Truth 101: a primer for direct marketing professionals

true or falseTelling the truth can be dangerous business.
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand.
If you admit that you can play the accordion,
No one’ll hire you in a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Those are lyrics from a song performed by Dustin Hoffman and Warren Beatty in the movie Ishtar, one of the worst (and sporadically one of the funniest) comedies ever made.

Whatever you think of the movie, you can’t argue with the message of that song. Telling the truth can be dangerous business, especially if you work in direct marketing.

It’s dangerous because clients with crappy products expect you to lie, and telling the truth can get you in hot water with people writing the checks.

But I prefer to think that telling the truth is good for selling and for the whole direct marketing industry.

Think about it. Have you ever wondered why some people are direct mail responsive and others are not? Why some buy from catalogs, the Internet, or home shopping shows, and others wouldn’t even consider it?

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Inspiring direct mail envelope samples from my great big stack of stuff

The down economy has killed a lot of the fun and creativity of direct mail in the last few years.

But if my phone is any indication (the plastic is melting from all the calls), the economy is getting ready to roar back to life.

So I thought I’d dive into my big stack of stuff and pull out some envelope samples to give you a little inspiration and maybe help you summon the courage to test something beyond yet another postcard or cheap self-mailer.

These are in no particular order. I just rifled through my sample file and pulled out anything that struck my fancy today. I’ve made each envelope sample as big as I could, so the proportions are not accurate here.

Here’s a classic direct mail envelope for a recipe book. Lots of color and excitement with a token showing through a window to encourage involvement.

direct mail envelope sample 1
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I wish all catalog copy could be written like this

Duluth Trading catalogThe J. Peterman Company has long been hailed as the reigning king of catalog copy. And I’ve been a fan ever since I bought one of their “anti-gravity” shirts.

But they have some serious competition from the Duluth Trading Co., which you might describe as J. Peterman for the working class.

Here’s an example of their masterful copy from the April 2011 catalog, which I received just last week:


FIRE HOSE: America’s most heroic fabric. So durable, so surprisingly comfortable, you’ll wonder why we were the first to use it in clothing. It’s the same great 100% cotton canvas that once wrapped rubber fire hoses, responding to call after call, dragged up and down stairs, pulled through windows, yanked around sharp corners. We located a supplier for that cotton canvas and specially washed it to make it soft and comfortable. Then, we treated it to resist stains and water. Supreme toughness and supreme softness in one fabric. Now that’s something to get fired up about!

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How to brainstorm the BIG IDEA step-by-step

creativity in direct marketingBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 6 -

We’ve covered a lot of territory in this series:

The three levels of creative mastery, good creative traits, bad creative habits, releasing your natural creativity, and inspiring your creative staff.

In this final installment, let’s look at one of the most widespread and powerful creative techniques ever devised. When used properly, it can produce more and better ideas than any other process.

It’s called brainstorming. And it’s based on the concept that two heads (or three, or four, or more) are better than one.

Many would argue that you can’t create by committee. I agree. Writing, designing, and other creative acts are best performed by individuals. Creative execution by committee invariably regresses to the mean. The results are weak and watered-down.

However, brainstorming is not about creative execution. It’s about idea creation. And it is almost always more productive as a group activity.

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8 ways to turn your creative staff into idea machines

creativity in direct marketingBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 5 -

Okay, let’s summarize this series on creativity so far:

In Part 1, we listed three levels of creative mastery.

In Part 2, we covered the traits of highly creative people.

In Part 3, we looked at bad habits that can limit your creativity.

And in Part 4, we discovered how to release your natural creative genius.

Now we’ll take the next logical step. If you’re in charge of a creative staff, we’ll see if we can find a few ways to help them be even more creative.

First, lets have a little plain talk about creativity and your staff. This may be a little painful.

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10 easy ways to release the creative genius inside you

creativity in direct marketingBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 4 -

If you’ve been reading this series from the beginning, you’ve learned about the three levels of creative mastery, the traits of highly creative people, and bad habits that can limit your creativity.

