Main Menu

23 Tips For Creating Business-To-Business Mailings That Work by Robert W. Bly


  1. Short letters — one or two pages — usually work best. Executives don’t have time to wade through a lengthy sales pitch.  Exceptions: subscriptions, seminars, and some other mail-order offers.
  2. If you can personalize, great! But form letters addressed to “Dear Executive” or “Dear Engineer” can also pull well.
  3. Should business mailings take a “consumer approach?”

*     Some mailers argue that executives are human beings before they are businesspeople — hence, all consumer DM techniques can apply to business mail.

*     But remember, in addition to being people, executives have professional responsibilities.  And they take their work seriously.  So business mailings must address their needs as professionals.  Not every consumer gimmick is appropriate For business mail.

  1. In particular, avoid “busy” graphics (e.g., Publishers Clearing House). Use graphics that make your mailing immediately clear, easy-to-follow, and easy to read.
  2. If an envelope is filled with too many inserts, the busy executive is more inclined to throw the whole thing away. A standard package with a letter, brochure, and reply card seems to work best.
  3. The biggest mistake you can make in writing business-to-business DM is to assume that the reader is as interested in your product or industry as you are. When writing copy, assume that your product is the last thing on the reader’s mind.  He or she may never have given a second thought to problems, issues, technology, and competitive products that you worry about every day.
  4. Another major error is writing copy that speaks on a layman’s level when your mailing is targeted to industry professionals. For example: DP professionals know what CICS, MVS, and ISDN are.  You don’t — so the natural tendency is to want to explain them in your copy.  But being too elementary turns readers off and signals that you’re not really in touch with their business.  How would you respond to a mailing that began, “Direct mail is an exciting way of selling products?”  Yawn.
  5. Make your mailing look professional — a business communication from one executive to another.  A letter crammed with fake handwriting, arrows, pop-ups, and other gimmicks strikes many business readers as undignified and unprofessional.
  6. One rule that applies equally to business and consumer mail: sell your offer. If you offer a 30-day trial, sell the reader on asking for the trial.  Explain the benefits and that there is no risk or obligation.  If it is an invitation to a seminar, sell the knowledge to be gained at the seminar and not the product being promoted.
  7. A corollary to #9 is that there must be an appealing offer.

A lead generating package should never sell just the product.  It should also push the offer.

And there is always an offer.  The best offer is some type of free trail, free analysis, free consultation, or free sample.  Premiums can also work well.  At minimum, offer a free brochure of simply “free information.”  Free information is an offer and it does work.

  1. Write copy that enhances the perceived value of your offer.

Examples: A product catalog becomes a product guide.  A software catalog becomes an international software directory.  A collection of brochures becomes a free information kit.  A checklist becomes a convention planner’s guide.  An article reprinted in pamphlet form becomes “our new, informative booklet — HOW TO PREVENT COMPUTER FAILURES.”  And so on.

  1. Many clients begin planning by sitting around a table and saying, “We want to do a mailing on product X. Should we use a mailing tube? A box?  A message in a fortune cookie?  What gimmick works best?”

In my opinion, they are asking the wrong question.  The right way to get started is to ask, “What is the key sales appeal of this product?”  Ideally, this is something the product does better than other products and solves a major problem or addresses a key concern of the customer.

  1. Clients often ask, “Shouldn’t we do some market research and focus group testing to uncover key sales points and appeals before we do the mailing?”

They probably don’t realize that direct mail is a good research tool for many products and offers.  For a few thousand dollars, you can test an offer and, within weeks, know whether prospects will respond.

  1. Postcard decks generate a large number of responses at low cost. Direct-mail packages are more costly and time-consuming to produce but generate a better quality lead. The only way to know for certain is to set up a lead-tracking system and test both types of mailings.
  2. Self-mailers generally don’t pull as well as packages with separate letters, brochures, and reply cards. They work well, however, for seminars. Also, they can ad an attention-grabbing change of pace to a series of mailings.  One ad agency I know has used self-mailers for years to generate new business, with great success.  One reason why self-mailers do poorly is that most are not given the same level of attention that businesses put into their regular DM packages.
  3. About gimmicks, such as pop-ups, fancy folds, 3D objects, and so on: They generally work only if there is a strong, logical tie-in to the product, or offer, and sales appeal. Sending a pair of sunglasses doesn’t make much sense for a valve manufacturer. It makes better sense for a travel agent offering a package cruise to the Caribbean or for a tanning parlor prospecting for new bodies.
  4. Another mistake is to make the copywriter base your package around some artificial theme or slogan. A company selling industrial pumps, for instance, insists that the theme of its mailings be quality. A manufacturer of metal buildings wants a futuristic image, with copy full of references to outer space and science fiction.  This is a deadly error.  Perhaps advertising can be tied effectively to such weak themes.  But response-getting mail can’t.  Mailings that get results push product benefits, cost savings, free prefers, and no-risk guarantees — not images or themes.  To force a mailing to fit some predetermined concept is difficult, tricky — and often fatal to results.
  5. A BRC that restates the offer and asks for the order is doing only half the job. Reply elements should also be used to gather information that helps qualify prospects. For instance, if you’re selling accounts receivable software, the BRC should ask: What type of computer do you have?  What is your operating system?  How many invoices do you write a month?  If the advertiser seeks detailed facts, use a separate questionnaire or “specification sheet.”  And include a BRE.
  6. “Is there any advantage to using business-reply cards and envelopes in industrial mailings?” asks one client. “After all, the businessperson doesn’t care about a few cents postage, and his secretary has plenty of stamps handy.” True — but use the BRC/BRE anyway.  Why?  Because such cards and envelopes look like response devices.  They signal the reader that a response is required.

