Essential Equipment for Direct
By Bob Bly
What's the most important piece of office equipment any direct marketer can
It's not a color printer ... a smart phone ... or even a PC. It's a pocket
calculator. Costs only a few bucks to buy one, yet many marketers I speak to
seem either not to own one ... or if they own one, they don't use it.
Here's what leads me to this conclusion....
At least once a week, I get a call or e-mail that goes something like this:
"Bob, my name is John Q. Public. I've self-published a terrific book, and I
want you to write a direct mail package to help me sell it. What do you
After I ask a few questions, I find out what I need to know.... The book has
a cover price of $15 ... John printed 3,000 copies at a short-run book
printer for $3 a copy ... and therefore his net per copy is $12 each. I tell
John to forget it - he'll never make money selling his book with a direct
mail campaign. John is shocked. He spent 9 grand of his kid's college fund
printing those 3,000 books. They are cluttering his spare bedroom. His wife
wants them out of the house.
Bookstores have no interest in carrying John's self-published book.
Newspapers aren't reviewing it. He was counting on direct mail to make him
rich and famous. And here I am, crushing his hopes and dreams.
Why can't I write a direct mail package to sell his book, John wants to
know. "Do the math," I urge John. I get out a calculator and do it for him.
And here's what we find....
His net revenue is just $12 per book. To do a small test of a traditional
direct mail package – outer envelope, sales letter, flier, order form, reply
envelope - could cost him $600 per thousand or more. Let's say he tests a
thousand pieces. At a cost of $600, he needs to sell 50 books just to break
even. That's a response rate of 5% -- very difficult to achieve with a
rented mailing list.
To double his money on the mailing, and make a profit of $600 on every
thousand pieces mailed, he'd have to sell 100 books. That'd mean a 10%
response to his mailer - almost impossible. I explain all this to John. He
becomes more depressed with every word. I'm not telling him what he wanted
Don't worry, I tell John. There are dozens of marketing consultants and
copywriters out there who will tell you it can work - and will be happy to
take your money and write a promotion for you. But that doesn't matter.
Because the numbers say that, no matter how great the direct mail copy, the
promotion won't make money.
John didn't need me to tell him this. He could have determined it for
himself by using the most powerful tool a marketer can own: a pocket
calculator. The problem with many marketers - especially entrepreneurs – is
that they are "idea people" -- dreamers who think big. Unfortunately, the
idea of marketing is not just to innovate ... or be creative ... or have
great ideas ... or create really nifty products and services. It's to sell
your products and services -- at a profit. And to be an effective marketer,
you have to know a few factors like product pricing ... cost of goods ...
profit margins ... typical response rates ... cost per thousand.
You then get out your calculator.
And based on those factors, you can quickly determine whether your idea can
fly - or is doomed to lose money. In John's case, even if his book sold for
$40, I still would have discouraged him. That's because, in direct
marketing, the profits are mostly in the "back end" - repeat sales to
customers who buy a product from you.
But as a self-publisher who has only one product - his single self-published
book - John has no back end. And therefore ... no viable business. By the
way, while it's not difficult to calculate the response rate needed to break
even on your direct mail campaign, I don't have space to show you the simple
So I've created a free online calculator you can use. Just click here to get
Bob Bly Books and Calculator
About the Author:
Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years
of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct
marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network
Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal
Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob
is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to
Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt &