Lessons Learned From Sending 1.3 Billion Pieces of Direct Mail
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Brian Kurtz has over 33 years experience in the direct marketing industry. As the executive VP of Boardroom Inc, Brian has been responsible for the sending of over 1.3 billion pieces of direct mail which resulted in the sale of millions of books and newsletter subscriptions. His direct response marketing expertise has been applied across every channel you can think of especially direct mail, television and email. He is also the host of the upcoming event… The Titans of Direct Response.
After 33 years in the business, Brian has learned a thing or two and in this interview Brian has been kind enough to impart some of that knowledge with us. Brian shares…
Joey Bushnell: Hi, welcome to the online marketing show, this is Joey Bushnell. Today’s special guest is a top direct marketer his name is Brian Kurtz. Go to briankurtz.me to find out more. Brian, thank you for coming on the show.
Brian Kurtz: Thanks Joey, we didn’t know each other. I guess we connected on LinkedIn or we had connected in some way and I saw some of the people that you were connected to and I’m like “How am I not connected to this guy?” You’ve interviewed some of my heroes, I’m so honored and flattered to be here given the fact that you interviewed Perry Marshall and John Carlton among others and I’m just flattered to be here.
Joseph Bushnell: Thank you and I’m flattered to have you on the show Brian. So Brian could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your life in direct marketing?
Brian Kurtz: Yeah. I kind of got to this point now where I started talking about myself as a serial direct marketer. I was trying to think about it this morning as I was thinking about this interview and how do you become a serial direct marketer?
I was an English major in college. I was a pretty good writer. I wanted to be a film critic and you know, I had a pretty good sense of business and I kind of liked business but I didn’t know where it would go. But I realized that from a very young age, and I guess a lot of people on this call could probably relate to this, is that we’re all kind of needy in terms of getting feedback. In terms of getting people to pat us on the head when we do something good and to tell us that something worked or didn’t work for them or how you’re behavior was and I kind of realized that direct marketing is like the ultimate marketing answer to anybody who’s a really needy person in terms of needing feedback on a regular basis!
To me direct marketing, if I had to define it of what it really is, it’s not about a channel. It’s not about direct mail. It’s not about the internet. It’s not about television or radio or print advertising. It’s
about getting response that pays for itself. It’s about getting a
return on your investment of your advertising. It’s about making sure
that every penny you spend in what you want to try to achieve in terms
of your message is being paid out in some metric that’s acceptable to
There are metrics in direct marketing where you lose a lot of money in year 1 or 2 and the whole concept of lifetime value (if we want to talk about that later), is something that should not be lost on anybody who is marketing in any medium today. And all of that is direct marketing. It’s all about getting a response from a particular location, whatever the medium might be and making sure that you can track it, making sure that there’s a return on investment, making sure that you can track some sort of lifetime value of a new customer, of an existing customer. And, to me, that’s been my whole life. I’ve been doing this for 33 years.
I started the list side of the business and direct mail and whether that’s a good place to start or not, I think as I look back on it, I think it was a great place to start because it really enabled me to understand audiences and demographics and what it’s really about in terms of picking an audience or finding an audience that is relevant to the product or service that you have.
And you know we know that the creative is important. We know that the offer is important. But I learned at a very young age, that the list, I’m not saying the list is the most important, there’s a direct marketing formula 40-40-20… 40% list, 40% offer and 20% creative.
I don’t necessarily believe that. I think that depends on the product and the service and what you’re doing and the medium that you’re working in. But I will tell you that coming out of the list business was such an amazing adventure for me. And now 33 years in, trying to figure what I really want to be when I grow up, I realized that the next 33 years is really about taking that knowledge that I started when in the list business in’81 in direct mail, and kind of talking all of that and kind of bringing it into the present day on a regular basis and I think I have a lot to contribute and a lot to share.
That’s the quick history without getting into the specifics of how many, the billions of pieces that I’ve been responsible for. There’s an old expression, I heard John Wayne say it but I think Dizzy Dean the Baseball pitcher said it, that “It’s not bragging if you did it”. But I don’t like to just throw out numbers, people who know me, know I don’t look to brag about anything. I’m very conscious of my contribution to the industry at large and what I’ve done for 33 years and I want to continue that and so to me, direct marketing is my life. I just love it. And it’s very hard for me to differentiate most days between my work and my play because it’s all tied up in what I’ve been doing for the last 33 years.
Joseph Bushnell: Brian what is the name of your company? It’s a very famous direct mail company.
Brian Kurtz: The company is Boardroom incorporated. Boardroom which sounds like a misnomer thinking I’m in some kind of business, business kind of environment. Interestingly the guy who founded the company, Marty Edelston founded the company in 1972 and the first publication he did was “Boardroom reports” which was basically teaching business people how to run their business better. How to do things that they weren’t going to learn in the Wall street journal or Business week or Fortune or Forbes. Marty was a voracious reader of business books so he just wanted to teach business men and entrepreneurs how to run their business better, and the company kind of branched out into the consumer side.
I got here in 1981 and we had just launched “Bottom line personal” which actually now is our flagship newsletter and in a lot of ways the company should be called bottom line personal or bottom line publications but it’s still called boardroom because of that heritage back in 1972 of being sort of this direct marketing, I don’t want to say factory, but certainly this direct marketing company that really understood direct mail as well as anybody and Marty was an incredible student of that.
So the company has kind of evolved into very much a consumer publisher of mostly books and newsletters, both online and offline and a big emphasis in the health category. So going from boardroom reports in 1972 to teaching business people how to run their business better, all the way to 1981, we launched bottom line personal. Teaching that same entrepreneur how to run their personal life better. And then branching into, there’s an expression, that Wayne Gretzky the great hockey player used to say, it’s like “you know where the puck is, you go where the puck is going”. And we saw the puck going in this whole health category and we knew we had the contacts in bottom line personal to do tremendous information in the health area and then we just created an incredible line of health books and we have a health newsletter called bottom line health. That became sort of the biggest category.
