Grab Attention With a "Huh? What??? Wow!!!"
Consumer skepticism is the main reason for the falling response rates that are impacting so many direct marketers. But new creative strategies are countering consumer skepticism and generating response rates that can make you laugh all the way to the bank.
These new creative strategies often focus on the outer envelope. They use new tools to seize the prospect's attention, grab the prospect by his or her emotions, and set up the sale.
The outer envelope can't say too little, and it can't say too much, either. If it doesn't say enough, it probably won't get opened. If it gives away too much, so the prospect can say "I don't want that," before you have a chance to start selling, it will quickly be discarded.
Once upon a time, all you had to do was put a juicy benefit or two on the outer envelope. Prospects, enticed by the promise of something they wanted, would open the package and read more.
But the explosion of direct mail has caused a problem. Too many copywriters have promised too much. Many prospects have become cynical.
Tried-and-true winning formulas are starting to fatigue because we've bombarded our marketplace with the same stuff, year after year. We have always stressed benefits, usually in a straightforward manner. In the process, we have educated our prospects.
They've seen it before. They know what's in the envelope without opening it. There are no surprises for them!
Until fairly recently you could tell them about a 150% profit with a little-known investment strategy, and they'd be hooked. Now they don't believe it. More prospects are likely to toss the unopened envelope in the trash.
Once upon a time you could offer a 37% discount on your magazine, and you'd get the prospect's interest. Now everyone is offering magazines at discounts and even three … four … and more free sample issues.
In the olden days, a promotion for a book on marketing plans could trumpet "The $30,000 marketing consultation you can get for only $129." Now many prospects simply won't believe that. They've seen this technique before, and they know they're not really going to get what the copy promises. So now it's necessary to test another approach in a head-to-head, A/B split.
You could try "Wump! Wump! Wump! The competitors went down one by one. Until only the new kid on the block was left standing."
Something different happens with this approach. You've created a scenario that's hard to forget. And it's unusual. The first reaction from the prospect is probably "Huh!?" What??"
At the same time, a vague fear sets in. The prospect thinks "some new kid is going to come along with a better idea and take me down. Ohmygosh, maybe a new Web site is going to undercut my pricing. I'd better see what's going on here."
There's an excellent chance this envelope will get opened because it's a strong play on fear with an undertone of greed - and also because it's intriguing. That intrigue comes from being indirect.
Another possibility is an envelope headline that says "Leg pain kept Lois off the dance floor for years. Last night she waltzed up a storm. How the heck did she do that???" Many prospects will see Lois waltzing away in their mind's eye.
If they have leg pain (the FDA won't let us use the word arthritis any more in this type of copy), they'll feel hopeful: "Maybe there's a remedy that can help me." But in any case, they'll be intrigued. And that intrigue could be enough to get many prospects to open the envelope.
Still another possibility is to spill out an emotional conflict onto an outer envelope, as if someone had been doodling, complete with a coffee-cup stain. The prospects don't know what the heck they got, but other people's money woes are always a grabber.
So they start reading - and the envelope leads them to a point where they must open it.
This envelope beat the control and reached a market segment the control couldn't touch.
More about this winning envelope.
The change in the way our marketplace is responding to direct mail is similar to its response to the news. Most news shows have become just that - shows - with a large dose of entertainment mixed in. The direct mail equivalent is not quite entertainment, but it's similar.
Our marketplace wants direct mail to be intriguing. "Hint at a benefit. Grab me by my curiosity, as well as by my emotions. Then I'll open your envelope. If you can keep me interested, if you can make me say 'Wow!' after my initial 'Huh!? What??' and if you are a master sales person, then I may buy from you."
"If you send me a letter that announces a sweepstakes with a Russian theme, and it looks like it was mailed from Moscow, I'll be intrigued. If you just try to sell me an amethyst ring, I'm not interested."
More about this winning envelope.
"Tell me about a projected 1,444,460,000 ounce shortage of something that's not gold, but isn't identified on the envelope, and I may be interested - especially if you tell me I can make an 899% profit."
More about this winning envelope.
The "intriguing/indirect" approach to outer envelope copy responds to a sea change in the way prospects react to direct mail packages. Although savvy direct marketers have seen this change coming for years, most of us have used the same basic creative strategy year in and year out.
We're trapped by our winning formulas. Since they do still work - even though they aren't producing the same results as they used to - we keep testing within their confines. We're afraid of breakthrough creative that goes outside the box because it's risky. We have to test it. And some of those tests are not going to work. At $12,000 and up for a new package test, this puts immense pressure on us to stick with proven creative approaches.
If that $12,000 figure sounds like a lot, double-check the ingredients. You may be able to get a test done for somewhat less - or you may have to spend a lot more for a complex package. But let's use these figures as our discussion point:
But there is a better way to develop outer envelope creative - and new controls. It involves a three-pronged strategy:
Often the concept for a powerful new control is buried in the old one. Like the headline on a lift note in a financial newsletter promotion: "The Mystery of the Chinese Egg Puzzle." Or a headline from another lift note in a magazine promotion: "The Amazing Secret of My Crazy Rich Aunt."
With an inexpensive envelope test, you can find out quickly whether you have the concept for a new control. If a buried headline on a lift note can raise response by 50%, imagine what it could do if you put it on the outer envelope!
That's why envelope testing is so important. You can wrap a brand new outer envelope around an existing control. If you use staff creative talent, your out-of-pocket test cost is about $5300 for a 10,000 piece test. Even if you use outside freelance creative talent, your total cost can be as low as $6500.00. That's about half of the cost for a full package test.
Here's how I arrived at these figures:
Once you have a new outer envelope that's beaten the control envelope in a test, you also have the beginning of a copy platform for an entirely new control. By testing one component at a time, like a new lift note, or a different lead on the letter, you can build your new control in a series of low-risk, low-cost steps.
That's why envelope tests are becoming a major creative strategy for savvy direct marketers in the age of consumer cynicism.