Direct Marketing Fundamentals: How to Increase Response (an Interview)

Brian Kurtz has been a direct marketing professional for 36 years. By studying legendary direct marketing practitioners, he has learned that the keys to their selling success apply to all marketing channels. And he co-wrote a book on the topic.

I recently had the chance to interview Brian.

“Everyone receives marketing messages differently,” he told me. An older audience, for example, may be more inclined to receive marketing offers in their physical mailbox, whereas a person between 40 and 50 may prefer email.

Getting a response to your marketing, however, is what’s most important.

Brian shared some key fundamentals for increasing response rates, including the importance of using multiple marketing channels.


Here is the full text of the interview.

Leslie DeLay: Hi, I’m Leslie DeLay, sitting here with Mr. Brian Kurtz, co-author of The Advertising Solution: Influence Prospects, Multiply Sales, and Promote Your Brand. Brian, welcome.

Brian Kurtz: Thanks, Leslie. Thanks for having me.

LD: Brian, I enjoyed reading your book The Advertising Solution. I liked that it educates the reader on how to market a business and how to generate a marketing response. Before we get into talking about your book, can you tell the reader a little about yourself and your background?

Brian KurtzBK: Sure. I’ve been practicing direct marketing for over 36 years. I cut my teeth in the early 1980s, in the world of direct mail. I helped build a company called Boardroom Inc., which was a newsletter and book publisher aimed at consumers, specializing in health and financial information, as well as useful content for the busy executive.

I’ve had a great ride in consumer marketing, and I never met a medium that I didn’t like. Even though I started mostly doing direct mail, whenever there was something testable with our creative or with our products, I would look into it—whether it was TV or radio or newspaper advertising or package inserts in outgoing products. Once the Internet became prevalent, it was clear the Internet was the ultimate direct response medium.

What I mean when I say “direct response”: Everything I’ve done in my career in all media had to “pay out.” I had to get a measurable response from everything that I sent. I only chose media that had a direct response/direct marketing component to it.

The Internet presented the ultimate direct response medium, not only because you could track all of your responses, but you could get an immediate response as opposed to direct mail, which could take weeks or even months to find out the success or failure of a marketing campaign.

So that’s my experience in a nutshell.

I left Boardroom in 2015 and went out on my own. I decided that for the second half of my career, instead of being a practicing direct marketer, I wanted to be an educator. I started teaching, and I run two high-end mastermind groups for direct response marketers, copywriters, and entrepreneurs.

I do a lot of interesting things with both these groups and individual consulting clients. And then I wrote The Advertising Solution with co-author Craig Simpson. I’m writing a second book now, and I’m also publishing a lot of other material on direct response marketing under my new company’s brand, Titans Marketing.

LD: Brian, what was the inspiration behind writing The Advertising Solution?

BK: I can’t lie, the inspiration was Craig Simpson. He called me and said, “Do you want to do this book with me?” It was more his brainchild than mine. The idea for the book was to profile six legends of advertising, and even though they weren’t considered “direct marketers,” per se, they were basically the forerunners of everything we do today in direct marketing.

The reason the book is called The Advertising Solution is that these men were considered the “Mad men” of advertising. The book features David Ogilvy, one of the fathers of advertising; Claude Hopkins, who wrote the book Scientific Advertising in 1943; and Gary Halbert and Eugene Schwartz, who were two of the greatest copywriters of all time. The other two are John Caples and Robert Collier

They all did their work in more traditional, offline direct marketing and advertising media, but everything they did applies to online marketing, despite none of them ever being exposed in a significant way to the Internet.

All six legends have one thing in common: They all are very interested in the results of their work and getting measurement out of their marketing.

Even though they were considered what I call “general advertising men,” I like to say they are direct marketers trapped in general advertisers’ bodies.

So… Craig called me and said, “You know, I’ve done a lot of research on these six guys. I’ve been through all their books and writings. I want to do a book that profiles them. And I’d like you to do it with me—because you’ve been studying these same six guys (among many others) for your entire career.”

