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Marketing: The 15 Top Questions in Marketing

by Jeffrey Dobkin

Let’s take the 15 or so of the best questions on marketing.
The questions – and answers…

Direct Mail

Q. First, I’ve got to get my envelope opened – any suggestions?
A. Write teaser copy on the envelope – a few succinct lines tempting people to find out what’s inside.

My favorite opening line is “Gift Certificate Enclosed!” It’s best because it drives everyone inside to see what the gift is. In addition, gift certificates are cheap to print and light to ship (only on 1/3 or 1/4 of a sheet of paper), they have no cost at all until redemption, have a high perceived value, can be directed at high margin or excess merchandise, and are by design, naturally easy to track.

A great teaser line will overcome a bulk mail stamp – now called standard mail – or an address label. Gift certificates compel a wide range of recipients to open the envelope. Any arguments?

Q. Should you use teaser copy on every envelope?
A. Yes you can, if it’s a commercial piece. Teaser copy certainly works well with free offers. Teasers can be as loud as a shout: in red ink and all capitals; or small and classy in script: “Your Personal FREE Invitation is Enclosed…” Plus – I usually add “Please Open Immediately…” to every envelope.

Then again, you may not need a teaser line if it’s a personal-looking letter with a live stamp and a hand written or ink-jet address imaged directly onto the envelope. If it looks like personal correspondence, people will open it anyhow.

For commercial mailings where you want a “Plain-Jane” look, the next best way to get your envelope opened is to print your name and your business address in the upper left corner, with no company name. This looks more like a personal mailing. For this to work, the recipient’s address must be imaged directly on the envelope – no label.

Q. What’s the best way to come up with a great line of teaser copy for your envelope?
For that matter, what’s the best way to come up with a headline for an ad or press release?
A. It’s the Jeff Dobkin 100 to 1 Rule: Write 100 lines, go back and pick out your best one. I didn’t say you’d like it, I just said it works.

Q. Do you have any formulas for creating headlines?
A. 1. New Product Offers Benefit, Benefit, Benefit. “New lawn mower cuts a wider path, is easier to push, and never needs a new battery.” “New lightweight tennis racquet hits harder, faster, and is less tiring.”

And 2. Free Booklet Offers Valuable Information. “FREE Booklet shows you how to find and stop a leaky roof.” “FREE Booklet offers 17 tips for buying a new car at the least cost!”

If you craft your headline with care, there’s an additional advantage to offering a free booklet: the title of the booklet attracts only the people who are interested in your specific product or service – so you don’t wind up sending expensive literature to people who aren’t going to purchase from you. Who would ask for a booklet on repairing a leaky roof unless their roof leaked? Who’d want a booklet on buying a new car unless they’re looking at new cars?

Q Have any good writing tips or tricks?
A. Here’s the best writing trick ever: Go back and cross out your first sentence. This works just about everywhere! Having a really bad day? Go back and cross out your first paragraph. This pulls you right into the heart of your copy.

If you’re having a hard time writing, just start anywhere – pick up a pencil and just start writing about your product or service. Cross out your whole first page if you have to – you’ll soon focus on what you need to say. Write about the features in a brochure, and the benefits of those features in the letter.

Q. What does it cost to mail 1,000 to 5,000 pieces of mail?
A. Figure the costs between 40 cents and 50 cents per piece mailed. This includes letter, brochure, list, envelope, postage.

Q. How can I figure out if my campaign is going to be successful?
A. Work all the numbers backward. Here’s how: Suppose you are going to mail 1,000 pieces. Using the above figure of 50¢ each piece, this mailing will cost $500. What percentage response do you need to make money? How many recipients need to buy your product for you to make your $500 back? IE: If your product sells for $50, and you make $10 net on each sale – you need to sell 50 units to make back the cost of the mailing, $500. So you will need a 5% response rate of buyers (not just inquirers) to break even. That’s a lot. Even 5% of just inquirers is a lot.

This is why items that sell for $10 don’t work in solo direct mailings. If it sells for $10, and you make $4 each sale – or even $5 each sale (which is a lot), you’d still need a 10% response rate – or 100 orders – to make your $500 back on a 1,000 piece mailing. In traditional mailings, you may get 100 inquiries if it’s an exceptionally good piece, but only a small portion of them will convert to actual buyers.

When figuring your chances of success, figure out the exact percentage response you’ll need to become profitable. Then ask yourself if that’s attainable. Be realistic.

Q. So then, what is a good response to a mailing?
A. Anything that makes money. But figure 1/2 to 1% as OK, anything over that is pretty good. Here’s the real question: will you be profitable if one person out of 200 buys (1/2%)? If one out of 100 buys (1%)? If you’re selling airplanes, perhaps a .0001% response is pretty good – if the respondent buys just one, single 747.

Marketing Questions

Q. What is the objective of the marketing function in direct mail?
A. First, to narrow the prospect list to “the people who are the most likely to purchase, and make that purchase as soon as possible.” If this mailing doesn’t work, you need to reconfigure something.

Next, to create an irresistible offer that makes people want to “buy now,” and possibly, “buy more than one.” Finally, make sure customers are satisfied after receiving your goods or services, so they will continue to be your most likely prospects to purchase again, and will refer you to their friends.

Q. I’m thinking about entering an industry – where do I get more information about it?
A. Most industries are served by their own group of specialty magazines where you can learn about the industry. Additionally, many industries have associations that are staffed by trained and knowledgeable professionals. Get the magazines, then call the association headquarters and ask for industry information.

Q. How do you find all the magazines that serve an industry?
A. Use the magazine directories at the library: find any industry and the magazines that serve it in under 5 minutes. Best ones are Bacon’s Magazine Directory, Burrelle’s Magazine Directory, and Oxbridge Communication’s Directory of Periodicals. Check at the reference desk.

