Blog Activity

  • Direct Mail – Still Relevant After All These Years


    November, 2013

    As any direct marketer knows – despite some opinions to the contrary – direct mail is as relevant as ever in a direct marketing campaign.  It is a vitally important medium in reaching customers, and should still be considered the engine of any integrated direct marketing effort.

    There is a lot to be said these days for the tactile experience.  Not only can customers retain the message, they have the opportunity to revisit it.  The key is to stand out from the clutter with a dynamic piece.

    So how can marketers get the most out of their direct mail campaign and trust that their investment in this marketing channel is worthwhile?  Here are some considerations:

    1.      What is the size, complexity, time frame and budget for your direct mail program?  Once you determine the specifics of a marketing program, an important factor is the relationship you have with your production partner.  Here are some questions to ask to ensure you have the best possible partner: 

    ·         Does your supplier have direct mail expertise, along with a range of capabilities, products and services that are appropriate for your program? 

    ·         Can the supplier meet deadlines and provide on-time delivery, on budget? 

    ·         Is your production partner readily accessible, and good at problem solving?  

    ·         Can this partner provide ideas about reducing costs or improving design?

    2.      Can you assume the data is correct?  Instead of selling to everyone, direct marketers focus on segments or target markets that represent reachable prospects.  The integrity of the lists and data is critical. So considerable time needs to be spent reviewing, analyzing and segmenting the data through its life cycle. 

    3.      Does your production partner have the platform to provide the level of personalization and innovation your program needs?  We all know how difficult it is to stay on top of rapid changes in technology.  But your supplier must demonstrate continual investment in the latest technology, to meet your requirements and challenges, and to offer the best personalization options, as well as innovative solutions.   

    4.      How can you optimize speed to market and save costs at the same time?  First, include all the necessary elements and instructions from the get-go, including the job basics and the data processing information, along with letter set-up, sign-off and letter shop information.  Second, postage and transportation costs are the largest part of any direct mail budget, so find out whether your supplier has an on-site post office and commingling capabilities. 


    Patrick Beddor
    Patrick Beddor's picture

    Patrick Beddor is the National Sales Manager at Japs-Olson Company.  You can reach him at

  • Pre-testing: A Better Way to Beat the Control


    February, 2014

    The A/B split test is as fundamentally sound, as it is slow, expensive and inefficient. 

    Direct mail testing—even for high-volume mailers—means putting a finite number of possible tests in market.  These tests are either incremental changes or wholesale redesigns.  The former usually assures incremental gain/loss, and the latter requires a lot of risk and reputational capital.    

    Truth is, the vast majority of tests fail.  For two reasons.   
    1)   The control is hard to beat.  It benefits immensely from something your test package can never have—exposure.  Your target audience, however large, is still finite.  You mail the same people over and over.  Even non-buyers are exposed to the control. 

    2)   Coming up with a test, or 10 tests or 100, for a single campaign is like searching for a needle in the haystack.  The number of possible test packages is infinite, and you are forced to choose an imperceptibly small percentage of them to mail.    

    In split testing, the odds are against you.  With a complete redesign, the odds are even more onerous.  The A/B test will tell you if the new package test wins or not.  But it cannot tell you why.  Perhaps there are components within the complete redesign that are clear winners, but are getting drowned out by the weaker elements.  

    So, what is a better alternative?  Look no further than the consumer package goods industry for an idea.  CPG marketer do lots of in-market testing, also lots of product development work in advance.  By comparison, the direct marketing world does very little. 

    The methodology now available to direct marketers is sophisticated, but simple and intuitive.  In short, It is an online testing program through which your target audience evaluates thousands of different direct mail package ideas in mere minutes.  

    The secret to its success, and why this pre-testing matches up with live test results so well, is the ability to replicate real-world choice and decision making by:

    1-  Showing the target audience concepts, packages or offers holistically, just as they view them home. 

    2-  Asking the target audience answer one question—overall preference—within a few seconds, the same amount of time you get before your package is thrown in the trash.  

    Behind the scenes is very sophisticated statistical modeling to answer the question we really want to know, which is Why?  You end up with scores for every single test element, which may encompass 30 or 40 different component parts of a direct mail package (OE, letter, buck slip, reply form) and, in turn, thousands of package combinations.  

    The business upside is four fold:  
    - Test exponentially more ideas in a radically shorter period of time.
    -   Put fewer tests in the mail, and at higher volume, to get to rollout faster.
    -    Find out exactly what impact each component has on preference and response.  
    -  Test big ideas, those that would never make it in the mail unless you have empirical proof they can work, in a low cost, low risk environment. 

