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Salesmanship, Repetition And Direct Mail

by Ernest Nicastro


In a classic business-to-business print ad from the late 1950s for McGraw-Hill Magazines (recently updated and running again), an imposing looking executive sits in his chair. He has both feet planted firmly on the ground, a scowl on his face. His hands are folded together in front of him, and his elbows rest on the chair; he leans ever so slightly forward. To his right run these eight lines of copy:

    I don't know who you are.
    I don't know your company.
    I don't know your company's product.
    I don't know your company's customers.
    I don't know what your company stands for.
    I don't know your company's record.
    I don't know your company's reputation.
    Now -- what was it you wanted to sell me?

Across the bottom, a single line of copy drives home the selling proposition:

    MORAL: Sales start before your salesman calls -- with business publication advertising.

This ad amplifies and expands on what many, including David Ogilvy, consider to be the single best definition of advertising ever given. "Advertising," said copywriter John E. Kennedy nearly eighty years ago, "is salesmanship in print."

Salesmanship And Repetition
Any salesperson worth his or her commission check will tell you that landing worthwhile new business takes a repeated and concerted effort -- and lots of contact with the decision-maker. This is all the more true with salesmanship in print (or across the airwaves, phone lines and other forms of modern communication).

Of course, repetition is fundamental to the success of any advertising program. The marketplace proves out this fact, as does scientific research. Several years ago, a group of researchers at Harvard University was asked, "How many times must prospects see a marketing message to take them from a state of total apathy to purchasing readiness?" After a year-long study, the researchers responded with a definitive answer: Nine times.

Important note: Do not assume that your prospects will see, hear or otherwise experience your advertising every time you expose them to it. Ample evidence exists that in the din, noise and clutter of today's over-communicated world, your prospects will miss or ignore your marketing message two out of every three times you communicate it.

That's why, in print advertising, if you have the budget to run either six full-page ads or 12 half-page ads, it's almost always better to go for the 12 exposures. Another approach is to run a full-page ad in the publication's biggest, most popular issue(s) and smaller-size ads in other issues.

Cost-effective Ways To Use Direct Mail To Repeatedly Communicate Your Marketing Message

Two of direct mail's biggest benefits are:

  • Its pinpoint targeting ability
  • Its ability to deliver a full and complete sales presentation of any length

Correspondingly, this makes direct mail a highly effective way to repeatedly expose your prospect to your salesmanship -- and positively influence his or her decision. That said, I'd like to outline three direct mail marketing strategies (as opposed to single-shot mailing ideas) that virtually any business can put to work to achieve better, more profitable results.

1. Repeatedly mail the same letter or direct mail package to the same people
If your sales letter or direct mail package is generating an acceptable number of orders or leads, don't hesitate to mail it again and again to the same list. The basic premise for recommending this strategy can best be summed up in five words: "People quickly forget," and "Things change."

Consider this: The average person is exposed to well over 1,500 sales, marketing, and advertising messages every day. And the vast majority of these messages do not even so much as register a blip on the mental radar screen. Of the handful that do register, most are forgotten within two weeks.

Another reason this strategy works is change. Your prospects' lives are constantly evolving. For example, let's say you're an insurance agent mailing to a list of new homeowners. Three months ago, Mr. and Mrs. Jankowski had all the life insurance they needed. So they tossed your envelope without even opening it. But three weeks ago Mrs. Jankowski found out she's pregnant -- with twins. Based on this life-changing event, it's a good bet the Jankowskis will be a bit more receptive to your next mailing.

Many highly successful direct marketing organizations such as Dow Jones & Co. and Geico Corporation routinely practice this strategy of repeatedly mailing the same message to the same people. Speaking from my own experience, I know that every year I get several identical mailings from the Wall Street Journal, and likewise from Geico. A recent example of a company whose repeated mailings of the same "package" has helped to make it a huge success is the 8,000-pound online gorilla -- AOL.)

How frequently should you do your mailings? Quarterly is probably a good idea for starters. But, as with everything else in direct mail, test to determine the optimum frequency.

2. Send a series of mailings to the same people
To quote consultant Richard Brock, "Sales is a process of communication, not an event." That's why, especially if your sales process involves a long lead time, it's a smart move to plan and budget for a series of mailings to the decision-maker and key decision-influencers.

Particularly in business-to-business direct marketing and "big-ticket" consumer purchases, a follow-up mailing program to prospects gained through your lead-generation efforts will help you convert a substantially higher number of sales.

Before starting a program like this, give careful thought to what you want to say and how you want your campaign to unfold. For example:

  • In your first letter, you may want to highlight the three biggest benefits of your product or service.
  • Then, in letter two, take just one of these benefits and amplify and expand on it.
  • In letter three, take another key benefit and do the same.
  • And so on.

Let say, for instance, you market a software package that sells for $10,000 but the payback time for your product is typically six months. One of your follow-up letters would focus exclusively on this benefit: the rapid payback. You'd give your prospect lots of details and explain how your product is able to generate such a fast payback. Plus, you'd include several very credible testimonials. And the offer in your letter would be an eight-page "case study," detailing exactly how a current user achieved payback in half the normal time and is now enjoying a highly profitable return on investment.

And don't stop with just four letters. Depending on your sales cycle, you may want to send six letters, four post cards and three cover letters attached to product reviews or magazine articles. In every mailing, always give a reason and a method for responding. Always ask for some kind of action.

When it comes to large-ticket, long-lead-time sales, it really is a process of communication. And the program I've just outlined is an ideal way to carry out the communication process while gaining top-of-mind awareness and building, relationships that lead to increased sales.

3. Mail a series of post cards (A somewhat different approach to the preceding idea)

For example, copywriter Rein Nomm, of Rein Nomm & Associates (, created a series of five post cards for an environmental engineering firm. Here's a brief synopsis of how the program unfolded:

Card one

    A full color photograph shows a thickly gloved hand moving a forlorn looking chess piece. The headline reads: "Wasted Move?" And the sub-head states: "With waste, a wrong move can be costly." The body copy goes on to tout the benefits of the environmental firm's Corrective Action Group and its waste assessment and remediation services.

Card two

    This time the post card shows heated action at a Little League Baseball game. It's a close call t home plate, and the ump is giving the "you're out" sign. The headline reads, "Are The Calls Going Against You?" with the body copy singing the benefits of working with the firm's Industrial Compliance Group.

    The post cards continue in this vein until we get to card number five. This time the photograph is of a man-eating, great white shark. Its giant head is breaching the water and its menacing jaws are open wide, revealing an even more menacing set of teeth. The headline? "FISH OR CUT BAIT!"

The cards were mailed to prospects and former clients at the rate of one every 10 days over a period of two months. The campaign's concentrated series of informative contacts generated substantial top-of-mind awareness and, most importantly, several new projects.

The bottom line, as any successful salesperson knows, is this: You've got to stay in front of your prospect through repeated contacts -- whether that's in the mail, by phone, in person or, as is most likely, a combination of activities. (Not just any contact, mind you, but meaningful, informative, educational, persuasive contacts that address the issues and concerns of the crotchety executive in our ad.)

And direct mail -- salesmanship in print -- is one of the most effective and profitable tools any business has at its disposal with which to achieve this repeated contact.

To submit your questions or comments to Ernest Nicastro, you may e-mail him at [email protected] or go to

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