Is there a copywriter anywhere who doesn’t know about Bob Bly? I doubt it.
Bob is the copywriter’s copywriter because he’s published so many books that have helped freelance copywriters get started and improve their business, such as Secrets of a Freelance Writer, The Copywriter’s Handbook, and Selling Your Services.
I’m pleased to have a chance to talk to Bob and share his thoughts with you.
Dean: What is the most common mistake you see direct marketers make?
Bob: Not understanding that in direct marketing, the money is made on the back end, not the front end.
Dean: What does the future hold for direct mail and print advertising?
Bob: I do not think print will disappear, but right now, all the focus and excitement is about online marketing. I am not a futurist so I don’t make predictions, but many feel that online marketing is fundamentally changing the way marketing is done … specifically, giving the customer a greater voice and moving away from advertiser-generated copy and content.
Dean: What effect do you think the Internet will have on direct marketing over the next few decades?
Bob: The Web is moving marketing from an advertiser-to-prospect model, where the advertiser sends promotions out to prospects, to a customer-centric model, where customers instead of marketers do a lot of the selling. Examples include viral videos where prospects pass your video on to other prospects, and Web 2.0 sites (e.g., Amazon.com) where customer-generated content (reviews) is more influential than marketer-generated content.
Dean: What is the most innovative thing you see happening or on the horizon in the direct marketing industry?
Bob: The big things are online video, viral marketing, and social networking. For a few thousand bucks, you can shoot a video, post it on YouTube, and get millions to watch it without paying to run commercials. Direct mail is just print, but with streaming video, Web sites can have it all: copy, photos, sound, and movies.
Dean: Is branding important in direct marketing?
Bob: A brand with high awareness can vastly improve direct marketing response rates. However, branding is usually subordinate to copy, list, and offer.
Dean: Is there one thing you ALWAYS do for any direct mail piece?
Bob: I always offer a premium.
Dean: Is there anything you NEVER do?
Bob: Not that I can think of.
Dean: What’s the strangest thing you ever saw work in the mail?
Bob: I read an article in a trade magazine that told of a mailing to Fortune 500 CEOs. They were mailed a box containing a live carrier pigeon. To reply, they filled in the reply element, attached it to the bird’s leg, and released it to fly back to the mailer.
Dean: I’ll have to remember that one. Is that considered a dimensional mailing? LOL In your opinion, what is the single most important element of a direct mail piece? Why?
Bob: The sales letter. You know the old saying: the sales letter sells, the brochure tells. A close second is the outer envelope.
Dean: What’s your preference: plain envelope or envelope with teaser copy?
Bob: I use both, but if I absolutely have to select only one, I will go with the plain envelope.
Dean: Do you have a certain approach for creating direct mail?
Bob: I start with problem/solution: what is the biggest problem my prospect has that my product can help him solve.
Dean: Do you have any tricks for making self-mailers work?
Bob: Make one of the panels a tear-off business reply card. Make another one of the panels a faux sales letter.
Dean: I use letters in self-mailers too. Very effective. How about postcards? What are the best ways to use a postcard?
Bob: Drive the prospect to a toll-free number or web site URL to request a free premium with high desirability and perceived value.
Dean: Most people know that you can improve response to a lead effort if you offer something free. Apart from that, what can sales organizations do to improve their lead generation efforts today?
Bob: In lead generation, use both a hard and soft offer. The soft offer is “send for our free guide.” The hard offer is “call to arrange an appointment.”
Dean: Many organizations have trouble getting good quality leads. Where are most companies going wrong and what can they do to fix the problem?
Bob: They ignore the soft offer, not realizing that most of their prospects are not in the market for their product or service most of the time, yet may be excellent prospects for a future sale.
Dean: Let’s turn to e-mail. With all the abuse and spam concerns, e-mail marketing can be challenging. What do you think is the key to effective e-mail marketing?
Bob: You get the best results e-mailing an opt-in list of prospects who know you and with whom you have a relationship.
Dean: Do you think e-mail marketing will get easier or harder in the years ahead?
Bob: Harder as spam filters and firewalls screen out more legitimate e-mail in an effort to squash spam.
Dean: Do you write elements of your copy in a particular order?
Bob: Usually start with the headline and the lead.
Dean: Do you have any tricks for staying objective and fresh while working on a project?
Bob: I work on client copy early in the morning, when I am freshest.
Dean: If you could give just one piece of advice for better copy, what would you say?
Bob: Understand the emotions and thoughts your prospects are having right now regarding your product or the problems it solves. For instance, if you write DM to sell stock newsletters, what economic worries are people obsessed with?
Dean: In your opinion, how important is design?
Bob: Very, but not as important as copy or lists.
Dean: Do you have a favorite medium?
Bob: I would have said direct mail a few years ago, but today, more than half my business is online copy, mainly landing pages and e-mail marketing.
Dean: Thanks, Bob. You’ve been generous with your time and advice.