Thursday, July 29, 2010

ETR: The Death of Direct Mail

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Issue No. 3069 - $1.00

Thursday, July 29, 2010

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If There's One Thing Truly Successful People Know ... it's that "dreaming" about success won't get you anywhere. You must take action. That's first. Next, you need somebody who's been there before to guide you. Success mentor Bob Cox has built multimillion-dollar businesses, advised billionaires, and helped people around the world achieve their dreams. Why not let him help you?

"You can always find some expert who will say something hopelessly hopeless about anything."

Peter McWilliams

Hark Unto the Wisdom of Tom Evans, Folks... With Distinct Scepticism
By Drayton Bird

A while back, my Australian partner Malcolm Auld sent me a piece by a marketing expert named Tom Evans, which stated that "direct mail for customer acquisition is dead." You should still put your money into direct marketing, said Tom -- but do it online.

After reading that, I rushed to the phone as fast as my little legs would carry me. I had a client who was sending out 48 million direct-mail pieces a year to get business. I had to warn him.

He needed to know that the game was up. Direct mail was dead. Run for your lives, everyone!

But he pooh-poohed my warning.

"We're the only big firm in our industry doing well," he said. "Everyone else is in a mess. Our main competitor can't even service their bank loans. I think I'll just ignore this Tom Evans chap, being as we're doing so well."

Every time I hear that something is dead, especially if it comes from an expert, I remember Mark Twain's reaction after reading his own obituary in a newspaper. The telegram he sent to the editor read, "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated."

In his piece, Tom Evans presented what he considered to be compelling evidence that direct mail for customer acquisition is finished. The evidence: Direct-marketing spending decreased by 12 percent over the last year, driven by a shift away from direct mail and promotional material delivered door-to-door. And the top 10 direct-mail users had spent 40 percent less on direct mail. 

Not only that, but he quotes Justin Basini, vice president of marketing for Capital One bank (once a top three direct-mail user), as saying that they were getting out of direct mail and putting their customer acquisition "resources" (which is marketing-speak for money) into online marketing. "Sending out loads of direct mail with [credit card] application forms isn't working anymore," said Basini.

From all this it is but a short leap to conclude, as Tom did, that "direct mail will always be important and it will still play a large part in direct marketing for many years to come, especially with regards to customer retention. However as a vehicle of customer acquisition it's finished. Digital does the job more cost effectively and in a word, better."

But, unlike Capital One, my client was not in the financial services business. He was in home-improvement. And what works for a financial services business doesn't apply to everyone.

And there is more naivety in Tom's piece. On the matter of lead generation, he says that when you generate leads online, "the Cost per Acquisition model... is a no-lose and no-risk proposition. Marketers can simply request a set number of sales leads for a guaranteed fixed cost. If the lead quality is up to par, calculating the ROI is straightforward."

The man inhabits wonderland. This would be true -- except for one thing. As more and more businesses recognize the joys of online customer acquisition, more and more will be willing to pay more and more to get those leads... or settle for fewer.

The same thing happened with e-mail marketing. Once it got amazing results. Now it doesn't.

And guess what the smart people in online marketing are doing? They're telling everyone to start testing offline. So whilst I -- and most of my clients -- have switched many of our efforts online, we are not so foolish as to believe that this is the only means of succeeding. We are interested in integrating our efforts.

Yes, it is true that, right now, online marketing in general tends to return a better ROI, but it is also true that many online marketers are being more imaginative than the direct mailers.  

Not long ago, for example, I wrote a direct-mail promotion that doubled response for an insurance firm. It wasn't because my stuff was so brilliant but because what these people had been running was so bloody awful.

It has been about 10 years since a drunken creative director in a bar in Kuala Lumpur told me (I was not exactly sober either) that e-mail would kill direct mail. Now Tom Evans -- whose chief interest in publishing his words of wisdom, of course, is to attract clients -- says online is the answer to a maiden's prayer.

And so it is, and will be for a while. But in the long term, results will determine where marketers put their money. As Bertrand Russell remarked, "What men seek is not knowledge, but certainty." You won't find it in just one medium or one marketing discipline. That's kindergarten stuff.

[Ed. Note: Veteran copywriter and direct-marketing strategist Drayton Bird has worked with American Express, Ford, Microsoft, Visa, Procter & Gamble, and scores of other clients during his five-decade career, which included a stint as international vice-chairman and creative director with Ogilvy & Mather. In 2003, he was named by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 living individuals who have shaped today's marketing.

Drayton will be a featured presenter at Early to Rise's upcoming Information Marketing Bootcamp in November. He'll be speaking about copywriting and marketing strategy, and sharing some of the "war" stories from his decades-long career in the industry. Go here to find out who'll be sharing the stage with Drayton in November... and how you can reserve your spot at the conference.

Ready for more marketing insights from Drayton Bird? For 101 ideas, free case studies, and articles on topics like the one you just read, and a 28-day free trial of Drayton's Commonsense Marketing Series, go here.]

