out with the same disappointing result.  I must concur.  Sometimes the areas we’re the most fearful to stretch into aren’t really such a stretch.  And often, that stretch is positive.

So if you’re selling your goods and services with “safe” and possibly stale language, this upcoming new year is a chance to turn over a new leaf, summon up some guts and gumption, and think like the world’s most successful salespeople.  You don’t have to be Ron Popeil or Billy Mays—you just need to do a better job connecting to your customer through more gutsy or more personal copy.

For example, here’s a current copy approach from a piece I just pulled from my mailbox—a catalog that is not doing so well right now:

This soft ribbed turtleneck in versatile four-season silk and nylon is the perfect weight for wearing alone or slipped under a jacket.

Yaaaawwwn. This certainly does nothing to draw us in, or even keep us awake.

How about a different approach—the “YOU” approach, with some spunk…
Your wardrobe can’t possibly have too many soft ribbed turtlenecks. Ours is in gentle-as-a-feather silk and nylon, perfect for that layer that doesn’t add bulk under a jacket, or as an alluring single layer.

Now, this approach has more guts—and when you read it as a consumer you realize that the immediate suggestion for multiple purchases is certainly different, and not uncalled-for.  This copy may not be what you believe you would purchase from—but then again, you are probably not the target market.  One of the most serious flaws in creative and copywriting is the lack of that understanding that we are rarely the audience for the goods we’re selling.  The key to your customer’s heart is speaking to them in a voice they will listen to.

Here’s another example out of today’s mailbox, from a B2B offer:

Aeron – Highly adjustable improved comfort without traditional fabric
This chair has all the advanced ergonomic adjustments and air flow technology to make long-term sitting a breeze. Aeron’s back and seat are also made of a unique mesh suspension system called Pellicle, to support and distribute your weight evenly…

Again, as someone who sees boring copy like this in my mailbox all the time, this is nothing that tells me:  1. Why I would buy from this particular company, and 2. How this chair really feels and why I should spend over $500 on it—and why here, when this same product is available for the same price from multiple retailers.

Even the headline has me confused: improved comfort? Improved over what – what it was before? How is that a useful measurement for someone who has never had one of these chairs?

So what would happen if they had copy like this?

Aeron – 8 ergonomic settings custom-fit this chair to perfection. Your body deserves it!
After long hours in your work chair, what part of your body hurts most? Your back? Your butt? Your legs? Here’s the thing: you never have to hurt again! At [store name] we’ve test-driven dozens of chairs, and while no chair is perfect for everyone, this pleased more of our long-haul-sitters than anything else on the market.

While my suggestion is unconventional, the language is personal, empathetic, and engaging.  It also doesn’t have junk in it like the ‘a breeze’ phrase, which is supposed to make you feel cool and comfortable but actually feels a little creepy.  Are you sitting on the chair naked?  If you were the customer, who would you think had more experience trying out and selling chairs—the first company or the second one?  Based on experience and testing, the second approach would be a clear winner in terms of both selling and relationship-building with the future customer.

Caution:  this technique has power, but if handled by an amateur or a first-year copywriter, this could run amok in a hurry!! They start getting clever just to show you how interesting they are, but they forget that they should be selling a product, not showing off.  Copy like this takes years of study and a deep understanding of your customer’s soft spots and triggers.  It’s also essential to keep it pared down so the customer will actually “get it.”

Whatever you’re marketing, timid, fearful and generic copy just doesn’t cut it.  Now is the time to be bold.  Try this new, gutsier copy style on some of your products, and measure as best you can what happens.  Don’t use it on the “dead” products—instead, try it on the products you know customers want but you believe more would buy if they only knew how great the product is.

This more personal and powerful copy approach is a much more likely way to help prospects and returning customers see the light and buy from you instead of someone else.

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Personality PLUS: The Copywriter’s Secret Weapon

This article was just posted in a Direct Marketing Association email promoting the October 2013 conference in Chicago. To get information about the conference, and to access articles such as mine, be sure to sign up for emails from the DMA.

Here’s this week’s email that includes the link to my article:

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May 1, 2013 · 12:20 pm

Hot Potatoes that Demand Response!

