A sign of how ineffective the training of direct marketers has become is the plethora of tip booklets, articles and books that guide DM professionals today. If you want something printed in a direct marketing publication; you need only follow the current title formula: odd number + secrets + specific area.
That’s why you see titles like “13 Secrets to Modern Copywriting,” “17 Ways to Win Over Your Prospects,” “167 Tips for Supercharging Your Copy for the Health Care Market.” It won’t be long before we’ll see book titles like “3,121 Ways to Make Direct Marketing Work for You.” It becomes a numbing experience to read a tips article and expect to be able to pick the right one for your situation.
Here’s an example of a real, but particularly unhelpful tip, “What graphic treatment is appropriate for our audience? Should it be business-like or bright and loud? Should it be “disguised” as personal correspondence or clearly marked (by use of teaser and graphics) as direct mail?” Huh? I’m supposed to be asking the questions. Here’s another. “What copy approach should I use? Serious or breezy? Educational vs. hard sell?” Followed by, “Does my reader want or need a lot of information?”
Who’s helping who here? This is almost as confusing as a “Who’s on first?” scenario. All I want is an answer to my question, and all I get are more questions.
Maybe it’s because no one listens anymore. Or the general consensus is that old ideas just aren’t good ideas, so why bother listening. Direct marketing writers appear to have learned that the Socratic method of teaching was their best hope of getting through. Ask enough questions to create a dilemma and eventually you’ll get them to come up with an answer that works.
A real tip, one that is proven, is to test. It is all but a mantra for old direct marketers. When in doubt, test. If you think you have the right idea, test it. Do you have the right list? Test it. It could be that the sign of a true professional DMer is that they are certain of nothing. “Test, Test, Test!” I guess that makes me a true direct marketer; someone who is the perfect candidate for writing a DM article on tips for small business direct marketers.
Here is another real tip, one you can take to the bank. You must learn how to “repurpose” the things we sell or promote with direct mail. By doing so you increase its value just by changing its name. For instance, a catalog is much more valuable when it is called a product guide, a collection of brochures turns into a free information kit. A checklist becomes a planner’s guide. An article that has been reprinted becomes a new informative booklet.
Tips articles have become the primary form of education for the direct marketing industry. As your basic grade school education has taught you, you should listen to and follow any older looking person who sits on his butt, with his chin resting on his fist saying “test it.”
You should also expect such a person to drive you to distraction with questions that neither you nor he could possibly have an answer to. This is called the Socratic method of education. Socrates is considered the father of what can be best described as the study of “thinkology.” Here’s a guy who never wrote a thing, got others to write what they thought he said and was later forced to drink poison. My kind of guy!
He did however manage to leave us with the guiding principle for all facets of direct marketing . . . “Test It!” If you walk away from this article with anything, that gem should be it. It also makes you sound like a real DM pro and you’ll soon have people following you around, arms extended to the front and eyes glazed over and chanting “Master!”
Albert Saxon is president of Saxon Marketing, Indian Orchard, MA.