Uses And Results Of Direct Mail Advertising
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
THE prime purpose of all advertising is the same, but due to its elasticity of form and use, direct advertising is able to perform many functions in merchandising more effectively and at less expense than any other form of business publicity.
The first step in a new business calls for the use of direct advertising. If a man sets out to establish a local retail business in a town he will undoubtedly desire to inform the whole public of his community through general publicity in his local newspapers. At the same time he will wish to direct the personal attention of the most desirable prospects to his enterprise and to the special offerings he will have to make. If the line be clothing he will be able to compile readily a list of the men in the community who are of known responsibility and to whom good apparel will especially appeal. To these he will send an individual announcement, and from time to time he will follow this with special mailings informing his customers or prospects of new merchandise that may especially interest them.
If, on the other hand, he is establishing a great plant to make concrete machinery, road-rollers or graders, he will at once compile a complete list of the contractors of the country engaged in the business of road construction. To them he will send not merely an announcement but very detailed and carefully illustrated descriptions of his machinery. In these he will include all essential technical information and the most convincing evidence that he can produce of the economies and advantages to be derived from the use of his special devices. He will continue his campaign until all road-builders are familiar with his product and with the benefits derived from its use.
This suggests one of the most common and effective uses of direct advertising in almost every line of productive business. There is no other plan by which the personal salesman can be so effectively backed up and supported and by which the so-called "sales resistance" which a new product always encounters can be overcome.
While immense quantities of small merchandise are sold directly by mail without any personal solicitation or expense at all, it could hardly be expected that a contractor would make a major investment in equipment on mere advertising representation, no matter how convincing it might appear. But many contractors can be put in an interested, curious and receptive frame of mind before the salesman appears at all. There can be no inflexible rules as to the presentation of products to prospective buyers; but it is generally accepted that advertising that emphasizes the benefits that any article or commodity will bring to the buyer is far more effective than mere descriptions of that product.
Let us take a case in point. The use of yeast for semimedicinal purposes has been made widespread in a short time by careful advertising, almost all of which is devoted to explanation of the beneficial effect of yeast on the digestive and excretive tracts and to the testimony of people who have used it and experienced benefit. Almost every one is interested in improving his digestion but nobody cares particularly how yeast is made or of what it is made. Hence, the yeast campaign rightly ignores the details of yeast manufacture. It is always well to prove, rather than assert, that your goods will benefit the person who buys and uses them. For this reason, despite the abuses that developed in the days when patent-medicine quacks were in their heyday, the testimonial of users is again becoming one of the strongest forces in advertising.
Manufacturers of nationally distributed products now quite habitually provide jobbers and retailers who handle their goods with direct mail advertising to be distributed among final consumers. Hardly a bill comes in nowadays from your grocer, your garage man, or your plumber that does not contain one or more enclosures directing your attention to some nationally advertised commodity that he handles.
The grocer particularly is likely to provide you with a form of advertising that has proven a most effective stimulant to trade. He may enclose a card or little book that suggests fifty attractive ways of preparing Jell-O or Wheatena, or whatever it may be. It cannot be doubted that teaching people new and interesting uses of a product is one of the most effective ways of enlarging the market. The woman who knows a half dozen good recipes for tapioca will use a lot more of it than will she who knows only how to cook it with apples. She may become as large a buyer of that commodity as several of her neighbors who have only one way to prepare it.
The cooperative advertisers have given the world a fine demonstration of the possibilities of increasing the general demand for a commodity by suggesting and demonstrating new uses and methods. The raisin and citrus-fruit growers 0f California provide a notable example. When the writer was a child raisins occasionally turned up in buns and puddings on the family table. Recently the writer heard an observant man say that, riding three miles through the poorer district of Cincinnati, he counted sixty-six discarded raisin boxes scattered over the footwalks. Wise and persistent advertising has taught the public that the rt aisin is a very delicious and wholesome confection.
There is one attribute of direct advertising that gives it, above all others, a special advantage over any general publicity. An advertisement in a publication or a poster on a bill-board is about as impersonal a thing as there is in the world, no matter how thickly it may be "you'd." You know that it is addressed to the world at large and is not a message to you as an individual. It is possible, by the exercise of tact, taste and good sense, to make every piece of direct advertising have in some degree the effect of a personal message to the man or woman who gets it. The very fact that it is addressed in your name and sent to your house sets up this happy line of personal suggestion. A young friend of mine, going into business in mid-town New York, received a very cordial letter within a day or two from a famous bank. It pleased him and he called. The result is that this bank has to-day a loyal and some-what valuable customer.
But extreme care must be used at the point where most direct mail advertisers are even to-day most lax. Your mailing list must be as nearly letter-perfect as to initials, spelling and addresses as it is humanly possible to make and to keep it. We have tried to emphasize the value of the personal or "personalized" appeal when correctly made. It is a weapon with a kick as well as with high power, and to get a highly personalized letter which conveys the impression that you are well known and highly regarded by the writer, and to have your name misspelled or the wrong initials used, creates a ridiculous effect and never fails to wound the pride of the recipient, though he probably won't admit it. On the very day this is written there came to me an imposing letter, informing me that I had been recommended as a suitable person for director of one of those high-sounding national associations whose letter-head carries a list of famous vice-presidents. It seemed like quite a distinction at first glance, but the compliment shriveled and faded away when I found both my initials wrong, and observed that the names of at least half of the men who made up the state list of those singled out to be similarly honored were curiously inaccurate. So the five dollars that I was supposed to send along with my acceptance was saved.