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The Tables Have Turned

Right now, corporate America is getting filthy rich off of you. They do it every time you shell out money for almost any item -- large or small. Their profits come from massive mark-ups on imports from places like China, where a widget may cost a buck or two but sells here for $19.95.

But now, the tables have turned on the corporations -- thanks to the Internet and our global economy. And you can be the one reaping windfall profits from the import business. Best part: You can easily run your entire business online, with no employees, no previous experience or knowledge, and with as little as $50 in start-up costs.

Learn how you can get started right now!

What Do You Want Your Life to Look Like?

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"Bob provided a number of concrete action steps that I began taking today. These steps will begin the path to achieving the results I want. I am answering the question 'What do I really want my life to look like?' 

"Thanks so much for your generosity yesterday, Bob. Talking with you really clarified a number of things for me, as well as forced me to face some pretty hard truths.

"I look forward to paying your kindness forward."

John Mariotti

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What's a "Perfect Home Business"?

Ask 100 of your fellow Early to Risers to describe their "Perfect Home Business," and 99 of them would probably say something like this...

"Well, first of all, it's got to be based on something I actually enjoy -- a hobby or passion of mine."
Sounds good so far...

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At Early to Rise, we've heard you loud and clear!

You asked... now we're going to deliver.

The Language Perfectionist: A Useful New Language Resource

By Don Hauptman

Given the depressed state of literacy, the appearance of an excellent new guide to grammar, style, and usage is an occasion for rejoicing.

The Accidents of Style by Charles Harrington Elster, just published, is a volume every writer should have at hand. It will help you polish your prose, express your ideas more clearly, and avoid numerous errors.

The title is a clever play on Strunk and White's classic The Elements of Style. But although that 51-year-old reference book is still helpful, Accidents goes well beyond it, with 350 wry and well-reasoned essays on topics that Messrs. Strunk and White probably didn't need to consider half a century ago.

"Accidents of style" are common mistakes, and Elster has fun with the metaphor: "This book shows you how to steer around the ruts and potholes.... It's a crash course in careful usage."

Elster is an authority on the English language. He has written books on, among other things, vocabulary building and pronunciation. Like me, he's a purist and prescriptivist who also recognizes that the rules occasionally need revising and updating.

If you recall boring grammar lessons from your school days, fear not. Elster is an entertaining writer and he festoons his book with mischievous observations and asides. The following sampling will give you a sense of both the book's content and the author's puckish and sometimes barbed approach:

  • On the word impact: "This powerful word, which traditionally connotes considerable force, has lost all its forcefulness through incessant repetition [both as noun and verb].... I, for one, will continue to boycott this word in all its monstrous forms...." Alternatives: effect and influence.

  • On the word kudos: "Kudos is a singular noun"; there is no such thing as a kudo. Also: "The word ought to be reserved for praise given for illustrious, or at least significant, achievement and not used as a pseudoliterary substitute for congratulations...."

  • On the vogue word issues: "This trendy euphemism, which may have come from the jargon of psychology or from the lingo of politics, avoids the perceived stigma and sting of problems and allows us to allude to difficulties without admitting that they exist.... Why do we shrink from saying what we mean [and instead] reach for this mealymouthed, weasel word issues?"

  • "Adverbiage is... the overuse or awkward use of adverbs.... I will consider it conveys more promise of serious attention than I will seriously consider it. I reject the allegation is firmer and more confident than I utterly reject the allegation."

  • On opening with "Let me see....": "This lamest of rhetorical devices is invariably a setup, a con, the prelude to a haughty diatribe in which the writer displays his superior reasoning and confirms the stupidity of others by demolishing a straw man, usually with a lethal dose of sarcasm."  

The Accidents of Style offers much more: Advice on the proper use of punctuation (apostrophes, commas, quotation marks) and spelling (it's espresso, not expresso and supersede, not supercede), and guidance on avoiding redundancies (close proximity, fellow colleagues), "confusables" (anxious vs. eager, emulate vs. imitate, flaunt vs. flout), and cliches and slang (at the end of the day, on the same page). In addition, the book contains quizzes to test your knowledge, tips to improve your writing, and even funny bloopers.

Unlike most other language guides, the structure of Accidents isn't alphabetical by subject. Instead, the entries begin with simple matters, then become progressively more complex. The index will help you find what you're looking for. The book can be used either as a reference or read straight through. Both routes will prove rewarding.

My one complaint is that Elster occasionally comes across as a bit of a curmudgeon, deriding those who don't do things in his approved way. But considering how permissive most dictionaries and language authorities have become, a martinet may be just what we need to restore some balance. I learned a lot from The Accidents of Style. You will, too.

[Ed Note: For more than three decades, Don Hauptman was an award-winning independent direct-response copywriter and creative consultant. He is author of The Versatile Freelancer, an e-book that shows writers and other creative professionals how to diversify their careers into speaking, consulting, training, and critiquing.]

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