Q. How do you find the associations for particular industries?
A. You can usually find the associations in the industry magazines, and at the industry trade shows. In addition, here are 3 great sources for finding associations:

The 828-page National Trade and Professional Associations of the United States ($99) reference tool lists 7,600 associations, and is published annually by Columbia Books, Inc. (; 888-265-0600, fax 410-810-0911) along with its companion, the State and Regional Associations of the U.S. directory ($79).

Association lists and data are also available in the Encyclopedia of Associations by The Gale Group (800-877-GALE) on disk, CD, and on-line through Lexis-Nexis. This hardbound, three-volume set ($505) is the mother load of associations – showing detailed information on more than 23,000 local, state, national, and international associations.

Another great resource of associations is The Associations Yellow Book from Leadership Directories. It profiles in great depth 1,045 of the leading U.S. trade and professional associations. From Leadership Directories, Telephone 212/627-4140;

Q. How do I get a copy of a particular magazine?
A. Call the publisher and ask for a media kit (my publisher friends are gonna hate me for this!) A media kit is what publishers send to potential advertisers to entice them to purchase advertising space (Ahem… you were thinking about taking out an ad in the magazine, weren’t you?) Sample copies are sent along with advertising rate information by first class mail.

Q. Where can I buy a mailing list?
A. List brokers are found in the phone book or in the magazines that serve the direct marketing industry (see above to get sample copies of them). Most magazine publishers sell their lists of subscribers. Also look for directories of associations, who usually offer their membership list for sale. Catalog publishers almost always sell their list of buyers.

There is a great directory – the Oxbridge Communications Directory of Mailings Lists – which can be found at the library. It reveals over 20,000 lists and all the supporting data: size of list, cost, origination, broker, and so forth.

Many mailing list companies publish their own catalog. The catalogs are free on request. I’ve written an article showing the content and depth of the top dozen or so catalogs of mailing lists. For a free copy of this article, drop me a large stamped envelope with your request (Jeff Dobkin, P.O. Box 100, Merion Station, PA 19066). Sorry – no email requests for this will be honored.

Q. What’s the most valuable sheet of paper in all of direct marketing?
A. A letter. If you don’t include a letter in just about any direct mail package you send you could be losing up to 40% of your response. At 1.5¢, it’s cheap insurance to increase the response of any mailing.

Q. If a letter is so strong in direct mail, do I need a brochure?
A. You should have a brochure or better yet an “informational booklet”. This is used to build credibility for your letter and bring strength to your offer. The brochure tells, the letter sells. Use product-features in the brochure, and reader-benefits in the letter.

Q. What’s the most effective campaign in direct marketing?
A. It’s a series of mailings. First, it’s a series of letters to your top 100 prospects. Next, it’s a letter series to your top 100 customers. (If you’re in a medium sized business, it’s mailing a series of letters to your top 1,000 prospects and customers.) Then, continue mailing to them – the cost is under $5 to mail a series of 10 letters. If you can figure out a better campaign for under $5, let me know. If you can figure out a better campaign for any amount, let me know.

Press Relations

Q. If the most valuable sheet of paper in direct mail is a letter, what’s the most valuable sheet of paper in all of marketing?
A. A Press Release is the most effective single sheet of paper in all of marketing. A press release is a one page, double-spaced, typed sheet of paper with a description of your product or service written in a crisp, concise newspaper style of writing. It is sent to editors of newspapers and magazines and – if selected to be published – is printed as editorial.

Q . Do I send a letter with my press release? Can’t an editor just see it’s a press release when he or she opens it?
A. To increase the chance your press release will be published, ALWAYS include a letter. Sure they can see it’s a press release. But including a letter builds your credibility. A letter can explain why the press release is important and should be published. The letter can supply additional material that an editor can also pick-up and include in your write-up in their publication, if your release is published.

Q. How many press releases do I send out in a medium sized campaign?
A. In most of the medium sized campaigns I’ve directed, my clients have sent releases to about 100 magazines.

Q. What are the chances of our press release being published?
A. If you’re trying to get published in a small trade magazines, figure the likelihood to be about 10% to 20%. Larger trade magazines: 5% to 10%. Consumer magazines: 1% It’s like shaking hands with the Pope – it can happen but not without a lot of time and effort.

Q. How can I increase my chances of having my press release published?
A. Call the editor. A call made correctly: at the right time, with the correct dialog, can increase your chance of being published by 10 times. (For this exact dialog, please see my book, “How-To Market a Product for Under $500”, page 26).

When you place an ad, your chances of having a press release featured in the publication can be as high as 90% – if you go about it the right way. For example, if you say to your magazine sales rep “If I place this ad, do you think I can have a press release run in the next issue?” there’s a good chance it will run.

As in life, there are no guarantees.  If you’re placing a lot of newspaper ads, this might be of help:  How To Buy Newspaper Space at 80% Off List! Remnant Space


Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeffrey Dobkin

Jeff Dobkin is a speaker (blah blah blah, yip yip yip) and a marketing consultant (marketing plans, pr, market strategy, plan analysis: audits and review, media review) who happens to be an amazing writer (corporate literature, articles, brochures, ads, collateral, annual reports, technical material), specializing in direct-selling print and web (DR Ads, catalogs, TV scripts, web copy) and direct marketing material (letters, direct mail, mailing packages brochures, catalogs, web copy and did I mention post cards?) He’s also pretty darn good at analyzing catalogs, ads and campaigns and direct mail packages. He has written over 250 articles and 5 books on direct marketing. He can be reached at 610-642-1000. Thanks for visiting this site and reading our explicit how-to articles on marketing, direct marketing, PR and copywriting. How can we help you? Email Jeffrey Here! Or write to: Jeff at Dobkin dot com.