The same holds true for 800 numbers.  Sure, the executive isn’t paying for the call out of his own pocket, so he’s less motivated by a free call than the consumer.  But the 800 number leaps off the page and says, “Hey, pick up the phone — we want you to respond to this offer!”  Regular numbers don’t have this effect.

  1. The trend today is to add perceived value to numbers by turning them into “hotlines.” Filterite, a manufacturer of chemical filters, advertises a toll-free filtration hotline 800-FILTERS. A good idea.  However, I suggest you print the number in numerals along with the letter version.  Some people don’t like to translate letters into a phone number they can dial.
  2. A popular technique is to add to the perceived value of the order form or BRC by calling it an “Information Request Form,” “Trial Request Form,” or “Needs analysis.” This still works but is losing impact as more and more mailers use the technique.
  3. Response goes up when you give the reader choices. For instance, include both a BRC and a toll-free number. And allow for multiple responses, such as:


[   ] Reserve my free 30-day trial

[   ] Have a sales representative call

[   ] Send brochure by mail

[   ] Not interested right now, but add me to your mailing list


  1. Tell the reader that there is no cost or obligation or that no salesman will call…if these statements are true.

This article appears courtesy of Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter

The Fundamentals of Persuasive Writing By Robert W. Bly

What are the characteristics that make copy effective? Why does one ad make a lasting impression and sell merchandise, while another falls flat and doesn’t generate enough revenue to pay its own cost?

Virtually all persuasive copy contains the eight elements described in this article. The successful ad:

  1. Gains attention
  2. Focuses on the customer
  3. Stresses benefits
  4. Differentiates you from the competition
  5. Proves its case
  6. Establishes credibility
  7. Builds value
  8. Closes with a call to action

All ads do not have all eight characteristics in equal proportions. Depending on the product, some of these elements will be dominant in your ad; others subordinate.

Let’s take telephone service as an example. If you are AT&T, MCI, or Sprint, you have a long track record of success and a well-established reputation. Therefore, you will be naturally strong in elements five and six (proving your case and establishing your credibility).

A new telephone services provider, on the other hand, does not have a track record or reputation; therefore, these two elements will not be the dominant themes in the copy. Instead, the strongest element might be number three (benefits the service offers customers) or perhaps number four (differentiation in service resulting from superior technology).

Each product or service has natural strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are emphasized and the weaknesses de-emphasized. But all eight elements must be present to some degree, or the ad won’t work.

Here are the eight elements of persuasion discussed in a bit more detail, with examples of how to achieve each in your copy.

Element #1. Gain attention.
If an ad fails to gain attention, it fails totally. Unless you gain the prospect’s attention, he or she won’t read any of your copy. And if the prospect doesn’t read your copy, he or she won’t receive the persuasive message you’ve so carefully crafted.

There are numerous ways to gain attention. Sex certainly is one of them. Look at the number of products—abdominal exercises, health clubs, cars, Club Med, clothes, beer, soft drinks, chewing gum—that feature attractive bodies in their ads and commercials. It may be sexist or base, but it works.

Similarly, you can use visuals to get prospects to pay attention. Parents (and almost everyone else) are attracted to pictures of babies and young children. Puppies and kittens also strike a chord in our hearts. Appealing visuals can get your ad noticed.

Since so much advertising is vague and general, being specific in your copy sets it apart from other ads and creates interest. A letter promoting collection services to dental practices begins as follows:

“How we collected over $20 million in unpaid bills over the past 2 years for thousands of dentists nationwide”

Dear Dentist:

It’s true.

In the past 2 years alone, IC Systems has collected more than $20 million in outstanding debt for dental practices nationwide.

That’s $20 million these dentists might not otherwise have seen if they had not hired IC Systems to collect their past-due bills for them.

What gains your attention is the specific figure of $20 million dollars. Every collection agency promises to collect money. But saying that you have gotten $20 million in results is specific, credible, and memorable.

Featuring an offer that is free, low in price, or unusually attractive is also an effective attention-getter. A full-page newspaper ad from Guaranteed Term Life Insurance announces, “NOW… $1 a week buys Guaranteed Term Life Insurance for New Yorkers over 50.” Not only does the $1 offer draw you in, but the headline also gains attention by targeting a specific group of buyers (New Yorkers over 50).

You know that in public speaking, you can gain attention by shouting or talking loudly. This direct approach can work in copy, especially in retail advertising. An add for Lord & Taylor department store proclaims in large, bold type: STARTS TODAY… ADDITIONAL 40% OFF WINTER FASHIONS.” Not clever or fancy, but of interest to shoppers looking to save money.

Another method of engaging the prospect’s attention is to ask a provocative question. Bits & Pieces, a management magazine, begins its subscription mailing with this headline: “What do Japanese managers have that American managers sometimes lack?” Don’t you want to at least read the next sentence to find the answer?

A mailing for a book club has this headline on the outer envelope:

Why is the McGraw-Hill Chemical Engineers’ Book Club giving away—practically for FREE—this special 50th Anniversary Edition of PERRY’S CHEMICAL ENGINEERS’ HANDBOOK?

To chemical engineers, who know that Perry’s costs about $125 per copy, the fact that someone would give it away is indeed a curiosity—and engineers, being curious people, want to get the answer.

Injecting news into copy, or announcing something that is new or improved, is also a proven technique for getting attention. A mailing offering subscriptions to the newsletter Dr. Atkins’s Health Revelations has this headline on the cover:

“Here Are Astonishing Nutritional Therapies and Alternative Treatments You’ll Never Hear About From the Medical Establishment, the FDA, Drug Companies or Even Your Doctor…”

3 decades of medical research breakthroughs from the Atkins Center for Complementary Medicine… revealed at last!