    A/B split testing method has been around for decades, and yet direct marketing has changed dramatically, with more channels, better targeting, better production methods and now, a better way to beat the control.


    Chris Locker
    Chris Locker's picture

    Chris Locker is EVP of marketing and strategy at The Consumer Voice, in the Minneapolis area.  Reach him at

  • Silver Apples at 29 – Looking Better Than Ever, a Fitting Tribute to DM Leadership


    November, 2013

    As Club president Cyndi Lee of SMS Marketing Services opened the 2013 Silver Apples Award Gala on November 7 at the Edison Ballroom off Times Square, she invoked the first Silver Apples in 1985, with a video showing past honoree and then president Mal Dunn relating how the award program got its start.  “Here we are in the greatest city in the world, the greatest center of direct marketing,” he said.  “And all we had to do was call on our most important talent, the people.”  Dunn also credited Tom Knowlton and Jim Prendergast for coming up with the concept. 

    How compelling to recall the origin of this annual celebration of direct and data-driven marketing leaders, as the Gala marked its 29th anniversary, with 370 in attendance, the largest turnout ever.  There are now 220 Silver Apples honorees, 5 Golden Apples honorees and 18 Corporate Award recipients. This is our heritage, and also our future.

    Co-emcees Pam Haas of The Agency Inside Harte-Hanks—and our next (2014) Club president—and Scott Fenwick of ValueClick, took the stage to bring the entire room to song, to the melody of Neal Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” with a new set of lyrics: “So it begins / It is our annual gala / Honoring those who give their all / DM leaders all / Tonight they get their Apples / And they are glad you came along. …“ 

    Tom Turner of Turner Direct presented Arthur Blumenfield with the Golden Apple, recalling Arthur’s tenure at the then Standard Oil of New Jersey where he launched their first data processing center with 42K of memory.  Arthur also worked with past honorees Lee Epstein, Ed Mayer and Pete Hoke to launch the Direct Marketing Days in New York conference.  Arthur and recounted the many men—and , he stressed, women—who helped to make his career and volunteer work so rewarding. “When you give back, you get back, over and over again,” he said. As is Arthur’s nature, he also shared a joke from a devout reader of The New York Times obituaries: “I find it amazing that people die in alphabetical order.”

    Honoree Liberta Abbondate of Hearst Magazines was introduced by past Silver Apple recipient Joe Furgiuele: “She is the 1% of the 1% in our field,” Joe remarked, “whose running of the numbers matches up with the best of computers.” Liberta shared five key rules from her years in marketing and publishing: (1) Learn as much as you can; (2) Commit to the job; (3) Challenge conventional wisdom, and be a catalyst for change; (4) Do good by being good; and (5) Surround yourself with great people.  We now know firsthand of the success she has brought to Hearst, Dow Jones, Forbes, and Smithsonian, among other publishers and dozens of titles.

    When the late Direct Marketing Hall of Fame member Rose Harper of The Kleid Company is your aunt, you have a running start in our business. That’s who honoree Richard Vergara of MeritDirect credits for his lifelong career, having led the DMA List and Database Council and the launch of DMA List Day, and, today, his current leadership of the Hudson Valley Direct Marketing Association. “[Rose] was a force of nature—and a teacher of business and life lessons.” Richard offered plenty of tribute to his family, his longtime clients (such as American Media, Bonnier, Playboy and Time), his colleagues at MeritDirect, and past honoree Ralph Stevens.

    Honoree and professor Richard Hochhauser, teaches both at Baruch College and NYU, launched the direct marketing division of Harte-Hanks in 1975, and later led the company as president & CEO. Richard told us how he co-taught a class with another professor, who would focus on the textbook content. When it was Richard’s turn, he said to the class, “That’s the theory. Now I’ll tell you what happens in the real world.” It’s that passion of passing on knowledge to others that’s earned Richard his reputation—as former chairman of the DMA and the DMEF (now Marketing EDGE), and on the board of Texas A&M’s Center for Retailing Studies. Richard on what helps build a career: “Choosing the right industry, and choosing the right company.” On teaching, his great motivator is: “Seeing a student’s light bulb go off.” Shine on, Richard.

