Did you know there are scientifically proven techniques for direct-response marketing? Techniques that were perfected by the wise DR marketers that came before us? Techniques that have been repeatedly shown to work through trial and error and millions of dollars spent on measured marketing?
I didn’t until about five years ago. That’s when I started buying and reading every book I could find on the topic of direct marketing (and collected quite an impressive library in the process). I went as far back as the 1920s, starting with what I call the ‘Old Masters' and eventually covering more than 100 years of direct-marketing history (read more). One result of that project: I compiled a list of 30 tried-and-true (T&T) techniques for DRTV advertising.
Of the 30 techniques, several are so critical that I believe they should be used in every DRTV commercial, without exception. I don’t believe in magic formulas, but I do believe that using these techniques can greatly increase a campaign’s odds of success.
I’ve condensed the critical ones into the following list of 10 T&T techniques:
- Start with a problem-solution opening. All good DRTV products solve a problem. Making that problem seem as painful as possible helps create the impulse to purchase and positions your product as the hero of the commercial. The classic line for this part of the commercial: “Oh no! Not again!”
- Showcase unique features and benefits. The idea that you need to explain a product's "features and benefits" is as old as advertising itself. Making those features and benefits seem as unique as possible -- i.e. differentiating the product from other potential solutions -- is what really makes the difference.
- Demonstrate the product repeatedly & feature a ‘magic demo’ if possible. Explaining isn't enough: DRTV buyers need to see it for themselves. That's why the most successful DRTV products are the ones that have great demos. As for the “magic demo,” my favorite example is Billy Mays putting a scoop of OxiClean in a giant tub of red iodine, giving it a swirl and turning the water clear. Now that’s magic!
- Explain how the product works. If people don’t understand the product, they are much less likely to buy it. Confusion is a sales killer, and DRTV buyers must be able to justify their purchase with logic. One of the more common ways to explain a product these days is an animation. The classic lead-in to this part of the commercial: “Here’s how it works …” or "The secret is ..."
- Prove that the product works by comparing & contrasting. A typical method of comparing is the side-by-side demo, which pits the hero product against a competitor or older method. A typical method of contrasting is before-and-after photography (often shown in a split screen).
- Establish credibility with testimonials and/or other third-party endorsements. The master infomercial marketers at Guthy-Renker call testimonials “social proof.” They are the experts at creating a “word of mouth” feel in a commercial format. (Watch a Proactiv commercial to see what I mean.) Scientific studies, seals of approval (e.g. Good Housekeeping) and other third-party endorsements are also highly effective at generating credibility.
- Raise and answer obvious questions and objections. Marketing is all about getting inside people's heads and trying to predict what they'll be thinking about when watching your commercial. Master direct marketer Joseph Sugarman said that part of this process is imagining what their objections and/or questions will be, and then addressing them the moment they pop into their heads. But he added a word of caution: Never raise an objection or question you can’t answer satisfactorily!
- Present a powerful offer at an incredible price. DRTV producer Fred Vanore calls this the “mooch factor.” DRTV buyers are price sensitive (read “cheap”), and they live for a great bargain. The classic way to build up the value of an offer is to include one or more bonuses. Master DRTV marketer AJ Khubani once shared four criteria with me for selecting a bonus: 1) It must be relevant to the product; 2) It must be instantly understandable; 3) It must have a high perceived value; and 4) It must be low cost (since you're giving it away). The classic lead-in to this part of the commercial: “But wait! There’s more!”
- Increase perceived value with a value comparison. This technique is another DRTV cliché. But going back to #8, it’s critical to show DRTV buyers how much money you’re going to save them. A great way to do that is to call their attention to the priciest alternative possible. The classic lead-in to this part of the commercial: “You could pay $100 dollars …”
- Minimize risk with a satisfaction guarantee. At a minimum, there should be a money-back guarantee. However, money-back guarantees are so commonplace these days that people tend to ignore them. That’s why Sugarman advocated an “over-the-top guarantee.” He believed the guarantee should be so good, your customers would wonder how you stayed in business.
Each week, I post a “New Items” report that covers the latest DRTV products to air. In the past, I’ve only rated the products themselves. But going forward, I will select and review a few commercials as well, using the 10 criteria above.
The result – my “T&T Score” – will be a good validation of these techniques on an ongoing basis. Together, we can learn just how many commercials that follow the "teachings of the masters" succeed in today's environment.