Integrated direct marketing


Reach your prospects on a deeper level


By Robert W. Bly




            How well do you really know your customers?

Reading the list data cards is a good way to find out something about the folks you are mailing to, but it’s not enough. Knowing that you are writing to farmers, Information Technology (IT) professionals, or plumbers is just the start. You have to dig deeper. But how?

To write powerful copy, you have to go beyond the demographics to understand what really motivates these people -- who they are, what they want, how they feel, and what their biggest problems and concerns are that your product can help solve.

            One direct marketer told me, “We want to reach prospects on three levels -- intellectual, emotional, and personal.”

            Intellectual is the first level and, while effective, not as strong as the other two. An intellectual appeal is based on logic -- e.g., “Buy the stocks we recommend in our investment newsletter and you will beat the market by 50 to 100 percent.”

            More powerful is to reach the prospect on an emotional level. Emotions that can be tapped include fear, greed, love, vanity, and, for fundraising, benevolence. Going back to our example of a stock market newsletter, the emotional appeal might be, “Our advice can help you cut your losses and make much more money, so you become much wealthier than your friends and neighbors. You’ll be able to pay cash for your next car -- a Lexus, BMW, or any luxury automobile you care to own -- and you’ll sleep better at night.”

            The most powerfully you can reach people is on a personal level. Again, from our example of a stock market newsletter: “Did you lose a small fortune in the April 2000 tech stock meltdown? So much that it put your dreams of retirement or financial independence on hold? Now you can gain back everything you lost, rebuild your net worth, and make your dream of early retirement of financial independence come true. A lot sooner than you think.”

            To reach your prospects on all three levels -- intellectual, emotional, and personal -- you must understand what copywriter Michael Masterson calls the buyer’s “Core Complex.” These are the emotions, attitudes, and aspirations that drive them, as represented by the formula BFD -- beliefs, feelings, and desires:

·        Beliefs. What does your audience believe? What is their attitude toward your product and the problems or issues it addresses?

·        Feelings. How do they feel? Are they confident and brash? Nervous and fearful? What do they feel about the major issues in their lives, businesses, or industries?

·        Desires. What do they want? What are their goals? What change do they want in their lives that your product can help them achieve?

            For instance, we did this exercise with IT people, for a company that gives seminars in communication and interpersonal skills for IT professionals. Here’s what we came up with in a group meeting:

·        Beliefs. IT people think they are smarter than other people, technology is the most important thing in the world, users are stupid, and management doesn’t appreciate them enough.

·        Feelings. IT people often have an adversarial relationship with management and users, both of whom they service. They feel others dislike them, look down upon them, and do not understand what they do.

·        Desires. IT people want to be appreciated and recognized. They also prefer to deal with computers and avoid people whenever possible. And they want bigger budgets.

            Based on this analysis, particularly the feelings, the company created a direct mail letter that was its most successful ever to promote a seminar “Interpersonal Skills for IT Professionals.” The rather unusual headline: “Important news for any IT professional who has ever felt like telling an end user, ‘Go to hell.’”

            Before writing copy, write out in narrative form the BFD of your target market. Share these with your team and come to an agreement on them. Then write copy based on the agreed BFD.

            Occasionally insights into the prospect’s desires and concerns can be gleaned through formal market research. For instance, a copywriter working on a cooking oil account was reading a focus group transcript and came across this comment from a user: “I fried chicken in the oil and then poured the oil back into a measuring cup. All the oil was there except one teaspoon.”

This comment, buried in the appendix of a focus group report, became the basis of a successful TV campaign dramatizing the selling point that food did not absorb the oil and therefore was not greasy when cooked in it.

            Veteran ad man Joe Sacco once had an assignment to write a campaign for a new needle used by diabetics to inject insulin. What was the key selling point?

            The diabetics Sacco talked to all praised the needle because it was sharp. A non-user would probably view being sharp as a negative. But if you have ever given yourself or anyone else an injection, you know that sharper needles go in smoother, with no pain. And Sacco wrote a successful ad campaign based on the claim that these needles were sharp, therefore enabling easier, pain-free insulin injection.

            Copywriter Don Hauptman advises, “Start with the prospect, not the product.” With BFD, you can quickly gain a deeper understanding of your prospects before you attempt to sell them something. Stronger marketing campaigns usually follow.


About the author:

            Robert W. Bly is a freelance copywriter and the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha). His e-mail address is and his Web site address is