I have a confession. I’m a direct mail guy.
I’ve been responsible for over a billion pieces of mail. And when I say “mail,” I mean those paper things that come to your physical mailbox. (Good thing I didn’t have to lick the stamps.)
I’ve learned a ton from the online marketers I’ve been hanging around with the last few years. Your expertise in harnessing technology amazes me, and the speed with which you execute astounds me.
But as we all know — especially in the Copyblogger community —
good great copy and creative raises all boats.
And anyone who claims to be “crushing it” online could, well, “crush it even more” if they paid as much attention to their copy as they do to the technology.
I have told the (almost true) story of my “childhood” in direct mail many times:
I walked 12 miles, uphill and barefoot, to work every day as one of the largest users of direct mail in the country early in my career … AND I paid postage!
Direct mail means discipline
What do I mean when I use the word discipline?
It means that everything I sent through the United States Postal Service had to be thought through in a way so nothing was wasted. Every test had to mean something. Every test needed to light the path to a potential breakthrough (and a new control package).
(A control package is the best-performing marketing piece you have so far. It’s the reigning champion, which means that it has to keep defending its title against punky up-and-comers. Direct mail marketers are always testing new approaches against that control to find the new winner.)
In fact, with the cost of postage and printing, the sale had to come quickly. To use Gary Vaynerchuk’s language: in direct mail, it’s harder to “jab” and you have to go for the “right hook” faster.
In other words, you don’t get much chance to build audience rapport with content alone, and you need to ask for the sale sooner rather than later.
But wise online marketers have an opportunity that should be used and not abused, given that its unlikely you’ll have to pay postage anytime soon …
Waste still sucks
The fact that you don’t pay for postage to send your marketing messages is not a license to beat your list into submission until they buy.
And discipline isn’t just something for guys like me who pay postage. It benefits every marketer, no matter what tools you use.
In the spirit of trying to take the discipline of direct mail into email and content, here are nine things that every marketer should consider before sending a billion pieces of mail … or before any marketer “hits send” to any number less than a billion.
#1: Use content strategically
Everything you send doesn’t have to sell something, but everything you send must achieve something.
Familiarize yourself with what different types of strategic content look like, and how they fit together.
#2: Deploy the ninjas
Hire or network with some heavy hitters who understand direct response and copy. (You can find smart people like this in the Authority forums.)
Get them signed up for all of your messaging. Listen carefully to what they tell you about how your copy looks when it gets where it’s going — and where you should be tweaking.
#3: Learn what you can’t know
You also want to find some “secret shoppers” who represent your ideal audience.
These aren’t experts in direct response and advanced copy … they’re the type of people who can potentially be your best prospects, students, and customers.
Side note: There are actually world class copywriters who use this technique and pay a panel of “people like their customer” to read their copy, so they can get opinions and reactions well before they send the copy to their client. The content gets tested two steps removed from when their client hits “send.” (Whether that’s to a direct mail campaign, e-mail promotion, or other.)
#4: Sweat the details
Take the time and effort to agonize over every word in your copy. And always ask, “Who is the audience this will most appeal to?”
Conversely, think about who your copy could possibly alienate. If your copy does have the potential to alienate, consider if those people are a good fit to become your customer.
It’s okay to scare off the peanut gallery who will never buy from you anyway.
#5: Look at your message in terms of consequential thinking
I learned the term consequential thinking from my mentor, Marty Edelston
It means putting yourself in the prospect’s shoes and seeing how you react to the elements of the copy.
Does it take you through a process that makes sense? In direct mail, this is a science in terms of how the mailing piece is received — the placement of the address, and the order the recipient sees the pieces in the envelope.
Online, of course, you have many more choices to guide your prospect through the story. Navigation and site design play an important role here, and you’ll want to think through how your audience goes through your landing pages.
Consequential thinking means taking a careful look at how you’re guiding your prospect through your marketing story.
#6: What’s the logic line?
This is another one I learned from Marty.
Is there a “logic line” that you believe? Does each part of the story follow from what comes before it? Is it logical (and believable)?
The purpose of each sentence is to make sure you can move the reader to the next sentence.
You need a logic line for each marketing message you send, but you also need a logic line for your business. Is this message congruent with your marketing message overall? Will it resonate with what you’ve sent in the past? Does it contradict earlier messages?
If so, you need to decide if you truly want to move in a new direction, or if you want to rein this piece in to better fit your business’ overarching message.
#7: Do you care?
No matter how hard hitting the copy might be, is there empathy? And is there some element of care and concern for your ultimate target?
Does the message communicate respect and care for your audience, or is it short on G.A.S.?
#8: Give them a reason to care
Audiences — for direct mail or for online content — are basically selfish.
It’s not their job to care about your business or what you do. To that end, write assuming that nobody cares what you have to say … and give them a reason to care.
No matter how much you believe your product, service, or message is a “need to have,” always assume you are only “nice to have.” Your job is convincing your audience to go from “nice” to “need.”
#9: Understand the basic rules of English
(Or, of course, the language of your chosen audience.)
You don’t need to be obsessed with correct grammar or perfect punctuation. Enjoyable content and copy usually use informal language.
But when you do violate the rules and standards of the English language, know what you are violating. It needs to be in line with your audience and how they speak and write. Using their language always trumps “perfect” grammar and usage.
The stakes are high for you, too
Okay, maybe you don’t have to pay for physical postage.
But you have an audience whose opinion and respect you depend on. That puts your reputation and authority at stake.
That’s why there’s so much to learn from the direct response principles of the past. The discipline of my field can be applied to everything happening in marketing and creative today.
Because of the amazing accountability and measurement tools available on the web, I believe it’s all direct marketing now.
We’re not “online marketers” or “direct mail marketers” — we’re just marketers.
How can “paying for postage” make your marketing better?
Learn more …
Click here to listen in on an interview I recently did with copywriter Daniel Levis. We talk about what it was like to work with some of the great copywriters and marketers of all time, including Gene Schwartz.