A Direct Marketing Copywriter Tells All: Part II

As we discovered last week, the fundamentals of direct marketing drive successful Web-based campaigns (especially with e-mail marketing). But there’s always more to learn.

Headshot of Christopher Heine

As we discovered last week, the fundamentals of direct marketing drive successful Web-based campaigns (especially with e-mail marketing). But there’s always more to learn. That’s why we brought back award-winning copywriter Karen Gedney, president & creative director, Karen Gedney Communications, for a second round of questions. Gedney helped lead direct mail campaigns in the 1980s and '90s for such big-name brands as Newsweek, American Express and Citibank. In more recent years, she’s been writing e-mail, Web and direct mail copy for Gartner, Prudential and Natural Resources Defense Council, among others. Specifically in terms of fundraising, Gedney’s contributes prose and direction to the tune of campaign revenues that are often dozens of times larger than the initial investment. How does she do it? Like all crafty direct marketers, she tests like crazy. Gedney recently spoke with writer Christopher Heine about her techniques. Below are some excerpts:

Brandweek: Last week, we addressed subject-line length in detail. Now, let’s look at copy length. You’ve stated in the past that 350 total words performs greatly for fundraising e-mails. Does that number apply to consumer or business-to-business marketers, too? 

Karen Gedney: That all depends and should be tested. And you have to know your niche. For instance, if I am marketing Dunkin’ Donuts, I’d put a lot of time into the right subject line, the right headline and the right coupon. But I probably wouldn’t be describing the donuts in loving detail. I think marketers who sell information products, even to consumers, do very long e-mails. Sometimes, they can be thousands of words. That makes sense to me because in direct mail, you’d often have a sales story go for four pages.

BW: I’ve heard that you’ve often leveraged the wealth of free content at YouTube to inspire your copywriting. Is this true?

KG: Yes.

BW: How’d you get started using this interesting technique?

KG: Usually when a client sends me their research, it’s kind of dry. I mean, I am a big reader. I pore over every document they send me, and I highlight every sentence that I find interesting. But I do find sometimes that if you can see it in action – especially in fundraising – it helps.

BW: How much attention should direct marketers give to mobile e-mail?

KG: A lot. It’s exploding. People are doing more than before with it. With the iPhone now, you can actually see the HTML. That group isn’t huge yet. But if it keeps moving in the direction of more and more smart-phone usage, which I am sure it will, that will be great because e-mails will look great.

BW: What do marketers need to know when it comes to using e-mail and a mail piece as a one-two punch?

KG: Yeah, a theme for 2009 is "more multichannel." What you can do is send a pre-alert e-mail that includes a picture of the marketing package before it goes in-home. With this tactic, you get some recognition going. And then you can follow up by e-mail. I am working on this with some clients for renewals, and it seems to be helping.

BW: Speaking of multichannel, how can social media work with e-mail and direct mail?

KG: When I am writing an e-mail or direct mail campaign, I am now thinking about how can I extend the impact of the campaign in social media. I just launched an e-mail campaign with a big Facebook component and the early results are very good. This success will embolden the client to keep exploring new social media ideas. Realistically, since it's still not proven as a revenue-generator, you have to look at Facebook as an audience and brand builder with friends telling friends. But also, we are now including inserts in our direct mail that encourage people to take action online and on Facebook— so it is all working synergistically.

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.