The Worst Way to Make Marketing Decisions

Recently “Betty,” one of my readers, sent me an e-mail very similar in sentiment to dozens of other e-mails I have received over the years.

“Why do marketers like ETR and AWAI send me 16-page direct-mail sales letters when the copywriter could have said the same thing in 1 to 2 pages?” Betty writes. “The prospect might even buy out of gratitude for not having to wade through those 16 pages, and breathe a sigh of relief instead of snarl a nasty expletive.”

But Betty is not through lambasting long-copy direct marketing. Her e-mail continues:

“My brother-in-law makes a hobby of going through those 16-page letters just for fun, red-penciling errors before he tosses them. He would never, under pain of death, buy from a direct-marketing sales letter.”

And it’s not just Betty’s brother-in-law who thinks direct marketers are fools.

“My sister just drops those 16-page mailings into recycling without even bothering to open them,” she reports. “Many of the people I know feel the same way. So why do copywriters persist in creating these massive multi-page mailings? Is it because they are paid by the page? Or because the client wants his pound of flesh from his writers?”

Finally, Betty turns to the Internet as the harbinger of doom for long copy, asking, “Isn’t the Internet killing off traditional direct-response copy?”

The answer to Betty’s question is fairly simple…

The marketers she complains about use long copy not because they love to pay their copywriters a fortune to write it for them… or because they enjoy spending more money on printing and postage.

They use long copy for only one reason: It works.

Does long copy always out-pull short copy?

Of course not.

But long copy often out-pulls short copy when:

You are marketing information products (or other products) that are sold by telling stories or conveying ideas.

  • You are generating a direct sale… via mail-order… rather than just generating a lead or inquiry.
  • The reader is unfamiliar with your product and its benefits.
  • You are demanding payment with order. The prospect has to pay up front with a check or credit card. He cannot order the product on credit and get an invoice he can choose to pay – or not pay – later.
  • The product is complex and, therefore, requires a lot of explanation.
  • The product is something people want rather than something they need. It is a discretionary purchase.
  • The product is expensive, representing an expenditure the prospect is likely to consider carefully.

As for Betty’s theory that the Internet is making traditional long-copy direct marketing obsolete, it’s quite the opposite: A product that requires long copy to sell it offline usually requires long copy to sell it online as well.

For instance, take a look at my website

So… what does this long copy vs. short copy debate have to do with “the worst way to make marketing decisions”? Simply because it illustrates that the worst way to make marketing decisions – which is what Betty and her family are doing – is through subjective judgment.

Copywriter Peter Beutel advises marketers: “Don’t let personal preferences get in the way.” In other words, what’s important is not what you think, like, believe, or prefer… it’s what your prospects think, like, believe, and prefer.

One of the best things about being a direct marketer is that, unlike general advertisers, we don’t have to rely solely on subjective judgment. We don’t have to let our personal likes and dislikes cloud our judgment (like Betty’s brother-in-law is doing). We can put almost any proposition – e.g., headline “A” vs. headline “B” or long copy vs. short copy – to a direct test. And we can precisely measure the ROMD (return on marketing dollars) for our ads and commercials.

So, Betty, it doesn’t matter what your sister or brother-in-law do… or that they don’t like long copy. What matters is that, in a statistically valid split test, the long copy generated more orders than the short copy – and that’s why those long letters are in the mail.

I close with this quote from advertising legend Claude Hopkins: “Advertising arguments should only be settled by testing, not arguments around a conference table.”

[Ed. Note: For expert insights into the world of direct marketing, be sure to sign up for Bob’s free monthly newsletter, The Direct Response Letter. Do it today and get $116 in free bonuses.]


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Bob Bly

Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant specializing in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has been hired as a consultant by such companies as Sony, Chemical Bank, J. Walter Thompson, Westinghouse, and Prentice-Hall. Bob is also the author of more than 50 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books), Targeted Public Relations, Selling Your Services, How to Promote Your Own Business, and Keeping Clients Satisfied. A phenomenal public speaker, Bob will share with you how easy it is to start your own business. Whether you’re ready to quit your job or are just looking to make a little money on the side, you’ll want to hear Bob’s advice.