Occam’s Razor: 16 obvious ways to connect with consumers

Occam's RazorWhile wading through some of the more erudite (i.e. stuffy, jargon-laden, hard to read) periodicals at the local library, I ran across an old copy of the Journal of Advertising Research from way back in 1997.

The title: “To Whom Do Advertising Creatives Write? An Inferential Answer.” The premise: Carry out an experiment to see if creative personnel have difficulty making a connection to their audience.

The result: They do.

The authors selected a group of creatives and a group of TV viewers. They showed each group television commercials and asked them to respond “personally” to those ads through a questionnaire.

In a nutshell, these agency creative people could not respond personally to the ads, only “professionally.” Their responses “very closely paralleled those of the other advertising professionals who judge advertising awards.”

And the authors concluded that even though the creatives’ job was to “translate strategy into (a) meaningful message,” they did not in fact communicate with consumers, but with other advertising people.

The TV viewers, on the other hand, had no problem responding personally. And their responses had nothing to do with the professional quality of the ads.

Instead, they responded positively to advertising that was “self-enhancing,” and were “puzzled, confused, even angered” by some of the well-crafted messages, especially those using so-called “professional” techniques, such as “quick cuts, arch and cutting humor, (and) advertising that featured people and situations implicitly putting down the viewer.”

Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.

Many creative people in advertising are out of touch. Not just in general advertising, but in direct as well. No one had to conduct a study to show me that creative people often don’t connect with consumers. It’s obvious.

What might not be so obvious is what smart creatives should do about it if they’re at all concerned with results. Or perhaps it should be. Because what I suggest is just that — the obvious.

With your permission, I will resurrect the 14th century Franciscan philosopher, theologian, and political writer William of Occam, who put forth what has come to be known as “Occam’s Razor.” It is also sometimes called the Law of Economy or the Law of Parsimony.

In William’s words, non sunt multiplicanda entia praeter necessitatem. Translation: Entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity. Further translation: Keep things simple. Translation for direct marketers: When faced with a creative challenge, do the obvious first.

Don’t get all wrapped up in new techniques. Don’t put form before function. If you have something to say, say it. If you want a prospect to do something, ask them to. The very best creative people in our business are those who do not feel compelled to justify their salary by wowing people with their brilliance.

A few other obvious suggestions to connect with your prospect:

Avoid mistakes before seeking brilliance. Direct marketing profits seldom result from a wild new creative idea. Generally, it’s the solid, tried and true ad messages that work again and again, year after year. If you have a groundbreaking new format or creative tactic, test it, but don’t get caught up in a search for the Holy Grail.

Be honest and straightforward. Fake invoices, deceptive offers, clever copy to disguise a bad product, and other tricky techniques often work well. However, treating your customers like ignorant sheep is bad for long-term success. The way you sell says something about you. If you must use tricky techniques to sell, what you need are better products and offers. If you’re a solid company with good products, act like one.

Try to really help people, instead of just sell to them. Going just for a quick sale will often lead you to dry, overused techniques. But if you make a genuine effort to be helpful in offering your product, you’ll hit the hot buttons. For example, if you’re a bank wanting to increase deposits, don’t just send out a letter saying, “Open your high-interest account today!” Offer a free booklet that educates your customers about how to use your services, with a title such as “How to double the money in your savings account in seven years.”

Remove the barriers to buying. People want to buy things. However, if there’s a good reason not to part with their money, they won’t, no matter how persuasive you are. The fastest way to success is to remove the physical, emotional, and financial reasons not to buy before you tinker with creative. The introduction of the 800 number, for example, did more for selling success than any 16-page letter or infomercial with high-production values.

Make your copy crystal clear. If your readers / listeners / viewers don’t understand what you’re selling or why, they won’t buy anything. Your first job is to be clear. Don’t be cute. Don’t try to impress. Don’t preach, rant, or ramble. Good copy gets to the point quickly.

Try this: pick up your phone, call a friend, and explain in 30 seconds what you’re selling. Then hang up and write down what you said. See how clear and straightforward you are? Why be any other way in your message to a consumer?

Be truthful and believable. If you’re truthful, you believe what you’re saying. If you’re believable, your prospect believes what you’re saying. To encourage belief in your truthfulness, back up your claims every way you can — with testimonials, case studies, strong visual evidence, solid guarantees, merchandise return labels — anything that “proves” you’re on the level.

Always state a clear, specific call to action. People aren’t stupid, but they are lazy. I am. And I’ll bet you are, too. Never make people guess or assume anything. If you want a phone call, say so. If you want a filled-out order form, give instructions to do it.

Always guarantee your product or service. If you have a good product, stand behind it. A guarantee isn’t a burden, it’s a boon. It’s a powerful marketing tool. A solid guarantee is tangible proof that you’re reputable. And it helps to lower the perceived risk your prospects feel when considering your offer.

Don’t make your envelopes too pretty, too often. An envelope that gets ripped open is like a kamikaze pilot. It’s sole purpose in life is to carry its powerful cargo to a specific tactical location and then sacrifice itself as it delivers that cargo. But if your envelope is a design masterpiece, prospects might avoid tearing it open like they avoid tearing pretty Christmas paper. Make your envelope a kamikaze pilot, not Christmas wrap.