But we didn’t forget about the other categories as well. We still do a lot in the finance area. We do a lot in personal improvement. But much more consumer and very little business now. That’s why I give you that whole explanation because as I said the company is called boardroom incorporated and people who wouldn’t know us would say “That sounds like some business publisher” and it’s basically just that direct marketing, iconic name. The reason why we never changed the name of the company from boardroom to bottom line, is that boardroom had this heritage which people recognize as a direct marketing company and bottom line personal or bottom line publications wouldn’t have that heritage or history.
Joseph Bushnell: Brian you’re holding a fantastic event coming up in September 2014 called “The Titans of Direct Response”. I think it’s the most incredible line-up of direct marketing speakers I’ve ever seen so please could you tell us about it?
Brian Kurtz: We had decided on this call, this was not an opportunity to sell anything, however my whole life being in direct marketing, this event is like a dream come true for me.
It basically is exactly what I was talking about at the beginning of this interview that how can I contribute further to an industry that needs the education that I’ve been able to accumulate through my mentors and through what I’ve learned over the last 33 years and how can I bring that to the forefront? With people who are still around, a lot of people that are my mentors happen to be dead, unfortunately. The great news of having mentors who are really older than you is that you get this incredible wisdom. The really bad news is that you usually outlive them. I’ve watched a lot of my mentors pass away over the last decade.
One of whom was Martin Edelston; the person who started boardroom back in 1972 and we worked together for all that 33 years. He just died last October. Just quickly, this is in the sales letter for the event but I racked my brain, what am I going to do for Marty’s eulogy? It’s like 33 years of being a partner in this business. He taught me everything about entrepreneurship, taught me everything about direct marketing. I didn’t know what to do, what to say about him. So I ended up, the night before the funeral, coming up, usually you come up with the best things if you’re a writer, usually you come up with the best things under pressure and I came up with these 4 pillars that kind of epitomize why Marty did extraordinary things when he said he was just some ordinary guy from Newark, New Jersey.
After delivering that eulogy, I started sharing it with a bunch of people and all of a sudden I got a letter from none other than Dan Kennedy. I’m sure a lot of your audience knows who he is and probably, I don’t know of a more iconic information marketer but don’t let the information marketing tag fool you, Dan Kennedy is a direct marketer through and through. He understands direct response and direct marketing as well as anybody in the world. He sent me a beautiful note about Marty.
He said Marty epitomized what direct marketing is all about, what entrepreneurship is all about, what being a mensch was all about, being a really good person and still be a tenacious marketer. I sent Dan the excerpts from my eulogy and one thing led to another and he started blogging about it to his audience and I went to Dan and I said let’s do an epic event. Let’s do an event that honors not just Marty but kind of the titans of direct response. Because we’re teaching this stuff, it’s falling on a lot of deaf years as far as the kinds of training that a lot of new online marketers need today.
I don’t want to sound like grandpa saying “I gotta teach you these things” but I think that there’s a lot of really good lessons out there still with a lot of people who are still alive and willing to teach them. One thing led to another. I went to visit Dan. We kind of put together this whole event. He’s not my partner in the event, he’s just my special guest.
Then I started putting together who I thought the titans of direct response would be for me and they’d be people connected to either boardroom in some way, connected to Marty in some way or my personal mentors, or all 3. And from there we got Joe Sugarman who is somebody who I learned copywriting from at a very young age and also product development.
I got Jay Abraham who if people look at their careers and how they got in to marketing, most people sourced Dan Kennedy as the person they learned their first things from in terms of direct response but if they’re not Dan Kennedy they’re usually Jay Abraham.
Then Dan said we really need to get someone great in direct response television since boardroom has done some amazing stuff in the infomercial world and I do believe in multi-channel marketing in a big way. I think we’re going talk about that in a few minutes. We went and got what I thought was the number 1 guy in TV and multi-channel marketing and that’s Greg Renker of Guthy-Renker which is the largest infomercial company in the world so Greg is also speaking.
I got Ken McCarthy who to me is one of my personal mentors. He did the system seminars for many years. Really, if Al Gore invented the internet, Ken McCarthy invented Al Gore. Ken McCarthy is one of the pioneers of internet marketing and yet came out of traditional direct response background.
Then because I’m so immersed in copy and the copywriting side of the business, I’m not a copywriter but I’ve worked with all the best copywriters in the world, I decided to put together a round table at this event of what I called the Mt. Rushmore of boardroom copywriters, who are 4 copywriters who are responsible for the sending of 650 million pieces of direct mail since 1995. And we didn’t just send them willy-nilly. We’ll talk about why I love direct mail so much but I didn’t send 650 million pieces of direct mail to lose money, let’s put it that way.
So I had the 4 copywriters who are responsible for the lion’s share of that and that’s Parris Lampropoulos, David Deutsch, Eric Betuel and Arthur Johnson, 4 of the best copywriters in the world. That doesn’t mean that people like John Carlton and Clayton Makepeace are not titan copywriters as well but they didn’t have the controls for boardroom but they’re also titan copywriters and people that I’ve worked with.
Then the cherry on top was Gary Bencivenga who I think is America’s best living copywriter. Retired, swore that he would never speak again, came to me and said I’m coming out and speaking at this event because what you mean and what Marty meant to me and what boardroom meant to me is far more important than my vow of silence so Gary Bencivenga who is probably one of the best teachers of copy and creative and he did his Bencivenga 100 seminars some years ago which is touted as the best copywriting seminar ever and Gary would be speaking as well.
We also got the number 1 guy in direct response radio Fred Catona, who I don’t know well, I have to admit but Dan Kennedy felt that getting somebody to cover radio would be important and I didn’t have anybody else who could do that so we got him.
Then I also created a round table of my personal mastermind of 3 other incredible titans. Maybe not of all direct response but one is Ryan Lee who a lot of your listeners probably know well. One is Jim Kwik who they might know. Another is Michael Fishman. And the four of us make up a mastermind group and I can’t do anything without the 3 of them and the beauty of masterminding and accountability is such an important concept in all of this. You know this better than anybody as someone who is out there, interacting with the greats, that you don’t do this alone.
