We all know about ADD—Attention Deficit Disorder. (Now what was I saying?) The larger problem, in terms of getting response to our communications, is TDD—TIME Deficit Disorder.

Prospects, and often customers, don't have the time to read our mail or our emails. Even if they did, they believe that they don't have time to use the products or services we're trying to sell them.

It's going to get worse. America's kids are terribly over-scheduled from the time they're five. Even in families where there are two parents, time is consumed running the children's activities as well as handling one and sometimes two jobs each. Corporations will continue to downsize, leaving those remaining on staff with more burdens and less time, and of course employees in small businesses always have time pressures.

What can direct marketers—in fact, any marketer—do to overcome TDD? Here are seven recommendations (reading time 2.67 minutes):

  1. Convince prospects/customers that it's worth their time to open the direct mail package or email. You can't begin to sell your product or service until you do this. You may have to resort to trickery—e.g., "official" envelopes—to accomplish your task. I used to think this trickery would soon backfire, but now I believe that CRS (can't remember subterfuge) is helping our cause.

  2. Layer the information in your package or email. Those with very little time should get the essence of your product's benefits and your offer from the Johnson box and not have to read further. An alternative is to run 5-6 bullets down the right side of your letter. Those recipients who have more time (or are interested enough to make the time) will scan crossheads and drill deeper into the text. Buck slips are another great place to summarize benefits and offers for those who don't have time to read letters.

    If you feel compelled to include a brochure, keep a rein on how much copy you cram into it. In most applications, less is more these days.

  3. Make it easy for impulse responders. Combine frequent calls-to-action, multiple ways to respond, and strong guarantees. There are more prospects than you know who are thinking, "I don't have time to read about this, but I'd like to try it."

  4. Assure prospects that the process for responding or process is fast and easy. When it was launched, GEICO's "15 minutes to save 15% or more" was appealing. Few people have 15 minutes to respond or order any more. It needs to be faster. You have to assure people it is, and back up your promise.

  5. Focus on saving time as a product/service benefit. Particularly in B2B applications, this can have much more appeal than saving money, or anything else. Of course, you had better be able to elaborate on this in your copy. Readers will want to know how much time is saved (in relation to cost), and specifically how the product or service saves time.

  6. Explain why investing in time to use the product/service is worthwhile. Why do controlled-circulation magazines get such low response rates when their publication is free? Because prospects don't want to invest the reading time. Circulations have to tell prospects how reading time on the particular publication increases productivity and/or profitability.

    Similarly, if you're selling business software, you need to talk about how long it will take new users to get the system working and why that investment is worthwhile. Even for upgrade mailings to the installed base, recipients must be convinced that it takes very little of their time to get the new version working, and that the time will be repaid very shortly.

  7. Plan multiple efforts to important segments. Even prospects and customers with severe cases of TDD get a break in their schedules occasionally. There may be a time when they have enough time to read and respond. If you can get prospects to your Web site and registered, you can develop a whole series of "Are you ready yet?" communications.

There is an eighth recommendation, but it is outside the realm of pure direct marketing (or is it?): Empower your best customers to be your marketing force. Prospects always find the time to listen to an impassioned recommendation from a friend or relative, even when they don't have time to watch a 30-second spot or read a postcard.

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image of Lee Marc Stein

Lee Marc Stein is an internationally known direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He has extensive experience in circulation, insurance and financial services, high tech, and B2B marketing.