When you think of the children’s game, “Hot Potato, Cold Potato” its quick pace is a good reminder of the spontaneity that we want in direct marketing. You toss something at them, and they have an urge to do something with it. (Hopefully, not toss it in the trash.)

An offer like a weekend package, with a deadline, is one of the hottest potatoes out there. Using graphics to indicate this is a different kind of mailing and you have a winner in the mail.

Action in a positive direction — generating a sale or a good lead — is coveted by all of us who do direct marketing work, and there are ways to encourage that response action dramatically. I call these little tricks “hot potatoes”, and they’re useful tactics that will liven up response to your website, email, catalog or direct mail.

Now, in order to choose the best hot potato for your effort you must get to know your customer, to find out what they’ll react or respond to. You also need a creative team who know how to sell a product or service and have enthusiasm for the things that bump up response.

This highlights the difference is between having a graphic designer or a writer produce an effort (many of these folks don’t really like what it takes to make a piece sell – like that’s a dirty thing!), and a true marketing designer or direct marketing writer who has heightened awareness of the need for response.

Hot potatoes can be visual grabbers that demand attention such as 3-D packages, lumpy packages or textured papers, if you’re talking about mail. On an ecommerce site, they might be something that’s content-driven, such as a chance to win something or an involvement device. For any media, a really rockin’ headline that intrigues the viewer makes your effort hot. When I think of the world’s most powerful grabber headlines, I invariably turn to Bill Jayme’s famous headline for Psychology Today: “Do you close the bathroom door, even when you’re the only one home?”

Offers of course can be stupendous hot potatoes — but to make them hot they must be something really great, AND you must have a short deadline that’s big enough for people to notice it right away. Think of an offer that your audience would really love to have – a new gadget, or something that plays to their emotional side. Something useful for the recipient, or something they might just be able to ‘re-gift’.

In B2B often an information premium that’s brand new and compelling is a powerful offer. These things can be much stronger than dollars-off, and they can help you build more loyalty, too. The company, New Pig, a business that sells goods to reduce the spread of hazardous chemical spills, water, and has safety kits for factories and plants, spends very little apiece on a series of wacky pig-related gifts that become collectibles to the folks who buy from New Pig.

A headline teaser like this certainly makes the reader sit up and take notice. The massive response this package drew in was proof positive that sometimes a great concept saves the day.

Even if an audience is not attuned to receiving direct marketing, or direct mail, the right gift or offer can turn that around. An example of this is a package that we did for a client with a web portal they were seeking to move to many sites. These people really hated direct mail, but when we developed a teaser on the outgoing envelope that asked “What do you get when you cross Elvis, Einstein, Godzilla, Influenza and Super Glue?” they couldn’t resist looking inside to see what this was.

This was an audience who liked quirky and different things, and we filled that need with such a wacky headline, which did in fact pay off. Then, the offer was a brand new Elvis CD collection. The response was through the roof, and the responders were qualified and worth the effort. Now, this was direct mail, but can you imagine seeing that line as a teaser in your email? It still works!

My client Paul at Wine of the Month Club has used email teasers such as “What goes down better, red wine or white wine?” and then followed that particular one with a funny video where they take the wine they didn’t like — these wines are culled from the offerings of Wine of the Month Club so you’ll never taste them — where they dropped two bottles simultaneously from the top of a building, to see if one fell faster. This is pretty wacky stuff … but these emails, with their grabber teasers and videos, followed by the sale of a product that’s in short supply, are the perfect example of a hot potato. Looking to get people to sign up for your website email?

If you haven’t tried a sweeps like a monthly drawing, offering something cool that the visitor would like, they you’re missing out on a lot of traffic. Offers like that are often viral. Of course, with any of these things — offers, teasers, and anything else that might be a hot potato — the key to success is setting up a solid testing structure and pursuing it to learn what works best for your audience.

When we worked for Isuzu during its heyday, there were clear winners among our tests, including Swiss Army Knives, traveling coolers, backpacks and even those twisty flashlights. There were offers that seemed hot but simply didn’t perform. Testing is what helped us make the program over-the-top successful.