Craig and I were in sync with the fact that marketing fundamentals don’t change, and we both teach that understanding where these fundamentals originated will only enhance everything you do today. I always say, “Knowing where babies come from” is really important. That is, if you really understand the fundamentals, or what I call the “eternal truths” of direct marketing and advertising, you’ll realize that everything you might use today, whether it’s Facebook or Google AdWords or display advertising, everything is based on those fundamentals.

So, it didn’t take me long to say to Craig, “Yes, I’ll do the book with you.”

The beauty is, he did a lot of the legwork by going through the works of these six legends. My job included the editing of what he put together into a series of lists and checklists that marketers today could follow. Those lists incorporate all the great knowledge from the six profiled legends, and the application of that knowledge to everything that’s state of the art in marketing today. Editing it alone was an inspiration.

But I should say (as I wrote in the foreword of the book) that the words, “The Advertising Solution,” were a bit of a turnoff for me from the start, because the word “advertising” could be misinterpreted as suggesting the business of general advertising—which is not direct marketing.

General advertising does not usually have a measurable response attached to it. But when I realized what Craig was doing, I realized this project was a great fit.

So that’s where the inspiration came from. It was a perfect fit with my educational mission of bringing eternal truths of the past and connecting them with everything that’s state of the art in the present.

LD: Can we talk about those fundamentals Brian? What are they, in a nutshell?

BK: There are many, but a couple of them I talked about in the book. One is the importance of a contact (potential customer) list.

For example, a lot of online marketers today will throw almost any type of offer out there because they’re doing an affiliate deal and they can be endorsed by someone else’s list. That’s great, but then they don’t take the time and effort to really think about list segmentation and the audience they are going after. One needs to adapt the messaging and the offer specifically to that list.

The fundamental would be what I call the “40/40/20 rule,” which is, “The success of any direct marketing campaign depends 40% on the list, 40% on the offer and 20% on the creative.”

Getting those three things to work together in sync will explode your results—as opposed to being lazy about any one of them. Today the cost to market online (Facebook, email) is so much cheaper than direct mail or TV or radio, but just because it’s cheaper doesn’t mean you need to be lazy.

So that’s one of the rules of thumb, to take the same care and concern for your list—your offer, your creative, even when you’re not paying postage and printing.

I often say that “paying postage made me a better marketer,” and it’s because of the care and concern that we took when we were doing direct mail exclusively before the Internet.

Another set of fundamentals we covered in the book are the fundamentals of what makes a great ad, a great promotion. It is critical to review your checklist before throwing something out into the marketplace. Does your headline look compelling? Are you using action words?

So there are so many things that go into “the fundamentals,” which we could cover for days.

LD: Brian that leads to my next question. On pg. 173 of The Advertising Solution, you quoted David Ogilvy: “Advertising which promises no benefit to the consumer does not sell, yet the majority of campaigns contain no promise what[so]ever.” You noted that was the most important line in the book. Can you explain?

BK: I think one of the fundamentals (going back to your other question, too) is that you not only have to talk about the features of what you are selling, but there has to be something game-changing in it for the prospect or the potential buyer.

Everything you do has to include the idea of “What’s in it for me?” for the prospect or the consumer.

If you’re not talking about the “benefits” of how this product is going to change their life, you’re missing the boat. It is one of the most important things. The material needs to be very “You” oriented—and not just bragging about your product or service, but saying why it’s so good [for the customer].

I had a consulting call recently, where I was helping someone position their product for sale. It’s a product that is more of a “preventative product.” For example, with insurance, the benefit is when you cash in on the insurance policy (after something bad happens).

It’s very hard to sell prevention. You can do it, but talking about the benefits are so important. Because if you’re going to sell a product that offers prevention, your prospect must understand what the worst-case scenario is if they don’t take or use the product and prevent…something horrendous happening to them in the future.

So, I prefer selling cures, real solutions, rather than selling prevention. I like selling solutions because that’s what the prospect or your buyer really wants. But the Ogilvy quote you mention is particularly important—that if you’re selling anything that is useful for a rainy day or prevention, you have to be even more of a slave to the benefit that the consumer is going to derive.

