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Dec 12, 2006
How To

Tested DM Strategies Get Great ROI for Book Marketer

SUMMARY: Looking for expert instruction on how to increase postal direct mail value in your marketing mix? Search no further -- we have one of the medium's savviest veterans to help.

Rick Ritter has been cultivating heady book club campaigns from start to finish for more than 30 years. Of course, he has volumes of interesting war stories from all of those mailings -- some battles won, some lost.

But what tactics and lessons does he still use as president of leather-bound facsimile books marketer Gryphon Editions? In a wide-ranging interview, Ritter offers a bevy of tips, strategic advice and lessons...
As President of Gryphon Editions, Rick Ritter has employed his proven traditional direct marketing strategies to keep sales of their leather-bound books growing by more than 10 percent annually. This dyed-in-the-wool pro happens to serve an older, more educated demographic that he has found responds to postal mail better than other mediums -- even the Internet.

In fact, they don’t even mention the Web site in their direct mail pieces because testing proved it actually hurts sales. That’s why they constantly apply what they know about paper mail in order to drive customers to their telesales reps and order forms. “Direct mail pieces are what truly drives our customer acquisition,” Ritter says.

Indeed, some of his wisdom is practical and some of it is particular, but all of it is relevant for anyone wanting to stand out in the mailbox.

I. Big mailers are still better

“I’ve seen larger pieces perform well for a long time, and it’s still true,” Ritter says. “While you don’t necessarily want to do a jumbo-sized envelope because of postage costs, people tend to react to big if you do it right.”

Ritter created a large mail package this fall to introduce their Agatha Christie series of deluxe books. To promote the well-known mystery novels, he and his team designed a full-color four-panel 22-inch-by-17-inch brochure, as well as a four-page letter and a reprinted magazine article about the benefits of collecting the Christie series (see link to samples below).

To reinforce the exclusivity and no-strings-attached angle, the piece read: “By direct invitation, Agatha Christie Ltd. Invites preferred individuals to own ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ at no cost whatsoever.”

The effort also employed other time-tested tactics, including the words “free” and “limited edition,” as well as a lift note detailing a 10-day exclusive offer and an L-shaped response card.

Going out to 130,000 prospects, the list was mainly made up of mystery magazine subscribers, mail-order book buyers and individuals who have shown interest in crossword puzzles.

“It’s been seen through testing that crossword enthusiasts react positively to direct mail offers for mystery novels,” Ritter says. “Strategies such as the L-card and lift note weren’t necessarily because of any A/B testing we did for this campaign but were due to things we have learned to be tried and true.”

The campaign performed so well, Ritter says, the series has already gone into a second run.

II. Nothing can help a poor idea

Ritter had high hopes for a new book in their Notable Trials Library series. Following the leading seller “The Lindbergh Kidnapping Case,” they put together a large six-panel mail piece two years ago to promote the book “The People v. O.J. Simpson.”

His team borrowed the same look as the “Lindbergh” campaign. Except for the names of the books and one page on detailed information about the subject matter, the mailers were identical, including the $9.95 introductory price.

Both mailers mentioned Gryphon’s year-long repurchase guarantee. They also described other notable trials from the book collection, including Lizzie Borden, Aaron Burr and Oscar Wilde.

While the Lindbergh mailing performed very well, public weariness on Simpson (think back to that relentless cable TV coverage in the mid-’90s) sapped consumer interest. “We were kind of shocked at the results,” Ritter says. “We thought it’d be a slam dunk, but the marketplace interest wasn’t there like it was for the Lindbergh book.”

It’s a lesson HarperCollins learned just last month with the scrapping of Simpson’s book, “If I Did It.” Gryphon hasn’t reprinted “Lessons of the Trial” due to poor results.

Reflecting on some of his best strategies, Ritter offers the following advice:

o Give your sales letter something important or interesting to say -- don’t repeat much, if any, of the offer unless you absolutely have to.
o Since letters have a major effect on sales, don’t skimp on the copywriting. Hire an industry leader to create the right prose -- your return on investment will be worth it.
o Be enthusiastic in your copywriting, especially when addressing devotees.
o It’s OK to combine successful test elements, as they usually meld together in an powerful way.
o Back-test changes made to your control, even small ones.
o Attend to back-end results with a fine-tooth comb to optimize current campaigns or to discover new angles for future ones. A minor change can have a huge impact on sales.
o Of course, test, test, test … but remember that your tests can work for reasons other than anticipated. Once again, watch back-end results from the start to the finish of a campaign to get the most complete analysis.
o Sterile (plain) envelopes usually win tests vs more decorated ones -- especially when mailing to professionals, such as doctors, lawyers and educators.
o Don’t be afraid to test new components in already successful campaigns. Redesigns for letters, envelopes, brochures and lift notes can raise conversions by double digits. “I’ve seen control packages that were considered unbeatable get absolutely outperformed by new packages that were developed completely from scratch.”

Useful links related to this article:

Creative samples from Gryphon Editions:

Gryphon Editions:

See Also:

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