The traditional Madison Avenue approach to copy—subtle word play and cleverness—often fails to get attention because many people reading the ad either don’t get it, or if they do get it, they don’t think it’s that funny (or they think it’s funny but that doesn’t compel them to read the ad or buy the product). A newspaper ad for New Jersey hospital, promoting its facilities for treating kidney stones without surgery (ultrasonic sound waves are used to painlessly break up and dissolve the stone), carried this headline:

The End of the Stone Age.

Clever? Yes. But as former kidney stone patients, we can tell you that having kidney stones is not a fun, playful subject, and this headline misses the mark. The kidney stone sufferer wants to know he can go to his local hospital, get fast treatment, avoid an operation and a hospital stay, have the procedure be painless, and get rid of the kidney stones that are causing his current discomfort. Therefore, the headline,

Get Rid of Painless Kidney Stones—Without Surgery!

while less clever, is more direct, and works better with this topic and this audience.

Element #2: Focus on the customer.
When writing copy, start with the prospect, not with the product. Your prospects are interested primarily in themselves — their goals, their problems, their needs, their hopes, their fears, their dreams and aspirations. Your product or service is of secondary importance, the degree of concern being determined by the potential for the product or service to address one of the prospect’s wants or needs, or solve one of their problems.

Effective copy speaks directly to a specific audience and identifies their preferences, quirks, behavior, attitudes, needs, or requirements. A recruitment brochure for a computer consultant firm, for example, has this headline on the cover:

Introducing a unique career opportunity only a few dozen computer professionals in the country will be able to take advantage of this year….

The headline is effective because it focuses on the prospects (Information Systems professionals) and one of their main concerns in life (their career), rather than the consulting firm and its history, as most such brochures do.

Write from the customer’s point of view—e.g., not “our,” “Introducing our Guarda-Health Employee Benefit Program” but “At last you can combat the huge health insurance premiums threatening to put your small business out of business.”

WEKA Publishing, in a direct mail package promoting the Electronics Repair Manual, a do-it-yourself guide for hobbyists and others who want to repair their own home and office electronics, uses copy that speaks directly to the personality type of the potential buyer:

If you’re handy… fascinated by electronics and the world of high-tech… are happiest with a tool in your hand … and respond to household problems and broken appliances with a defiant, “I’ll do it myself”…

… then fun, excitement, the thrill of discovery, time and money saved, and the satisfaction of a job well done await you when you preview our newly updated Electronics Repair Manual at no risk for a full 30 days.

A good way to ensure that you are focusing on the prospects, and not yourself or your product or your company, is to address the prospect directly in the copy as “you.” For example:

Dear Health Care Administrator:

You know how tough it is to make a decent profit margin in today’s world of managed care … and how the HMOs and other plans are putting even more of a squeeze on your margins to fill their own already-swelling coffers.

But what you may not be aware of is the techniques health care providers nationwide are using to fight back… and get paid every dollar they deserve for the important work they do.

This direct mail copy, which successfully launched a new publication, works because it focuses on the prospects and their problems (making money from their health care business), and not on the publication, its editors, or its features or columns.

Copy that fails to focus on the prospect often does so because the copywriter does not understand the prospect. If you are writing to metal shop managers, attend a metalworking trade show, read a few issues of the trade publications they subscribe to, and interview some of these prospects in person or over the phone. Study focus group transcripts, attend live focus group sessions, or even accompany salespeople on sales calls to these prospects. The better you understand your target audience, the more you have a feel for the way they think and what they think about, the more effectively you can target copy that speaks to those concerns.

Element #3: Stress benefits.
Although, depending on your audience, your prospects may be interested both in the features and the benefits of your product or service, it is almost never sufficient to discuss features only.

Virtually all successful copy discusses benefits. Copy aimed at a lay audience would primarily stress benefits, mentioning features mainly to convince the prospects that the product can, in fact delivers the benefits promised in the ad.

Copy aimed at specialists often gives equal play to features and benefits, or may even primarily stress features. But whenever a feature is described, it must be linked to a customer benefit it provides. Buyers not only want to know what the product is and what it does; they want to know how it can help them achieve the benefits they want—such as saving money, saving time, making money, being happier, looking better, or feeling fitter.

In copy for technical products, clearly explaining the feature makes the benefit more believable. Don’t just say a product has greater capacity; explain what feature of the product allows it to deliver this increased capacity. A brochure for Lucent Technologies wireless CDMA technology explains,

“CDMA gives you up to 10 times the capacity of analog cellular with more efficient use of spectrum. Use of a wideband block of radio frequency (RF) spectrum for transmission (1.25 MHz) enables CDMA to support up to 60 or more simultaneous conversations on a given frequency allocation.”

A brochure for a computer consulting firm tells corporate Information Systems (IS) managers how working with outside consultants can be more cost-effective than hiring staff, thus saving money:

When you augment your IS department with our staff consultants, you pay our staff consultants only when they work for you. If the need ends tomorrow, so does the billing. In addition, various studies estimate the cost of hiring a new staff member at 30 to 60 percent or more of the annual salary (an executive search firm’s fee alone can be 30 percent of the base pay). These expenditures are 100% eliminated when you staff through EJR.

In an ad for a software package that creates letterhead using a PC and a laser printer, the copy stresses the benefits of ease, convenience, and cost savings vs. having to order stationery from a printer:

Now save thousands of dollars on stationery printing costs

Every day, law firms struggle with the expense and inconvenience of engraved and preprinted stationery.