In that case, sometimes fear-based selling has to be part of your argument. You have to sort of sell from a worst-case scenario.

One of the products I was talking about with this client was a safety product, only needed if there was a disaster in someone’s home. If you’re selling a product that is only going to work in an extreme situation, you have to tell the prospect that the benefit is being able sleep well at night. They don’t have to worry because they are covered. It’s sort of like a burglar alarm, or insurance.

You have to sell the idea…of benefit, even if they can’t benefit from it immediately.

LD: So it’s addressing a fear with some type of positive solution.

BK: Exactly.

LD: Brian, what is the importance of a direct response “campaign” (i.e., continuous outreach) vs. a one-off marketing effort? And if “campaign” is the right term to use, how do you view and define that word?

BK: I think I would rephrase the question a little bit and say that one of the first direct marketing rules of thumb I learned is from a quote that says, “No business (specifically no direct marketing business) can really survive without repeat business.”

Think about it:

  • How many restaurants will stay in business if everybody is a first-time customer and nobody ever comes back?
  • How many magazines will remain in circulation if no one renews and you have to keep selling to new subscribers every year?
  • How many people are going to buy a product online and if you don’t have something else to sell them to that’s related?

You probably would have to make such a large profit on that first product sale, and that will be what determines whether you stay in business or not.

A “campaign” is one way to put it, but I’m going to talk about the idea that no business can really exist without repeat business, without renewal business. The rule of thumb is that it’s a lot easier to resell somebody on a product or service they’re satisfied with than to sell something entirely new to someone from the start.

So, a lot of people think the sexy part of marketing is bringing in a new customer and selling them from scratch: getting them to buy something they’ve never bought before.

What’s not considered so sexy is saying, “You’ve been my customer for a year. Now I want you to stay for another year, and I want to review the benefits you’ve enjoyed. I want to also cover all the benefits you’re going to get by staying stay with me or by buying another awesome, related product.”

That selling approach (since they already know you) isn’t going to be as expensive. But it will be way more profitable.

For example, in direct mail or on TV, if you’re selling to someone for the first time, you need a much longer selling message. You probably need pages and pages of a sales letter, or you might need an infomercial that’s 30 minutes instead of 2 minutes, in order to sell to them for the first time.

Once they’re a customer, you might be able to resell them in an email. You might be able to resell them with a postcard because they already know who you are. So it’s much less expensive to resell a customer and yet way more profitable.

The other piece of all this is that you must, must, must—when you’re doing any kind of marketing—calculate the lifetime value of a new customer.

What I mean by that is, once you know how many people will purchase your second or third product offering (after the initial purchase), you may be able to calculate how much money you can lose on the first sale in order to make it back on the second or third sale.

That is one of the huge fundamentals of direct response marketing, How much money can I afford to lose on the first sale, because I’m calculating what the lifetime value is of all my customers. That should be part of everyone’s marketing efforts.

So that’s where I go with this idea of what you call a “campaign” and “continuous outreach” vs. a one-off effort. It’s turning a one-time buyer into the repeat-buyer.

One of the other fundamentals in direct marketing is what we call “RFM”—recency, frequency and monetary value.

Those three letters will determine the overall health and vitality of your business—if you can continually sell people who are recent and frequent buyers, meaning you can sell them more than one product within a short period of time and you can get them to spend more money with you. You can build your marketing efforts with RFM.

Recency, frequency, monetary… That’s going to determine the long-term value of your business and everything you can do.

LD: Okay. So it’s basically building a relationship and keeping a relationship.

BK: Yes. In fact, there is a phrase that says, “Everything is not a revenue event, but everything is a relationship event.” That’s what you do in marketing.

LD: Brian, you have a term in the book, “O to O to O: Online to offline to online” Can you explain that term for our readers, and its importance?

BK: Yes, my concept there is that being multichanneled is one of the most important things any marketer should be thinking about. The reason I say that is, you wouldn’t take all of your money and assets and put it into one financial instrument. Ideally, you would diversify.

Most people talk about a diversified portfolio with their investments, and the same is true in marketing and your business: You want to diversify into as many different media channels as possible.

