8 Resolutions for the New Millennium

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If you're smart, you know two things. First, the millennium doesn't actually begin till 2001. Second, no one cares, and 2000 will be celebrated as the start of a new age despite the protestations of curmudgeons like me.


So in the spirit of the moment, let's consider a few resolutions you should make for the next thousand years of your business. These are all based on problems I see again and again, even with supposedly sophisticated marketers.


* Start testing carefully and regularly. You should establish clear, specific goals for every promotion. Run statistically valid tests. Track your results meticulously, including response rate, conversion, cost per order and every other statistic you need. Analyze your numbers and use your results to determine creative strategy. I am continually flabbergasted by the number of businesses who sabotage their success by testing haphazardly or not at all.


* Stop shortchanging the creative budget. You've spent a fortune researching and developing your product, you've bought the best lists and you're prepared to make a powerful offer. So why are you suddenly a tightwad when it comes to hiring your creative team? Proven talent doesn't come cheap. Direct response is a specialty. Pay the price and get the best.


* Start talking to customers. You may know age, income, gender and other basic customer demographics, but can you describe your ideal customer? Concerns? Fears? Attitudes? Objections? Complaints? Lifestyle? Affiliations? You should be able to paint a picture of your customer that is clear and specific. Most businesses are thinking about a survey or planning a study, but few actually carry through. Be one of the few. It can lead to more targeted advertising.


* Stop using copy as a crutch. Powerful words can lead to powerful results, but don't expect verbal magic to salvage shoddy products, overcome bad lists or camouflage stingy offers. Let me clue you in on a secret from the front lines: Great advertising starts with great copy. And great copy starts with great products.


* Start collecting testimonials. Don't just file a few lame blurbs that drift in and rehash them year after year. Create an active, ongoing system for collecting as many testimonials and success stories as you can get. This will increase the number of powerful ones you have for inserts, headlines, teasers, letter stories and dozens of other promotional applications. Testimonials are potent psychological triggers. Use them.


* Stop stealing copy. We should all learn from successful advertising, and the philosophy of "stealing smart" has its merits. But the key word here is "smart," which you have to be to do this effectively. Randomly lifting headlines, letter openings and other copy is a sign that you simply don't know what you're doing and that you're looking for a magic formula. Be honest with yourself. If you don't know how to write an ad, hire someone who does. (If I see one more "Got Milk?" rip-off, I'll snap. "Got tech stocks?" "Got printer cartridges?" "Got white zinfandel?" Pu-leeze!)


* Start developing some freebies. Offering free stuff is the best way to generate inquiries and sales leads, but freebies can also be useful for premiums, gifts, handouts, testimonial incentives, etc. You should always have a freebie ready to go when you need it - booklet, brochure, survey, sample, catalog, sales sheet, whatever. "Free" is one of the two most powerful words in the language, and a freebie lets you use it. (What is the other word? "You," of course.)


* Stop hiding the guarantee. Make it visible. Flaunt it. Add it to your sales letter call to action. Highlight it as a box in your brochure. Feature it on the order form. Separate it out as a stand-alone insert. Your guarantee is proof that you are reputable. It lowers your customer's perceived risk and can, therefore, boost your response - but only if your customer can see it. After all, what are you afraid of? A sudden flood of returns? If you think that, you have bigger problems to deal with. So deal with them before you advertise.


Dean Rieck is copywriter, creative consultant and president of Direct Creative, a direct marketing creative firm in Columbus, OH. His e-mail address is DeanRieck@compuserve.com.
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