Now, in a sweeping trend to cut costs without sacrificing prestige, many are trading in their engraved letterhead for Instant Stationery desktop software from Design Forward Technologies.

With Instant Stationery, you can laser-print your WordPerfect documents and letterhead together on whatever grade of blank bond paper you choose. Envelopes, too. Which means you never have to suffer the cost of expensive preprinted letterhead — or the inconvenience of loading stationery into your desktop printer — ever again.

Element #4: Differentiate yourself from the competition.
Today your customer has more products and services to choose from than ever. For example, a customer walking into a supermarket can choose from more than XX different brands of cereal, XX different brands of shampoo, and XX different flavors and brands of soft drink.

Therefore, to make our product stand out in the buyer’s mind, and convince him or her that it is better and different than the competition, you must differentiate it from those other products in your copy. Crispix cereal, for example, was advertised as the cereal that “stays crisp in milk.” Post Raisin Bran was advertised as the only raisin bran having “two scoops of raisins” in each box of cereal. A cookie maker recently ran a campaign promoting “100 chips” in every bag of chocolate chip cookies.

Companies that make a commodity product often differentiate themselves on the basis of service, expertise, or some other intangible. BOC Gases, for example, promotes itself as a superior vendor not because their product is better (they sell oxygen, and one oxygen molecule is basically the same as another), but in their ability to use oxygen and technology to benefit the customer’s business. Here is copy from a brochure aimed at steel makers:

An oxygen supplier who knows oxygen and EAF steel-making can be the strategic partner who gives you a sustainable competitive advantage in today’s metals markets. And that’s where BOC Gases can help.

If your product is unique within its market niche, stress this in your copy. For example, there are dozens of stock market newsletters. But IPO Insider claims to be the only IPO bulletin aimed at the consumer (there are other IPO information services, but these target professional investors and money managers). In their subscription promotion the IPO Insider says:

IPO Insider is the only independent research and analysis service in the country designed to help the individual investor generate greater-than-average stock market profits in select recommended IPOs.

Lucent Technologies, the AT&T spin-off, competes with many other companies that manufacture telecommunications network equipment. They differentiate themselves by stressing the tested reliability of their switch, which has been documented as superior to other switches in the industry. One brochure explains:

The 5ESS-2000 Switch is one of the most reliable digital switches available for wireless systems today. According to the U.S. Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) ARMIS report, the 5ESS-2000 switch has the least down-time of any switch used in U.S. networks, exceeding Bellcore’s reliability standards by 200%. With an installed base of more than 2,300 switches, the 5ESS-2000 Switch currently serves over 72 million lines in 49 countries.

Element #5: Prove your case.
Element #4, just discussed, claims product differentiation. Element #3 claims substantial benefits to product purchasers. The reason why these elements cannot stand alone is precisely that they are claims—claims made in a paid advertisement, by the advertiser. Therefore, skeptical consumers do not usually accept them at face value. If you say you are better, faster, or cheaper, and you do not back up your claims with proof, people won’t believe you.

ICS convinces dentists it is qualified to handle their collections by presenting facts and statistics as follows:

The nationwide leader in dental-practice collections, IC Systems has collected past-due accounts receivables for 45,717 dental practices since 1963. Over 20 state dental associations recommend our services to their members.

IC Systems can collect more of the money your patients owe you. Our overall recovery rate for dental collections is 12.4% higher than the American Collectors’ Association national average of 33.63%. (For many dental practices, we have achieved recovery rates even higher!)

BOC Gases tells customers that the gas mixtures they sell in cylinders are accurately blended, and therefore that the composition listed on the label is what the buyer will find inside the container. They make this argument credible by explaining their blending and weighing methodology:

Each mixture component is weighed into the cylinder on a high-capacity, high-sensitivity equal-arm balance having a typical precision of +10 mg at 95 percent confidence. Balance accuracy is confirmed prior to weighing by calibration with NIST-traceable Class S weights. Electronic integration of the precision balance with an automated filling system provides extremely accurate mixtures with tight blend tolerances.

Many stock market newsletters promise big winners that will make the reader rich if he or she subscribes. Since everyone says it, the statement is usually greeted with skepticism. The newsletter Gold Stocks Advisory combats this skepticism by putting their recent successes right on the outer envelope and at the top of page one of their sales letter:

A sample of Paul Sarnoff’s recent high-profit gold stock picks:

Company: Purchase Price: Year High: % Increase/Time frame: Potential profit* on 10,000 shares:
Gold Canyon C70 cents C$10.50 2793% in 14 months C$195,500
Coral Gold C$1.20 C$6.45 438% in 8 months C$52,500
Bema Gold C$2.20 C$13.05 439% in 20 months C$108,500
Jordex C70 cents C$3.75 435% in 6 months C$26,300
Glamis Gold US$1 US$8.88 788% in 84 months US$78,800
Barrick Gold US$4.81 US$32.88 584% in 96 months US$280,700

The most powerful tool for proving your case is to demonstrate a good track record in your field, showing that your product or service is successful in delivering the benefits and other results you promise. One way to create the perception of a favorable track record is to include case histories and success stories in your copy. Testimonials from satisfied customers are another technique for convincing prospects that you can do what you say you can do. You can also impress prospects by showing them a full or partial list of your customers.

Share with readers any results your firm has achieved for an individual customer or group of customers. IC Systems, for example, impressed dentists by telling them that the company has collected $20 million in past due bills over the past 2 years alone—a number which creates the perception of a service that works.

Element #6. Establish credibility.
In addition to the benefits you offer, the products and services you deliver that offer these benefits, and the results you have achieved, prospective buyers will ask the question, “Who are you?”