And then Perry Marshall, I’m going to open up day 2 with Perry. Perry, I did a one day workshop with last year and Perry is a close friend. Perry is one of the most important speakers because he to me represents a bridge, like I am, between the past and the present. He’s younger than me too. But Perry, don’t let Perry fool you either that he’s not a student of direct response at the core level and knows all of these people that are speaking and yet Perry, you know he’s the guy that some people think is the Google Adwords guy, which he is, but Perry is a direct response titan.
Anyway, very excited about the event. I think it is going to be a once in a lifetime kind of situation and I guess at the end I can give more details about it but I wasn’t on the call to sell it, I wanted to talk about it at this length only because it really epitomizes everything that I want my life to represent going forward and it is a dream come true to be on the stage with all these people.
Joseph Bushnell: It is. It’s going to be an absolutely epic event, a lot of amazing speakers speaking there, it’s an incredible line up and I’m sure the people in the crowd are going to be great to be networking with as well. We’ll get to some of the details of that at the end of the call if anyone is interested in going, we’ll talk more about that at the end of the call. So in the mean time let’s talk about direct response, what channels do you like to use in direct response marketing?
Brian Kurtz: I think almost any channel is appropriate for direct response marketing and if you’re using any channel and not monitoring it and measuring it like we have in direct marketing my whole career, I think you’re making a huge mistake in terms of, no matter how cheap the media is. Email being cheap doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t track it properly and make sure you’re getting a return of your investment
So as far as what I use, I told this recently at another interview that I bought on godaddy, I bought the URL and I’m not using it so it’ll be blank if you go there but I bought the URL… Singlechannelmarketingissoboring.com and the reason is why I bought it is so I can be on this interview to tell you that I bought it. But the reason that I bought is to prove a point that to me, if you’re in a single channel, you’re making just a huge mistake in terms of the longevity of your business.
If you want a series of revenue events and you want to just make money short term, sure you can just be in email, you can just be in direct mail, you can just be in TV. I think if you want to build a business for the long haul, you always think in terms of what other channels might work for me given my product and service and how am I going to get into those product areas?
I think that, I said it at various internet conferences that anybody who calls himself an internet marketer, I think is being kind of silly because why would you want to define yourself by a channel? That’s why being a direct marketer, direct response marketer, to me, who uses a lot of channels and can look for different solutions in different channels is critical. And the beauty, the best successes I had in my career are when I’ve been able to combine channels and be able to have them work together in concert.
We had a direct mail product, I’ve told this story many times, it’s actually on my website this interview, with Perry Marshall, that’s correct. Perry interviewed me and asked me about my 3 biggest successes and one of them was being able to take a direct mail product for a health book, bring it into infomercials and TV, bring it back to direct mail and also advertise on the internet and all of that was over 300 million dollars in business and it would never been near that if I was just sitting in one channel.
Two quotes I’d like to tell you… One of them is someone who I know you’ve interviewed is John Carlton. John Carlton always likes to say “A promotion is not a business“.
A lot of people online confuse a winning promotion in an affiliate environment or something that’s working online as a banner or some kind of funnel as a business. That’s not the business. That’s a successful promotion. You have to beat it, in fact I’m going to blog today about this idea of the control is your enemy and that as soon as you get something that works the key is to beat it with something else. Whether in that medium or in another medium and that’s how the great copywriters became great copywriters. They not only were beating other people’s control packages and other people’s winning packages, winning promotions but they were also beating themselves when they got a winner. So a promotion is not a business, is John Carlton.
There’s another guy, Chris Farrell, have you interviewed Chris Farrell?
Joseph Bushnell: I haven’t yet no, he’s on my list!
Brian Kurtz: Yeah I think he’s in the UK as well. Chris has a quote that I love which is “A product is not a business“. The idea of having one product and not having multiple products, that’s direct marketing. There’s a kind of a “Duh” expression in direct marketing that no direct marketing business can succeed without repeat business. Everybody on this call should say “Who the hell is Joey interviewing here? This guy’s an idiot. Of course I know that”. But you know what, if you’re not thinking about products 2,3,4, and 5, when you’re launching product 1, that’s not going to create a business and if you’re not thinking about what medium might work for that product beyond the initial media.
The beauty of online and emails is that it is so cheap so it is a great place to start. I’ve done a lot of launches, the word launch was not invented by an internet marketer by the way. I’ve been doing launches since 1981 and we launched in direct mail, for the most part and that’s really expensive. I’m not saying it’s a bad way to go but today having the internet and email in particular at your disposal and various affiliate opportunities, clearly you can get an assessment of the interest for your product or service a lot faster and a lot cheaper than I was able to do in the 1980’s, launching through direct mail.
But I will tell you that to ignore direct mail, to ignore print advertising, to ignore the possibilities of TV and radio, do that at your own risk. And that’s why, going back to titans, I wanted to have all of those different media represented because I want to give people how to’s, how to get into those businesses. We can’t do that in this interview today but I can tell you that they all can intertwine, they all can work together and so that’s what I have to say about multi-channel.
Frankly, having come out of the direct mail world it’s been more of a struggle for me and my company to go to the online world with products that are physical products. It’s actually easier to go the other way but I don’t see enough people going from, the people who are working online exclusively have found the secret of direct mail. They’ve found the secret of physical product.
I remember at sitting at Underground (seminar), 2 or 3 years ago and it was on a Saturday morning speaker and he was going to tell us the deep dark secret of internet marketing and the deep dark secret, I’m going to whisper into my microphone for effect but the deep dark secret of internet marketing was… physical product! Basically, someone had discovered that if you deliver physical product as opposed to digital product, they’re might be actually a higher perceived value and you might actually get customers to stay on your list longer and to buy more products from you. To me, that’s a “Duh”. But for a lot of people they didn’t understand that. There were actually people in that audience which was great that basically said “Wow, physical product. I could create DVD’s and CD’s and actually have a higher value business?” Isn’t that cool?
Joseph Bushnell: Yeah very cool! So the direct response principles and golden rules of direct response, do they differ depending on the channel or medium that you’re using or is it always the same rules applying no matter what?