A wacky scenario like this is just different enough to get the attention of the media buyers for whom it was targeted. Imagine media so powerful it stops a wedding in its tracks, and relentlessly draws the bride to the TV.

Any effort you’re doing in your marketing program can benefit from the infusion of hot potatoes. Take a moment and look at what you’re sending out to your customers and prospects — and you’ll be able to see whether you are using a hot potato or not. If you’d like me to review an effort you have and discuss ideas for your own hot potato, don’t hesitate to contact me for a critique. Cheers!

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The secret weapon that drives qualified prospects to your site: direct mail

Now that the dust has settled in the web world, ecommerce players are finally past the ‘trying to stay alive’ phase and are seeking ways to grow.

The ultimate survivors have been catalogs, who have mailed aggressively for years and utilize their catalog to draw the great majority of traffic that enters their sites.  They also utilize the mailing of their catalog to remind their customer base of the products on the web, and catalog mailing is actually at its best performance when reactivating customers – I’m sure this is no surprise.

Their close cousins, eCommerce Sites (without a printed catalog) depended for the past few years on the availability of unsolicited email as one growth option, plus the various search engines, banners and technology that would entice prospects into their site. But the truth is, once they turn to direct mail (and printed catalogs), that’s when their numbers start growing profitably.

We all know what’s happened to unsolicited emails.  But, aside from that, what makes direct mail so appealing, even with  those other e-alternatives? It’s the power of today’s mailing lists.

With the capability of digging through databases to identify your prospects in order to match the profile of your best customers, direct mail can deliver more hits to eCommerce sites out of sheer volume – direct mail lists are deep and can be very accurate.  While your average order sizes may be higher for the web-generated hits, both direct mail and web-generated prospecting need to be part of your healthy marketing mix.

And the juicy part of mail, of course, is that by contacting experienced buyers from catalog and mail (the mailing lists used should have that feature), you’ve got access to the top tier of prospects… the ones who are willing to buy, sight unseen and untouched, and have it sent to them. Laugh if you want but that number never seems to get much above 50% of the US audience, willing to suspend fear of a failed purchase and buying in other than retail.

DMB Realty Sliverleaf landing page and brochure cover

Seduction by hotbuttons

Nearly any company who has a web site can benefit from using smart, well-executed direct mail to draw attention to the site. DMB Realty has, for example, developed a program that includes direct mail and space advertising to draw prospects into their site.  The mailing lists they use weed out all but the highest level prospect who might be interested in, and be able to afford, a multimillion dollar property.

Silverleaf direct mail brochure doubles as lead generation collateral

When the mail drops, DMB sees a surge of activity on their site – although out of their need for privacy, many won’t actually register at the site until they feel they’re truly ready to look at the property. Meanwhile, at the web, the prospect gains in-depth knowledge about the progress on the properties, the golf course and clubhouse, and even get a sense of who their neighbors might be. Direct mail with this much information would be unwieldy and inappropriate for lead-generation… but the web is a perfect place for all those details.

Notice one of the key ingredients to the success of this combination – the brand is apparent in all of them.  Through careful consideration and development of brand standards, DMB set the stage for what is a relatively cohesive program between direct mail, space advertising and web. While those standards must be adjusted here and there, the outcome still has that strong, branded look.

For example, the brand called for some paper choices that were luxurious, but expensive. Manufactured envelopes of the suggested paper would have been difficult to address without smearing, and also might have looked uninteresting in the mail with its smooth surface. We chose instead to manufacture the OE, letter and reply form from a ‘classic columns’ paper that’s rarely seen in the mailbox – and would likely get the attention of a high-level prospect.  All of the paper choices, including the brochure, were downgraded but none of the elements looked cheap. The savings from that came to many thousands of dollars in paper alone! These were necessary breaks from their brand standards.

However, in the long run, what really mattered the most was the ‘act of seduction’ that took place when the direct mail landed in the prospect’s mailbox – showing the golf course, the privacy, the unspoiled beauty of the area were just the hot buttons needed to generate acceptance by the prospect. The repetition of those hot buttons at the site increased the prospect’s comfort level when they ventured from the printed piece into the web.

