Writing for Direct Mail – Harnessing the Power of Powerlessness

Dear Business-Builder,

Earlier this week, I found myself on a conference call with a client’s marketing team.

Our mission was to brainstorm major themes and leads for a direct mail promotion to promote a print newsletter on personal health. We began as we often do, talking about what our prospects want and trying to figure out the ways in which our product fulfills those desires.

We talked about how health newsletter subscribers really only want two things:

1) A cure for what ails them, and …

2) Ways to avoid health problems that terrify them.

We talked about how, in order to be successful, our direct mail promotion needed to offer intriguing NEW solutions — things our prospects haven’t heard of before.

We talked about how our prospects have matured tremendously since the “early days” in the early 1990s …

How they’re more knowledgeable, more experienced and more skeptical than ever …

And how our direct mail promotion needs to be packed with undeniable proof that these new things really will work for them.

Just when we had pretty much finished the list of things we wanted our promotion to contain and do, a member of my client’s marketing team cleared his throat (he does that a lot).

And what he said will boost response on this direct mail promotion by at least 50 percent — probably much more.

What’s more, I’m convinced that if every direct marketer in America followed his advice, our national GDP would double virtually overnight.

But before I tell you what he said, let’s lay a little groundwork …


Love him or hate him, you have to admit: Rush Limbaugh is a phenomenon.

Rush doesn’t promise riches, better health, social status, to ease your daily workload or to get you dates. In fact, he never offers anyone one single benefit or present a single “Reason Why” listening to him or reading him will improve your life in any way.

And yet, 20 million Americans religiously tune into his daily radio broadcasts. Hundreds of thousands subscribe to his newsletter. And masses rush to bookstores and snap up every book he writes.

In short, Rush has broken every “rule” of effective advertising and direct marketing — and he’s become a billionaire (or darned close to it) anyway!

How does he do it?

A year or so ago, Limbaugh himself gave us the answer in an issue of his newsletter …

“The first year of my radio program callers would tell me how thrilled they were that there was finally somebody in the national media who expressed what they believed. For decades, conservatives had seen their values laughed at, impugned, run down. My radio program validated thinking that existed all over America …”

Put simply, Rush makes millions because he offers his followers something they value more than money: Validation — and the emotional release it brings with it.

Until they discovered Mr. Limaugh, his devotees were frustrated with politicians, the media and the direction in which they felt our culture was headed. But they had no voice. No power to change things. And worst of all, no outlet for the frustration and anger born of their powerlessness.


Nearly all of us feel powerless at some time or another — and that powerlessness causes frustration and even anger to well up inside us. And unless we find an outlet, those negative emotions gnaw away at us.

Psychiatrists have long known that powerlessness — the feeling that we are not in control of things that directly impact our personal lives — is a major cause of both aggressive behavior and depression.

And many medical studies have even linked the frustration, anger and rage that powerlessness causes with weakened immune response and frequent physical illnesses.

That’s where Rush comes in. He understands that millions of conservative Americans disagree with and are worried about the direction our government and/or society are taking — and feel powerless to “make things right.” And his magic is in providing a much-needed OUTLET for these pent-up negative feelings.

>> By acknowledging his audience’s deepest and most intense emotions, Rush validates them …

>> By expressing their feelings in ways that get heads nodding and listeners laughing, he gives his followers desperately needed emotional release …

>> … And his followers reward him handsomely by buying just about everything the man produces or plugs!

In short, like any good business person, Limbaugh provides a product that brings value to people’s lives and that they’re willing to pay for.

And although Rush’s product is both invisible and intangible, the emotional release he delivers is worth far more to his followers than the money they pay to get it!


Now, you gotta ask yourself: If Rush can make a gazillion samolians selling nothing BUT emotional release …

How much more money could you make including an element of emotional release in your next promotion?

…Which brings me back to my friend’s response-doubling suggestion …

My friend observed that every one of the most successful direct mail promotions ever created for the newsletter industry was emotional, edgy, even angry.

More specifically , he pointed out that each of these promotions was written in the voice of the editor — and that in each case, the editor was riled up about … well, something on the reader’s behalf.