Brian Kurtz: That’s a great question. I think in general they are the same. In fact there’s a book that we published called Secrets of Successful Direct Mail, which was written by Dick Benson who is one of the pioneers in direct mail in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. He did it for almost 50 years and he’s got these 31 rules of thumb (see at the bottom of the page) and there are things in there like “The word free is most important” and “Offering multiple products in the same offer is only going to depress response overall” because of the confusion factor. So he’s got rules of thumb that all apply today.
I think one of the biggest differences is going back to this thing about online being so much cheaper and I think that the ability to (I just blogged about this last week), the ability to offer content for free on a more regular basis and not have to sell anything and not have to lose your shirt, spending money doing that, is incredibly, it’s much easier to do that than it was for us when we’re basically living in the direct mail world where we had to pay postage and printing.
There was an expression that Gordon Grossman, one of my mentors who helped build Reader’s Digest in the 1960’s and he said “In direct mail, everything has to sell something” because you can’t afford to just send out a direct mail piece and tell people how much you love them and give them content and have fun with them. It’s just too expensive.
However, what we decided in direct mail is that we we’re going to start violating the rule of direct mail which was you only give away the sizzle, you don’t give away the steak. So you only give away fascinations and bullet points and then they have to get the product to get the answers and we learned in the 80’s and 90’s that it was OK to give away some of the content in the direct mail package but you didn’t give away all of it of course because you still have to sell because you’re paying so much in postage.
Now, flip that around today in email marketing. I think people go in for the kill way too early in terms of selling. I think that the good online marketers understand how to give away great content over a longer period of time, without selling anything and then eventually, when I say going for the kill it sounds terrible but when are you going to try and sell something? You sell something after you develop a relationship. It was very hard to do that in direct mail. It’s very easy to do that in email.
Dean Graziosi who’s a great marketer in the real estate niche and a good friend has a great quote that says “People refund transactions. They don’t refund relationships“.
Again that was my part of my blog last week which was, I developed this email list of people who are reading my weekly emails about my history in direct marketing and I hadn’t sold them anything until I sent them a link to the titans of direct response event and I was almost like the reluctant seller at that point. It’s like “Wow, I’m going to sell you guys something now, we have a relationship. Please don’t unsubscribe either, if you don’t want to come to the event”. The most rewarding thing was that, yeah a bunch of people signed up for the event from my list but the more rewarding thing is I had zero unsubscribe and zero complaints. So I said to myself, I’ve done a good job developing those relationships so that’s probably the biggest difference I see in the direct response environment, online versus offline.
But I will tell you that online marketers understanding that good creative is not a flashing red box with an arrow. Writing great copy is great copy. Gary Halbert has the great line, the great copywriter Gary Halbert said “Every business problem can be solved with a great sales letter”. Every business problem can be solved with a great sales letter. And I think spending a lot more time on your copy and creative, I’m hoping that I have a listen to interview with Carlton but I’m sure he emphasized that in a big way and I’m sure some of the other folks as well and Perry. The value that people put on creative is just, I think it needs to be a lot higher than it is because I think it’s easy to get sloppy in email because it’s so cheap.
But to answer your question is that, if you look down the rules of thumb and maybe on follow up, when the interview goes out to people you can send a link and I can give you the 31 rules of thumb that Dick Benson had for direct mail and I would bet you that I have to go back and look at them and see how many might not apply to other media. But I’m guessing they almost all do in some respect.
Joseph Bushnell: Yeah that would be great, we will put a link to that on the blog and in the show notes of the podcast (see the bottom of this page) So would you say that because you had to pay for postage and printing costs you were forced to become a better marketer, you couldn’t afford to be sloppy?
Brian Kurtz: Yeah! If you want, I did an article for copy blogger which is a great site for people looking at creative and direct response and I did a piece for them that was actually just that. It was how paying postage made me a better marketer and if we want, I can give you the link to that article as well.
Basically what I talked about that, I think I had 9 different things in that article that basically said why I thought paying postage made me a better marketer and talking about the concept of, when you’re paying $500 or $600 per thousand to put something in the mail as opposed to spending a dollar for spending per thousand to put an email out, you’ve got to think things through a lot differently. Everything’s got to be perfect.
Where as I’m not saying, you know because, “done is better than perfect” even in direct mail sometimes but I think in email it’s so easy to just slap it out there so to speak, slap it together and throw it out there, that I think that the discipline that we had in terms of having to pay postage and printing and all of that, made us really aware of the care that we put into the creative and the offer and the list selection before we did anything.
Then I have a bunch of other things in that article about the kinds of thinking that went into putting together direct mail piece and how the prospect would actually read a direct mail piece. I think a lot of that really applies to online as well.
Sure they’re not going into an envelope and pulling out the pieces one at a time to see how someone might read it but anybody on this call knows that how you design that email, whether you do HTML or text, how you structure your argument, etc. Because the thing is, I have this one, it’s kind of a joke, when your hand is on the mouse, you have about 0.6 seconds for people to lose interest and click off and in direct mail when they are sorting the mail over the garbage can, you have 1.8 seconds. I made those numbers up but then again, 1.8 is 3 times as long as 0.6 so I think it if behooves anyone who is doing, again the most cluttered inbox is the one, the least cluttered inbox is the one I grew up with which is the mailbox sitting outside my house. The most cluttered is the inbox in your gmail account or yahoo account or whatever. I think getting through that clutter is so critical.
Subject lines, the attention that’s not spent on the subject lines, again is crazy. What we had to do with headlines and cover and outer envelopes and covers to self mailers which is really the equivalent of a subject line. The care and concern that went in to all of that, we were so diligent about it.
My post last week, the subject line was this email marketing secrets from the 12th century and what I was talking about there was my recent visit to Paris. I was at the top of the cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris which was started getting built in 1143 A.D. and I said that they were able to build this thing without modern technology just astounds me, and I said “It’s sort of like doing direct mail” and I turned that in to a little bit of a joke, obviously but I said building Notre Dame was a little more difficult than doing direct mail.
