Millennium Madness and 99 Curmudgeonly Resolutions for Direct Mail Success

by Dean Rieck

"But it's not the millennium!"

I was standing in the grocery store with my wife. She was insisting that we buy a couple bottles of champagne to ring in the New Year and celebrate the New Millennium. I had no problem with getting some bubbly, but the whole millennium thing had been annoying me for a long time.

"It is a new year," I pointed out for the seventeenth time, "but it is not a new millennium."

My wife ignored me, scanning the shelves for the perfect vintage.

"Our decimal numbering system," I began, taking on a professorial tone, "is based on the number of fingers on our hands."

I wiggled my fingers in the air.

"We start counting with the numeral one and we continue up to the numeral 10. That's 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10. Likewise, the first modern millennium began with the Year 1 and lasted through the Year 1000. The next began with the Year 1001, lasting through the Year 2000."

My wife turned and handed me two bottles of Möet & Chandon White Star.

"So the third millennium," I concluded with a dramatic wave of the bottles, "does not begin until January 1, 2001."

My wife looked into my eyes for a moment, then in her I'm-being-as-patient-with-you-as-I-can voice said, "Dear, we celebrated your birthday two days before your actual birthday. When did you get excited? On your actual birthday or at your party?"

My mouth opened, but nothing came out.

She was right, of course. Despite rabid protestations from curmudgeons like me, the meaningless chronometer rollover to 2000 has sparked worldwide euphoria. And we now live and work in a "new age," full of hope and enthusiasm. Emotion rules and the facts be damned.

But let's not be led too far astray. Despite all the babble about this being the dawn of a new era, people are still people. And most of what worked in the past will continue to work in the future.

Loyal readers know that I preach against the evils of shallow, unthinking, technique-based advertising. However, I think it's important to take inventory of our basic selling tools every now and then. So I've upended my toolbox, sorted out 99 direct mail techniques, and phrased each in the form of a resolution. Add them to your own toolbox and pull each out as needed.

Ready? Repeat after me: When creating a direct mail package, I resolve to ...

  1. Make an irresistible offer.
  2. Give away something free to boost response.
  3. Prefer a free gift over a discount.
  4. Increase the perceived value of my offer.
  5. Reduce the perceived risk in accepting my offer.
  6. Offer attractive payment options.
  7. Use a time limit to increase urgency.
  8. Test a two-step offer for high-priced goods.
  9. Test a yes/no offer to clarify the buying decision.
  10. Test a yes/maybe offer to lower perceived commitment.
  11. Dramatize my offer with stamps or stickers.
  12. Make my offer tangible with a check or coupon.
  13. Create the envelope exclusively to get opened.
  14. Use teaser copy to tease, not tell.
  15. Consider using a plain envelope.
  16. Avoid a misleading, official-looking envelope.
  17. Use a low-key envelope for business prospects.
  18. Use my sales letter to sell and my brochure to tell.
  19. Make my letter look like a letter.
  20. Grab attention in my letter with a short first sentence.
  21. Express one central idea in my letter.
  22. Write my letter in a friendly, personal tone.
  23. Call for action early and often in my letter text.
  24. Have a high-authority person sign my letter.
  25. Personalize my letter, if possible.
  26. Use a P.S. to cite a benefit, deadline, or extra detail.
  27. Use my brochure to add credibility.
  28. Use brochure tables, charts, diagrams, and visuals to support my claims.
  29. Design my brochure for easy reading.
  30. Use clear benefit heads and subheads in my brochure.
  31. Include all features and specifics in my brochure text.
  32. Include complete ordering information in my brochure.
  33. Test my package with no brochure.
  34. Use a separate, stand-alone order form.
  35. Restate my offer on the order form.
  36. Include an order form "acceptance statement."
  37. Make my order form easy to fill out and return.
  38. Highlight the deadline on my order form.
  39. Make my order form look valuable.
  40. Call the order form something else.
  41. Consider extra order forms for pass-alongs.
  42. Order something from myself to see how easy it is.
  43. Offer a fax response option for businesses.
  44. Use my order form to highlight last-minute specials.
  45. Preprint my customer's name and address to simplify ordering.
  46. Restate my guarantee on the order form.
  47. Offer a toll-free number for faster orders.
  48. Avoid a two-sided order form.
  49. Use the back of my order form for supporting information.
  50. Give clear, simple ordering directions.
  51. Include a BRE if I ask for confidential information.
  52. Pay the postage on reply cards.
  53. Feature compelling testimonials.
  54. Edit testimonials carefully and honestly.
  55. Prefer many short quotes over a few long quotes.
  56. Group testimonials to increase impact.
  57. Use names, titles, and locations to increase testimonial credibility.
  58. Turn a good testimonial into a lift letter.
  59. Use a testimonial as a headline or benefit statement.
  60. Show people using my product or service.
  61. Give case histories of my best customers.
  62. Display a seal of approval or rating.
  63. Cite favorable reviews.
  64. Cite media coverage.
  65. Back up my offer with a strong guarantee.
  66. State my guarantee in the strongest possible terms.
  67. Keep my guarantee conditions to a minimum.
  68. Make my guarantee a prominent package element.
  69. Prefer an unconditional guarantee.
  70. Strengthen my guarantee with a signature.
  71. Extend my guarantee for as long as possible.
  72. Make my guarantee look official.
  73. Avoid asterisks and legal-looking teeny type.
  74. Reinforce my guarantee with a merchandise return label.
  75. Encourage involvement with a quiz or checklist.
  76. Emphasize exclusivity with a membership card.
  77. Add fun with a rub-off or hidden message.
  78. Answer objections or highlight a benefit with a lift letter.
  79. Increase credibility with a testimonial insert.
  80. Answer questions or objections with a Q&A insert.
  81. Prove my product superiority with a sample.
  82. Share supporting information with an article reprint.
  83. Deliver a quick pitch with an ad reprint.
  84. Announce last-minute news with a buckslip.
  85. Offer a premium on a buckslip.
  86. Draw attention with a yellow sticky note.
  87. Include company name, address, and phone on every piece.
  88. Establish a solid control before testing elements.
  89. Test one element at a time.
  90. Run statistically valid tests.
  91. Re-test anything that shows a significant change.
  92. Track results meticulously.
  93. Train my people on the importance of tracking.
  94. Analyze my results in writing.
  95. Use my test results to determine creative strategy.
  96. Keep using my control until I beat it.
  97. Test this.
  98. Test that.
  99. Test the other thing.

Remember, these techniques are merely tools. They are only as effective as the craftsman wielding them. And the most important tool you have is a three pound marvel housed between your ears. Use it liberally.

Copyright © 1999 Dean Rieck. All Rights Reserved.
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