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Twelve Savvy Secrets of Online Direct Response Marketing

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Suppose you’re a small publisher and you don’t have a ton of money to market your books. Suppose you know how the costs of doing even the simplest direct mail letter and brochure have skyrocketed. And suppose further that you have a Web site you’ve spent a good deal of money to develop, but it just sits there and doesn’t pull in very many orders. Does this sound like you?

Well, this was the situation we faced at the American College of Physicians (ACP) a few months ago. (ACP is one of the largest medical associations in the world, with a Web site consisting of more than 50,000 pages and accruing 50,000 click-throughs per month!) Our site had lots of lookers, but we weren’t getting enough buyers! We decided we needed to be more proactive. We needed to send out e-communications that would drive people to visit our Web site and place orders!

So, if you’ve been itching to give e-commerce a try, take advantage of some of the lessons we have learned. You may want to start with an e-zine or an e-newsletter. But before you jump in, here are some very important points you’ll want to review and consider. After all, you want your efforts to create a group of happy, satisfied customers who come running to you with fists full of dollars–not people sending return messages that say: @#%&*!@!

Put these 10 tips into practice in your e-communications and they will help you write more compelling e-mail messages, manage Web site traffic better, and significantly increase revenues!

#1. Make sure your copy sells! Adding a good direct mail copywri³Žøôto your e-team will make a world of difference. You’ve spent a bunch of money to design and produce your site. But does your copy sell? Has a good wordsmith put in all those magical zingers that keep people reading from one paragraph to the next? Does your copy drive customers to pull out their credit cards and come running to you screaming: “I HAVE TO HAVE IT NOW!!!” If not, then my first piece of advice is to spend a few dollars more and hire a strong, accomplished direct mail copywriter to add some sales spin to your copy.


#2. Make your overall message clear and your Web site easy to understand and to use. An age-old principle of good direct marketing is: “If you confuse ’em, you lose ’em.” (Paul Goldberg) If you want people to come to your Web site and buy as a result of a push e-mail, then you had better put a direct link right in the e-mail and make the product the first thing people see or can click on when they hit your site. Don’t lose the sale by getting cute or making customers jump through hoops. Get to the order first and make sure that search results will be displayed clearly with minimal clutter.

#3. Put your facts up front–build your brand. One of the biggest mistakes many of us make is to assume that people know us and remember our products. That’s why advertisers keep repeating the same message over and over using the same ad. This “brand building,” in its simplest form, is repetition of your unique strengths and key message. That’s why you need an “About Us” page and a tab for it on your home page.

#4. Rotate visuals and vary products, services, and programs. If you want people to come back again and again, then it is important to give them a reason to come back. This means changing your opening visuals and keeping the product offerings in your e-mail and on your site fresh and appealing. You need to change the lead product on the home page at least once a month, if you expect people to return regularly. We try to change our lead product, program, or service at least once a week, and we use “rotating banner ads”–three home page banners in the same position, giving people a one in three chance of seeing a different message each time they visit. If your Web site is simply a duplicate of your catalog, then you need to go back to the drawing board to give people a reason to visit. How about offering a brief look at future projects you are working on (i.e., “projects under construction”) and asking for feedback?

#5. Change your e-message and Web specials. Do you offer a 10% discount to returning customers? Have you offered digital coupons on select products? Do you give free shipping and handling if the dollar amount exceeds a certain level? Do you reward first-time visitors from referral sites with a discount? Do you offer a discount to frequent purchasers? Do you have a special offer of the week? How about having a fall reading special or a special offer for October 20th? (That’s my birthday!). Your birthday is always a good reason for having a special offer! People want deals. Offer them a deal, and they will pay attention to the rest of your message. “You’ve got to hook ’em before you can land ’em” is my favorite fishing motto. Your special offer is that hook!