    The West Coast was in the house that night. Irvine CA-based honoree Pete Carney of Carney Direct Marketing said his wife told him once, “There are no jobs in California, and you are unemployable.” So Carney Direct Marketing came to be, harnessing Pete’s experience as national sales manager at Equifax, and previous stints at Mal Dunn Associates and Mail Marketing. “All my life, I’ve been working with friends.  The people I work with are my assets,” he said, speaking of business partners, clients and colleagues. And then there was that story about Gary Laben and himself, getting a pair of pantyhose on a cow somewhere in Texas…

    And speaking of Gary Laben, does he ever age?   Gary, of KBM Group and Wunderman Data & Insights, also received a Silver Apple during the evening.  Gary got plenty of laughs, as he lamented no longer being a “Young Direct Marketer of the Year.”   Tireless in his commitment to marketing education, working with Marketing EDGE and the Taylor Institute for Direct Marketing on their respective boards, Gary also serves as a business leader in analytics and customer engagement at KBM. “I am humbled, being in the presence of such Silver Apple honorees as Lester Wunderman,” who in his 90s, still comes to work every day.

    “You may already be a winner,” but Publishers Clearing House’s Debbie Holland is now a Silver Apples honoree. “When I first started in this industry back in 1978, a four-page sales letter was the standard,” she observed. “In this day of flash mobs, speed dating, and Twitter, I should be able to get a message across in 140 characters, right?” So in just 3 tweets, @DeborahJHolland shared her philosophy: “#Respect all the links in your chain, big or small. Be a bright, shining link to #Inspire others & light the way for new directions. | Don't be the #WeakLink when someone pulls your chain. #silverapples13 advice | We're all connected in the #ChainOfLife & stronger together than 1 link alone. Thanks for being part of my chain & for supporting me! @DMCNY.”

    DMCNY also named a corporate Silver Apples honoree, the Target Marketing Group, publisher of Target Marketing, FundRaising Success, Retail Online Integration, eMarketing + Commerce magazines, the Who’s Mailing What! archive and Direct Marketing IQ. On innovation and reinvention, publisher Peggy Hatch—who, with past honoree Denny Hatch, joined the company 21 years ago—spoke of the transformation the company has undertaken as marketers’ needs for information and knowledge have changed. Today, the company offers case studies, blogs, webinars, virtual conferences, and video along with its magazines, to help make marketing smarter for a global audience. “Take risks and swing for the fences,” she urged.

    Altogether 40 past honorees were present, among them: Ken Altman, Stu Boysen, Reggie Brady, Jerry Cerasale, William Denhard, Phillip Dresden, JoAnne Monfradi Dunn (newly named DMA chairman), Scott Fenwick, Jim Fosina, Joseph Furgiuele, Richard Goldsmith, Joseph Gomez, Dennison Hatch, Peggy Hatch, Leon Henry, Don Hinman, Henry Hoke III, Marjorie Kalter, Brian Kurtz, Ray Longden, Harvey Markovitz, Neil Mason, Susan McNamara, Pegg Nadler, Edward Nash, John Pahmer, John Papalia, Christopher Paradysz, Jim Prendergast, Jerry Reitman, Adrea Rubin, Robert Sawyer, Ronald Sichler, Christine Slusarek, Brian Snider, Ralph Stevens, Ruth Stevens, Tom Turner, Penny Vane and Tom Zukas.


    There were no hurricanes to fiddle with the festivities—but there was plenty of momentum and cheer for the year ahead:  the Silver Apples will never be 29 again. A thank you to all honorees, attendees, sponsors, and the event committee – led by Sharron Mahoney of SMS Marketing Services and Dianne Petruzzelli of Fosina Marketing. We made quite a song, “Awarded to our Shining Stars.”


    Chet Dalzell
    Chet Dalzell's picture

    This annual celebration of direct and data-driven marketing leaders, marked its 29th anniversary, with 370 in attendance, the largest turnout ever.  There are now 220 Silver Apples honorees, 5 Golden Apples honorees and 18 Corporate Award recipients. This is our heritage, and also our future.

  • 9 Rules for Writing Video Sales Letters


    May, 2013

    The “next big thing” in online video is video sales letters. 

    Here’s how it works.  Prospects are sent a short email inviting them to view an onlinr video on a subject of interest. The email copy teases the subject to generate interest and maximize click-through rates. 

    When the prospect click on the link, a video begins. The sales message is delivered both via audio and visually. 

    The video often contains a PowerPoint showing paragraphs of the audio copy as it is being narrated.  Another option is the “talking head” – a video of the narrator speaking, and sometimes drawing notes or charts on a white board. 

    Another appealing option is to include cartoons that are drawn as you watch, illustrating the sales points.  To see a short sample of a cartoon-style video I am using to sell a new ebook, visit this URL: 

    Video clips can be short, but for direct-response marketing, video sales letters typically run 15 to 25 minutes; the script is around 3,000 to 3,500 words. 