But I will tell you that everything had to be so thought through and thought out and then I came back to my hotel room from Notre Dame that day, to a 100 emails in one particular box, it’s the box that I sign up for stuff. I keep all my emails in one place, in one gmail account and I think I even said in my blog that most of them just suck. They just suck. They’re just terrible emails. The subject lines are terrible. There’s like 6 or 7 within a week from the same sender that’s almost identical. Why you think I’m going to respond 6 times to the same message within a week? I don’t get it. Retail is particularly big culprits in this area. I just don’t get it. It’s so disturbing to me.
And it’s because “Why not? It’s so cheap”. But it comes at a huge cost. The unsubscribes, the people that go off your list, the people that get sick of what you send. There’s nothing about relationship building in any of that. Those are kind of the crossovers, direct mail versus online but I think the lessons I learned, it’s almost like because I couldn’t, because I was deprived, I was a deprived young man, not being able to develop relationships in direct mail because of how expensive it was, I’ve been free in email to be able to do that and it’s so much fun.
Joseph Bushnell: Brilliant, and why else do you love direct mail as marketing channel? I know you mentioned there the inbox is certainly less cluttered, any other big advantages of direct mail?
Brian Kurtz: Yeah I think the story you can tell and the way you can weave the story and get it read, is so much more powerful. I know a bunch of internet marketers, good friends of mine, who have taken what they’re doing online and in there turning these into incredibly interesting and almost provocative prose and weaving a story through what we call a magalog or a bookalog or a 12 page letter, is so much different than scrolling down an email where it’s so easy to click off.
And then if you over design it with too much HTML, online, it’s not loading properly, the images don’t show up. I’m a big fan actually of, if you’re in a one-to-one relationship to your list to do much more text email than HTML. I think text email from a sender that you know who’s developing that relationship is so much more powerful and that’s the advantages of direct mail. It’s almost like even though direct mail sometimes is designed with 4 color brochures and magalogs that look like magazines, there is something it that’s almost like text as opposed to HTML which is sort of, it sounded like I just contradicted myself but I really believe this, I think the most over-designed direct mail still feels like text, is more like a text email than it is in HTML email.
It’s that relationship building, it’s the story building. Storytelling is so critical in all of our creative. Ask any great copywriter where storytelling fits in, in what they do and how they do it. I think direct mail has a decided advantage in being able to tell stories. Now again it’s expensive. If you don’t know what you’re doing is very hard to get into. You do need help.
But I do think that I’m seeing a lot of people, in fact I just talked to someone recently whose got an incredibly successful, I won’t mention them, it’s confidential, but he has an incredibly successful online business. He’s selling in a niche that’s very, very powerful, very, very conducive to storytelling. The guy’s crushing it online to coin a phrase but he came to me and he said you know what, I didn’t go seek him out, he was seeking me out and he said, I just think we have such a compelling offer story, everything we do is so amazing and it fits for direct mail. He’s like ready to take everything he’s doing online and create a full-blown direct mail program. He’s got so many of the elements built in and I think it’s wonderful to see something like that.
I think direct mail’s got an incredible advantage. For certain types of products, for digital downloaded products and things that don’t lend themselves to physical product which you need in direct mail, there’s a lot of things that direct mail is not going to work for but I do think that it’s got some incredible advantages.
Then the thing when you said less crowded inbox. Direct mail, I have one interview on my site that I did with my friend Joe Polish which is everybody’s going right, time to go left, and I talked about using direct mail on the back end of online.
So in other words, I’m not saying start with direct mail. I’m not saying that direct mail is something that you have to do but once when you have an established online business, the ability to use direct mail on the back end, I think is really something that could really explode your business.
Joseph Bushnell: Yeah because they are customers aren’t they? They already know who you are, it’s not just junk coming through their door anymore, they are receiving a communication from someone they’ve already bought from.
Brian Kurtz: That’s correct, and again it can be much more personal and I do think that more online marketers are going to see the power of using direct mail on the back end. Again, I can probably direct people to all the links, to all these articles at the end here but that interview is on my site, everything is free so we can give all that away.
Joseph Bushnell: Brian I know you said earlier that you started off on the list side of this industry. Do you have any tips on renting or buying good lists?
Brian Kurtz: Obviously one of the most important questions because there’s a classic direct marketing rule of thumb that says if you have the best creative and the best offer and you mail it to the wrong audience, you’ve got no chance of success but if you have a mediocre piece of creative or not the best offer or something that’s not completely thought through and yet it goes to an audience of people who are completely targeted for the product or service, you have a chance of success still. That’s why that 40-40-20 thing I mentioned before about the importance of list offer and creative varies from place to place.
Maybe because I’m not objective but coming out of list business, I’m not saying the list is the most important but you’ve got no chance if you’re not selecting people who are most likely to buy. I’m a big believer in list research, list selection. I think that in direct mail, there was always a lot more information available on the list before you mail them. There was a big distinction in the list business back when I was doing it, well, I still do direct mail but when we were doing direct mail in big quantities and the big distinction I did use to teach a 2 day course just on list selection and the difference between compiled lists and response lists.
The difference is that a compiled list would be a list of people who are put together based on some characteristic. Usually a compiled list starts with the phone book and then you overlay information. So I have a list of names and addresses and I’m able to overlay information on who might be a doctor or who might be a someone who lives in a particular part of a country or whatever.
Whereas the response list are people who’ve actually responded. In direct mail, response lists were very expensive, compiled lists were fairly cheap. In direct mail, compiled lists rarely worked for direct response offers whereas response lists were where you had to go because you needed people who had responded previously to direct mail offers.
Giving you all that, the idea of renting a list, you start looking particularly in email, I’ll bet that there’s not many people on this call that are listening that have had really good results in renting an email list or buying an email list cold. Trying to find an email list that would actually be mailable and then respond to a cold offer without any branding, without any endorsement, without anything. That’s why affiliates work because the offer becomes endorsed to a particular list. The endorsement factor is so much more important.
