“Sacrifice” To Win

By Mordechai (Morty) Schiller

It’s the ninth inning and the score is tied. There’s a runner on first. No outs. And it’s your turn at bat.

What do you do? Do you lay down a bunt to advance the runner, sacrificing your time at bat... or do you go for a hit?

You sacrifice! At least that’s what you do if you’re playing to win and not just to boost your ego.

There’s also a sacrifice play in advertising. You should never try to get everything into one promotion. Now, that doesn’t mean you should leave out every benefit or selling point but one. And it certainly doesn’t mean to stick to short copy.

It only means that you should build your whole promotion around one central idea. Everything else should just reinforce or embellish that idea, not compete with it for attention.

A good example of this is the positioning of the Wall Street Journal. All their direct mail and ads stress one benefit: The Journal is the key to success. That’s it. They could have emphasized how authoritative the paper is—from the front page to the company profiles and stock reports. They could have promoted the fascinating human interest articles and its many other features.

But no. The Journal elected in its direct mail to use the story—over and over again—of how one young man became a success (while his classmate, who presumably read another newspaper, didn’t). It’s the “diary of the American dream.”

And the Journal’s message to the advertising trade couldn’t be clearer: “It works!”

A competing business publication, on the other hand, once tried to get subscribers and advertisers with the same mailing. It was an expensive lesson. You can only hit two birds with one stone if they happen to be sitting on the same branch.

It’s been said that we live in an over-communicated society. Even before the Internet, potential customers were overwhelmed by six or seven hours of television a day, newspapers, magazines, and a mailbox full of my work and yours.

“One promotion, one thought.”

What chance does your message have to get through the clutter and the noise?

In writing, one of the rules for clarity is “one sentence, one thought.” It’s a great way to avoid clutter. I would apply the same rule to any direct response effort—whether it’s an ad, a direct mail package, a website, or even a catalog: “One promotion, one thought.”

That doesn’t mean a catalog with one product or a direct mail letter with one sentence. It means finding your one theme and carrying it throughout the promotion. One theme is all most people can follow. And one thing is all they’ll remember. But just make sure that one thing is what you want them to remember.

Even Beethoven’s monumental Ninth Symphony is remembered for its finale: the chorus and theme of the Ode to Joy... not the fine points of its orchestration.

And I mean more than how you say your message. I mean that you have to distill and crystallize in your own mind just what your message should be.

What Are You Really Selling?

You might as well face it. You can’t be all things to all people. This may be one reason for the death of the big catalog. It’s not only because of specialty niche catalogs catering to targeted markets. The big catalog was aimed at the “average person.” And you don’t need a course in human engineering to know there’s no such thing as an average person. Just try sitting in a molded chair!

So focus on your positioning: “Who is my market? And who do I want them to think I am?” Then think of a telegram. A real one. From Western Union. Where you pay by the word. Stop. You have to get your message across fast: “This is the product that ___________.” Now fill in the blank. Then build the rest of your promotion around that sentence.

This is similar to the newspaper reporter’s technique of “writing from the lead.” Get your central theme statement clear. Then you can build on it, prove it... and romance it.

It’s all a question of focusing clearly on what you’re really selling: Is a book club selling books? Or is it selling information? Professional advancement? Self-improvement? Adventure? Escape? Prestige? Or is it selling a beautiful home library?

My karate teacher in college kept on telling me, “You have to get the focus.” I never knew what he was talking about. I kept thinking he meant where to aim my punch. It was only after I learned about Eastern mysticism that I understood that he meant a meditative focus of attention.

Or, to come back to our original metaphor, you’ve got to keep your eye on the ball. And keep your mind on winning the game. Even if you do have to sacrifice something.

This article appeared in Target Marketing and was reprinted in the DMA Direct Marketing Insurance Council’s Councilgram newsletter


© 2001-2008 Mordechai (Morty) Schiller

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