How to Get SURE-Fire Response Advertising

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As we stand at the threshold of a new millennium, new media and new technologies are forcing direct marketers to examine the old rules of direct marketing.


The old rules -- 40 percent of success comes from offer, 40 percent of success comes from list, 20 percent of success comes from creative -- no longer serve the marketer as they once did.


These rules are too simplistic for this age of the Internet and its database-driven information delivery systems. They are too narrow in this age of sales- force automation software. They are not comprehensive enough in an era where one-on-one marketing is becoming a new standard.


Today's marketers need a comprehensive, easy-to-understand approach to planning a successful direct marketing program. Thus, marketers are turning to a new planning process for direct marketing called SURE-Fire Response.


Most direct marketers do not generate optimum results because they overlook many of the keys to a successful program. The process of SURE-Fire Response Advertising, which was created after a review of 500 marketing campaigns and $40 million in advertising investments, gives marketers a simple acronym to remember when planning any direct response-advertising medium. The "S" stands for strategic thinking, the "U" for understanding, the "R" for response planning and the "E" for excellence in execution.


Strategic thinking: Marketing programs are most successful when thorough planning is done in advance of a campaign. There are four key elements of strategic planning that need to be considered for every program:


* SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and targets) and GOST (goals, objectives, strategies and tactics) analyses.


* Financial analysis. This includes customer lifetime value analysis, acceptable cost of acquisition analysis, break-even analysis, sales conversion and up-sell/cross-sell options.


* Comparison of the sales process against the buying process. Analysis that consists of the buying and selling process and sales cycle times.


* Risk transference. Transferring the risk of buying from customer to seller.


Chordiant Software, a high-end call-center software manufacturer, invested in a multipart door-opening campaign consisting of a conductor's baton followed by a full-size violin because it knew the value of a sale was more than $1 million. This program generated a 14 percent response.


Understanding for empathy: People do business with people they like and people who understand them. The philosophy of business coach Steven Covey, "Seek first to understand, then to be understood," is quite applicable to marketers. Therefore, the second step to SURE-Fire Response is to gain a rich understanding of your prospects and customers. The goal is to be able to communicate a genuine empathy in marketing messages. The single most effective way to gain this understanding is through research.


For example, Welch Allyn was selling a hi-tech medical device to physicians. Research determined that physicians were more concerned with speed and clarity than comparison of hospital pricing. The results were used as the foundation for the creative message for a new campaign. This new messaging


contributed to a response of 100 percent over a previous program.


Extensive use of personal interviews and mail-based surveys designed to reveal the answers to the following questions will increase your understanding:


* What are the problems that prospects face daily?


* Why will they think your product or service will solve this problem?


* What messages and offers are important to them?


* Where do they turn to learn more about their profession or find an answer?


* What media does the prospect rely on for their professional success?


Response planning: How will responses be generated? How will the responses generated be captured and converted to revenue?


The offer is the reason people respond to a marketing message. The offer is the reward, the incentive for investing the time to read your promotion and act on it. If there is not a clear, compelling offer, or if the offer is not well articulated, you will not generate maximum response. The best offers are those that reward the responder with education to solve a prospect's pains and problems.


Pinpoint Software created a demo disk and education guide on the year 2000 problem. These educational offers were clearly promoted in a lead- generation mailing that resulted in 2,233 percent increase over a prior mail-order package.


As important as generating response is in determining how the response will be handled, ask yourself these questions:


* How will the leads be captured, qualified and distributed?


* How are the hot prospects going to be separated from the tire kickers?


* How will the sales cycle be advanced 30 days after the initial inquiry?


It is this planning which is critical to the conversion of leads to sales. Eighty percent of prospects buy something within 12 months of inquiring. Be certain that the question "What will be done to make sure you, not your competition, is generating the sale?" is resolved.


Excellence in execution: Perfect execution is the integration of strategic planning, with an understanding of your target audience and your response planning. Excellence in execution includes conceiving arresting concepts, writing "Must-Read" headlines and using eye-stopping graphics.


Further, the marketer needs to be sure the creative message speaks with one voice and drives the reader to action. Remember, you are not advertising for awards. You are advertising to make sales, and sales close one person at a time.


Sticking to the fundamentals, using creative briefs, adhering to budgets and being sensitive to timelines are all important elements of excellence in execution. Your strategic process will reveal acceptable cost of acquisition and investment levels. Thus, it is up to the manager and his creative resources to find solutions that fall within these guidelines. Of course, this requires strong leadership and project management from start to finish.


Mitsubishi Monitors used an integrated lead-generation program combined with a $100,000 sweepstakes. Nine mail packages carried the theme and messages for a period of 10 months. The program's timing and execution contributed to a response between 14 percent and 31 percent per mailing.


Applying the rules of SURE-Fire Response Advertising for your clients will result in a dramatic increase in response rates, enable your client to achieve the long-term sales objectives, allow clients to build rapport with key prospects and substantially shorten the buy cycle.


Russell Kern is president of Kern Direct, Woodland Hills, CA.
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