    A key difference between video sales letters and static (landing pages or print) sales letters is this: A prospect may read a conventional text sales letters several times, and can go back to reread portions if desired. And they often do. But the prospect will only watch a video sales letter once. 

    That in mind, here are some guidelines for writing effective video sales letters: 

    1— The way to begin is to grab audience attention with a statement that breaks them out of their normal pattern, says my colleague David Jenyes. Surprise them. Shake them up.. 

    2— Tell an engaging story that sweeps the listener along with it. Superstar marketer Michael Masterson calls this the “velvet slide.”  

    3— Keep it simple. The “information density” – the number of facts per page – should be about 20% less than a text-based promotion.  

    4— Use short sentences and especially short words. I don’t use any word longer than 9 letters.

    5— Use short paragraphs – a couple of sentences is typical. This makes the text on the video easier to read.  

    6— If you want to dramatize or prove a copy claim or fact, you can insert a chart or graph into the video presentation. Even if the prospect only has a few seconds to view it, charts and graphs give the impression that your point is well backed up. 

    7— You can concisely state the problem your product solves in the lead of the video sales letter, but be sure to explain the solution within the first minute or two.  If you wait too long to get to the solution, you risk having the prospect click away in boredom.  

    8— Don’t use more than two numbers in a sentence. If you do, round off at least one of them. 

    9— The tone of the copy should be positive and enthusiastic because the prospect heas a voice reading the text. But it should also sound authoritative.

    When I talk about video sales letters, invariably I hear the objection, “They’re too long! I always click away. Who would sit there for 20 minutes and watch?” 

    Answer: Plenty of people. How do I know? Testing shows repeatedly that video sales letters usually generate higher conversion rates than static landing pages.

     If you still object to video sales letters because you just don’t like them, I quote this advice from ace copywriter Peter Beutel: “Don’t let personal preference get in the way.” 


    Robert Bly
    Robert Bly's picture

    Bob Bly, a direct-response copywriter for more than 30 years, is the author of 80 books, including The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt). Reach him at

  • How to Survive in the New Age of Cold Calling


    February, 2014

    Consider how sales people have to operate their cold calls these days.  Walk into a building and take the elevator to the floor of a prospect?  That ended with 9/11.  Now it’s a picture ID, just to get into the lobby.  If there’s a security desk, you’re going to need a contact name at your target firm—or that’s as far as you’re going to get. 

    But there are solutions.  One of the best things about the Internet age:  You can find just about everything you need online.  Before your calls, you can easily find company addresses and phone numbers.  And if you’re really lucky, you may find a list of company personnel, sometimes with their email addresses. 

    Armed with a name, I stand a chance.  Here’s how I proceed:  First, I put together a sales kit with product samples and my company information.  In the lobby, I have the guard call up, so I can get upstairs to see my targets. Invariably, the call goes to voice mail.  At that point, the guard may let me up to the company’s reception desk.  There, I can talk to the receptionist and leave behind my materials, to be delivered to the prospect.

    On the off chance that the prospect does pick up, I ask for the phone, and get the quizzical “Do we have an appointment?”  I say “No, but if you have 5 minutes I’d like to tell you how I can help you.”  The answer is usually “No,” but now the prospect knows I’m a real person, and I get to leave my information for them.

    The next day I make a follow-up call to set up an appointment.  Again, we have the problem of them picking up the phone.  That’s where polite persistence is a must.   Also, I find that calling at odd times can work to get a hold of them. 

    If I can’t get upstairs to see them, my next step is the old, reliable, mail system.  I drop the sales kit in the mail, wait 3 or 4 days, and call again for an appointment.  By then, they are likely to know who I am, and maybe they’ll see me. 

    If I get the prospect on the phone, often it turns out not to be the right person, and the process starts all over again. 

    I have learned that I can’t be too pushy.  That’s a turn-off.  After my first voice mail message, I keep trying to call, to get them live on the phone.  But I won’t leave another message until 2 weeks have gone by.  At the end of my voice mail message, I always say “If you have a problem, I’m here to help you.”  It’s surprising, but when people get desperate they do call me. 

    Prospecting, or cold calling, rarely provides instant gratification. It is a long process that requires patience and persistence.  So be prepared.  



    John Swensen
    John Swensen's picture

    John C. Swensen is president of Tri-State Envelope Corporation, and an 11-year DMCNY member.  Reach him at