The Proof Is in the Promotion – or Should Be

Nowhere do some marketers think less like consumers than when it comes to proving the claims they make in their promotions. And to the reader, an outrageous claim that is not backed by one single iota of proof sticks out like a sore thumb.

For instance, I was writing a sales letter to sell subscriptions to a magazine covering the defense industry. When I asked the subscription manager what made their product different, she said:

“We aren’t usually the first to report on a story. Since we are a monthly, TV, newspapers, and the Internet all beat us to the punch. But we analyze and interpret the news so our readers can make better decisions based on what the facts really mean.”

“That’s fascinating,” I replied, scribbling eagerly. “Can you give me an example?”

Her reply: dead silence.


The USP (unique selling proposition) of this publication was that it analyzed military events accurately and in great depth, so people in the defense industry could use their interpretations of the facts to make better strategic decisions.

And no one at the publication could give me a single example to prove it!

Finally, I did get a story from them … just one story … and it was a beauty.

One of their editors had analyzed a photo that had been published in the newspapers, and was able to correctly identify the model of an enemy tank in the picture – something the newspapers had gotten wrong.

Why did this matter? Turns out, it was an inferior model. The editor explained: “By knowing that a ‘cheap’ tank had been deployed, we knew the enemy did not consider that to be a strategically important area … or else they would have deployed premium tanks there. The enemy’s strategy was revealed, and our readers could plan accordingly.”

Can you imagine claiming that you could help a general plan a victory in battle … or help people get better jobs … or help companies reduce their insurance costs … without producing even one good story or example to prove it?

Sounds absurd, but dozens of promotions do just that. Often, these promotions have no proof for their major claim because the marketer never bothered to collect it.

If you’re going to aggressively market your product through the mail or online, collecting such proof from satisfied customers should be your #1 priority.

It’s easy to do:

First, identify the claim that you want to prove or demonstrate. For example: “XYZ is the only product that does [Benefit] for [Audience] by [Method].”

Then, send a simple letter or form to your customers. Ask them:

“Has our product [XYZ] ever helped you achieve [Benefit] by [Method]? We are looking for success stories from customers like you. If you have a success story to share with us, please summarize it below and send this form back to us. If we use your story in our marketing, you will receive a [NAME OF GIFT].”

Offer a nice gift in the $50 to $100 price range to anyone whose story you use. This will be sufficient to motivate people to take the time to think about your product and relay the story of how it helped them.

Do this until you have, ideally, 12 really good stories you can use. Then use them as follows:

1. In an ad, lead-generating letter, or e-mail, you can build your copy around a single compelling story.

2. In a traditional direct-mail package with a multi-page letter, pack your letter with proof. Tell three of the stories in detail, and three to six more in summary.

3. Reprint all of them as a single page of testimonials that you post on your website or include when you mail your sales literature.

The bottom line: The more thoroughly you demonstrate how your product delivers a particular benefit in a unique fashion – and prove that it has done so through user success stories – the more effective your marketing will be.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is the editor of Direct Marketing Masters Edition, ETR’s program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business.]