In terms of persuasion, of the three major topics you discuss in your ad—the prospect, the product, and the product vendor—the “corporate” story is usually the least important. The prospect is primarily interested in himself and his problems and needs, and interested in your product or service only as a means of solving those problems or filling those needs. The prospect is interested in your company only as it relates to your ability to reliably make, deliver, install, and service the product he buys from you.

Yet, the source of the product or service—the company—still is a factor in influencing purchase decisions. In the early days of personal computing, IBM was the preferred brand—not because IBM necessarily made a superior computer at a better price, but because if something went wrong, IBM could be counted on for fast, reliable, effective service and support. As PCs became more of a commodity and local computer resellers and stores offered better service, the service and support reputation of IBM became less of an advantage, and their PC sales declined.

Here are some examples of copy in which the vendor gives credentials designed to make the consumer feel more comfortable in doing business with them and choosing them over other suppliers advertising similar products and services:

We guarantee the best technical service and support. I was a compressor service technician at Ingersoll Rand, and in the last 20 years have personally serviced more than 250 compressors at over 80 companies.

For nearly 100 years, BOC Gases has provided innovative gas technology solutions to meet process and production needs. We have supplied more than 20,000 different gases and gas mixtures—in purities up to 99.99999 percent—to 2 million customers worldwide.

Lion Technology is different. For nearly two decades, we have dedicated ourselves 100% to training managers, engineers, and others in environmental compliance-related subjects. Since 1989, our firm has conducted more than 1,400 workshops nationwide on these topics.

You’ll find some of Paul’s fundamental research in precious metals summed up in his more than 60 best-selling books including Silver Bulls and Trading with Gold. Paul’s unique blending of solid research, combined with an unprecedented record of success in picking gold stocks, may have been what moved one New York Times reporter to dub him “the dean of commodities researchers.”

Credentials you can list in your copy include year founded, number of years in business, number of employees, annual revenues, number of locations, number of units sold, patents and product innovations, awards, commendations, publications, membership and participation in professional societies, seals of approval, agency ratings, independent survey results, media coverage, number of customers, and in-house resources (financial, technological, and human).

Element #7. Build value.
It’s not enough to convince prospects you have a great product or a superior service. You must also show them that the value of your offer far exceeds the price you are asking for it. You may have the best widget in the $100 to $200 price range of medium-size widgets, but why should the prospect pay $200 for your widget when they can get another brand for half the price? One argument might be lower total cost of ownership. Although your widget costs more to buy, its greater reliability and performance save and make your firm money that, over the long run, far exceeds the difference in price between you and brand X.

Stress cost of ownership vs. cost of purchase. The purchase price is not the only cost of owning something. There is the cost of maintenance, support, repair, refurbishment, operation, and, when something wears out, replacement. Therefore the product that costs the least to buy may not actually cost the least to own; oftentimes, it is the most expensive to own!

Example: Several companies are now selling artificial bone substitutes for orthopedic surgeons to use in bone graft operations. As of this writing, a small container of the artificial bone substitute, containing enough material for one spine surgery, can cost $500 to $800.

The short-sighted buyer sees this as expensive, especially since bone graft can be taken from other sites in the patient’s own body, and there is no cost for this material.

But is there really no cost? Collecting bone graft from the patient’s own body adds about an hour to the surgical procedure. With operating room time at about $1,000 an hour, it makes sense to pay $750 for bone material and eliminate this extra hour in the OR.

That’s not all. Often removing the bone from a donor site causes problems that can result in an extra day’s stay in the hospital. That’s another $1,000 down the tubes. And the removal of bone from the donor site can cause infection, which must be treated with costly antibiotics. Also, the removal process can cause pain; how do you measure the cost of the patient’s added suffering? So while $750 for a small vial of artificial bone may seem initially expensive, it is, in fact a bargain when compared with the alternative (which, on the surface, appears to have zero cost).

Here’s a simpler example. You need to buy a photocopier for your home office. Copier A costs $900. Copier B costs $1,200. The features are essentially the same, and the reputations of the brands are comparable. Both have an expected lifetime of 120,000 copies. Most people would say, “Everything’s the same except price, so buy copier A and save $300.” Copier A compares itself feature for feature with Copier B, and runs an ad with the headline, “Copier A vs. Our Competition… We Can Do Everything They Can Do… at 25% Off the Price.”

But you are the copywriter for the makers of Copier B. You ask them what it costs to make a copy. Their cost per copy is 2 cents. You investigate Copier A, and find out that the toner cartridges are more expensive, so that the cost per copy is 4 cents. You can now advertise copies at “half the cost of our competitor.”

What’s more, a simple calculation shows that if Copier B is 2 cents a copy cheaper, and you use the machine to make 120,000 copies, your savings over the life of the machine is $2,400. Therefore, an investment in Copier B pays you pack eight times the extra $300 it cost to buy. This is additional ammunition you can use in your copier to establish that purchase price is not the ultimate factor determining buying decisions, and that Copier B offers a greater overall value to the buyer.

If your product costs slightly more up front but actually saves money in the long run, stress this in your sales talk. Everyone knows that the cheapest product is not automatically the best buy; corporate buyers are becoming especially concerned with this cost of ownership concept. Only government business, which is awarded based on sealed proposals and bids, seems to still focus solely on the lowest price. And even that is slowly changing.

The key to establishing value is to convince the prospects that the price you ask is “a drop in the bucket” compared with the money your product will make or save them, or the other benefits it delivers. Some examples:

What would you do if the EPA assessed a $685,000 fine against your company for noncompliance with environmental regulations you weren’t even aware existed?

