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Beware the Whiz Kid

How Knowledge replaces Information,
how Direct Marketing makes it work.

As we move into the 21st Century many are talking "new".

A speaker friend responds with a question - when conversation gets around to "new". He simply asks; "are you still doing the same ole things as last year?". In most cases the answer is "yes". Those hollering for "new" are not ready - they don't have "old" down yet!

So, to cast aside what we have learned in Direct Marketing for what is presumed to be NEW is to "assume" the OLD no longer works. And that thought is 100% WRONG!

Yes, we do need to Beware the Whiz Kid.

One whiz kid description is the transfer student. The guy or gal from advertising or merchandising or public relations who moves to direct. They heard or read about. Went to a seminar. Got excited, and decided to make the move. Good for them. We in direct need these bright folks - with their different approach.

The other is fresh out of school. And we need these youngsters, too. They come to us full of excitement and enthusiasm. With a marvelous education, probably a degree. They have book learnin' ... yet, do they really know what makes this DM business tick?

For many (and some would say most!), the answer in both instances is a strong "no". These new comers ignore the basics. The fundamentals. The foundation.

They are turning direct mail into "junk mail", junk phone, junk fax, junk TV and today junk Web sites and E-mail marketing. And they are doing it much faster than the rest of us ever did in the previous half century.

Beware the Whiz Kid is a seminar presentation put together with long time friend and Direct Marketing guru E. Jeffrey Smith. Jeff and I share the platform and tell the story of Old vs. News. Whiskers vs. Puberty. Traditional vs. Ignorant.

We share because no age, no person, no education, no experience (even ours!) has all the knowledge. In Beware the Whiz Kid some of the best ideas from the past are meshed with what is know to be effective today.

This being fact, I decided to share our seminar in words. These words.

Fact #1. Target Marketing is diving 75' into a bucket of water

That is, if you miss your target, it hurts.

From the beginning of direct marketing recorded history sending your message to the right audience has been a known fact. Nothing is more important. A weak message to the right people can work - a marvelous message to the wrong will not.

And although this very old thought has been, is and will continue to be true - many choose to ignore it. Or at least step around it from time to time.

Today DM is in a funny position. The more we know the more accurate our message can be. Right people, right time. On the other side privacy IS a very real issue ... an issue we must respect ... like it or not.

Databases allow us to know - privacy makes it less likely we can use what we know. A challenge? Yes. Impossible? No!

Take the time it takes, invest the resources it takes, aim your message at the right audience.

Oh, and it is people who buy. Not companies or committees - people. I've never sold anything to an association or organization. I've only sold to a person. Direct your news, your opportunity, your offer to a person.

Fact #2. It's amazing how 50% off makes you feel 100% better - Guaranteed!

This fact is about your offer. An offer is a reason for me, a potential buyer, to consider you. To be willing to listen to your message. To take your demonstration or listen to your sales rep make a pitch. To visit your shop or booth or store or restaurant.

Yes, an offer can be something about money, about price, about savings. It can also be an opportunity to learn, earn, save, make.

An offer can be many things.

And an offer is more then features and benefits. It is over and above the product/service itself - it is an extra. A bonus. A reward. A motivation. An inspiration to take some action, to raise your hand, to make a commitment, to take a step ... to DO something!

Without an offer you will not fail. Without an offer you will not be as successful as you can be. Offers work in direct because they get the attention of your prospect. Rarely do offers "make" the sale. Yet, frequently you get the sale because you have an offer.

When you think DM fundamentals know an offer is a key basic. Go to market only with an offer. Sometimes the offer is all that counts.

Fact #3. It's not Creative unless it sells

The story goes an advertising agency creative director was the first to say Fact #3. He said it in 1957! And it is still true - very true! - today.

In direct "wordsmiths are more important than blacksmiths." What am I saying? Very simply, in direct marketing copy is more important than graphics. Period. PERIOD!

That is not to say graphics are unimportant. I would never say that. We live in a graphic world. We hear and see art and layout and format almost every waking hour of every day.

And color - graphics with color - are everywhere. We have learned to expect a picture or illustration or design, and in color, too. Yet, in direct, without good copy, graphics are meaningless.

A while back I learned this first hand - from an art director friend. David handed the copy back to me with this statement; "I can't save this copy." He was very clear; "no matter what I do to enhance and make this package appealing, the graphics will not carry it. The copy is weak - the words needs work".

The next lesson for direct marketers is "nobody reads the white space". Image and awareness and positioning are all fine. In fact, they can be very important. The bottom line is still the bottom line ... and that is sales is what we take to the bank.

If it "looks good" and does not sell - it is not creative.