But to me, I think cracking the code in email lists to get to response lists of people who have responded to offer, who bought products, whether online or offline, is always the top criteria. It’s always about response data. I’m giving you a very, very broad answer because the list research that we do to figure out which response list to mail have so many characteristics to it, in fact I have an article right behind me on the wall that I put up there which was an article I did in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s which was called data cards guilty until proven innocent.
The data card is what the list industry use to sell list. It’s basically the criteria, the information of what’s on a particular list. I used to say they were guilty until proven innocent because it was just information on a data card that said, these are names of people who subscribe to such and such, who done this and done that. But you have to get underneath the surface of how that name got on that list. Like what kind of promotion got there. The source of the name, so to speak. For example, how much they spent on the product? How recently have they ordered? Because if they’re someone who ordered a product 2 years ago versus someone who ordered a product 3 months ago, that’s a big difference in response rate.
There’s one other concept I’ll leave you with because this is, you know, just 5 minutes on list selection, is a concept in direct marketing called RFM and RFM stands for recency, frequency and monetary value. Those are the 3 most important characteristics on any list that you select. Again we’re talking about response lists not compiled lists.
Those 3 criteria are recency which means someone who ordered more recently is going to be more valuable and more responsive than someone who didn’t order as recent. Of course, as people who are not in the industry that could be somewhat counter-intuitive because they think “Oh if someone responded to an offer 3 hours ago, they just used up all their money and they’re not going to respond again”. Obviously it shows the opposite. People who are responsive continue to respond and someone who hasn’t responded in six months or a year, the address could be bad and they also not going to be as responsive. So that’s recency.
Frequency is how often they respond. Basically there’s a term in direct marketing and direct mail called multi-buyers and someone who frequently responds, not only responds 3 months ago but then they responded also 6 months ago and they bought 2 products, is going to be worth a lot more than someone who just responded 3 months ago to their first product. Frequency is a big factor in list selection.
Then the third is monetary value which is how much they spent. Which may or may not be the number 1 criteria because sometimes the demographics of a particular person on a list is far more important than the actual amount of money they spent.
An example might be, if I’m marketing to dentists, the idea that they’ll only spent $10 for a subscription to a dental magazine is not as important of what they spend on the subscription but the fact that they’re a subscriber to the dental magazine, since I need to get to people who are dentists.
But put those 3 things together: recency, frequency and monetary, that’s how we do list selection. That’s how we decide what the best names are to mail. Again, this was like a 5 minute primer on list selection but you can see that there’s so many factors and that in the email world, because again email is so cheap, no one really spends a lot of time on list selection so again I think we do have to fall back onto an affiliate model or an endorsement model because that’s the only way that you’re going to get lists that are going to respond.
I will challenge people on this call and I challenge people in the industry and I challenge myself, that there’s going to come a time where email lists are going to be much more selectable with a wider variety of criteria that we’re able to find things like recency, frequency and monetary value within email lists from third parties. That’s when I think we’re able to do all the cold email marketing successfully. Using the same principles that I learned in direct mail, I think can be all applicable to online.
Joseph Bushnell: OK, would you test a list before scaling it up? Would you sample it and see if it works and then spend more?
Brian Kurtz: Yes, absolutely. In direct mail, obviously, in email you can afford to probably throw out more names at the first test because A) The response rates are gonna be lower and you need more responses to read it and B) It doesn’t cost you as much to send it.
In direct mail, the rule of thumb was usually, you wanted to get somewhere around 100 responses to an offer. Now we had lower priced offers. We had $39 types subscription and book offers and we were looking for about 100 net orders to determine the accuracy of how well a list did.
Normally we would mail somewhere around 5000 names of a particular list and it usually has to be a really good cross section. You don’t want to mail the first 5000 names on a list. In a direct mail list if you mail the first 5000 names in the United States, they’ll get the first 5000 zip codes which means all the names are going to be biased to the east coast. You need what we call a good cross section across the entire country. But you take a 5000 name cross section and if that pays out, you get at least 100 net orders, whatever you’re metrics are for what made that a successful mailing, again remember we go back to my original premise about everything is measurable on direct marketing.
Then normally what you would do, these are general rules of thumb but we would normally roll out to maybe 5 times on that first roll out. You go from 5000 names to say 25,000. And if there were 100,000 names on the list or even a million names on the list, you wouldn’t go crazy with that first roll out because you want to make sure that the 25,000 names look similarly to the 5000 and that they perform similarly as well. We call that pyramiding on a list in direct mail and I think the same principles apply in any media. You always want to do some kind of test quantity where you’ll be able to get enough orders or responses or clicks or whatever your metric is to be able to read it, to be able to say I’m confident, to be able to take another step up on this list.
I think that was a good soft ball question because I think you’ve kind of, you’re smart and you know the answer in terms of you don’t want to shoot the whole thing right off the bat but there’s a real good steady approach to pyramiding as we call it on any list and whether it’s in direct mail or other media, I think it’s very important.
The same is true even on TV. We would, the same idea of testing and pyramiding. We would look at certain markets and we’d know that certain markets perform like other markets, there were all these demographic things so there might be a neighborhood in St. Louis, Missouri that looks like a neighborhood in Spokane, Washington and we would test one of the two, when I say looks like it, there are other biases in terms of geography but you would say demographically, psychographically, the income level of the area, so you would test a TV station in St. Louis and if it did well the media buyers would be smart enough to know now you want to test the one in Spokane because it looks similar.
I’m using that as a very broad example but you can see the thinking is that you don’t want to go crazy, you want to do everything in the step-by-step approach.
Joseph Bushnell: Sure great advice. Brian could you tell us about one of your most wildly successful direct mail campaigns and what was it about that campaign that made it success?
Brian Kurtz: There’s a bunch. We had a lot of failures too, I wish they were all good! One that comes to mind which is a fairly recent one is a book that we did on diabetes. We do a lot of health information and I don’t know about the UK but in the United States diabetes is an epidemic, child to obesity, diabetes is just rampant, sugar is just the devil, unfortunately.
We had this book, I told this as a case history and I’ll probably tell it again at Dan Kennedy’s info summit because this is a great story but we usually research our books to our audience before we go out and publish them. Like we’ll do a sampling and say, basically would people be interested in a particular book? But we used a really good, our instinct here, that we have a situation where diabetes is an epidemic, it’s what I call a horizontal vertical.