The superintendent of The Beckett Paper Company is Mr. Homer Latimer. At Christmas came a costly leather portfolio from one of our trade connections, gold-stamped with his name. But our friend called him "Horace," and several more good dollars had gone the way of that vast flood of money that every year leaks away in America through inaccurate mailing lists.
Nor do I have to go outside our own small office group for a second example of similar purport. Mr. Minor M. Beckett, the president of our company, bears a family name. His uncle, Colonel Minor Millikin, was a brilliant soldier, lost in the battle of Stone River. No trace of his body was ever found. No wonder Mr. Beckett is rather meticulous as to the spelling of his name, nor is it astonishing that when another company from whom we buy sent him, on consecutive holidays, a gold razor and a gold pencil each engraved with the name "Miner," I detected. him attempting with a penknife to alter the engraved "e" so that it would look like "o." Yet all the scores of letters Mr. Beckett has written to that company bore his name plainly typed in the correct spelling. The spirit of the gifts was doubtless appreciated but I fear their effect was weakened.
The man of long experience and large affairs as a rule receives much mail, and in a good many cases it is carefully sorted by a secretary before it comes to his desk. It is not easy to establish the human touch in his case, but if you are offering something that has a sound and legitimate interest, even he is not hopeless. But how different it is with that vast number of women and of every-day people who have little correspondence, yet have mouths to feed and backs to clothe! An attractive direct advertisement is to them a matter of real interest and usually gets a careful reading. There the compliment of being singled out for special attention comes home. The writer has an elderly relative who has spent his entire life on a farm. I have heard him discuss at length binocular glasses—which are with him a great fad—and explain quite seriously that he had got a letter recently from Mr. Ward (Montgomery Ward and Company) in which Mr. Ward assured him that this was as fine a glass as could be obtained. Had he seen the steno-graphic department of this great establishment in action he might have been disillusioned; but the fact remains that to him "Mr. Ward" was a trusted old friend, giving him personal advice on which he could rely. In our family the Youth's Companion was a companion indeed, and I well remember how ashamed we used to feel when we occasionally got a letter, written apparently more in sorrow than in anger, to inform us that our subscription was over-due. We children used to be afraid that we should some day meet Perry Mason in the street and be recognized by him as the delinquent subscriber of years gone by. Such are the reactions that the personal element in advertising can produce in human beings, and human beings change less than anything else on this earth.
Try diligently to make your mailing pieces interesting and to make them human. The columns of the printing and advertising publications abound in evidence of the results that have been obtained from direct advertising in specific cases. And it can be truthfully said that direct advertising is far the easiest form of advertisement to check as to results. No matter how craftily you may key your general advertisements, a good many of your correspondents will forget about the "Department K" or the fictitious street number. Then, too, there is something in human nature that makes the average man like to appear sophisticated, and if he is "on to" the system of keying, he takes a fiendish delight in omitting all reference to it. Most people know that a factory employing a thousand men in a town of ten thousand people can be found by the postman without giving a street address. But if you send a folder or a booklet to a thousand people and two hundred of them write you in response, you do not have to be a Newton or a Galileo to know that your advertisement pulled twenty per cent. If you sent another form of advertisement out at the same time to another thousand people and it brought in only twenty letters, you may be pretty sure which form is the better advertisement for your business. The user of direct mail can experiment without committing himself to the peril of bankruptcy.
There is ample evidence of the possibilities of successful and economical selling through direct advertising. The facts are so well understood that we shall refer to but a few examples that happen to be before us at the moment.
The well-known cases of retail merchants building up businesses of from a half million to a million dollars or more per year in towns where an ordinary merchant could hardly hope to sell twenty-five thousand dollars' worth of goods have become classics. The Garver Brothers Co., of Strasburg, Ohio, a hamlet of a few hundred people, situated near several cities ranging from populations of about one million on down to towns of one hundred thousand, used direct advertising and are selling close to a million dollars' worth of goods per year, a good deal of it in the competing cities. Fred Mann, of Devil's Lake, with his regular turnover of more than $500,000, is another man who has told the story of direct advertising all over the country. The Hough Shade Corporation, of Janesville, Wisconsin, is reported by Mr. James Henle to have increased its total volume fifty-two per cent by a single mail campaign. Mr. R. N. Fellows, of the Addressograph Company, reported a number of striking examples of direct mail success in a speech before the International Advertising Convention, in London. Among them were these items: sale of $23,000 in furs, by Abraham and Straus, from a single letter to a selected list of women; an increase of fifty-five per cent in a single month by the Newcomb-Endicott Company, of Detroit, while most department stores of the country showed a decreased volume; sale of $25,000 in Oriental rugs in one week at an advertising cost under five per cent; an actual increase in business at Wanamaker's, New York, during the newspaper strike, while the business of competitors not using direct mail declined $30,000 per day; the application of eighty per cent of its total advertising appropriation to direct mail by Showers Brothers, who sell $10,000,000 worth of furniture per year, and the sale of $33,000 worth of kitchen cabinets by a single letter at a cost of two per cent; the appropriation of $150,000 per year for direct mail by the supply sales organization of The Western Electric Company—practically half its total expenditure; the use of 20,000 pieces of direct mail daily by The American Mills Company. The Goodrich Tire and Rubber Company wrote a letter, saying: "Direct advertising with the Goodrich Company is the `daddy' of all other forms of advertising, and has given us back many times over every dollar we have spent for it." The International Harvester Company says: "Fifteen years ago we became convinced that direct-by-mail selling is by far the best method of producing actual, traceable results. To-day we spend over half a million dollars each year in direct advertising in the United States alone."