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8 'Duh!' Ideas to Get Back to Basics
Guest Article: by Dean Rieck

When a sports team has a bad season, you eventually see an interview in which the coach gives his "Duh" speech.

You know the one. The interviewer shoves a microphone in the coach's face and asks what he plans to do differently next season.

The coach starts talking about getting back to basics and drilling on the fundamentals.

And you're sitting in your living room muttering "Duh!" to the TV screen, because everything he's saying he plans to do he should have been doing all along.

Fortunately, when things aren't going right in direct marketing, we don't have to humble ourselves on national television. But giving ourselves a little "Duh" speech and getting back to basics is still a good idea, since most problems are caused by violations of basic principles.

Here are just a few:

1. Sell good products.

Duh! Sounds obvious, but over time you can convince yourself that your marketing techniques are so effective that you can easily pawn off lackluster merchandise.

But selling crap is hard work. The more lame the product, the more you have to rely on tricky techniques to get people to turn off the logic circuits in their brains.

Why work so hard when selling products with solid benefits and great value is so much easier? And ads for good products seem to create themselves.

2. Sell things people want.

Duh! Direct marketing is not about creating markets but about locating existing markets. It is a direct business-to-buyer avenue of selling that is streamlined, efficient and profitable, but only when a market already wants what you sell.

A couple decades ago, few people would have bought a computer by mail. Computers were neither understood nor wanted by the general public. Now such purchases are common because a wide market exists.

3. Sell to buyers and ignore the rest.

Duh! If one in 100 people want your product, you should be talking to that one person. That's where you'll make a sale.

Who cares about the other 99? If they're not interested, they're not going to buy anyway. Talking with them is a waste of time.

This means you should buy targeted lists, create targeted messages and make targeted offers.

4. Make sure you're doing direct marketing.

Duh! Every direct marketing message includes three basic elements:

1) an offer;
2) enough information for immediate acceptance of the offer;
3) a mechanism for responding to the offer.

Without each of these, you are not doing direct marketing but merely using media associated with direct marketing.

5. Make an irresistible offer.

Duh! This means doing more than stating your price. It means making a deal that breaks down all resistance and removes all doubts. Start with the basics, including free trials, money-back guarantees, gifts and limited- time offers.

But don't stop there. There are more than 100 basic offers and endless variations and combinations. After your list, your offer is the most important element in any promotion.

6. Don't become married to one medium.

Duh! Have you had years of success selling doodads by mail? Wonderful. But that doesn't mean you're a direct mail company. You're a doodad company.

Direct mail is just a means to an end. What about the Internet or TV or radio or print or catalogs or whatever? If you're not testing other media, you're missing a huge chunk of your potential market.

7. Make sure you're making sense.

Duh! Are you telling your subscribers to hurry and renew when eight months are left on the subscription? Do you make last-chance offers every three months? Are you promising to make life easier but making your customers fill out order forms that look like IQ tests?

It doesn't matter whether things make sense to you. What matters is that things make sense to your customers. If they don't, they won't buy.

8. Don't change your strategy without proof.

Duh! How often do things get changed because the new guy wants to "own" the campaign in use? Or marketing people just get bored and want something new?

If you have an ad that works, you shouldn't change it until you find something that works better. All creative decisions should be based on the mathematics of response and net profit.

Dean Rieck is an internationally respected direct response copywriter, designer, and consultant. He is president of Direct Creative, a full-service creative shop that has made sales, generated leads, and raised funds for nearly 200 businesses in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. For more commonsense advice, visit


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