On your envelope, use copy to select your audience. Your prospect needs to understand that your message is addressed specifically to him or her. Your prospect should think, “This is for me. I might be interested in this.” Use key words that relate to your prospect’s interests or identity, such as “Exclusive offer for golfers inside.”

Make a personal connection in your letter. A letter should be personal, honest, easygoing, warm, and friendly. It should sound like one friend writing to another, not like the guy selling slicer-dicers in the mall.

Talk about your prospect’s wants and needs. People don’t care a jot or tittle about you or your company, which is why you shouldn’t spend time in your letter beating your chest about your capabilities. Talk to people about what they want and how that want can be provided with an immediate reply.

Sound down-to-earth and believable. If you’re selling a get-rich-quick scheme, you can get away with a hucksterish patter. Your audience wants to believe the unbelievable. However, most people respond best to a straight-arrow style. Don’t put on an act, just write like you talk.

Always include company name, address, phone, fax, and e-mail on brochures. Brochures are keepers, so they should provide complete offer and ordering information for delayed orders or pass-along orders. Plus, repeating this information sends a clear message that you truly want a response.

Make your order form stand alone. Always assume the worst case scenario and highlight the complete offer, toll-free number, mailing address, premiums, and every detail needed to complete a sale. And make it easy to fill out and mail. Some complex products need detailed order forms, but too many are needlessly difficult to fill out. Keep it as simple as possible, on one side, with as few fill-ins as you can get away with while still being complete. Give directions if you need to. Make it crystal clear and smooth-flowing.

Include a BRE if you ask for confidential information. When you ask for credit card numbers or other personal information, you must insure the privacy of that information by enclosing it in an envelope. If you don’t, you’ll lose a ton of orders from prospects who will forever think of you as completely insensitive to their privacy.

Obvious, isn’t it?

Remember, if you want to avoid cutting your own throat in the direct marketing business, use Occam’s Razor. Connect to consumers by doing the obvious.

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8 Responses to “Occam’s Razor: 16 obvious ways to connect with consumers”

  1. What a 14th Century Franciscan Can Teach Us About “Creativity” « Meanwhile Back at the Ranch on September 21st, 2010 1:56 pm

    [...] Jump to Comments Special thanks to @chrisbrogan for retweeting this gem from Dean Rieck (aka @copyblogger), who stumbled upon a study of advertising creative from the Journal of Advertising Research dated [...]

  2. Mark on September 24th, 2010 7:54 pm



    I could apply all of these points to what’s wrong and what needs to be done about online marketing and website design.

    Especially the first one: Avoid mistakes before seeking brilliance

    Far too often I see great looking websites that have completely forgotten the customer.

    Or even worse a great new piece of technology that has yet to be proved as a business generating device.

    In keeping with your post, they have designed the sites to impress themselves and other web designers.

  3. Copyblogger Weekly Wrap: Week of September 19, 2010 | Internet Marketing Superstar on September 25th, 2010 11:48 am

    [...] Occam’s Razor: 16 obvious ways to connect with consumers: I love it when people state obvious truths, because then people can say “That’s so obvious,” but then look dumb if they’re not doing it. And also I like list posts. And Occam. [...]

  4. Posts That Consultants and Small Business Owners Will Like — Sept. 25 edition — Consultant Launch Pad on September 25th, 2010 7:04 pm

    [...] Getting Customers to Buy.  Sixteen simple ways to engage with customers and encourage them to buy from you from copywriter/direct marketer Dean Rieck.  I had this one queued up and then Copyblogger suggested the same one in their post today.  Which reinforces the idea that this one is valuable for people trying to figure out how to get their customers or prospects to pay attention. [...]

  5. Must Read: Nine great posts from other bloggers » Bulldog Simplicity on September 25th, 2010 7:43 pm

    [...] Getting Customers to Buy.  Sixteen simple ways to engage with customers and encourage them to buy from you from copywriter/direct marketer Dean Rieck.  I had this one queued up and then Copyblogger suggested the same one in their post today.  And that, I suppose, reinforces the idea that this one is valuable for people trying to figure out how to get their customers or prospects to pay attention. [...]

  6. Kathy Condon on September 25th, 2010 9:50 pm

    Appreciated your blog—back to the basics AND it’s the little things…..like you said, simple, to the point and caring…….now if only we practiced that in everything we do. Thanks for the reminder.


  7. Steven's blog » Copyblogger Weekly Wrap: Week of September 19, 2010 on October 7th, 2010 10:43 am

    [...] Occam’s Razor: 16 obvious ways to connect with consumers: I love it when people state obvious truths, because then people can say “That’s so obvious,” but then look dumb if they’re not doing it. And also I like list posts. And Occam. [...]

  8. Lorne Pike on May 18th, 2011 8:29 am

    There’s a lot of truth in here. We tend to make things too complicated, we don’t ask for the sale, we forget obvious things like contact info and we tend to focus on the sale rather than what the reader wants. You’d think by now this stuff would all come naturally, but in our hearts we’re all like those ad execs who lose touch with the real world. We’re going to have to work on this! In the meantime, thanks for the reminders, Dean. Some day… some day we’ll be great!

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