Fact #4. Simplicity Sells

Every student from high school upwards must read Hemingway. Sometimes a lot - always a little. Why? Because Hemingway wrote to be read, to be understood.

Yes, he had a story line. Yet, his message was also easy to read and easy to understand. Hemingway was a grand communicator - with words. And direct is about words ... see Fact #3.

Simple is in. It is not that we ever talk down to our audience. No, instead we should talk to them like we would face-to-face. When we are 1:1 with a prospect or customer we use language we know the customer will understand.

This is how this mornings newspaper is written. This is how tonight's television news will be read. The same goes for everything we put on paper, on our web site, in our radio commercial, as part of our telemarketing script.

Short is in. Short sentences ... average around 14 words per.

Short paragraphs, never more than 7 lines of copy. About 70% of your words should be 1,2,3,4 or 5 letter words. Copy should be readable by 13 year old junior high students on your block.

Think "write like you talk" and your direct message will be a winner.

Fact #5. 1 Shots are sure shot failures

Here are a few numbers from our research brethren. About what every city dweller experiences daily;

  • Every day we are exposed to 32,000 "flashes"
  • 570 ad impressions
  •  76 of which we "see" or "hear"
  • 12 of which we remember
  •  3 we remember negatively

This is the world in which we live. This is the advertising, merchandising and direct marketing world. Lots and lots of messages. Most of them going unseen, unheard, untouched. With no response.

So, what does this say? It says if you send your message out only once or twice you are wasting your time and money. It is only with repetition will you build your reputation.

There are a small collection of world recognized companies. McDonald's, Boeing, Microsoft, Nike, Disney and Coca Cola - the world's most recognized icon. You will not go a day in your life without hearing or seeing something from Coke. Coke is truly everywhere.

Why? Because they know if they ever stop marketing, Pepsi - no slouch at marketing - will clean their clock.

Few of us can do what Coke does so well. We can ALL reach out to our select marketplace more often. As 1 Shots are certainly sure shot failures.

As H. Ross Perot says; "Ready - Aim - FIRE, FIRE, Fire, Fire, fire, fire, fire."

Fact #6. Test ... Test ... test

There was a time when it was "assumed" you were going to test. It wasn't discussed - it happened.

Unfortunately, that is not the case these days. And it needs to again be moved to the front burner. For without testing we are guessing. And we guess wrong equally as often as we guess right.

Testing is almost free. And to not test is almost stupid. Now, nothing is free ... yes I know that. I also know that "gut" feelings about a product or service or offer or list or price or marketplace or anything else, is just that - a gut feeling. Nothing wrong with it ... as long as you can prove it. The way to prove it is to test.

Compare A vs. B. Maybe to C and D, too. Run your test head to head and learn what really happens. Not what you think, not what you suspect, not what your sales tells you, not what your customers say they are going to do - instead what really happens.

A quote from Texan, T. Boone Pickens, "Be willing to make decisions. Don't fall victim to the ready-aim-aim-aim-aim syndrome. You must be willing to fire."

Try and try again and again, over and over. You WILL get it right! Test ... Test ... test.

Fact #7. It's not what you have to sell - it is what the customer needs to buy

Every sale has feeling or emotion, and rational thinking. Some are more one way or the other - both sides of the coin enter into every sale.

That is, a candy bar buy is frequently an impulse and mostly emotion buy. Yet you justify - rationalize - your purchase with "I deserve it". Purchasing a new pair of shoes begins with thinking - you decide you need new shoes. The actual buying process involves emotion ... color, style, look.

Supplies of almost any kind are a low involvement thinking process. Copy paper or paper clips aren't exciting - you just do it. There may be a tick of emotion if you catch a sale or bargain at the time of your need.

Yet, no matter the product, no matter the service, if you cannot prove to the customer that what you offer fulfills what they need, you will NOT make the sale. People must be convinced they have a NEED and you will meet it. Wants or desires, without a transfer to need, do not make sales.

I truly believe advertising creates wants - Direct Marketing satisfies needs. Thank goodness for advertising and public relations. These disciplines tell the story - and direct marketing comes behind and makes the sale. How sweet it is!

Well, that's it. The 7 points of truth for the whiz kids in our life. Pause. Think. Consider. And when you prepare your next DM program - remember the fundamentals - even in this new age, still fit.

About Ray Jutkins, October 3rd, 1936 — January 6th, 2005. Ray was one of the NMOA’s most generous contributors. Over the years Ray supplied the NMOA with hundreds of tips and articles for members. This is just one of many. Ray worked with B-2-B and Consumer clients throughout the world ... including USA, Canada, Mexico, Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the Middle-East, Central & South America, Africa. Keep an eye out for more of Ray’s marketing tips and how-to articles in the pages of Direct Marketing Digest and the article archive on the NMOA website.

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