When you find a horizontal vertical it’s magic and what I mean by a horizontal vertical is that a lot of people live in verticals whether you are, in a very vertical market of some specific town that you have or some specific product or service and there are certain verticals, diabetes is certainly a vertical. It’s a specific ailment. It’s not just general health. It’s certainly a specific disease. But I call it a horizontal vertical because there are so many people afflicted by it so you knew that to there would be list universes available. You knew that even if it wasn’t a list of people who had diabetes that it would something that would resonate because of people thinking about their blood sugar and testing their triglycerides and again we go out to lists of people who are all health conscious, who understand this stuff.
Anyway, I think the wildly successful part of it came into being because we had a horizontal vertical plus the guy behind the book was actually a copywriter. His life mission was to help end the diabetes epidemic in the United States and so he was a world class copywriter himself so I had basically the whole thing came together as a book and a piece of copy and it showed me how important the marriage of product and creative is. That without a great product and without great copy, I can’t do anything. I need both.
I think it was widely successful because I really understood that I had a passionate copywriter whose life mission was this topic and I knew where I could get the lists and the universe for a product like this. That was widely successful for a variety of reasons but I think it’s because it had this built in marriage of creative and the right product.
A lot of wildly successful direct mail campaigns we do really are contingent on great sales letter so making sure that I go for the best copywriters, I don’t scrimp on paying for creative. I think being a cheapskate in creative and copy is a huge mistake. It’s brutally important to pay top dollar for top copy. I’ve seen it time and again. The wildly successful direct mail campaigns we done for products that were mediocre, the first 2 times we tried them and the third time they went through the roof because of a different copywriter, a different copy platform, a different approach, a different way to go about it. I would say that the most successful direct mail campaign I’ve ever done are because of the investment we made in creative copy and copywriters.
Joseph Bushnell: My final question Brian is about online marketing, we’ve spoken about direct mail and we’ve also spoken quite a lot about email as well, but is there a place where these two channels meet? We also spoke earlier about how channels can assist each other and crossover so is there a way that your online marketing can assist your direct mail campaigns?
Brian Kurtz: Yes very much. I think that we’re only at the beginning of how they can marry with each other. I already talked a little bit about that interview I did about everyone’s going right, time to go left and we talked about using direct mail on the back end of online campaigns and then creating physical product from digital product for longer lifetime value of customers.
I think there’s also a lot of evidence and we have some ourselves, of getting as many email addresses as we can of the people that we’re going to do direct mail to and be able to send them an email in advance of receiving their direct mail package or pre-email, then they get the direct mail package and then you send them a post-email as well “Did you see the package?”. I think that we’ve seen lifts in response that are pretty significant to the direct mail campaign because we were able to combine both of those channels within the same campaign. It wasn’t just one spinning off on each other, it was actually working hand in hand in the same campaign.
I also think that taking physical product that has worked in direct mail and creating digital versions of it, offering it in email and then offering a digital version of it is something that we’ve had success with as well and that’s a great merging of the online and offline environment.
I think it’s really, the more that you can get email addresses from your direct mail people and postal addresses from your email people, the better you’re going to be going forward because all boats are going to rise if you can, merge the two as often as possible. We’re having some nice results now in our direct mail campaigns, offering, like we’ll go out with an order card for direct mail for a book and then we ask for their email address on the order card, of course they’re not all going to end up being accurate because people are writing them in,a lot of them are going to be illegible and hard to scan and all that, but you still will accumulate a lot of email addresses and you have to make sure that you give them something in return.
So “Give us your email address, we’ll sign you up for a free e-newsletter”, make sure it’s all content and very valuable and people will give up their email address for value which people online have known forever. Squeeze pages are all about giving value for access. I think that direct mail is a great way to get those incredibly valuable email addresses. Imagine going out to a direct mail list people who bought something through direct mail and paid money for it and then ask them for their email address. Now I can communicate with them much less expensively and so my follow up can be email as opposed to direct mail and I already know that they’re buyers.
Go back to RFM. I already know that they bought from me. They’re response names. We already know that direct mail names respond at a higher rate, they have a longer lifetime value. They are actually much more qualified than email. Therefore, getting as many email addresses as I can on my direct mail names is critical.
Then vice versa. I have these email names, if I get their postal addresses, now we can start marketing to them, remember we talked before about what the advantages that direct mail might have over email in terms of personal messaging, the storytelling, all of that, so getting as many postal addresses is incredibly valuable.
I’ll just leave you with this one more thing, everybody on this call who just does email marketing and they’ve sold products through online, they probably used credit cards. If they use credit cards, they have postal addresses already. So they’re already sitting on a list that people who are actually buyers, who they could start thinking about direct mail in a whole different way.
And it doesn’t to be millions of names. I just did a little direct mail campaign for the titans event, where I had a bunch of VIP’s that I wanted to email, I didn’t have their email addresses so I created a letter and I sent them. It was only a couple of hundred people but I created, that’s direct mail by the way. Just because I’m not mailing a million doesn’t mean that’s not direct mail. I created a personalized envelope. I created a personalized letter. It was only 200 of them so I signed them individually and it’s a very high priced event. So it was worth my time to spend the time and effort to send a first class envelope as opposed to just send them another email and of course the irony is, I didn’t have their email addresses anyway so I had to do it and it’s fantastic, the people responded. For a $3,500 event, one email response was probably worth three direct mail responses because I was able to personalize in such a bigger way.
Joseph Bushnell: It’s great that these two channels can work together so well. Both channels on their own, just individually, can be great and together you’ve really got a winning combination. I don’t know what the percentage is but I don’t think many businesses or marketing people are doing this to it’s full potential so you’ll get an advantage if you do both.
Brian thank you for speaking with me today and for sharing all this information with us. Where can we find out more about you and where can we find out about your “Titans of Direct Response” event? If we are listening to this before September 2014, where can we go and find out about that?
