November 21, 2014

If you are a serial direct marketer like me, marketing terms like “branding,” “public relations,” and “publicity” give us the creeps, right?

Our favorite question:

How are you going to measure THAT?

And I think I recall a case of hives early in my career when an advertising sales guy suggested I try some advertising for “brand recognition.”

I said if you can’t guarantee me a Nike swoosh, I’m not interested.

The hives then disappeared…as did the agency guy…

However, in looking back on my years in the industry and some specific case histories, I’ve recently started applying some version of  “branding”…even in a strict direct marketing environment…one where measurement and ROI is everything.

Having said that, I am not going to work on Madison Avenue anytime soon for a general advertising agency.

The story that I want to share with you this week is about a major transition at Boardroom that could be traced to a “new branding strategy”–and I realized I carry this one with me in all I am involved with today.

Of course it had other components than simply throwing advertising dollars at something without an expected return…and I hope you find the lesson valuable.

Hint: Messaging and how that messaging relates to list makeup/segmentation played a huge role.

I guess that comes as no surprise…

Our company was launched in 1972 with a newsletter called Boardroom Reports which taught small business people how to run their businesses better…it was a publication all about the practical and useful…and subscriptions were sold almost exclusively through direct mail.

In 1980, we launched a newsletter called Bottom Line/Personal (BLP) which essentially appealed to the “consumer side” of that same executive who subscribed to Boardroom Reports.

BLP focused on things like your health, personal finance, home, auto, taxes, personal development…practical and useful too but all ”non-business information” that an affluent executive would want to know about how to create more abundance in all aspects of their life.

Not surprisingly, Bottom Line/Personal grew rapidly and soon eclipsed Boardroom Reports in circulation and overall responsiveness—especially to our other offers including consumer related books.

Clearly this new consumer focus engaged a much wider audience and one that was easier to reach through direct mail (i.e. there were many more responsive lists available to us on the consumer side).

Furthermore, as we got into consumer publishing in a bigger way, we realized that the category of “health” was huge by itself despite looking initially like a niche within BLP.

Then we got REALLY busy: Health newsletters followed and dozens of health books too…and today I would say 80% or more of our books focus on health…with the rest of our editorial being in the areas of finance, consumer information and the like.

Business information had taken a back seat.

So what happened to poor Boardroom Reports?

Well, the core audience interested in “business information,” while enthusiastic for the newsletter, shrunk quite a bit due to attrition and lack of available outside lists.

And of course our house list was not responding all that well with the new focus on consumer-related editorial, especially health.

That is, attracting new subscribers to Boardroom Reports was hard while new customer acquisition in our new consumer categories was easier and more lucrative.

But it was difficult to let go of our “first born”…and Boardroom Reports chugged along, albeit very marginally.

Then we had an innovative idea for a test. Here was the logic:

The database of our existing customers–after the explosion of Bottom Line/Personal–had huge identification and affinity with the “brand” called “Bottom Line” –so instead of giving up on the consumers who still might want business information, we met them where they identified with us the most:

Boardroom Reports was re-named Bottom Line/Business.

It was also re-designed to look like a true sister publication to Bottom Line/Personal…and we created promotion that looked and sounded more like what our customers were used to seeing for our rapidly growing consumer publications.

Result: A huge lift in response from the house audience to the new Bottom Line/Business and new life for our original flagship publication.

We were able to keep the newsletter alive (and profitable) for a few more years.

When we eventually folded Bottom Line/Business it was done by choice and not as much by necessity…always a better way to go.

At that point we realized that the subject area was an outlier and we had gotten so much better at marketing in the consumer categories…which at that time deserved 100% of our editorial focus too.

But we learned valuable lessons we could take forward from this transition from Boardroom Reports to Bottom Line/Business

Our first health newsletter—Health Confidential—had a huge growth spurt when it was re-branded as Bottom Line/Health—and it remains that title to this day.

Our wonderful tax newsletter, Tax Hotline, got some new life when it went wider as Bottom Line/Wealth.

Bottom Line/Tomorrow (retirement newsletter) and Bottom Line’s Natural Healing with Dr. Mark Stengler were both launched with those titles.

We didn’t even bother trying anything BUT “Bottom Line” for starters…we are fast learners!

All of our books became “Bottom Line Books” rather than “Boardroom Books” and that’s how we brand all of our books presently.

And our main website right now is

I know it all sounds a bit simple…and obvious…but the fact that we have never been a household name (or brand) made it less obvious that we were sitting on a killer brand to a pretty large audience.

Plus, in looking back on it, I admit that I was stubborn about the whole concept since I always told people that the idea of “branding” gave me hives.

What that stubbornness got me was today’s subject line AND it’s a reminder that we should never dismiss anything in the marketing landscape that can add to overall reach…and impact.

Although I will always be a slave to numbers and what the great copywriter Gary Bencivenga calls “accountable advertising.”

My post “Hanging out at Barnes and Noble with a hand truck” showed how we even took the Bottom Line “brand” to products we didn’t produce in the first place (i.e. other publisher’s books).

As my good friend and expert marketer/consultant Michael Fishman has said to me many times over the years:

“A brand name isn’t everything…but it’s something. Always know how known or unknown your brand is (to any particular audience).”

I also like to quote ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky in this context:

“I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”

We didn’t plan on changing the entire branding of our company from “Boardroom” to “Bottom Line” but our audience told us that’s where we should go…

And who are we to argue with the folks who ultimately pay our rent and the electric bill?

Until next week,


P.S. The “Titans of Direct Response” DVD’s are just about ready…here is what the package looks like and a list of all the amazing presentations on 12 discs:

Click to enlarge

Based on the number of people who e-mailed me last week with a “can’t wait,” I pushed that much harder to get these done.

I’ll be in touch with you very shortly with an awesome offer for the DVD’s and so much more.

Thanks for your patience– I’ll make it worth the wait!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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