QCharts direct mail elements address each concern an investor may have.

Showing your prospect a brighter future

Another example of driving activity to the web using direct mail is Terra Lycos and their online financial/investment service, QCharts.  The pictures you see here confirm again how consistently the brand look and feel is supported in the direct mail, so that when a prospect arrives at the web, they know they’re in the right place and will likely stay and look around.

However, notice again where the differences are: in the actual copy/concept. In order for direct mail to be responsive, it needs to address the hotbuttons of the prospect as soon as possible. This particular package confirms the fact that making money is, for this prospect, ‘what it’s all about’ …. And QCharts is just the tool they need to make more of it.  So the mail is far more conceptual and hardhitting than the site, since it has the task of driving the recipient into the web, prepared to consider the service.

It doesn’t have to be complicated … but it had better be good.

While direct mail is at its most trustworthy as a solid direct mail package, often times the postcard or self mailer is a fine way to pull prospects into your site. Again, the most important elements of this mail are addressing your prospects needs and seducing them with the promise your product or service can deliver, in a compelling way.

The effort it takes to produce a great postcard is sorely underestimated.  I frequently receive postcards that look carelessly designed, given to a junior, poor copy and so on.   Just a little more effort could make these cards so much better a site activity generator. For example, a stock photo sends me a postcard to announce the fact that they have a fantastic array of unusual photos, such as those from National Geographic. Their fatal flaw on the big picture side is in the execution – they chose a very complicated photo, and the card image is so confusing that it loses all appeal.

The other, huge error by many who send out postcards is remembering what the customer sees first. Yes, there are great deals on postcards with a process color on one side and black ink only on the other side. But considering that the prospect sees the address side facing up, that most often means that the prospect will be confronted with a boring, type-only card with their address on it. And the chances (statistically) that they’ll turn it over are surprisingly small.  So that savings in the printing  (color on both sides typically doesn’t even add 20% more to the printing cost)  is penny wise, pound foolish, since response is depressed.

Let’s be clear – you have something on your site that you want them to see.  You want the site to look like a place they’d like to explore. Therefore, both sides of your card need to be glorious color and show off your site and its offerings at their best. Your prospect needs to see variety to draw them into your site. You can choose a hero for the big picture side – or one hero and three separate smaller insets – but it must be absolutely clear what you’re selling, and it needs to look really good, or you’ve wasted your money.

Cost effective and highly effective: offer-driven mail to Isuzu prospects generated new customers and great ROI

Make me an offer

Probably one of the strongest tools in effective direct marketing – mail included – is an offer.  Yet most mailings meant to drive prospects to the web completely miss out on that.  An offer doesn’t need to be expensive, it just needs to be something imaginative and something that sweetens the pot so your prospect will take that extra few minutes to visit your site. After all, this is their time you’re asking for … and these days, time is an extremely valuable commodity.

If you’re a site like QCharts, that offer could be a free ‘test drive’ of your software or service site. If you’re an automotive company looking to draw prospects to the web to see your latest vehicle, you might try a monthly polo-shirt giveaway for all who register at your site and answer a few questions. If you’re a restaurant chain trying to show people your new menu, posted on your site, you can offer them a printable coupon for a free dessert when they come and register, and look over your improved menu.

There’s a stock photo company out there who has monthly drawings for gadgets like iPods, and every time you visit the site and check in, you get another entry into the drawing.  If you’re a wine merchant, you can’t offer free wine (by law) but you CAN have a sweeps for a trip for two to wine country, or a colorful free bottlestopper worth $12 retail when they make their first purchase of $60 or more.

These offers are very little money in the grand scheme of things, but they make your direct mail – and your site – newsworthy. And that’s one of the ingredients needed to get your prospects logging on to your site.

Mail that doesn’t ask them to do anything…huh?

As a frequent customer of Southwest Airlines, i get a nice - and often funny - birthday card annually.

