Bob Stone's 30 Timeless Direct Marketing Principles

Bob Stone was a king among direct marketing gurus. Over his long career, he identified a handful of direct marketing principles that proved true again and again.

  1. All customers are not created equal. Give or take a few percentage points, 80 percent of repeat business for goods and services will come from 20 percent of your customer base.
  2. The most important order you ever get from a customer is the second order. Why? Because a two-time buyer is at least twice as likely to buy again as a one-time buyer.
  3. Maximizing direct mail success depends first upon the lists you use, second upon the offers you make, and third upon the copy and graphics you create.
  4. If, on a given list, "hotline" names don't work, the other list categories offer little opportunity for success.
  5. Merge/purge names — those that appear on two or more lists — will outpull any single list from which these names have been extracted.
  6. Direct response lists will almost always outpull compiled lists.
  7. Overlays on lists (enhancements), such as lifestyle characteristics, income, education, age, marital status, and propensity to respond by mail or phone will always improve response.
  8. A follow-up to the same list within 30 days will pull 40 to 50 percent of the first mailing.
  9. "Yes/No" offers consistently produce more orders than offers that don't request "No" responses.
  10. The "take rate" for negative option offers will always outpull positive option offers at least two to one.
  11. Credit card privileges will out-perform cash with order at least two to one.
  12. Credit card privileges will increase the size of the average catalog order by 20 percent, or more.
  13. Time limit offers, particularly those which give a specific date, outpull offers with no time limit practically every time.
  14. Free gift offers, particularly where the gift appeals to self-interest, outpull discount offers consistently.
  15. Sweepstakes, particularly in conjunction with impulse purchases, will increase order volume 35 percent, or more.
  16. You will collect far more money in a fund-raising effort if you ask for a specific amount from a purchaser. Likewise, you will collect more money if the appeal is tied to a specific project.
  17. People buy benefits, not features.
  18. The longer you can keep someone reading your copy, the better your chances of success.
  19. The timing and frequency of renewal letters is vital. But I can report nothing but failure over a period of 40 years in attempts to hype renewals with "improved copy." I've concluded that the "product" — the magazine, for example — is the factor in making a renewal decision.
  20. Self-mailers are cheaper to produce, but they practically never outpull envelope enclosed letter mailings.
  21. A pre-print of a forthcoming ad, accompanied by a letter and response form, will outpull a post-print mailing package by 50 percent, or more.
  22. It is easier to increase the average dollar amount of an order than it is to increase percentage of response.
  23. You will get far more new catalog customers if you put your proven winners in the front pages of your catalog.
  24. Assuming items of similar appeal, you will always get a higher response rate from a 32-page catalog than from a 24-page catalog.
  25. A new catalog to a catalog customer base will outpull cold lists by 400 to 800 percent.
  26. A print ad with a bind-in card will outpull the same ad without a bind-in up to 600 percent.
  27. A direct response, direct sale TV commercial of 120-seconds will outpull a 60-second direct response commercial better than two to one.
  28. A TV support commercial will increase response from a newspaper insert up to 50 percent.
  29. The closure rate from qualified leads can be two to four times as effective as cold calls.
  30. Telephone-generated leads are likely to close four to six times greater than mail-generated leads.
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