Now get the special 50th Anniversary Edition of
… for only $4.97 (list price: $129.50)
with your No-Risk Trial Membership in McGraw-Hill’s
Chemical Engineers’ Book Club

Another way to establish value is to compare the cost of your product with more expensive products or services that address the same basic need:

The cost of The Novell Companion, including the 800+ page reference binder and NetWare utilities on diskette, is normally $89 plus $6.50 for shipping and handling. This is less than a NetWare consultant would charge to advise you for just one hour… yet The Novell Companion is there to help you administer and manage your network, year after year.

If your product or service is used over a period of time, as most are, you can reduce the “sticker shock” that comes with quoting a high up-front price by showing the cost over the extended usage period. For instance, a life insurance policy with an annual premium of $200 “gives your loved ones protection for just 55 cents a day.” The latter seems more affordable, although the two prices are equivalent.

Element #8. Close with a call to action.
Copy is written to bring about a change—that is, to cause prospects to change their opinion, attitude, beliefs, purchasing plans, brand preferences, or immediate buying actions.

To effect this change, your copy must be specific about the action the prospect should take if they are interested in what you’ve said and what to take advantage of your offer or at least find out more. Tell them to clip and mail the coupon, call the toll-free phone number, visit your Web site, come to your store, request a free estimate, or whatever. Specify the next step directly in your copy, or else few people will take it. Some examples:

When you call, be sure to ask how you can get a FREE copy of our new audio cassette, “How to Get Better Results From Your Collection Efforts.” In just 7 minutes listening time, you’ll discover at least half a dozen of the techniques IC Systems uses—and you can use, too—to get more people to pay what they owe you.

For a complementary copy of the SECRETS OF BUILDING A WORLD-CLASS WEB SITE audio cassette, complete and mail the survey enclosed or fax it today to 1 888 FAX 2IBM (1 888 329 2426).

Put BOC’s quality gas solutions to work in your plant—starting today.
Think it’s time to talk with a gas supplier that really knows your business and has real solutions to your problems? Call your BOC Gases representative today. Or visit our Web site at

This article appears courtesy of Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter

Build Ideal Client Confidence with Free Trial Offers Today

What’s the best way for potential clients to want your product or service?

One way is to offer a test-drive.  Think about it. When you’re looking for a new car. You don’t just drop by a dealership and buy a car.  No, you take your time, looking at the various cars and options available. You narrow down your search to find models you really like. Then you go for a test-drive to see how the car feels.

Free Trials

Well, it’s the same thing for your business.  Regardless of what you sell, your customers might want a free trial of the product or service.

Who Uses Free Trials?

In fact, all the major players in the Business Intelligence industry use free trials.  On many websites, a Free Trial offer can be seen just about on every web page, whether it makes sense there or not. Free trials are all over the place.

Where to Offer a Free Trial

Now, I’m not convinced the first thing a potential client should see is the free trial. To me, I would need to know more about whether the company understands the problem I’m trying to solve and see if they had something that could overcome my problem. But maybe that’s just me.

In any case, it’s obviously good to have a free trial, because a potential customer will want to try it before they buy.

So let’s look at one company who promote Free Trail on their websites. uses Free Trial in multiple places within the same web page. The first Free Trial appears in the header section of their site.


They offer another Free Trial is just above the footer section too.


Finally, there is one more call to action in just above the footer section.



Does your product offer a free trial? Can your customers try your solution before they buy?

Consider using a free trial in multiple places on your website.

If you need help determining a good place to put a free trial or want help creating the copy for an email series after the Free Trial, contact me to start today.

Read about how to warm up your leads with Newsletters.

Which is Better? Warm or Cold Leads? Find Out How to Always Have Warm Leads Today

Newsletters are a simple way to provide useful, helpful information to prospective clients.  It’s a non-threatening way for someone to get to know you and your business.

Typically, email newsletters contain multiple elements. First, there may be an educational article. There might be a quote from an industry expert. Maybe a section for quick How-To tips.  Also, include might be an offer but not always.

Newsletters provide multiple benefits to companies who employ them.

  1. Saves Your Money

The first obvious benefit is to grow your in-house list of potential customers. Most companies offer a sign up for a free newsletter to help grow their own prospect/customer list. The more names on your email list, the more eyeballs you can market to. And it’s FREE for the business to collect.  There’s not having to buy a list from an industry directory.

I’m sure you’ve heard the saying “the money’s in the list.” Well, it’s true.

As you build your email list, you cultivate a relationship with these targeted prospects. Over time, you might find these prospects turn into paying customers when the time is right.

  1. Warm Leads Instead of Cold Ones

A newsletter is the best way to help your target prospect get to know, like, and trust you.

Included in your newsletter are helpful articles about solving problems, how to tips to improve performance, or personal stories of why you’re in business, or case studies on how you help other customers.

All these updates will build your reputation and help your target audience feel more connected to you.  This means these prospects warm up to you over time. When they have a need, they will know you can help them with that need because of all the great content you’ve already shared with them.

  1. Improve Your Reputation and Demonstrate Credibility

A newsletter is non-threatening to the audience, as long as you share useful, helpful, value-packed content on a regular basis. Over time, the audience begins to trust you.

Therefore, providing a steady stream of helpful content will boost your creditability and build trust with your potential clients.

There are several places to promote your newsletter sign up.  For example, in the footer section of, you’ll notice “Get our newsletter.” This opt-in form asks for just an email address which is a very good example of the minimum barrier to overcome.

From the customer’s perspective, they need only provide an email to get regular content that may help educate, inform them regarding GoodData’s services.


Sign up boxes can be anyway on your website.  Sometimes they appear on the right-hand side of regular content. Other times it is a pop up that displays only after someone reads an article on the website.

