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Every year we conduct a survey of's subscribers to identify ways that marketers are squeezing more sales from their budgets. Here are some learnings from this year's report:

1. Make stronger offers

The old maxim is, "The more you give the more you will get." Most understand that to mean more sales flow from 25 percent off than from 10 percent off.

But "giving more" does not have to mean "spending more." It does mean creating offers and promotions that are useful or interesting to prospects.

Example: a pizza shop owner in Berkeley, California approached a local video store, and together they launched a "Pizza and a movie" offer. Little Caesars Pizza teamed up with Blockbuster Video on a similar promotion, nationwide.

Whether you are big or small, look for partners to share costs. Also, keep in mind that different demographic/psychographic slices of your list or audience will respond to different offers.

2. Mind the basics

This can be particularly crucial for multinationals such as Citigroup. The campaign that starts in Hong Kong with, "Open a business account and pay no fees for one year" can become, "Citibank smiles every month" in Seoul.

So feature your offer up front. Tell readers clearly what they will get. Tell them how they will benefit. Tell them what to do, what action to take. Set a deadline. And provide multiple ways for them to respond.

It's a formula that works in any language.

3. Budget based on lifetime value

Don't focus on what you spend, but on what you will earn over time.

Take the example of a company that sells HR and management training videos. For years it relied on a "standard" sales package: a letter and an 8-page brochure sent in a 9x12 envelope.

Problem was, this package wouldn't make it through to top decision makers at Fortune 500 firms. And follow-up phone calls did not fare any better.

So they tried a different approach. First, they identified their top 20 high-value prospects. Then they created a customized mailer around a multimedia presentation on CD, using content from their Web page, with the addition of a 30-second personalized video message to each prospect.

From that mailer they landed three customers. Each of those customers has a projected lifetime value of several hundred thousand dollars. The customized mailers cost less than $25,000 for all 20.

The math tells the story. Spend more on higher-value prospects. And be sure to calculate, and factor into your results, the lifetime value of the customer.

4. Close the circle

A complete direct response program includes plans to (1) identify prospects and turn them into customers; (2) turn customers into better, more profitable customers; and (3) turn your best customers into evangelists.

You're doing that, right?

5. Test

Perhaps you test multiple offers. At different times of the year. With different segments of your list or audience.

But do you have plans to test different media or technology, such as digital video on your Web site? Or a brochure on CD? Or downloadable white papers? Or different Web pages to compare conversion rates?

Don't get stuck testing variations of the same offer. Think outside the grid.

6. Reflect the brand

It is rare to find good communications between the DM staff down the hall and the brand team on the third floor. Or between your direct agency and "creative" shop.

Share with your DM team and vendors the brand's personality, nature of the brand's relationship with customers, and the visual standards and symbols that represent your brand. Then express those brand characteristics in your DM communications.

7. Innovate

Encourage creativity. Learn better ways to brainstorm. Reward unconventional thinking.

You may think this should fall under the test section listed above. But it is so important, and so frequently overlooked, or poorly managed, that it deserves its own section.

Here's one reason why. In less than a decade, Capital One grew from two guys with a good idea to a Fortune 500 company, and the largest direct marketer in the USA.

That growth has been driven by innovation. Capital One invented the credit card balance transfer. And they have tested such offers as "Win a free island."

It was Peter Drucker who said business has two imperatives, innovation and marketing. Honestly, now, how well do you innovate?

8. Optimize your Web site

Not only with search engine friendly keywords and copy. But optimize your Web page to work hand-in-hand with your direct marketing program.

Examples: Use your Web site to deliver offers, such as PDF downloads of your brochure. Or printable discount coupons. Or stream product demo videos--now easier than ever with Flash video.

9. Learn why people say "no"

Find out why people do not respond to your offer. Why they abandon your online order form. Why they do not ask you for a proposal on their next project. Then counter those reservations.

10. Broadcast why people say "yes"

Get testimonials. Build case studies. Use real people, real users, real customers in your advertising.

You'll find this popular advertising technique at work for such diverse companies as Rolex, Apple Computers, and

Depending on the psychodynamics of your target audience, it can be the most powerful, the most persuasive way to characterize your brand and convince prospects to take action.

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image of Steve McNamara

Steve McNamara is a freelance ad guy and the publisher of He has been a creative director and copywriter at JWT, BBDO, and, on the client side, at Capital One. Reach him at