November 13, 2022

When I wrote “Email is a contact sport,” earlier this year, and just re-read it as I was preparing to teach the current “Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp” about “states of awareness” and “levels of sophistication,” I came up with three more examples of marketing, contributing and connecting as contact sports (in addition to email).

Simply put, creating lifetime value in all your endeavors is a contact sport.

Note that none of this “contact” is violent and concussions are rare (reference to America’s ultimate contact sport, football).

And American football is more of a “collision sport” …and while email and lifetime value “collisions” can happen too, they are not necessarily dangerous or required.

Also, since I am just getting over my first bout of COVID, to be clear, I am not talking about tracing any contacts (or collisions) over the past week. 🙂

“Email is a contact sport” explored two basic principles:

  1. Engagement is a two-way street
  2. It pays to reply to every email with more than an autoresponder (except those from a Nigerian prince about an inheritance or someone who is asking you for money who would never ask you for money)

Now I will take those two principles beyond email…

Contact strategy

When I worked at Boardroom (the newsletter and book publisher where I learned direct marketing beginning in the 1980’s), direct mail was the medium of choice.

We didn’t know much about ascension models but we were able to sell at least two billion dollars’ worth of books and subscriptions, $39 at a time, during my time there.

That’s because we knew a lot about database marketing and regression modeling—how to focus on the best buyers and prospects for maximum (multiple) orders and profit—which was our winning formula.

One strategy we employed was what we called “contact strategy” –which today can be employed in any business–but back in the 1980’s, this simple tweak in how we engaged with our newest book buyers became one of the most profitable things we ever did.

Here’s how it worked:

  • Someone would buy a book from us through direct mail—from one of two broad categories (consumer/financial OR health).
  • They would buy the book on a “bill me later basis”—yes, database marketing allowed us to prescreen our audience to make sure we didn’t mail to deadbeats. (If you would like to learn more about how a true “bill me later offer” works, read “A lifetime begins with a second year…”)
  • We would get anywhere from 60% to 80% of these buyers to pay us (after they receive the book in the mail with a bill) …and once they paid, that triggered our “contact strategy” piece of direct mail.
  • The contact strategy mailing would be a single page with an order card in a simple envelope—a thank you for buying the book they just bought (with a picture of the book on the page to remind them further)—offering a free 3 issue subscription to one of our newsletters, either Bottom Line/Personal (if they bought a consumer/financial book) or Bottom Line/Health (if they bought a health book).
  • While this seems closer to an autoresponder than a personal piece of mail, it worked as “personalized” since it spoke to each buyer based on their recent purchase…and since they paid for the first product from a bill me offer, they were good bets to pay for the free trial subscription as well.
  • And they paid for the subscriptions at an 80% clip or higher…with low overhead (i.e., an inexpensive sales letter and mailing piece).

If you are thinking, “Nothing new here…it’s just like an order bump or upsell,” you are correct.

But how much are you paying attention to the messaging, price, offer of your bumps and upsells?

And…if you are not promoting a $39 offer to millions (like we were), how could you personalize your messaging further?

For example, if you have an ascension model, moving to higher priced products with your bumps and upsells, why couldn’t you send a personal email, an invitation to converse with them or even make a phone call?

You are aware that smartphones can be used as phones, don’t you?

And there’s always personalized videos, audio and text messages…and Zoom.

We couldn’t personalize more than we did given the restrictions of direct mail, email not being invented yet, and the quantity we were dealing with…but you can.

Touch everyone personally who spends money with you…and many who spend nothing with you

The first example above, using a form of “mass personalization” (in direct mail), was to prove the point that if you don’t need to print anything or pay postage, why does everything need to be automated?

I talked a lot more about this in “Email is a contact sport” but it deserves repeating…and integrating a real, personal email at some point in your “funnel” is always welcome…and I am surprised how few people do it.

Or try it.

The first step if you have been allergic to anything that is not automated, is to start with people who spend money with you.

It doesn’t matter how much they spend either…because those who spend a little today can spend more tomorrow…and even if they don’t spend more tomorrow, you will learn something from the interaction.