Now, let’s pick up where we left off and see if we can discover a few basic ideas for shedding bad creative habits and building new habits that can turn you into a creative genius.

The important point to remember is that everyone has creative abilities. It’s a natural and necessary part of being human. The only difference between the creative geniuses and everyone else is that creative people use and develop their creative skills.

Usually this is not a conscious effort, but a natural result of their personality and upbringing. However, everyone can energize their creative powers and release the inner genius, including YOU.

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Look out! Here are 16 bad habits that will crush your creativity

bad creative habitsBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 3 -

Previously, we’ve discussed the 3 levels of creative mastery in direct marketing and the common traits of creative people.

Now let’s talk about some bad creative habits.

First, a simple question: Why aren’t more people creative?

Well, you don’t have to be a psychologist to know that people are generally pretty lazy. There’s a natural human inclination to do things the easy way.

And let’s face it, most things in life don’t require too much creativity. So for the average person, there’s really no motivation for the extra effort.

The truth is, most people who display higher levels of creativity have simply learned this behavior by chance. Perhaps their parents or friends did creative things. Or maybe certain random events inspired a different approach to life.

It doesn’t matter how you become creative, of course, but there’s a downside to this randomness. Because if you can pick up good creative habits, you can pick up bad creative habits, too. And you usually don’t know which is which until they’re deeply ingrained.

But bad habits can be broken if you are determined to do so. The first step is to identify these behaviors so you can start making productive changes.

Here are some of the more common bad habits that hamper creativity in direct marketing.

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How many of these 11 creative traits do you have?

creative traitsBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 2 -

In my previous post, I talked about the 3 levels of creative mastery in direct marketing.

And I said that if you’re seeking long-term success in this industry, you should aim for the Third Level, where you strive to find a balance between technique and creativity, between the tried and the new.

This time, let’s take a look at the traits of a truly creative professional working on the Third Level .

Despite what you might think, we are all creative to some degree. You. Me. Your accountant. Your hairdresser. The kid who bags your groceries. Everyone.

Creativity isn’t something you’re born with. It’s not some mysterious aura that hovers around wild-haired writers and artists. And it has nothing to do with how smart you are. In fact, research has shown that once you get beyond an I.Q. of about 120 (which is fairly average), intelligence and creativity are not correlated.

So you could be a genius and display little creativity. Or you could be perfectly average in intelligence and wield amazing creative powers.

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The 3 levels of creative mastery in direct marketing

creativity in direct marketingBoost Your Direct Marketing Creativity
- Part 1 -

We direct marketing types are well-known for our reliance on “proven” techniques.

Our books, trade magazines, and club meetings overflow with zillions of hints, commandments, rules, warnings, tactics, and all manner of well-organized wisdom.

That’s why many people in the advertising industry — much of which thrives on ultra-creative, out-of-the-box ideas — consider us rather old-fashioned and conservative.

And that’s just fine with me.

Because we have a different job to do than our brand advertising brethren. We’re looking for immediate and direct response. We’re going for instant return on investment. Our massive technique tool box allows us to make sales, generate leads, and raise funds in predictable and measurable ways.

But while we can chide our chums on the brand side about being too creative, they certainly have every reason to chide us for not being creative enough. While they often don’t follow any rules at all, we often follow too many.

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Great quotes on the wild, weird, and wonderful world of advertising

advertising quotationsThe definition of a good quotation is “truth well-stated.”

Good quotes can be wise, amusing, irreverent, opinionated, even contradictory, but each sparkles with a diamond of truth.

Personally, I believe that some of the most instructive and entertaining are those that criticize, complain, or poke fun. Thus, these gems:

“Ninety-nine percent of advertising doesn’t sell much of anything.” -David Ogilvy

“The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads. People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.” -Howard Luck Gossage

“The six phases of every project: 1. Enthusiasm; 2. Disillusionment; 3. Panic; 4. A search for the guilty; 5. The punishment of the innocent; 6. Praise and honor for the nonparticipants.” -Anonymous

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