However, you decide to implement, the point is to do it.

Do you have a Newsletter Sign Up offer on your website? If not, what are you waiting for?

Don’t miss the opportunity to be known by your target audience and grow your business at the same time!

If you need ideas for your newsletter or want help with the content, contact me to get started today.

Read about other opt-in ideas for growing your list of emails.

How to Write a More Effective Technical Product Brochure by Robert W. Bly


When I was the advertising manager for a process equipment manufacturer, one of my responsibilities was to serve as a liaison between the advertising agency we hired to write our ads and product brochures and our staff engineers.

The engineers, because of their technical expertise in the subject matter, were responsible for reviewing the agency’s work.

As is often the case in our industry, the engineers complained that those “ad types” at the agency didn’t understand the product or the audience — and that their copy was way off base.

The agency countered that engineers may know technology but don’t know writing, marketing, design, or selling — and that they wanted to cram the brochures with too much unnecessary detail that would dilute the sales message.

Who was right? The fact is, both arguments have some merit.

On the agency side, ad agency folk often have a flair for creative, colorful communication, which can help a brochure gain attention and be noticed.

On the other hand, clients — especially the engineers who review the agency’s brochure copy — often complain, sometimes correctly, that the agency’s brochure copy is superficial.

Laziness is often the cause. The writer did not do sufficient research to understand both the technology and the needs, concerns, and interests of the target audience. The copy he writes reflects this lack of understanding. When you read it, you immediately think, “This person doesn’t know what he is talking about” — and you are probably right.

Another problem with professional or agency-written product literature is a tendency toward cleverness for the sake of being clever. “Be creative!” the client instructs the agency. But the reader often doesn’t get the joke, pun, or reference in the headline, the creativity goes over her head, and she is turned off rather than engaged.

Engineers who write their own brochure copy are rarely superficial; they usually have a solid understanding of the products and its technology. However, engineers tend to assume that the reader knows as much as the writer, speaks the same jargon, and has the same level of interest in the technology. And often this is not the case.

Take jargon. People today frequently use the term “open systems architecture” in sales literature. But do they really know what this means? Write down your own definition, ask five colleagues to do the same, and compare. I guarantee they will not be the same. Engineers who write often don’t strive for clarity. So they fall back on buzzwords and cliches that, unfortunately, don’t get across the messages they wish to convey.


6 tips for writing better technical product brochures


Given these conditions, how can you — as an engineer or manager who either writes brochure copy, edits copy, approves copy, or provides input for ad agencies or freelance industrial copywriters — do your job better so the finished brochure is the best one possible?


Here are some simple guidelines to follow:


  1. Define the topic. Is your brochure about a solution? A system? A product line? A product? A specific model of that product? A specific industry use or application of that product? The support services you offer for that product? The accessories?


Define what the piece is about. The narrower the topic, the more focused, specific, and effective your brochure can be within the limited space available.

Tip: Your brochure doesn’t have to cover everything. You can always decide to have other pieces of sales literature that go into more depth on certain aspects of the product.

For instance, you can talk about satisfied users in case histories. You can expand on specifications in a spec sheet. Some marketers use application briefs to focus on a specific application or industry. Others develop separate sell sheets on each key feature, allowing more in-depth technical discussion than is possible in a general product brochure.


  1. Know your audience. Are you writing to engineers or managers? The former may be interested in technical and performance specifications. The latter may want to know about support, service, ease of use, scalability, user benefits, or return on investment.


If you are writing to engineers, are they well-versed in this particular technology? Or do you have to bring them up to speed? Just because someone is a chemical engineer does not mean they know nearly as much about industrial knives, turbine blades, corrosion-resistant metals, ball valves, or your particular specialty as you do. Indeed, they probably don’t.

When in doubt, it is better to explain so everyone understands than to assume that everyone already understands. No engineer has ever complained to me that a brochure I wrote was too clear.


  1. Write with your objective in mind. Unlike a Victoria Secrets catalog, which gives the buyer all the information she needs to place an order, most technical product brochures support the selling process but are not designed to complete it on their own.


Is the objective of the brochure to convince the prospect that your technical design is superior to your competition? Or show that you have more features at a better price? Or demonstrate that your system will pay back its cost in less than 6 months?

Establish a communication objective for the brochure and write with that goal in mind. For instance, if the objective is to get a meeting for you to sell consulting services to the client, you only need to include enough to convince them that the meeting is worth their time. Anything more is probably overkill.


  1. Include the two things every brochure should contain. These simply are (a) the things your prospects need and want to know about your product to make their buying decision and (b) what you think you should say to persuade them that your product is the best product choice — and your company is the best vendor.


The things a prospect wants to know about an industrial product might include weight, dimensions, power requirements, operating temperature, and whether it can perform certain functions.

Things you might want to tell them include how the performance compares with competitive systems in benchmark tests (if you were the winner, of course) or the fact that it was cited as “Best Product” by an industry publication, or won an award from a trade association, or is the most popular product in its category with an installed base of more than 10,000 units.


  1. Be selective. While ad agency copy is sometimes too light and tells the reader too little, engineer copy often makes the opposite error, attempting to cram every last technical fact and feature into a four or eight page brochure.

Keep in mind that your prospect is bombarded by more information than he can handle on a daily basis. Everyone has too much to read, and not enough time to read it. According to a study by the School of Information Management & Systems at UC Berkeley, each year the human race produces about 1.5 exabytes of unique information in print, film, optical, and magnetic content worldwide—roughly 250MB of new information for every man, women, and child.