Personal interaction becomes engagement very quickly…and if you can spend an extra five minutes with an intriguing new customer, I guarantee you will get paid back in some way…maybe even with more money. 🙂

Most online marketers think I’m crazy that I respond to folks with customer service issues on their Breakthrough Advertising orders (a $125 purchase); or that I “allow” you, the readers of this weekly blog, to email me directly (while many of you have never spent any money with me but you have spent your valuable time with my writing); or that when someone is having difficulty during the “Breakthrough Advertising Bootcamp” (a $197 purchase) I answer them before, during and after.

And those of you who email me know that I always respond…maybe not immediately…but I do respond.

Of course, I have autoresponders set up for the basic FAQ’s for everything I do and sell…but I look at every personal email more as an opportunity than an intrusion.

Monetizing your network

I attended a seminar last week which had over 300 high-powered entrepreneurs in the audience…and at one point during the event, a young man stood up to share his perspective:

“I am 26 years old, I am learning so much and I feel blessed to be here. My question for the more experienced people who are here: How can I monetize my network? I have met so many people in my journey to date but how can I make money with the network and networking skills I have?”

I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to find him later in the crowd to talk to him or not.

But before I had a chance to think about it too much, at the next break, I got a tap on my shoulder and it was him.

He said he knew I was at the event and wanted to meet me because he was a fan.

He was polite, respectful, and told me how much he loved my book Overdeliver.

Of course, I used the line from the great Mark Ford (a.k.a. Michael Masterson):

“Flattery doesn’t work on everyone but it works on me. Thank you.”

However, with this 26-year-old entrepreneur who is looking to monetize his network, I had some additional questions for him assuming he was sincere (and I had no reason to doubt him at this point):

  • When you said you wanted to get paid from your network, were you talking about things other than cash?
  • How do you define “network?”
  • Do you realize that no matter how skillful you are at creating relationship capital that it takes time to create deep connections (i.e., 26 years is not a very long time)?
  • What contributions have you made to your “network?”
  • It’s clear you already have mentors who care about you…which is amazing at your age…did you choose them or did they choose you? (And if they chose you, keep doing what you’ve been doing)

Our conversation went on for a while longer.

And I’m not sure if he is still a fan. 🙂

Although he stayed with me, answered all my questions as best he could, I gave him some perspective from my career, and hopefully he took in what he thought applied to his life.

I guess I just wanted him to be patient…good things will come if he is not thinking about cashing in on his relationships as a top priority…although I understand the kid needs to eat.

I will end this post with the three things I ended “Email is a contact sport” …but broadening them out a bit.

How can you create lifetime value with all your contacts?

  • Be open to all personal communications (except for the ones from the Nigerian prince) …no matter where they come from. Everything doesn’t need to go to your autoresponder, your assistant, the wastebasket or a “delete archive.”
  • Read them, engage with them, study them—before you dismiss them– with an eye towards the level of awareness and level of sophistication of the person who is communicating with you. (See chapters two and three of Breakthrough Advertising.) 
  • Respond in some way to as many as you can—within reason–with your own personal touch relating to what they tell you about themselves…always be interested first, interesting later…with an intention (not a requirement) of getting paid…maybe even with money. 



P.S. One of the copywriters who had a knack for creating personal, yet mass, direct mail was the amazing Bill Jayme.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, he was the most in-demand copywriter among the largest consumer magazines (and many other categories as well).

Sometimes you needed to wait 18 months to two years to get on his writing calendar.

I currently have 12 copies in my warehouse of The Bill Jayme Collection and I want to make them available to you today (as long as they last).

After Bill passed away, his partner (and expert designer) Heikki Ratalahti worked with me to create a USB thumb drive of every direct package Bill Jayme ever wrote—210 individual direct mail efforts in PDF format for 138 different mailers in all categories (including arts and entertainment, business and money, education, fashion and consumer, food and home, gardening and outdoor living, health, news and politics, regional living, technology, travel).

He had such a universal (and magic) touch.

The single USB is indexed by category and completely searchable.

Plus, we added a bonus of Bill himself presenting live.

If you would like to read more about this “deeply and irrevocably personal” copywriter–and possibly add this priceless collection to your direct marketing library–click here.

By the way, Jayme would have crushed it with email. 🙂

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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