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Your Marketing Questions Answered

Ask Dobkin — Questions about Marketing

Your questions and comments are most welcome. Well, the good ones anyhow.

Go ahead – ask your toughest Questions – use the “Commenting” feature at the bottom of the page:

Questions about direct mail – getting your package opened:

Q. What does it cost to mail 1,000 to 5,000 pieces of mail.
A. Unless you’re in the direct mail business and mail all the time, figure the costs between 55 cents and 75 cents per envelope. This includes postage, envelope, letter, and brochure.

Here’s a bonus: If you round your costs to 50¢ for each piece mailed it’s easy to figure the mathematics to break even. A 10,000 piece mailing will cost you $5,000. How many orders do you need to receive to cover this cost? And what percent response is that? If you make $50 profit on each order, you need 100 orders (100 x $50 = $5,000) to break even on 10,000 piece mailing. That’s a 1% response rate. Achievable, but difficult. So…

Q. What’s a good response to a mailing?
A. Anything that makes money. If you’re selling a 12 million dollar airplane and get one inquiry from your 100,000 piece mailing – and he buys a plane, you were successful. But I usually figure 1/2 to 1% as pretty good, and try to calculate if my clients will show a profit at one half of one percent.

So the real question is “Will you be profitable if one person out of 200 buys? Or, if one out of 100 buys?” You have to work out your numbers from the back end first, to see what conversion ratio you need to break even or – heaven forbid – make money.

That’s why products selling for $15 or $20 bucks aren’t successful – you need too high a percentage response to make money in direct mail. At a cost of $500 per thousand pieces mailed, with a 1% response – or 10 calls – you need to sell enough to cover a $500 cost, or $50/order after product and processing costs – just to break even.

Q. Should you use teaser copy on your envelope or not?
A. Yes, and no. A great teaser line – if it’s clever – will overcome a bulk mail stamp (now called standard mail) and can drive the recipient to open the envelope.
On the other hand, if you want more a of a professional look, and don’t want to use a teaser line, the next best way to get recipients to open your letter: design it to look like it’s a personal letter – put a live, first class stamp on it and hand write or ink-jet the address. Then use your name (with no company name) and your business address in the upper left hand corner. Now it looks like a personal letter, and most everybody will open it. It’s important to have the recipient’s address imaged directly on the envelope – no label.

Q. What’s the best way to come up with great teaser copy for your envelope?
A. It’s the Jeff Dobkin 100 to 1 Rule: Write 100 lines, go back and pick out your best one. Yep. This technique, as first reported in my book, Uncommon Marketing Techniques, also works to create a headline for an ad or a press release; or the first line of your letter or the body copy of an ad. I didn’t say you’d like it, I just said it works.

Q. OK, Dobkin – what’s your own best teaser copy to get an envelope opened?
A. My favorite teaser copy for envelopes is “Gift Certificate Enclosed!” Everyone will open because… if only to see what it is. Also – they’re 1. cheap to print and 2. light to ship (on only 1/3 or 1/4 of a sheet of paper), 3. have no cost at all until redemption, 4. can be directed at high margin or excess merchandise, and are 5. naturally easy to track. Any arguments?


Q. What’s your best trick for writing when you can’t seem to come up with anything good?
A. Start anywhere, then go back and cross out your first sentence. Having a really bad day? Go back and cross out your first paragraph. This will pull you right into the heart of your copy.

Q. Give two of your favorite headline formula
A. New Product Offers Benefit, Benefit, Benefit (New lightweight tennis racquet is faster to swing, easier to control and hits harder); and Free Booklet Offers Valuable Information; for example: Call for Free Booklet “How to Pack China for Moving!” The strength of the booklet title determines the response.

Marketing Questions

Q. What is the objective of the “marketing function”?
A. To narrow the prospect list to “only the people who are the very most likely to purchase, when they are ready to purchase” and delete everyone else.

Q. How do you find all the magazines that go to any industry?
A. There are excellent magazine directories at the library. You can find any industry and the magazines that serve that industry in under 5 minutes. The best directories are Bacon’s Magazine Directory, Oxbridge Communication’s Directory of Periodicals, and the SRDS Directory of Magazines.

Q. How can I get a sample copy of any magazine to see if it has a good profile audience for me to market to?
A. As a potential advertiser, call the publisher and ask for a “Media kit.” Sample copies will be sent along with advertising rate information by first class mail. Their response will be very prompt. Be sure to ask for any annual directory issue at that time, too. Directory issues are usually only available once a year when they come out – unless you request them with a media kit. Nice trick, huh? My publisher friends are gonna’ hate me for this one.

Q. Where can I buy a mailing list?
A. Sources for lists include: List brokers (these can be found in the phone book), List compilers as found in the direct marketing trade journals, magazine publishers (who usually sell their lists), associations, on the web, catalog publishers; also check out the SRDS Directory of Mailings Lists and the Oxbridge Communications Directory of Mailings Lists at the library. These reference journals contain over 10,000 mailing lists with all the pertinent list data such as who owns the list, the cost, number of records, etc.

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 your direct mail package you could be losing up to 40% of your response. Make it look like a letter. At a printing cost of 1-1/2 cents, it’s cheap insurance to make your package work harder.

Q. If a letter is so strong in direct mail, do I need a brochure?
A. You should have a brochure or better yet a booklet. This is used to build credibility for your letter and offer. The brochure tells, the letter sells. Show the features your products have in the brochure, and the benefits of those features in the letter.

Q. What’s the most effective campaign in direct marketing?
A. That would be mailing a series of 6 to 12 letters to your top 100 prospects.

Press Relations

Q. What’s the most valuable sheet of paper in all of marketing?
A. A Press Release is the single 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 – it is printed as editorial.

Q. Should I send a letter with my press release?
Why should I say “Enclosed is a press release…” they can see a press release when they open it.
A. A letter builds credibility, subtly explains why the press release should be published, and supplies additional material you might not be able to say your release that an editor can also pick up and use if your press release is published.

Q. How many press releases do I send out in a medium-sized campaign?
A. At our small firm (2 of us) we send out a medium-sized campaign to about 100 newspapers and magazines. We try to do this every week – we don’t always meet this goal, but we always try.  Our goal is to send about 400 releases out for the single campaign.  Usually they are consumer oriented press releases, sent to industry consumer publications and newspapers; and retailer/resale press releases – send to trade magazines to get them to carry our products.

Q. What are the chances of our press release being published?
A. Small trade magazines: 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 effort.

Q. How can I increase my chances of having my press release published?
A. Call the editor. When you call the editor, you increase your chances by 50%. When you place an ad, your chances of having a press release run can as high as 90% – if you go about it the right way. (“If I place this ad, do you think I can have a press release run in the next issue?”)  After you speak with an editor send your release and cover letter, beginning the cover letter to say, “It was a pleasure speaking with you!” even if it wasn’t.  This reminds the editor you called, and increases your chance for getting ink (getting published) in trade publications to about 80%.  In larger consumer magazines, not as much – but it still helps a lot!  A real lot…

Got a question? Send an email to Jeffrey Dobkin.