January 4, 2020

Cold traffic is a term I hear at least once a day and I think I finally figured out what it means:

“Outside lists who have no idea who you are.”

Am I close?

And whether it’s an outside list or cold traffic, selling to them is clearly more challenging than writing and selling to your family, previous buyers of your products or folks who already know, like and trust you.

I have members in my Titans Mastermind (and speakers coming in as well) who are experts at “converting cold traffic online”—and we will share some of those presentations with the Titans Xcelerator group over the next year.

Today I want to talk about lead generation from a different angle: Not only where your new customers come from but how you initially got them (i.e. creative and copy) — and how that plays into how long they stay part of your “family.”

I would never tell anyone in marketing not to do lead generation—but when you do lead generation with the end in mind (or at least what you plan to do with that lead once you have it) you have the makings of a business (and not just a quick hit).

Tomorrow I will be a speaker on this exact topic on the Heart-Centered Lead Generation Summit talking about Lead Generation in this way (i.e. with the end in mind).

More on that in the P.S.

But here’s a taste of what I will talk about tomorrow—and it’s an excerpt from chapter 5 on “Offers” in Overdeliver:

Choosing the Right Campaign Structure for Your Offer (or, How You Sell Predicts How They Will Respond)

How you present your offer to your lists, internally and externally, will often determine the kind of response you get.

Not just the number of responses, but the kind of people that end up becoming your new customers.

For example, if you sell your offer with a sweepstakes, the people who respond are likely to be impulsive and might not have a high lifetime value, being more interested in winning millions of dollars than actually investing in your products or services.

Or they might not pay as much for a particular offer and they might only do free trials (and are therefore more likely to be tire kickers). While they may still be profitable, they will have a lower lifetime value than other segments.

But if you sell with long-form copy, online or offline, lifetime value is likely to increase, because the customers are going to be more engaged with the offer from the outset. That’s what I mean when I say that how you sell predicts how the list will respond.

Regardless of the offers you make and how you sell them, you have to track how the list buys and how (and if) they buy again later.

I’ve seen this play out many times, whether I was renting the Boardroom list to other mailers or selling our own products to our house list. I was always very conscious of those different buyer profiles (i.e., what offers they had previously responded to) to segment the lists and ensure the right people were sent the most appropriate offer with the most appropriate type of campaign.

The Survey Package versus the Bookalog

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages called the 1990s, one of the greatest copywriters of all time, Gary Bencivenga, wrote a lucrative front-end promotion for Bottom Line/Personal (BL/P) that we called the survey package.

By “front end” I mean it was to attract new customers who were mostly unfamiliar with the newsletter and the brand.

The survey package was a fairly simple letter, in a standard envelope, with a gift certificate attached to the letter. The gift certificate was also the order device.

The letter began:

I need your honest opinion . . . and I’m willing to reward you handsomely for it. That’s why I’ve enclosed the above gift certificate, which entitles you to two very valuable gifts in exchange for your opinion.

The goal was to have prospects send in the “survey” with the gift certificate to get a free trial subscription to the newsletter. It was a generous offer: six free issues and a premium book before they had to pay anything, a true “try it before you buy it,” what we called the bill-me-later approach.

Getting people to subscribe with a survey felt like a gimmick and not the best way to sell such high-quality information. Despite that, the campaign was incredibly successful. The survey package performed like a sweepstakes, in that people felt they would be missing out on something from us if they didn’t participate.

As you might expect, since the trial subscribers came into the newsletter without a lot of selling or extensive background on how great BL/P really was, the number of people who actually paid us the $29.95 subscription price after the free trial period was lower than previous packages.

That’s what I meant when I said the survey was more of a gimmick rather than the most powerful way to sell such important consumer information.

We had a great hook that led to an impulsive response, but the promotion did not reflect what the product was all about.

Impulse gets people to respond . . . but it doesn’t necessarily get them to stick around.

The bottom line (pun intended) was that the survey package was, net-net, a huge success since it added many new paying subscribers, despite the low pay-up rate. However, the low pay-up rate ultimately became a problem, and it didn’t feel great that many of the trial subscribers were unresponsive to the material.

I really didn’t like the survey package. There was nothing illegal or immoral about it, but it always felt like a less than admirable way to sell the best consumer newsletter in America.

A rule of thumb to being a world-class direct marketer—at least in my playbook—is to believe that the control is your enemy. It may be the current winner, but it’s there to be beaten too.

Whether I liked it or not, the survey package would have to remain the control until it was beaten on the battlefield of statistical significance . . . so I was pretty motivated to create a new package to beat it.

Lucky for me, I was working with the best copywriter on the planet at the time.

Gary Bencivenga also saw the flaws with selling this offer via the survey package, despite the success it had up front. He is the one who did the deep thinking (and heavy lifting) to then beat his own control.

Gary wrote a masterpiece to test against the survey package: a 64-page bookalog (which looks like a digest magazine) titled The Little Black Book of Secrets.

