Interview With Drayton Bird – Direct Marketing Legend


1.    In your experience, what proportion of the people who enter DM succeed in this business?

A. Depends on what you mean. I have no idea. I suspect no more than one in ten, as it seems so simple – if you don’t understand it!

But businesses owners who are spending their money and risking the roof over their heads may do better – probably because they only care about results; they have to succeed.

2.    What do you think are the biggest mistakes people make which prevent them being successful?

•    Over optimism.

•    Lack of persistence.

•    Lack of study

•    Falling in love with their own products.

•    Trying to be clever and “creative”

•    Having a background in a firm, or with firms that don’t understand and appreciate direct marketing – especially a large one. They’ll always dilute your efforts and lean towards puffery.

3.    In a nutshell, what are the basic steps to success in direct marketing?

•    Find something you like – that interests you.

•    Steep yourself in it

•    Study your market deeply – possible customers, prospects, competition.

•    Talk to those customers and prospects

•    Become a customer of your competition.

•    Try to meet people succeeding in similar areas and pick their brains

•    Arrive at a proposition that beats what is available in some significant way

•    Determine who it will appeal to and how you will reach them

•    Consider what may go wrong. Hope for the best; plan for the worst.

•    Measure everything.

•    Establish how you can constantly improve.

•    Pay remorseless attention to detail.

•    Find good people

•    Motivate and keep them

•    Get rid of the ones that are no good – quickly but kindly

4.    How important is copywriting to this business and, more importantly, how important is it for us as direct marketers to know at least something about copywriting?

Copywriting is no use if you want to manage a business. But without understanding it you can’t succeed. It is in a way the glue that sticks good DM together.

5.    In principle, what type of products are good for the beginning direct marketer to aim to sell?

Ones with a big margin requiring little investment (ie anything on paper or online).

Don’t be a pioneer. Till you know better, copy and improve.

Find something that appeals to a clearly definable group you can reach easily.  If you can reach them very cheaply (e. g. through piggy-backing someone else’s list) even better.

If you know you have a product in a category that already does well and a good list, you can accept the results, good or bad.

But wondering whether it was the best mailing in the world, but just to the wrong list is a horrible feeling. If a beginner is going to throw the towel in, it would probably be here.

6.    What is the best type of customer to aim for in terms of finding a list?

One that loves what you sell, buys often and spends a lot, or failing that is likely to find what you sell interesting. E.g. to launch the Vale do Lobo property in the Algarve my letter went to Wealthy Antique Collectors. Rich golfers would maybe have done even better.

7.    How do you measure success?

Profit over time – not response or immediate profit.

And – am I having fun?

8.    What are the current spate of marketers, both online and off, doing wrong?

Most are clueless and would still look at you blankly at you if you suggested long copy.

They overclaim. They use HTML instead of text. They all sound the same. They have not studied.

9.    What should they be doing to get it right?

Studying, practicing and copying. Watching what is doing well and asking: “Why?”

10.    How would you recommend finding a good market to get into online and off?

Keep your eyes and ears open and don’t be afraid to pick up the phone / fire off a mail if you think there’s an opportunity for you.

Especially study what’s happening in the US.

Four questions from Richard Singleton:

1.    When selling well known products online is it better to use short copy rather than long?

Long copy. Emails tend to be short  – but link to long landing pages. You must give every reason why people should buy and overcome all objections. And repeat them all – perhaps in a slightly different way.

2.    When selling products that a lot of other people are also selling, is it better to sell the benefits of the product or the benefits of buying from the shop selling the products or both?

Both. But when products have parity – just make a better offer.

3.    Are there any simple tips for creating a usp?

Compare and study. Ask existing customers. They’ll tell you what it is – not what you’d like it to be.

A specific question from Duncan MacIntyre

Duncan’s asked me not to reveal the website to anyone outside, so it’s here just for your benefit if you wish to answer his question (Site URL supplied)

We talk a little about his site on the recording but some of it was faded.

“I run a site about quality office chairs, the site aims to educate people about what’s important when selecting a chair and why it’s worth investing in a good chair if you spend a lot of time working in one.

It has product reviews on a wide range of different models and each one includes an affiliate link to an online store, meaning I earn a commission when someone buys via my link.

I’d like to ask what you feel is the best format for the reviews, I’ve deliberately taken an impartial, here are the reasons why this is a good product, here are some drawbacks approach.

My thinking on this is if it comes across with too strong a sales message readers are going to feel they are just being sold something and this will work against me.

What are your thoughts on the most effective way to present product reviews so that they convince readers it’s the best choice for them?”

Run split tests through google optimiser. Make the affiliate links more obvious. The site’s helpful, not a hard sell at all, so carry on being helpful – spoonfeed them the affiliate link.

Five questions from Mark Pocock:

Doing what I’ve always done. No silver bullets. Just commonsense advice anyone can profit from if they have the intelligence to apply it. Reading it isn’t enough. I am actually busier than ever before

2.    What is the best way to find mail order companies? I have the UK List & Data Source Directory. This gives me the mailing lists available. But I need to find who are the companies renting the lists so I can approach them direct to sell my CW services?  Any ideas?

Build your own list. Get on mailing lists and see who’s active – who’s sending you stuff.

Write to business owners and explain how I can help with examples of what I’ve done. Explain why it worked, so they know I think properly. Offer a no sell, no pay deal.

I studied – and have never stopped. I study everything, not just direct marketing. This weekend I shall be at Yanik Silver’s seminar in Washington

Same as you. Each page must stand up on its own.

And, last but not least, the original questions I sent from Dan Tierney:

He’d like to know:

1.    How you write online sales copy for expensive products versus inexpensive products and if your answer changes if the products are physical versus digital.

The more expensive the product the more you can (and must) write. I once wrote to a property developer: “You’re asking customers to spend no less than £85k. They’d buy a book on your properties if you wrote one.”

I wrote copy three times longer than his. Site visits increased by a factor of ten.

I just had a meeting with a client for whom we wrote a 6 page letter last September to get enquiries. It has helped pull in over £1 million in sales. One prospect spent over £100,000 over the phone after reading it.

2.    What is your formula for writing online copy. Is it the AIDA formula like most others preach?

Pretty much. The customers don’t change. Why should the principles?
•    News of a benefit plus incentive. (Attention)
•    Immediately expand on this and be specific (Interest).
•    Get excited, paint word pictures. (Desire)
•    Proofs and testimonials. (Convince)
•    Remind of the benefit – and what they miss if they don’t act.
•    At least three calls for action.

Only one thing to beware of: e-mail subject lines are often very quirky as benefits may be stopped by spam

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