By Dean Rieck, direct mail copywriter
Harry Aldrich and David Maddock knew that many people loved the taste of cedar plank salmon. But only fine restaurants served this delicacy. So they decided to sell a cedar plank salmon kit consisting of little more than a 6″ x 12″ piece of cedar wood. A brilliant idea.
Aldrich set up a meeting with the seafood buyer for the Fred Meyer stores in Portland, Oregon, and walked in with a fillet of salmon cooked on one of his cedar planks. He didn’t give a sales pitch. He just handed over the fish and a fork.
The buyer took a bite. “WOW! Where did you get this fish? It’s wonderful!”
When Aldrich told him he bought the fish that very morning in a Fred Meyer store, the buyer was astonished. Within a week, Harry Aldrich and David Maddocks had orders from more than 100 Fred Meyer stores.
The lesson? Sometimes, if you have a good product, the best way to sell it is to let people try it. Because desirable products can sell themselves. But can you do this in direct mail? Yes. And it’s easier than you think.
Here are 7 ways to let your products sell themselves.
Sample – A printer embossed a sample calendar with my business name and told me I could order this very item for my clients. A generic perfume company offered two scented samples, one with an expensive name brand and one with their knockoff, challenging my wife to guess which was which. A textile company mailed a sample of a fireproof fabric and a match, daring business buyers to set the bit of cloth on fire.
When you have a good product or service, simply put it into the hands of your prospects. This can be expensive, but highly effective if used correctly.
Free Trial – This is the greatest offer ever conceived. You can let prospects try your product or service for a time period: 10 days, 30 days, 6 months. Or you can offer a free issue or shipment. The Free Trial can be tied to a negative option. “Try 3 free issues of Wingnuts Today Magazine. If you like it, you’ll get a full year for just $14.95. If you don’t, just write “cancel” on the bill. But keep the first 3 free issues as our gift to you.”
The Free Trial is similar to sampling since it lets people try your wares before buying. However, it offers three big advantages: 1) You only “sample” to those who ask, so your costs can be significantly lower. 2) You don’t risk “unselling” anyone if your product or service isn’t immediately impressive or takes time to appreciate. 3) You can make your trial a negative option offer so that you have buyer inertia working FOR you on the back end, meaning that you make a sale automatically unless they go to the trouble of canceling.
Teaser Copy – This is a popular and effective technique, especially for publications and information products. I used it in a subscription package for an “office professional” newsletter. At the top of the letter, I showed a picture of the newsletter with a list of teasers preceding the offer:
How to dress down and still look professional
9 steps for motivating a lazy coworker (without stressing yourself out)
The secret to dealing with difficult customers
7 ways to be a take-charge employee
While it may not seem obvious, teasers are a form of sampling because they convey highly specific information about your product or service without actually giving anything away.
Product Photos or Illustrations – Visuals help convey information quickly. They give your prospect an immediate sense of the quality and value of the thing you’re selling. They provide a visual “sample” that is worth a thousand words.
For subscriptions and books, show the front cover. For software, include screen shots of the most powerful features. For industrial or high-tech equipment, provide cutaways with call-outs describing prominent features. For less visual items, such as financial services, create something to show and offer, such as a special report, brochure, certificate, or invitation. Simply ask yourself what your prospect would want to see, then show it.
Letter with a Story – A good story can start a letter with a bang while allowing your prospect to experience your product or service second hand. I created a direct mail package to sell a book on how to buy a home, and the letter told a little story before stating the offer:
I could just kick myself!
A couple years ago, my wife and I bought a new home. After we moved in, our neighbor asked us over for coffee.
What a shock! He had the same house design, but it was full of all the extras we couldn’t afford – like a fireplace, panel doors, tile, oak cabinets. It was stunning.
When I asked how much it cost, he smiled. “Nothing. I knew how to get the extras added on free.” And it was so simple, I could have done it, too. If I had only known the secret!
Testimonials – In addition to adding credibility and supporting your claims, testimonials let your prospect experience your products or services through the words of satisfied customers. Don’t settle for empty statements, such as “I love it!” The best testimonials are specific. One direct mail package I created for a laminating business featured two pages of testimonials like this:
“Most of my signs I laminate with your 6 mil and 10 mil products, but for signs that we want to stay posted for long periods of time I use your adhesive-backed products. The adhesive backing is strong and reliable. These signs stay up as long as we want them to, even in our high traffic situations.”
Success Stories – Your prospects can also sample your product or service through the experiences of others. Success stories clarify how your product is used, dramatize the benefits, and build instant credibility.
To get the most from success stories, be specific and keep the tone factual. When you’re selling to businesses, talk about well-known business names whenever possible. I created a highly successful lead generation package for one of my high-tech Canadian clients and enclosed a broadside packed with success stories like this:
AT&T recently moved from a high-maintenance document management system to [product name], a Web-based system accessed through a standard Web browser. This has resulted in a savings of $4,406,322. They have reduced paper costs by 80%, lowered shipping costs by eliminating most overnight mailings, and saved 45 hours a week in duplication work. The bottom line is a 684% return on their investment.