There was no survey or quick, impulsive gift certificate order device featured in those 64 pages.

And in fact it wasn’t all sales copy either.

There’s an expression we used before longer formats became more prevalent in direct mail: Selling the sizzle but not the steak. This meant that we didn’t want to give away the “meat” of the product in our attempts to sell it. The intrigue and mystery was part of the selling process.

However, longer direct mail at that time was trending toward giving away some steak along with the sizzle, and Gary’s bookalog did that very well.

You might even say that promotions like that bookalog were a precursor to the content marketing we see online today.

So what were the front-end results of the bookalog against the survey package?

Much lower: It produced approximately half the number of new trial subscribers on the front end.

But the back-end results were just the opposite. The percentage of people who actually paid for the newsletter after taking a trial subscription from the bookalog was close to double that of the survey package . . . and they paid long before they got all of their six free issues, which I think is a tribute to the “steak” included in the bookalog.

Put another way, the bookalog got lower numbers initially but more quality engagement in the long run, and that led to much higher profits when we analyzed the subscribers from the bookalog offer after the first sale.

Tracking those subscribers who initially came in from the bookalog into their second year renewal (what we called conversions) showed us the true miracle.

These subscribers were engaged in such a way from the initial promotion that their expectations were met in year one of their subscription . . . and then long into the future.

They were worth much more long term than the survey subscribers.

The Lifetime Vale (LTV) of subscribers who came in from the bookalog over those who originally came in from the survey package was a real game changer. The bookalog became the new control, and it inspired many packages like it in the future.

We also sold all sorts of books to our subscriber list, and the response rate to all our book offers (also using longer promotional copy) was significantly higher among the subscribers who came in from the bookalog over the survey package subscribers.

That is, new long-form copy promotions did better with people who came in from previous long-form copy promotions.

And there was one more way the subscribers from the bookalog added to the company’s profit:

When we rented our lists to the outside world (equivalent to folks using their list for revenue share or affiliate offers online today), outside mailers saw higher response rates when they mailed names derived from the bookalog.

Quality over quantity indeed—how we sold (bookalog versus survey) had a statistically significant impact on how our audience responded to our offers.

Here are the two packages:

The Paranoid Package versus the Happy-Go-Lucky-Package

This second example of “how you promote is how they will respond” is also an example of how you promote while creating new list universes…if you pay close attention.

Just after the dinosaurs became extinct, around 1986, we tested what we called a “paranoid package” for BL/P with the headline The World Crisis of 1986.

The control at the time was a package that sold a wonderful premium book, How to Do Everything Right—a promotion that was much more upbeat and optimistic. (I guess anything seems upbeat compared to a world crisis.)

On the surface, the test results were clear: How to Do Everything Right defended its position as the control by a wide margin when we looked at the mailing in its entirety.

 It looked like paranoia could be put to the side until the next world crisis.

However, something strange happened on the way to burying that test: When we looked at how each package did on a list-by-list basis, we found that there were certain names who were less interested in the mainstream offer and fell more in the opportunity-seeker category. These people responded to the world crisis package at a much higher rate than they did to the control.

To cut to the chase, we discovered that we had two list universes—two different sets of names with two distinct interests.

So we ended up with two controls—one upbeat and one paranoid—each mailing to the list universe most suited to the messaging.

Key lesson: if we could create multiple control offers for different audiences in the most expensive medium (direct mail)—with extra printing, sorting, and postage costs—shouldn’t you be thinking about multiple controls to various list segments in your online business all the time?

While one-size-fits-all creative can be profitable, it is not the strategy for long-term business building.

Just about everyone on your list will be on other people’s lists too. But they come to you to meet a particular interest or need, so the makeup of your list is always going to be one of a kind.

And sometimes selling in a different style can help you understand the makeup of your list(s) even more effectively.

Another Lesson: There are no unique names, only unique lists.

Here are the two packages if you are interested:

And here are four other lessons from both of these examples:

  • Read your numbers, listen to your audience, and look for the hidden offer opportunities—and then act on the opportunities that present themselves.
  • Don’t underestimate the impact of how you promote on the kind of customers you will attract.
  • Make sure you can calculate the lifetime value of every new customer based on the promotion they came in on. The initial sale is only one metric—and LTV, not the first sale, may be the most important metric when deciding on your most profitable acquisition vehicle.
  • If you think these concepts are only true for direct mail, think again. All these principles apply on any channel you decide to use.



P.S. If you are intrigued by the notion of “lead generation with the end in mind” illustrated by the examples above (and also all aspects of lead generation) sign up for the Heart-Centered Lead Generation Summit which starts tomorrow, Monday January 6th.

It’s free.

And I am on the docket on the first day! Yikes! 🙂

Go here now to tap into the awesome speakers host Christine Schlonski has lined up– grab your free ticket plus the “Playbook” for the entire event.

P.P.S. Here’s a teaser:

P.P.P.S. And here’s the link again for a free ticket the full Lead Generation Summit!

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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