A disaster scenario is a company that stays on only one platform—like doing all of their advertising on Facebook or Google AdWords. Then, for some unforeseen reason, Google or Facebook doesn’t like what they’re doing and shuts them down. Now they have nowhere to go. So that’s the most obvious reason to diversify.

You also diversify because every potential customer wants to be met in a different place. Some people (like an older audience, for example) might respond much better to a direct mail package in their mailbox than they might to an email. They may not go online as much. I’m just using that as an example.

There are some people in their 40s and 50s who would much rather respond to an email than direct mail or any other medium. So you need to meet your customer where they want to be met. That’s where they’re most likely to buy from you.

I came up with this concept, “O to O to O,” because I was actually teaching some online marketers—people who only worked with online formats (email, Facebook, display advertising, etc.)—how to do direct mail.

I said to them, “Look, if we can come up with a direct mail program for your company and create a direct mail package for some portion of your potential audience—once they respond through direct mail we can still figure out if they then want to communicate with us through email, if they give us their email address.”

That is an example of offline (direct mail) to online (email), then you can go back to direct mail (back to offline).

The example I’m giving you is one I love: because if someone purchases from direct mail initially, they’re going to be highly engaged with the promotion or the sales letter, because direct mail is a much more engaging medium than email or Facebook.

In other words, you have much more space to tell your story. They can be looking at a 10-12-page sales letter as opposed to a quick email, where you have to click to a website and get their attention much faster.

So the idea would be, if they’re that much more engaged initially and bought from you through direct mail and gave you their email address—now they’re comfortable with having you communicate with them through email. You just reduced your cost of communication. You can now choose to email, as opposed to paying for postage and printing.

While communicating with them by email they may buy from you again, you’ve now increased your profit margin because you didn’t have to pay for direct mail. But because the initial order was from direct mail, they’re going to be a much more engaged customer.

That’s one example of O to O to O. And that same person you send a direct mail package to, for a second or third offer, you might want to send an email to, as well.

So you can toggle between offline to online to offline again, that’s the concept of O to O to O. It’s the concept of meeting the customer where they want to be met, with a message that is perfectly suited to them within that medium.

LD: As a final question: is direct mail overlooked (or forgotten) as a communication medium, since many businesses are doing email and digital marketing these days?

BK: Direct mail works, and in fact the least crowded “inbox” is the one you grew up with (if you’re over 35 years old). People are mailing less because it’s more expensive and they don’t know how to do it.

It’s not forgotten, but, rather, it’s not fashionable because it’s expensive. As I like to say, it’s like making sushi at home: People don’t want to do it because it’s not easy. And sushi is a cuisine worth eating, despite being harder to make. But direct mail is still an incredible medium that works, despite being more complex.

So the question should be, “How is it going to work in conjunction with online media to create a more multichannel approach?”

And there are all types of direct mail. I’ve written about this. Direct mail isn’t just mailing millions of names (addresses) to get subscriptions or to get people to sign up for a credit card.

It’s sending 30 FedEx packages to your best customers with your newest book so they can sign on with you for coaching and consulting. When you send those 30 packages with a personalized note, that’s a form of direct mail.

Is that a forgotten medium or is it a marketing medium that people need to pay more attention to?

It’s about getting a new generation of marketers and entrepreneurs to understand that it’s something that can complement and supplement everything they’re doing.

LD: Brian, in wrapping up, is there anything you think we may have missed?

BK: Well, I’m a career direct marketer, and the point of my book was to share the fundamentals of direct response. To that end, I created a website, a site to buy the book called TheLegendsBook.com, http://www.thelegendsbook.com/ which offers ongoing education to The Advertising Solution readers.

And it is a little bit of “O to O to O” because you can get a physical version of the book and at the same time receive ongoing digital content. So it’s pretty cool in that respect as well.

LD: Mr. Brian Kurtz, co-author of The Advertising Solution: Influence Prospects, Multiply Sales, and Promote Your Brand, thanks for sharing your comments with us.

BK: My pleasure.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

MarketingProfs Daily: Content

Add Comment