Be selective in your presentation. Copywriter Herschell Gordon Lewis has a formula, E2 = 0. Or as Lewis says, “When you emphasize everything, you emphasize nothing.” If every fact about your product is given equal weight in the brochure, the key facts that make the most persuasive case for buying the product will not stand out.


  1. Understand the selling environment. There are three basic selling situations for process equipment, chemicals, and other industrial products. You must know what situation your product falls into, so you can market it effectively.

The first situation is that the prospect is not acutely aware of the problem he has that your product can solve. Or he is aware of it but does not consider it a priority. In this situation, to get your prospect’s attention, your brochure must dramatize the problem and its severity, then position your product as the solution.

Example: Mainframe computer operators did not realize that certain operations accidentally overrode and erased files stored on magnetic tapes. A brochure for a utility that prevented this operation from occurring began, “Did you know that your storage devices may be accidentally wiping out important files even as you read this sentence?” It alerted them to the problem in a dramatic way.

Once alerted to a problem they didn’t know existed, the readers were eager to find a solution, which the utility handily provided. Sales were brisk.

The second situation is that the prospect is aware of the problem or need your product addresses, but is not at all convinced that your type of product is the best solution.

Example: A chemical manufacturer warned wastewater treatment plants that their current activated charcoal bed systems were too costly.

The plant managers believed that, but didn’t believe that the manufacturer’s alternative filter technology was a viable solution. A paper reprinting lab test results plus the offer of a free trial overcame the disbelief and got firms to use the new filter system.

The third situation is when the prospect knows what his problem is, believes your type of product is the right solution, but needs to be convinced that your product is the best choice in the category, and better than similar products offered by your competitors.

One way to demonstrate superiority is with a table comparing your product with the others on a feature by feature basis. If you have a complete feature set than they do, such a table makes you look like the best choice.

Another technique is to give specifications that prove your performance is superior. If this cannot be quantitatively measured, talk about any unique functionality, technology, or design feature that might create an impression of superiority in the prospect’s mind.

There are many other copywriting techniques available to produce a superior technical product brochure in any of these three situations; this is why I’ve devoted the past 20 years, my entire professional life, to practicing and studying copywriting — just like an engineer practices and studies his specialty.

But if you follow the basics in this article and do nothing else, I guarantee an improvement in your brochures that you, your sales reps, and your customers will appreciate. You might even someday receive that rare compliment: “You know, I actually read your brochure. It wasn’t boring, and it told me what I needed to know!”


For further reading:

The Copywriter’s Handbook. Robert Bly. Henry Holt & Co. 1986.

Effective Chemical Marketing, Advertising, and Promotion. J. Roger Hart. Noyes Publications. 1983.

Confessions of an Advertising Man. David Ogilvy. Atheneum. 1963.

This article appears courtesy of Bob Bly’s Direct Response Letter

Does Your Website Copy Resonate with Your Audience?

81% of shoppers conduct online research before making big purchases. (Retailing Today, 2014) (Source: That means, website copy matters! What your website copy says will either draw those customers in or turn them away.

When I did some research on the leading business intelligence companies according to Gartner Group’s Magic Quadrant, one thing stood out. THE COPY.  The actual words on the website page.

There is something to be said for good copy.

But what really makes copy good?

You are not going to capture your audience’s attention when your copy is all about you or your products. I know this seems strange, but it’s true. Touting your wares is a turn-off.

Speak to the Pain

Your site’s copy needs to point out the problems your prospective customers face on a day to day basis. This demonstrates to your target audience you understand their pain points. This builds trust.

Explain the Benefits

Copy should highlight all the benefits people get from using your product or service. Position your service as the solution to solve your target audience’s problem but only after you’ve proven you know what the problem is.

Speak Their Language

Speak to the audience’s language. You may have something very technical say. Even technical stuff can be said so as to not lose the target audience.

Let me show you a few examples of website copy. You decide if what I’m saying makes sense to you.

The first example is a Prognoz page.


Perhaps the sub-headline could have provided some benefit of using this tool or explain how it can solve the customer’s problem. Can you tell what Prognoz Platform 8.0 will do for you?

Next, we’ll look at a Qlik page.


This seems to be more benefit oriented and puts the customer’s needs first. Qlik highlights problem companies have about insights hiding in their data. Then leads the customer to the solution of self-service data visualization. Do you see the difference?

Do you see how that works?

For our last example of a problem/solution benefit oriented web page is from Oracle.


What does your website copy say? It is product or company oriented? Does it speak to the common problems your audience faces? Does your copy share benefits of how your product solves a specific problem?

If you need help figuring that out contact me for a website copy audit.

Read more about how trial offers can increase customer engagement.

Content Marketing Works Infographic

How Content Can Set You Apart From Your Competitors

Content marketing is a necessary tool in your marketing toolkit.  100% of your marketing efforts rely on content as the chief method of conveying your message.

Some interesting statistics on content marketing include:

  • 47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a sale rep. (Demand Gen Report, 2016)
  • Companies that published 16+ blog posts per month got about 4.5X more leads than companies who published only 4 posts monthly. (Hubspot 2015)
  • 86% of consumers would like to receive promotional emails from the companies they do business with at least monthly and 15% of those prefer to get daily emails. (Statista, 2015)
  • Nurtured leads produce, on average, a 20% increase in sales opportunities versus non-nurtured leads. (Demand Gen Report 2016)

What does this mean to me?

Content is key. Customers are searching for it before they ever contact you. The more content you share the higher the number of leads you’ll get. Customers expect to hear from you. The more times you touch base with a prospective customer the higher the probability they will do business with you in the future.

Here’s a snippet of a talk I did recently on the subject of Content Marketing:

Content Marketing really works. Have you created a content strategy yet? If you need help, let me know.