Brian Kurtz: I have a little site up, it’s pretty modest. It’s www.briankurtz.me. I was too late to the party to get briankurtz.com, unfortunately. So it’s briankurtz.me. On that site you can opt-in, I have a bunch of interviews on that site. One of them was with my mentor Marty Edelston who started boardroom, who I talked about. We talked about how we built boardroom into a hundred million dollar company. It’s an interview that means a lot to me because Marty was such a important person in my life so anyway that’s the main squeeze on the page and then on that page there’s a lot of other interviews that I’ve done and other podcasts. A lot of information.
The things I mentioned today, how paying postage made me a better marketer is on there, everyone’s going right, time to go left about direct mail is on there. There’s something on there about newsletters, about the importance of newsletters and how whether they’re print or online, the idea of creating real content for people and how to do that. We have a newsletter at bottom line personal that still has 400,000 subscribers in print so I did a whole interview just about that. There’s a bunch of good content there.
Then if you want to find out about the event, I’ll make it easy, I’ll give you a link that makes it easier to remember briankurtz.me/titans. So if they go to briankurtz.me/titans, you’ll come up on the full webpage sales letter for the titans event, it’s got registration information, it’s got information on every one of the speakers. Why they’re so brilliant, they’re some of the best names as we talked about. Perry Marshall is speaking, Joe Sugarman, Jay Abraham, Dan Kennedy, Greg Renker, Ken McCarthy, my 4 top copywriters. Gary Bencivenga , so anyway, fantastic event. Briankurtz.me/titans.
I hope to see some of your folks there. I think it will be one of those events that will explore a lot of the things I talked about today in terms of multi-channel marketing, in terms of great copy, what makes for great copy and great copywriting. Also there’s going to be a lot about entrepreneurship. Dan Kennedy really preaches a lot about how to build a business and not just how to sell stuff to people. Marty Edelston who was the titan that inspired me to do this event was one of the most amazing entrepreneurs I’ve ever met in my life and really taught me a lot about business building and not just about marketing and the event’s a lot about that as well.
Joseph Bushnell: If we are listening to this after September 2014, because this is an evergreen interview it’s going to be up for years to come and people will be listening to this long after you’re event has already happened, will there be recordings of this event?
Brian Kurtz: We’re definitely going to record them. We’re not going to live stream or anything so the people who attend the event will get a really nice discount on the DVD’s but then we will create a DVD product of the event which I think will be amazing. It won’t be as expensive as the event but I don’t think it’ll be the same as being at the event. I’m a big networker, no, I hate the word networking! I’m a big contributor and connector. I contribute to people and then I connect with them as opposed to just network with them but I think the caliber of people that will be at the event, make it an amazing event.
Of course if you’re listening to this after September 11th, 12th and 13th 2014, you can’t get to the event anymore so the DVD’s will be available. I would encourage you to opt-in at briankurtz.me because I’ll do a weekly email to that list and I’ll continue to correspond with that list and I’ll make the DVD’s available probably as a regular product offering.
Joseph Bushnell: Brilliant, Brian I’d just like to second what you said there, if you can make it then please do because there is nothing like being at a live event and experiencing it live and being there, this is going to be an incredible event. If you are listening to this after that time, the event has already happened then you can still get the recordings from the event.
And on that note, we’ll bring this call to an end, thank you to everyone who tuned in and if you got value from this episode, please support the show by subscribing and leaving a review on iTunes. Finally, Brian thank you so much for coming on the show today.
Brian Kurtz: Thank you, Joey it’s good to get to know you and I really love what you’re doing. You’re doing this at such a high level which is really impressive so thank you.
Joseph Bushnell: Thank you Brian.
As promised, here are Dick Benson’s 31 rules of thumb as discussed during the interview…
BENSON’S RULES OF THUMB
In defense of these prejudices: I have a lot of scar tissue backing up these principles. I offer them to you with this qualifier: They work for me.
1. A two-time buyer is twice as likely to buy as a one-time
buyer. Most of the experts I know who issue catalogs, handle circulation
for publications, or raise funds by mail know this to be true.
2. The same product sold at different prices will result in the same net income per thousand mailed.
3. Sweepstakes will improve results by 50% or more.
4. A credit or bill-me offer will improve results by 50% or more.
5. Tokens or stickers always improve results.
6. Memberships renew better than plain subscriptions by 10% or more.
7. “Department store” pricing always pays except for membership offers.
8. You can never sell two things at once.
9. Self-mailers almost never work.
10. The more believable a special offer, the more likely its success.
11. The addition of installment payments for an item over $15 will increase results by 15%.
12. Dollar for dollar, premiums are better incentives than cash discounts.
13. Adding elements to a mailing package, even though obviously adding cost, is more likely to pay out than cheapening the package.
14. For magazines a “soft” offer (“Try a complimentary copy at our risk”) is better than a hard offer (cash or “bill me”).
15. A Yes-No option will increase orders.
16. “FREE” is a magic word.
17. Two premiums are frequently better than one.
18. Long copy is better than short copy.
19. Personalized letters work better to house lists (those who have bought or subscribed before) than to “cold” lists.
20. Brochures and letters should stand alone and each of them should contain all the information.
21. Direct mail should be scrupulously honest.
22. Subscriptions sold at half-price for at least 8 months will convert at renewal time just as strongly as subscriptions sold for a full year at full price.
23. Lists are the most important ingredient to the success of a promotional mailing.
24. The offer is the second most important ingredient of direct mail.
25. Letters should look and feel like letters.
26. An exclusive reduced price to a house list will more than pay its way.
27. To predict final results from a promotion, you can assume you will always receive as many more orders as you’ve received in the past week. This projection will generally be valid beginning with the second week’s orders and continuing thereafter.
28. A follow-up mailing dropped two weeks after the first mailing will pull 50% of the original response.
29. An incentive to pay cash when you offer both cash and credit options reduces net response.
30. Test-mailing packages are best when they come from independent creative sources.
31. Offers of subscriptions using two terms (i.e., 8 months, 16 months) will pull more money…but 10% fewer orders.
Nothing works all the time, but ignore any of these rules at your own peril.
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