One of my favorite kinds of mailings is the well-timed Thank You mailing. For a company like Southwest Airlines, who needs the majority of their prospects to visit the web, it’s a bold move to maintain a birthday card mailing for every customer in their database. Every year I get one, and it never, ever promotes the site – it just wishes me “plenty of birthday cheer to go around”. And as hokey as this may sound, this just plain feels good.  It reminds me of the nice individuals who make up Southwest, whose primary function it is to get us on planes quickly and efficiently, and deliver  us safely home.  They don’t need to put their website address, or a free drink coupon, or even a phone number in this mailing. The sheer power of its sincerity pays off for Southwest time and again, making their customers visit their website to order tickets, again and again.

How can I tell if it’s working?

Of course, a key to discovering what your ROI is in these direct mail efforts is to measure them religiously and accurately – this is very possible with the web, through individualized landing pages and other technology – and testing efforts against each other to find out which one brings you the best customer for your site. After you run your program and continue to track that customer activity, you’ll be able to determine your ROI. For some of you, you’ll have that information in a matter of months. For some lead generation programs for expensive items like real estate or automotive, it may take six months or a year. Be patient and keep testing and measuring.

If you’ve never tried using direct mail before to promote web activity, or if you have, and it’s been disappointing,  now’s the time to try this vibrant media out again, using this article as a checklist. When you do, you’ll discover how direct mail can help your site grow and flourish with an ROI you can live with. And if you’re frustrated by a mail effort and want to brainstorm on what happened, I’d be glad to check out the effort and help you get your breakthrough.

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A baker’s dozen creative ideas make your catalog more responsive.

It’s said that “enough drops of water can become a river”. That’s true in your catalog effort too. Every little step you do to make your catalog more successful will add up. With perseverance and great product, and utilizing the following ideas, you can get a river of sales flowing into your coffers.

  1. Add copy to your covers:Testing proves time and again that a catalog cover with copy outperforms one without — much to many creatives’ chagrin. But this makes sense. The most newsworthy things get our attention most quickly. Notice the newsstands near grocery checkout and you can see, they’ve figured out how to get someone to take a look! Even with a photo of a popular celebrity, it’s still not enough “juice” to get away with plain cover that doesn’t tell the customer why they need to open up and look.

    For this Crazy Shirts catalog, the cover with
    the teasers pulled in 124% more in sales.
  2. Make a list of your core competencies and your unique selling propositions. Often catalogs are so merchandise-focused that they can’t separate themselves long enough to see that, from the outside, consumers need more clues as to what makes you the one they should buy from.  It’s time to interview customers and ask them, what words or phrases that describe why they come to you. If there are benefits such as exclusive products or handmade goods or exceptional customer service, that don’t show up in the discussion, it’s time to rethink your positioning.
  3. Make the back of your catalog work harder. Got one product for sale on the back cover? Try two or three! Got any teasers into key spots inside the catalog? If not, it’s time you did! Got different price points and categories of products on the back cover? If not, you’re not telling the whole story. Your back cover has to tell a more complete story and work even harder than the front cover. Remember that when you put it off ‘til the last minute… like everyone else does. This back cover is actually the thing you should be working on FIRST.