And you know what? He was 100% correctomundo!

Every single grand-slam home-run promotion I’ve ever written — whether for investment newsletters, health newsletters, books on personal finance and even nutritional supplements has that one thing in common:

Each one acknowledged, validated and put my prospect’s sense of powerlessness — and the negative emotions he had about his powerlessness — into words.

And by doing that, each of these blockbuster controls:

1) Provided an emotional outlet for my prospects that made them eager enough for more that they bought my product and …

2) Positioned my ersatz author NOT as a salesman, but as the prospect’s friend, advocate and champion — and in the process completely neutralized my prospects “anti-salesman” defenses.

And you know what? This simple technique can work wonders for YOU — no matter what you’re selling!

>> Put your sales copy into the voice of an advocate who acknowledges and validates your prospect’s sense of powerlessness, his frustrations and his anger …

>> … Who provides an OUTLET for those pent-up frustrations by expressing them in ways that get the prospect’s head nodding and even get him chuckling …

>> … And then does something even “The Great Rushbo” can’t do — demonstrate how the advocate’s product will permanently relieve the prospect of these negative feelings …

… And you’ve probably got a HUGE winner on your hands!


Creating a sales message that harnesses this powerful technique is as easy as 1-2-3-4:

1. Identify the enemy — and make it personal! No matter what you sell, there’s somebody out there in the same, a similar, or a competing field who’s doing your prospect wrong.

In alternative health, it’s probably dimwitted and greedy mainstream doctors and surgeons and drug company fat cats.

In the investment field, it could be greedy brokers, idiotic self-appointed experts and “talking heads” on TV investment shows — once, I even lampooned Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan. My prospects loved it!

In the personal finance field, it could be money-hungry bankers … heartless tax collectors … and everyone else who assumes that your money is really their money.

What enemy is making YOUR prospects feel powerless, insulted, frustrated and angry?

Whoever it is, personalize the enemy. It’s not half as much fun lampooning hospitals, drug companies, banks and the IRS as it is skinning the greedy jerks who run them!


2. Identify the things “the enemy” does that frustrate or anger your prospect, insult his intelligence or render him powerless.

Does the enemy hide important information from your prospect? Does he lie to him outright? Does he treat your prospect as if he’s a dunce?

Is he arrogant and self-important — an authority figure just begging to be brought down a couple of pegs? Is he a sneak thief who nickels and dimes your prospect half to death?

List as many offenses as you possibly can.


3. Pinpoint how YOU feel about these kinds of people — and how you would feel if someone did these things to you.

Then express those feelings more articulately and with greater emotional power than your prospect possibly could.


4. Position your figurehead and his/her product as being the solution to the negative things the enemy does AND the balm that soothes the negative emotions your prospects has about them!

Make your author righteously indignant — and explain why he or she is absolutely livid about the way the prospect is being treated.

Say everything your prospect would just LOVE to tell the enemy. If you feel it’s appropriate, call him names if you like.


Last year, in a promotion on the Vioxx scandal, I had a sidebar with the headline …

Modern-Day Murder-For-Hire Ring BUSTED!

Beneath that headline, I had pictures of the CEOs of Merk and Pfizer — and the story (taken from internal company emails printed in The Wall Street Journal) about how they knew all along that COX-2 inhibitors Vioxx, Bextra and Celebrex would kill people, but promoted them anyway, just to make a fast buck.

Now, I am NOT suggesting that you accuse your competitor of murder — or say anything else that might get you sued for libel.

But to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, “Extremism in the pursuit of your prospect’s well-being is no vice.”

Hope this helps!

Direct Marketing Tools – The 3 Letter Sequence

Let’s say I’m starting up a business as an insurance broker. I’ve purchased a database of two and a half thousand clients. What system or method should I use? Direct mail then follow-up with SMS and then phone call. What I would do if I had a limited amount of people that I was going to contact? The one thing I would do is take that list and send out a three-step sales letter sequence. So what I mean by that is the is three letters sent out over 20 days. That’s the first thing I would do. And the letters would basically say, “Hey this is who I am.” You would obviously have a strong offer or a strong benefit, and a strong call to action.

