November 23, 2015

Once upon a time, back in the dark ages called the 1990’s, one of the greatest copywriters of all time, Gary Bencivenga, wrote a lucrative front end promotion (for Boardroom’s newsletter Bottom Line/Personal) which we called “the survey package.”

Today I want to tell you two stories.

I’ll start with how we killed the “survey package.”

Story #1 : The Survey Package vs. The Bookalog

Sounds like a wonderful children’s story ready to be made into an animated film, right?

The survey package was a fairly simple letter in a standard #10 envelope…with a gift certificate attached to the letter (which was also the order device)…and 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 for a free trial subscription to the newsletter.

It was a generous offer (6 free issues and a premium book before they had to pay anything…a true “try it before you like it” approach); but the way we got them to subscribe was, even in my high-integrity opinion, a “gimmick.”

It was incredibly successful…one of the highest front end responses in our history without the use of a contest or sweepstakes (and by front end I mean trial subscribers, not taking into account who paid for the newsletter).

As you might expect, since they came into the newsletter without a lot of “selling” or background on how great Bottom Line/Personal really is, the number of people who actuallypaid us the $29.95 subscription price after the 6 free issue trial period was lower than previous packages.

We had a great hook which 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 net-net was still a huge success since it added many new, paid subscribers.

However, it bugged us that the pay up was so low and many of the trial subscribers were, for lack of a better term, “disappointed.”

And we speculated that those who did pay may not be as loyal long term.

But at this point, that was only speculation.

I really didn’t like the survey package…there was nothing illegal or immoral about it…but it always felt like a roundabout way to sell what I knew was the best consumer newsletter in America.

If you’ve been a reader of this blog over the past couple of years you know that a rule of thumb to being a world class direct marketer (in my play book) is to believe that “the control is your enemy.”

For those of you who are new to that concept, your “control” is your best promotion at any point in time.

So in this example, figuring out how to test against the survey package (and beat it) was now the task at hand (despite its success on the basic metrics we used to call a winner).

One of my other premises that goes hand in hand with “the control is your enemy” is:

“The best package is the best package”.

What that means: Until the survey package got beat on the battlefield called “statistically significant test,” the survey package was my control…and my best friend.

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

Gary Bencivenga saw the benefits and flaws with the survey package…and he is the one who did the deep thinking (and heavy lifting) to beat his own package.

I talked about Gary and this concept in a previous blog titled…what else…The control is your enemy.

Gary wrote a masterpiece to test against the survey package: A 64 page “bookalog” (looks like a digest magazine) which had the title, “The Little Black Book of Secrets.” Click the image for a closer look.

There was no survey or quick, impulsive gift certificate order device featured in those 64 pages…in fact it wasn’t all “selling copy” either…it had sizzle AND steak (which longer direct mail at the time was trending to…a precursor of “content marketing” we see online today).

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…

But what about the back end results?

The percentage of people who PAID for the newsletter after taking a trial subscription from the bookalog was close to double…and they paid way before they got all of their 6 free issues too.

I guess you can say the bookalog ended up with less quantity initially but more quality in the long run…and that quality led to much higher profits when we analyzed the subscribers from the bookalog offer after the first sale.

Tracking those subscribers who came in initially from the bookalog into their second year (renewal– or what we call “conversions”) was the true miracle.

They were engaged in such a way from the initial promotion that their expectations were met in year one–and then into the future.

The “lifetime value” (LTV) of subscribers who came in from the bookalog over those who originally came in from the survey package was the game changer.

The bookalog became the new control and it inspired new packages like it in the future.

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

And one other way the subscribers from the booklog added to the company’s profit:

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

Quality over quantity indeed.

Story #2 The Paranoid Package vs. 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 can create 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 Bottom Line/Personal with the headline “The World Crises of 1986” (which if you plugged in 2015 for 1986 the headline would still be relevant…unfortunately…).

The control at the time was a package that sold a wonderful premium book, “How To Do Everything Right”–and the promotion was much more upbeat and optimistic.

Anything other than a “world crises” would seem upbeat I guess…

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 entire mailing– ?it looked like ?”paranoia” could be put to the side until the next world crises…

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 lists…more in the “opportunity seeker” category and less in the mainstream…that responded to the “World Crises package” at a much higher rate than the control.

To cut to the chase on this story, we ended up with TWO controls…each mailing to the universe of lists most suited for the messaging.

Key lesson: If we could create multiple controls for different audiences in the most expensive medium (direct mail)–with extra printing, sorting, postage–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…and it’s sort of lazy too.

I highly recommend focusing on getting the most from the lists you mail by changing your creative approaches accordingly– whether mailing customers, prospects or suspects.

There are no unique names, only unique lists.

Just because promoting online is cheap doesn’t mean you should ignore the relationship between your creative messaging and your lists.

In the words of Jay Abraham, you should always focus on:

“Getting everything you can out of all you’ve got.”

Creative and copy will dictate so much in your marketing…read your numbers, look for the hidden opportunities…and then act on the opportunities that present themselves.

To summarize:

  1. Don’t underestimate the power of “how you promote” to what kind of customers you attract.
  2. Make sure you can calculate the lifetime value (LTV) 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.
  3. If you think these concepts are only true for direct mail, think again.



P.S. Please e-mail me with your own examples of what you’ve learned about your customer base based upon how folks were initially sold. I can share some of those examples in future blogs.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

  1. Dear Brian–
    Hi Brian,

    Julia Guth here. I have worked with Bill Bonner at Agora for over 25 years, as head of The Oxford Club. The Oxford Club is considered Agora’s most successful franchise over the long run. That also makes us one of Agora’s most “mature” businesses. We have over 20k lifetime VIP subscribers, paying great residual income. We are a reliably profitable business every year.
    In the last couple of years we’ve become “stuck” at highly respectable but uninspiring gross and net revenue. We want to get unstuck, so I am starting to reach out to learn different ways to do things.
    One essential ingredient we know we need is more copywriters, both for short and long copy. I have made the decision to hire an outside consultant to help us find great copywriters. Ideally we want a copywriter recruiter, in-house full time, to do nothing but network and recruit experienced copywriters or new copywriters with strong potential. But we could start with an outside recruiter/consultant.

    In all these years, I don’t think we ever met. Your name came up today as someone who presents very well on how to find copywriters…maybe even consults for other organizations. And yes, we still promote the Club through direct mail.

    I would appreciate the opportunity to talk to you, to introduce the Oxford Club to you, to see if there is a project we could work on together that could help both our businesses.

    Please let me know your level of interest.

    Thank you. Julia Guth, CEO & Publisher, The Oxford Club 410-223-2630

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