    For both B2B or consumer catalogs, the back cover still has a lot of work to do. Its most important jobs – selling product, and getting customers inside. 
  4. Think of your catalog as a “Paper Salesman”TM it represents all the best of who you are to your prospects. It steps through all the selling steps to engage a prospect, answer their questions, and call for action. It keeps your customer or prospect interested via design and copy that is thoughtful and compelling. Every product in your catalog deserves its day in the sun – and you don’t feel it’s worth it to do a 100% sales effort for a product, then that product is wasting space in your book. Don’t fall for the ‘it’s there because it just has to be there.” even if it’s a poor performer.  Put those things on your website where space is cheap.
  5. Paginate for sales, not for merchandising.   I’ve seen some extraordinary leaps in response when we repaginated a book that had been plugging along at a low level for many years. People have changed so much in terms of shopping habits, and even what kind of features get their attention, and they continue to change. Create a smart, marketing-driven pagination that is reflective of your customer base and who you are marketing to – and who YOU are.
  6. Make it easy to find things in your book. I’ve heard a million reasons why catalogs don’t have tables of contents, and none of them are in the customer’s best interest. A table of contents does not need to take up much room, but it’s one of the most commented-on and called-upon features in your entire catalog! How do you know you need one? When your customers give up on the catalog completely and only go online when they need something. Beware – your catalog is the thing that works harder to establish your brand and customer loyalty, so if you become only a website to them, you’ll eventually lose their business.
  7. Make it easy to read your book. Teeny little reversed-out type might please a twenty-something graphic designer, but to anyone with money it’s a total turnoff. And it’s not about taste or even style, it’s about human physiology. You can’t make someone read something they find uncomfortable to read. While magazines get away with it on occasion, most have turned back to a much more practical and easy-reading format.
  8. Add an offer to your catalog.A good offer is what’s needed to get customers  moving right NOW to order. Those of you who have been disappointed with offer strategy just haven’t tried enough offers and tactics. If you need to brainstorm on this to find the best offer, go outside and speak with experienced pros who have done lots of offer strategy in a wide range of products and services.  And don’t be afraid that once you start doing an offer, you can never go without one again. Just use different levels of offers so that people won’t “expect it” every time, and you can do it without it costing you a lot of money. And meanwhile you can also increase customer loyalty.Testing of offers is an essential step to finding the right one.


  9. Consider how the human brain is wired. Reader gravity is an extremely powerful way to choreograph your customer’s movements across a spread, picking up items for their shopping cart. Many consider it hocus pocus, but I’ve seen with my own eyes (and by the response clients have told me about) that this kind of thoughtful and strategic thinking is well worth the extra bit of time it takes to get it right.
  10. Use a designer that embraces response and makes it a priority.  Probably only 1 out of 100 designers know about reader gravity or comprehension through proper use of typography and color. And sadly, the great majority of them simply don’t care. But, it’s not THEIR money being spent to mail the catalog — it’s YOURS. And it certainly is your problem if your income and your job are depending on this being a successful mailing.How do you find out if a designer is an advocate for your success? Ask them how past work has done. Ask them for response numbers – not just ‘it did well” or “customers loved it” or “the client loved it”. These are mealy-mouthed phrases for “I don’t know and I didn’t ask”.
  11. Use a real copywriter who loves to SELL.Often the copy for catalog products ends up being the merchant or — oh NO! — the designer. A great copywriter knows that selling is their business, and they write copy to sell your product, not just describe it. A great writer will ask you for unique selling propositions, and they want to see, touch and try the product so they can understand why someone would want it. They don’t rely solely on product sheets to get their information.Yes, this takes time and it often costs more than hiring a “wrist” who calls themselves a writer. But I’ve seen great copy alone increase sales by hundreds of thousands of dollars in tests I’ve participated in. Not sure to hire? Ask around, or (to be self-serving!) talk to us! We enthusiastically sell our clients’ products through compelling copy, every day, and we love to see our clients thrive through stronger creative!
  12. Wondering if your catalog will do better with a change in creative (or anything else)?  Test it! Testing does not have to cost a fortune and if done properly and scientifically it will prove itself a valued ally in the drive for better response. It is so worthwhile to test creative and offers that it should be built into every annual mailing plan and budget. Test first using email or your website, and then once you have a feel for it, do a real on-paper test to confirm results.
  13. Can’t afford to test it?  Research it!  For a smaller budget, it’s possible to utilize research such as eResearch (not focus groups and certainly not ‘grandmother research’) to figure out what rings the bells of your house file customer, and your prospect.  To get the most accurate research done, I highly recommend you look outside your company for an unbiased research pro.Why? First, you’ll get the best and truest readings when you use an outside resource who’s expert in eResearch. My experience has been that research done internally (by an internal team who answers to an internal boss) will always be tainted to some degree regardless of all best intentions. It’s human nature to tend to turn things just a tiny bit to create a hoped-for outcome… especially when everyone wants it to be so.  A proven professional research specialist will tell you the truth and has the discipline and the lack of buy-in on the outcome to keep the study on the straight and narrow – and they’ll work with you to interpret results at the end so you can plan your next steps.

