From our archives. Happy Holidays!

Print out this piece by direct marketer extraordinaire Denny Hatch.

Yes, like on paper. So you can easily periodically review its wisdom.

You see, Hatch seems to believe, and The Agitator agrees, that there are some fundamental direct marketing rules that apply across media … even to email marketing. He observes:

When a marketer undertakes a direct mail campaign, the cost will run roughly $500 to $750 per thousandor 50 cents to 75 cents apiece. As a result, direct mailers are disciplined and very careful. They know the rules and follow them slavishly. When rules are broken, they know precisely what rules they are breaking and why. Otherwise, they will lose a lot of money quickly.

E-mail, on the other hand, costs virtually nothing, which means that e-mailers dont need to know any rules. They can be very sloppy, mail billions, achieve minuscule results and still make a little money.

We'll take this a step farther. Someone in your shop needs to know the rules in the first place. And someone needs to know how to test them rigorously against new assumptions, techniques and capabilities. So …

    • If you're a nonprofit CEO, and your online marketing isn't accountable to a successful direct mail marketer, set in motion a staff change before you go home today.
    • If you're the online marketing chief at your org, and you don't start each day thinking about what to test next, why and how, you oughta be fired.

Hatch doesn't say “don't break the rules.” He does say “know why” if you do, and be prepared to measure and act upon the results. He notes that it is of course more feasible time and money-wise to test online and react immediately. And that smart online testing can inform and improve your direct marketing results in other media.

He talks of the best direct mail copywriters in the biz spending days on envelope teasers. By contrast, how much thinking goes into your email subject lines, or your offer, donate, join, or act now landing pages?

If you're “too busy” to be thinking about applying proven direct response rules to your online efforts or creatively testing the rules you question, well maybe you'd be better off shovelling less “stuff” down your fiber connection, and using that time to think more.

At this stage of the game, it's no great accomplishment to simply produce “better” online marketing returns year over year. There are structural reasons why this should occur if you simply don't shoot yourself in the foot.

It's like a funeral home director patting himself on the back for handling more burials when the number of deaths per thousand is growing annually as the overall population ages. Sorry to say, it's just a share of a naturally bigger pot.

More praiseworthy is the online marketer who can point to a record of systematic, successful testing of concrete variables, with resulting rollout strategies that produce greater per capita yield and/or enlarge the viable universe. That marketer really deserves a raise!

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