Don’t Send Wrong Signal to Customers

Do you run a bargain or low-end operation? Then step right up, my friend, your direct marketing promotions should be hawking your goods like a carnival barker. And don’t stop shouting your spiel until they buy, buy, buy!

But if you sell to an upscale market, do you really want to hang a sign that shouts “SALE!” or “CLOSEOUT” when it should be whispering a song that sets a mood of elegance, chic and haute couture?

If you sell diamonds, you’re more than a jeweler. You are a genie, and with every necklace or ring you sell, you grant a wish of beauty and romance. The same is true for any luxury merchandise. It’s more than prestige. It’s your identity. It’s more than what you sell. It’s who you are. This is the turning point where the bottom line climbs upscale.

At the heart of this idea is the distinction between sales and marketing. Sales-focused advertising moves products. Marketing-focused advertising moves customers. By looking beyond the immediate sale, you raise the bottom line to high-end. Turn a customer into a client and you extend the lifespan from transaction to lifestyle, from encounter to relationship. It’s the difference between breakfast at McDonald’s and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

OK, I know what you’re thinking. What happened to the hard-sell, mail-order copywriter? Yeah, I know. Real men don’t eat quiche. And real direct marketers don’t do branding! Right?


Branding isn’t about fatuous advertising with all form and no content. And it’s not about making “impressions” instead of sales.

Before you make fun of “touchy-feely” ads, remember that even Claude Hopkins, granddaddy of hard-sell copywriting, said: “There is a great deal in mental impression. … If people can be made sick or well by mental impressions, they can be made to favor a certain brand in that way. And that, on some lines, is the only way to win them.”

David Ogilvy called direct mail his “first love and secret weapon.” He also said, “If all advertisers were to follow the example of their direct response brethren, they would get more sales per dollar.” But Ogilvy is best known as the grand master of brand image advertising. His brother-in-law Rosser Reeves, on the other hand, championed the hard-sell concept of the unique selling proposition:

  • Each advertisement must make a proposition to the consumer. Not just words, not just product puffery, not just show-window advertising. Each ad must say to each reader: “Buy this product and you will get this specific benefit.”


  • The proposition must be one that the competition either cannot, or does not, offer. It must be unique, either a uniqueness of the brand or a claim not otherwise made in that particular field of advertising.
  • The proposition must be so strong that it can move the mass millions — i.e., pull new customers to your product.Reeves railed against “artsy-craftsy” brand imagists as purveyors of nebulous “feeling” and preached about the power of an ad’s content. The critical thing, he said, is the “claim” or USP.

    But the truth is they’re both right. This whole argument is what logicians call a false dichotomy: a logical fallacy setting up two opposing points of view as if they were the only options when, in fact, other possibilities exist.

    Even Reeves admitted, “What you remember of a fiery orator — his dress, his personality, his conviction — is brand image. What he said — that is his USP. Either without the other may be successful in itself, but the combination of the two can have overwhelming power.” And he added that it is hard to do both. But the best advertising “surrounds the claim with the feeling.”

    Ogilvy put it right on the line: “I once tried using rational facts to argue the consumer into choosing a brand of whiskey. It didn’t work. You don’t catch Coca-Cola advertising that Coke contains 50 percent more cola berries.”

    Creating an emotional bond with customers is the soul of marketing. It does not conflict with sales. On the contrary, it breathes new life into your sales. It positions you for success. It is how you enter and stay in the minds and hearts of customers. You do more than convince. You beguile and motivate. Rather than shout, you send a subliminal message.

    The proverb is true: “Nothing happens until someone sells something.” But nobody sells anything until someone wants something. It is your branding that helps create that want. And that is what makes the difference between a quick sale and building a clientele. The goal is to make more than a sale. Make a customer! A teen wearing a Nike T-shirt isn’t likely to buy Adidas sneakers!

    Direct marketers know better than anyone else the long-term value of a customer. A DMer lives or dies by repeat business. This means creating a relationship with a customer. And I’m not talking about CRM software. I mean keeping your customers intrigued, enchanted and happy so they come back for more. Want to know the ultimate in branding? Remember the notice L.L. Bean hung on the wall of his Freeport, ME, store: “I do not consider a sale complete until goods are worn out and customer still satisfied.”

    William Maynard of Bates advertising said, “Most good copywriters fall into two categories. Poets and killers. Poets see an ad as an end. Killers as a means to an end.” Ogilvy added, “If you are both killer and poet, you get rich.”

    Mordechai (Morty) Schiller is a veteran copywriter. He can be reached at 718/435-5058 or This article first appeared in DM News.