If you’re looking for ways to incorporate any of the ideas I’ve presented here into your own catalog, feel free to give me a call at 408-269-6871 and we can discuss what’s worked for you and what’s not working. Together we can determine a course of action to get your cash register ringing!


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Copwriting and design in the face of a struggling economy

I read in the news recently that the holiday season this year revealed new consumer behavior compared to a few years ago. Eschewing credit cards, a significant number of shoppers have reverted to cash-only. He or she arrives at the store with shopping lists in tow to keep their focus narrowed so they won’t get distracted into spending more than they planned.


This consumer behavior — while very wise, considering the state of the economy — increases retailers’ challenge to sell direct. Consumers today are trying with all their might to resist the emotional buying habits they’ve fallen victim to before.

Of course, we’ve been talking about this struggling economy for so long, it seems like old news. Despite the rays of hope seen recently, retailers are a long way from the robust spending days they enjoyed for so long, I’m afraid to say.

Copywriters and designers should consider the mood of their audience in order to create attention-grabbing headlines and design.

Creative teams should also understand how to sell to an audience that’s more reluctant to part with their cash than they were two years ago.

Does this mean that your message has to be strictly about belt tightening, doom and gloom? No, not at all.

That said, there’s a careful balance that must be dealt with in today’s marketing campaigns. Remember, this is sensitive territory.

Successfully selling in this difficult environment requires a keen understanding of the selling process. Every good creative person — i.e., copywriter or designer — should know these steps. Messaging must then be fine-tuned so that it’s applicable to consumers in a strapped economy.

Use Creative as the Salesman
If you’ve ever read books written by experienced salespeople, you must be familiar with the process they use to make a sale:

1. Get prospects’ attention with something they care about. Emails, catalog covers, homepages, outgoing envelopes, etc., must put your best foot forward in terms of in-demand products and clear messaging that teases or delights. Photography must sparkle. It’s time to fine-tune your brand so it’s appealing enough that consumers will look into it for possible purchases.

2. Present your product benefits that matter most to prospects. When you do, consider each consumer’s needs at the time — e.g., convenience, value, comfort, fun. This isn’t the time to talk about big savings; talking about price and price comparison is putting the cart before the horse.

Prestige can be a benefit, but use it carefully in this economy. You can use that lever in the luxury goods market, but it may seem in bad taste in many others. Customers must feel that they’re being smart when making a purchase, not extravagant.

3. Present product features that appeal to consumers’ cognitive side (the part of them that’s seeking justification for their purchase). This is often the place sales pitches fail. Remember that benefits are more emotional and draw in prospects. Features simply confirm that this product has everything they need.

4. Eliminate other barriers to consideration, such as telling consumers about your risk-free guarantee. Show them how easy it is to order. Share testimonials from other happy customers.

At this point, the shopper is seeking an out, particularly because the pressure’s on to NOT spend. This is your last chance to convince them that your product is worth their time and money.

And since they’re interested enough to have gotten this far, they’re hoping you give them some final “icing on the cake” that will justify to them why this is something they must buy.

The guarantee is probably one of the most important member in this group of levers. It’s time for you to look carefully at yours to make sure it really provides value. Tests show that a no-time-limit, money-back guarantee is most likely to improve response (and an increase in returns is unlikely). Remember, most people are sincere about their purchase, and really do want their purchase to work out.

5. Ask for orders using a clear call to action, providing a few different ways to place orders so customers can make a purchase their preferred way. This is no time to be coy. Remind them that their purchase will be a very smart one.

Are you offering payment by credit card? Probably. Are you offering PayPalOpens in a new window as another payment option? If not, it’s time to add it to your payment options. Consumers are using PayPal more than ever. Reflect your ease of ordering by placing credit card and PayPal logos on your order form, as well as the shopping cart and checkout areas of your website.

For your web design, consider and TEST a one-page checkout as an improvement to what you have now. Remember, every time a shopper moves to another page of your website, your odds of converting them go down.

Now it’s time to review how you’re selling your product or service. Consider the methodology that the most successful marketers use, and compare it to the steps you’re taking. Then, find ways to follow these steps yourself.

After that, sit back and enjoy stronger sales!

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