#6. Remember the nuts and bolts. If someone visits your Web site because they have a complaint, that person should be able to fire up an e-mail message to communicate with your customer service department (you). If they want to return a product purchased from you, the returns procedure should be clearly spelled out. And, if they want to write to you via snail mail or call you on the telephone and talk with a real person, there should be a listing of your address (a P.O. Box is OK) and a customer service telephone number. Should you use a toll-free 800 number for both customer service and for orders? Yes, to both, is my philosophy. I know it’s expensive, but I’d rather produce a happy customer who orders again and again and refers other people to me than to anger someone by making them pay for a long distance call.

#7. State your guarantee. Here is one of the best guarantee statements I have ever read. It’s for a subscription product, but it could be easily adapted to a book offer. See how it compares with your own guarantee: “If for any reason you’re not completely satisfied with my newsletter, you can cancel your subscription at any time within the next 12 months. You’ll then get a complete 100% refund of your subscription price–no matter how many issues you’ve already received. No questions asked. Your money will be cheerfully refunded. And, best of all, the free bonuses I’ve offered are yours to keep, no matter what you decide.” Wouldn’t you like to read a guarantee like that for a product you decided to buy? The best kind is a 100% money-back.

#8. Offer something for free. Because customers want deals, one of the best ways to get people to read your e-mail or e-zine and return to your site is to offer something free. And, because this is the book business, we have lots of editorial tidbits, tips, and suggestions to offer. How about a tutorial or sample lesson to accompany your book? How about a reference chart? Can you work a poster into the mix somewhere? What can you give your customers when they place an order to make them feel that they’re receiving extra value from you? Downloading the freebie is nice, but I like to tell the customer about the freebie that I’m going to mail with their order. This creates anticipation, good feelings, and added value when they see that you have sent a “gift.”

#9. Take care of preferred customers (those who have bought from you previously). This is one we all tend to forget, although we should probably spend the most time with it. If someone comes back to order a second time (or just browse), you need to recognize and inform that customer that they are in a preferred status and entitled to special discounts and offers.Thus, you need to manage the people who have bought from you previously in a separate database. Segment them by their purchase amount and give these customers first notice of special offers. You should also consider an additional discount for repeat customers (sort of your own frequent flyer reward program!). This one’s really important, so spend some time coming up with a program that will work for your books. After all, about 70-80% of your business is going to come from 20% of your customers. You’ve got to know who belongs in that 20% and “love ’em to death!”

#10. Develop strategic referral partners. Who else is big in your market in a non-competitive way? If you’re a travel book publisher, is there a map company you can link up with? Johnny Hamilton, Publisher of Construction Trades Press, offers quality tools for carpenters and pipe fitters in addition to selling them copies of his best-selling math books. What are some logical non-book partnershpublfor your book(s)? Chances are there’s a direct and immediate answer to that question. Have you explored it? Can you get other companies to put links on their sites to yours? Have you tried to link to their site? How can you promote their products and brands–and vice-versa? This one will take some time and require some work, but it does pay big dividends.

I hope you found at least one golden nugget of an idea that you can use. And if you didn’t, drop me an e-mail at rbbartlett@aol.com and tell me about your specific challenge. I’ll try to help you solve it if I can.

Robin Bartlett is the Director of Sales and Marketing for the American College of Physicians. A former member of the PMA Board of Directors, Bartlett is responsible for organizing PMA University. He is a frequent contributor to PMA University
and to this newsletter.

Recommended Reading
about Direct Response Marketing

To learn more about direct response marketing, take a look at the following books:

2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success

by Denny Hatch and Don Jackson, from NTC Business Books.

Direct Mail Copy that Sells!

by Herschell Gordon Lewis, Prentice-Hall.

Do-It-Yourself Direct Marketing: Secrets for Small Business,

Second Edition, by Mark S. Bacon, Wiley.

Internet Direct Mail: The Complete Guide to Successful E-mail Marketing Campaigns

by Steve Roberts, Michelle Feit, and Robert W. Bly, NTC Business Books.

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