Secrets Of Paid Search Success From 1930s Direct Mail Wizards

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If you buy search ads to drive sales, you are a direct response advertiser. Welcome, today’s short column is for you.

If you buy search to increase awareness of your brand, you’re a brand advertiser. Sorry, but this column is for the direct response gang, us red-headed step-kids of the advertising world. Save us a canapé from the awards banquet; we’ll be back at the office with our spreadsheets.

Just us direct response folks? OK, here’s today’s suggestion: we search marketers can learn a lot from the direct mail wizards.

Putting it more crudely: if Claude Hopkins were alive, his Google campaigns would kick ass.

Claude Hopkins. Albert Lasker. John Caples. David Ogilvy. Leo Burnett. Maxwell Sackheim.

If you don’t know these names, you should.

They’re the guys who invented direct response. It was called “direct mail” back then, but the rules are the same. Their ideas for getting an envelope opened, an ad read, and a check written are still effective today for getting a link clicked, an Add To Cart button pushed, and a VISA number typed in.

Long before the Digg crowd discovered the importance of headlines for linkbaiting, Claude Hopkins had that idea covered. Check out Hopkins on headlines — that was published in 1923!

The early mail guys knew what mattered: tracking your results, knowing your profitability metrics, marketing to strong lists, testing different versions, writing compelling headlines, crafting copy which sells.

To learn more, head to the library or Amazon. These dusty tomes are pure web marketing rocket fuel:

Another classic direct mail idea relevant to search: the List-Offer-Package Rule.

The List-Offer-Package Rule states that when you are trying to sell something remotely, the list (who you are communicating with) is more important than the offer (the details of what you are selling, the item, the pricing, the guarantee), and the list and the offer are more important than the package (how it looks, the copy, the artwork, color and typography).

Years ago a consultant gave me this example.

“Say you are selling sets of collectible china plates with the state birds on them. If you had a list of people who recently bought collectible plates, that would be a good start.

“Now if you had a list of people who had recently bought collectible plates with animals on them via the mail or web, that would be even better.”

“If you had that targeted list, you could practically send them a handwritten scribbled postcard saying ‘Hi I have some plates that would interest you’ and you’d pull a 5% response rate.

“Suppose you had a totally killer direct mail piece for these plates, with a powerful long letter written by an top DM copywriter, beautiful pictures and optimized response card, buck slip, the whole shebang tested and proven in the mail with solid split tests.

“Say you mailed this killer package to a generic list, perhaps, women aged 50+. You’d be lucky to see 0.5% response rate.

“That’s the critical idea of the List-Offer-Package Rule: even a plain note to a highly targeted list will outpull the perfect package sent to an untargeted list by 10 to 1.”

I personally learned the List-Offer-Package Rule a decade ago, and it has held true in everything I’ve observed since.

How does List-Offer-Package apply to search?

  • List trumps everything. That means getting terms, bids, and match types right matters far, far, far more than perfect ad copy.
  • Offer trumps copy. That means great site design, usability testing, and MVT improvements won’t help all that much if you’re out of competitive position on price and shipping.
  • Response lists trump demographic lists. Microsoft and Google are excitedly promoting demographic bidding. We red-haired step-kids just yawn and turn back to our spreadsheets. As an RKG client insightfully commented regarding Microsoft’s demographic data: “I don’t care who they are, just so long as they want to buy our stuff.” If you wanted to see the direct response crew sit up and take notice, offer us the option to bid based on a recent online purchase flag. (More on this: PurchaseMatch: How GOOG Could Hit $750″ on rkgblog.) launched in February 1998. Google opened its doors in September 1998. The modern search industry is just 10 years old. Yet, many important ideas for making ads relevant and effective predate ’98 by over 50 years.

To get a leg up on your competition in 2008, try spending an afternoon with your nose buried a classic direct mail book from the 1930s.

Alan Rimm-Kaufman leads the Rimm-Kaufman Group, an agency helping online retailers manage large-scale paid search campaigns and improve site conversion. The Paid Search column appears Mondays at Search Engine Land.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Channel: SEM | Paid Search Column


About The Author: sadly passed away in July 2009. His fellow co-founder of the Rimm-Kaufman group, George Michie, took over Alan's post as CEO, and is also a contributor at Search Engine Land.

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