After the three letters I would do a follow-up with regular customer newsletters on a monthly basis, particularly if you’ve got a limited market. I think this is really, really critical. Because it’s about sales but it’s also about developing the relationship and when the current supplier lets them down you are the next choice so to speak. So let me just go into this a little bit more detail.

So I’m an insurance broker and I’ve got two and a half thousand clients. Let’s say they’re business people. The first letter would go out talking about the potential problems they could face as a business person without insurance. And then I would offer a free consultation or a free report or whatever. The second letter would go out saying, “Hey you didn’t respond. I’m not sure why. I thought it might be for a number of reasons. I thought you may have some questions.” And then I would go through and answer the questions. So question one might be, “I don’t believe in insurance.” And then you have the answer. Question two might be, “I don’t think it will happen to me.” And then you have the answer. Question three is, “Why should I choose you? I’ve got so many people to choose from.” And then you have the answer and so on.

So that’s a really powerful process. And then the third letter might be, “Hey this is the last offer. These are the benefits you’re going to get from talking to me. These are the disadvantages you’re going to get from not dealing with me and this limited time offer will expire in 10 days,” and stick to that. And then what you can do with the follow-up newsletter is make it more relationship building and you might have other offers within those relationship building messages. So it’s quite a powerful process by doing that and then following up with just regular contact to that group of two and a half thousand people.

I would encourage you, if you don’t have a lot of resources, rather than sending out to two and a half thousand at once you might send 50 at a time and that way it fits within your budget and it becomes self-funding. So you send out 50 at a time. You send the three letters. You follow up with a phone call and say, “Hey you got the three letters.” If you follow up with a phone call you’ll probably increase responses significantly. I would say by as much as five, six, 700 percent. So that’s the strategy which I would take if I was an insurance broker.

Network Marketing Through Direct Sales

Looking for a solid career to start from home? Network Marketing is a great way to change your profession and create a great stream of income for you and your family. Probably the biggest question is what do I market and what products or services are available in the internet marketplace. This article will touch upon the power of direct sales to move your business forward.

How do you find your niche?

Many Entrepreneurs look to Network Marketing to help them get a product they have created to the marketplace to gain access to potential customers. However, what if you do not have a product of your own to sell, what do you do to tap into this lucrative business model.

The first step is to sit down and start the research process. With the advent of the Internet almost anyone in the world can research companies looking to help with the selling process. Many marketers act as independent contractors and run their own business, many from home, to sell products. Their income can be derived from commissions on product sales and residual income from their downline or team members. Commissions, for non multi level marketing efforts, are usually the greatest source of income. Commissions will vary with distributors, however it is not unheard of to make anywhere from 10% – 50% on the product being sold.

Residual income can become a great source of additional funds for the network marketer. Essentially residual income comes from people who have purchased your product and depending on the product you are selling will be a team member. These members form a downline of recruits who will provide income to you for their selling efforts.

Direct Sales

Essentially the scenario presented here represents the direct sales aspect of Network Marketing. Direct sales efforts depend upon commissions to be the majority of your income. Multi Level Marketing or “MLM” depends upon your ability to recruit people to sell the product you are representing; this discussion will be for another article.

Both direct sales and Multi Level Marketing are viable ways to earn a legitimate income. My opinion is that direct sales are a better and more logical approach to earning a respectable income from home. There are a myriad of services and products you can represent. It took me close to five months of research to locate a product that I was comfortable with and a company I trusted and respected. One huge advantage of pursuing direct sales as a career is the ability to build personal relationships in your customer base. Unlike many retailers, direct marketers build trust and loyalty with their customers and team members who can only enhance you ability to build your business. Clients, who feel a bond with you and your product, even though something cheaper and flashier may come along, will reward you and your efforts over the long term.

In conclusion, depend upon your gut instinct and pursue the opportunity that excites you and allows you to enhance your life. Do not let anyone bog you down with negative advice or opinions. Stay the course and accept the alternative way of creating wealth to the outdated corporate structure.

Christopher Benoit