Alan Rosenspan serves as president of Alan Rosenspan & Associates, a direct marketing creative and consulting firm based in Sharon, Massachusetts. Having developed the Creative Strategy course for the Direct Marketing Association and served as a direct marketing instructor at Bentley University, Rosenspan brings years of experience to the world of direct mailing. At a time when people often feel overwhelmed with – and, therefore, dismissive of – digital promotions and advertising, Rosenspan provides insight into how companies can use print mail more effectively in order to improve customer response.
What drew you to the direct marketing industry?
My first job was with Ogilvy & Mather – an advertising, marketing and public relations agency based in New York City. I spent 11 years in general advertising and won several major awards, but I never knew how well or how poorly – my work actually performed. For example, we did a TV campaign for Schaefer beer, and sales went up around $10 million. We had a huge party to celebrate. Several years later, I read that when the average summer temperature goes up a single degree, beer sales go up 15 percent. Was it the work or global warming?
I started my own direct marketing and creative consulting firm in 1994, and I was excited to have the opportunity to actually measure the effectiveness of my marketing campaigns. Not only could I keep score, I could work to improve on what was done before. This combination of art and science captivated me. Today, being able to prove exactly how your advertising performs, and how much it contributes to return on investment, is still one of the major advantages of direct marketing. As management guru Peter Drucker says, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
What trends have you seen lately with direct mail?
It’s ironic, but as our ability to create new and exciting formats has increased – and the costs have gone down – they don’t seem to work as well as they did before. What is working now falls into the three following categories:
- Simple, easy to read copy. You can blame smartphones or email, but people don’t have the time or inclination to parse out long, complicated messaging. I have written 24-page letters that were unbeaten for years, and long copy used to be king. The king is dead.
- Visual displays, icons and charts. Study after study has shown that people absorb more information and do so more quickly when it is presented in a visual format. I always look for better ways to display benefits and key features, rather than just better ways to describe them.
- Relevance is everything. McGraw Hill wanted companies to advertise in its magazines. It ran a famous ad that read:
I don’t know your company.
I don’t know your company’s products.
I don’t know what your company stands for.
I don’t know your company’s customers.
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?
Today, I think consumers care less about who you are and what you do. They want to know what you can do for them.
Internet advertising can be overwhelming for many potential customers. Do you think this has helped direct mail make a comeback?
Internet advertising originally boosted direct mail – because how else were you going to let people know you have a website? Then it began to get all the attention, along with social media and SMS. The result – there is just so much clutter on the web that response has gone way down.
When the internet first started, companies could send out an email and get a 50 percent response thanks to the novelty, the newness of it. Unfortunately, because it doesn’t cost anything to send an email, many people began to abuse it quite a bit. Response went way down as people began to look at those emails as junk or spam. Companies realized that internet marketing wasn’t working and they needed to return to print advertising.
There also was the fact that email was perceived as less and less credible. However, when customers receive a piece of direct mail, they are getting a piece of that company in their hands. It seems much more important and more trustworthy. The power of print is becoming more and more apparent to people.
How will direct mail affect the print industry in the next few years?
We’ve already seen a bit of a renaissance in the print industry, and I think it will continue to grow and evolve. For instance, I think magazines are going to change and become more targeted. We once believed that Newsweek would go out of business, and then all of a sudden it was back. The size of magazines has been dramatically reduced, so I think they will become more niche market – as will newspapers. We are seeing some of this already. Certain types of publications may not be reaching as many people as they reached before, but they will be increasingly reaching highly targeted groups for whom it may be impossible for advertisers to reach in any other way.
I think we’re also going to see more companies using direct mail than ever before due to all of its advantages. It’s real. It’s credible, and it’s real. It’s also intrusive but in the best possible way. Look at telemarketing, for example. Telemarketing can be very effective except that people dislike disruptive phone calls, and now there is a huge “Do Not Call” list. On the other hand, when people get direct mail that they dont necessarily want, they don’t seem to resent it as much. They can throw it away, and it is not an intrusion on their day in the way that telemarketing can be. When they receive internet or email promotions, however, they can send it away with a click without even thinking about it. That’s the biggest downfall of digital marketing. It’s incredibly vulnerable to not being paid attention to by the intended recipient. That’s why I see print mail continuing to grow and being used more intelligently and more creatively.