No matter what medium you use to promote yourself, any successful campaign begins with an “aha” moment. That’s the sudden insight that brings you some brilliant idea about how you can get people’s attention so you can explain to them what makes you different and special. The need for a brilliant idea isn’t anything new. This is the same challenge that has faced sellers and promoters since the first human being sold something to a neighbor.
The same principles that were used to get attention and influence behavior back then are just as powerful today. We’re about to look at some of these simple principles and rules that make it possible for even novice promoters today to take advantage of basic human psychology to attract interest and motivate behavior.
So, the question you should be asking is what can you do to make yourself stand out?
Maybe you’re an Internet marketer and your goal is to make an email ad stand out in an inbox, or an online ad draw interest on a webpage. Maybe you’re a direct mail marketer and you want to make a piece of mail attract attention over the rest of the letters in a mailbox; or maybe you do both. There are enormous possibilities today in multichannel marketing, where even marketers who operate exclusively online can find great profitability in adding a direct mail element to a full promotional campaign.
Of course, following proven rules and the great use of language are both important to the success of an Internet campaign, a direct mail campaign, or any promotional effort, whether it involves writing a job application, creating a Facebook page, putting together an e-commerce site – even writing a description of yourself on a dating website. But there's an additional element to creating effective sales campaigns that is critical for getting attention. It’s something we call “showmanship.”
In his famous classic book on writing powerful sales pieces, The Robert Collier Letter Book, legendary marketer Robert Collier devoted a whole chapter to “tricks of showmanship.” Collier opened the chapter with a great example of self-promotion used by a young man who was trying to land a job in advertising. He used a variation on what we call “lumpy mail” today by mailing a clever note in a bottle to 81 advertising agencies. The note said he was stranded and in need of a job. The heads of personnel departments took notice and he soon got the job he wanted. Collier praised the resourcefulness of this budding promoter and concluded that: “Showmanship always does get a hearing.”
Collier said the most successful bit of showmanship in an advertising campaign he ever saw involved the “Dollar Bill” letter. A real dollar bil was pinned to the top of the letter. You know for yourself that if you received a letter with a dollar bill attached, that would get your attention. You can imagine the attention it got back in the 1920s when a dollar was worth so much more. The letter pulled better than a 90% response, a response rate that wasn’t often seen back then, let alone now. The letter, which was part of a charitable campaign, appealed to people’s good will. But most important, that crisp dollar bill got readers’ attention. Once you have people’s attention, there’s no limit to what you can sell them.
The purpose of attaching money or other gadgets (like chopsticks, aspirin tablets, etc.) is to attract attention and make sure that the letter is kept at the top of the desk instead of being buried under a pile of other bland looking envelopes. It keeps the letter out in the open where it has the chance of being read, and therefore bringing results.
Personalizing letters with recipients’ names is another method that has always been effective. Today’s modern technology allows us to expand on this by using PURLs – Personal URLs - which lead to a personalized website.
Tricks of showmanship have always worked – and they are still working today. A Word of Caution: While tricks of showmanship have great value in creating successful campaigns, it’s best not to go too far with it. As Collier said:
“The purpose of all such ‘stunts’ is to attract the reader’s attention and get him into your letter. But like all stunts, they must be handled in such a way that the reader’s interest, when won, may be guided quickly to the main idea of the letter. . . . But the main job is still ahead – to sell your idea or your product to the reader.”
In other words, don’t fall so in love with your clever way of getting attention that you forget to sell your product!
Where Can You Use a Little Showmanship?
Let’s start by looking at direct mail, because even with all the technological advances we see today in methods of communication, direct mail is still the one of the most effective way to make sales. Many of the methods marketers used back in the 1930s – like attaching money to a sales piece or creating official-looking envelopes, are still used with great effectiveness today.
I mentioned the term “lumpy mail” earlier. This refers to any mail package that feels bulky and includes something intriguing along with the sales letter. Many direct mailers have had great success using this kind of approach, and you may be surprised at the variety of items that the post office will accept.
If you are a direct mailer, think about how you might incorporate a little showmanship into your package. Even using a different color envelope, or putting an interesting picture on it can capture your prospects’ attention and increase the open rate. The idea is to make your package stand out from the rest of the mail sitting on someone’s desk or kitchen counter. Your carefully crafted letter will clinch the sale, and also attract interest in the letter with a little showmanship.
If you aren’t a direct mailer and you do most of your promoting online, you definitely want to find a way to stand out from all the other bloggers, posters and e-mailers who are competing with you to get the attention of your target population. If you work mostly online, showmanship might involve the use of incorporating online videos into your web pages; or you might put a gif into your banner ad. Consider offering free samples to get people to click-through to your site. It can also be effective to use outrageous headlines and email subject lines. The whole point is to do something surprising to get attention. The possibilities are endless.
As an online marketer you might incorporate showmanship in another way by actually getting physical addresses of your buyers and site visitors so you can send them direct mail.
This multichannel marketing is an extremely valuable method for boosting response rate and creating deeper relationships with your audience. Combining online and offline marketing, so that each medium supports the other, is one of the most effective ways to run a campaign.
Many online marketers find that following up with a direct mail piece (maybe one incorporating showmanship with lumpy mail), can solidify relationships with buyers. As an online marketer you would do well to consider getting physical addresses on your email names and start sending targeted direct mail to your best customers. This enables you to take advantage of powerful forms of showmanship that you now think are beyond you.
Many direct mail marketers find that using direct mail to drive prospects to a website also solidifies relationships and increases sales. Plus, relationships that begin offline and move online have shown much higher “lifetime value” (i.e., buyers buy more and stay with you longer). This is due to the higher engagement in the initial promotion offline.
Multichannel marketing continues to prove its value. If you’re marketing in just one channel you’re not making the most of your opportunities. Don’t define yourself by just one channel, calling yourself an Internet marketer or a direct mail marketer only.
Be inspired to use showmanship in both online and offline marketing, and you will get the best results.