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Better Business Idea #73

Lessons from a Marketing Master to grow your business

© 2007 by Michael C. Gray

May 15, 2007


Gary Halbert was a marketing genius who had a profound impact on the direct response marketing industry. He was a man of strong opinions who could be awe-inspiring, charming, offensive, infuriating, maddening, pathetic, but never boring.

Nearly every major direct marketing guru refers to Gary Halbert as a source of marketing wisdom, and cites examples of his work, including Dan Kennedy, John Carlton, Jay Abraham, Denny Hatch, Joe Sugarman, Gary Bencivenga, Ted Nicholas, Carl Galletti and countless others. The Gary Halbert Letter was circulated at David Ogilvy’s advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather. When Gary Halbert said something about advertising and marketing, people paid attention. You should too.

Here are some lessons that I found from reading Gary’s material or from someone citing Gary as a source.

You can’t multiply zeros. If you don’t have a product or service for which you can find a market that wants it, it doesn’t matter how much you spend to promote it. You’ll just continue to lose money. Put "dead horses" out of their misery.

When designing a business, imagine someone has a gun to your head. What if your business must be successful or someone will blow out your brains or the brains of a loved one? What if you don’t have the luxury of testing, but still must be successful. Now you’ll think of your business much more seriously, and do the preparation and study, including attending to the details, as you should.

Start with "A pile" mail, then test your alternatives. Too many business owners are too cheap when it comes to marketing. If your customer doesn’t open the envelope for your sales letter, you have wasted your time and money. Most people open their mail over a wastebasket. They sort their mail into an "A pile" to read later and a "B pile" that goes in the wastebasket. (You can see this when people pick up their mail from post office boxes.)

What letter is most likely to be opened? A handwritten, personal letter from "Aunt Martha". What does it look like? A plain envelope with your name and address hand written on it and a live stamp. The return address should be a name and address, not a logo. (Exception – endorsed mailings from an affiliate, such as a letter from a medical doctor to a medical doctor.)

When the customer opens the letter and finds marketing materials, including an order form, he or she may feel "tricked" or betrayed. Put those materials inside another envelope so the customer reads your letter before he or she sees them.

Your products and services should be designed for the market that wants them. Gary achieved the direct response marketer’s dream, he successfully mailed to the telephone book before personal computers were invented. He and his successors mailed a single-page lead-generation letter over one billion times and the people who received them mailed him and his successors…

millions and millions of dollars!

How did he do it? He mailed letters addressed to "The _______ family" offering to send them a copy of their family coat of arms with some history about it. The "________ family" name was salted throughout the letter.

What is the most beautiful word to every individual?

His or her name. Gary couldn’t send a letter (at the time) including the first name, but could send thousands and thousands of letters by last name.

Of course, there was a "back end" of merchandise featuring the family coat of arms. Don’t you think that might appeal to people’s vanity?

It did for my family back in the 1960s, when we responded to Gary’s letter.

Find a niche of a sufficient size. Gary preferred easier challenges, so he generally chose products and services with a broad appeal, such as cosmetics, books on sex or sex aids, weight loss, business opportunities, and investment systems.

Use a "grabber" to boost response. Have you received a letter with a $1 bill stapled to it that said something like, "Yes, I have attached a real $1 bill to this letter. Why have I done this? …" If you follow the trail back to its source, you will probably find the marketer learned this technique from Gary Halbert or one of his successors.

To be successful, the marketing message must have an emotional appeal. People act based on their emotions, and defend their actions with logic. You have to give them both in a sales letter, but the emotional appeal is most important. Some emotions to appeal to are greed, lust, fear, love, generosity, and desire for leaving a legacy (immortality).

Think of your customer as Homer Simpson, laying on the couch, drinking a beer and watching television. There’s a blizzard outside. What can you tell him about why he has to have your product or service that’s so compelling that he will get up from the couch, fill out the order form, put it in an envelope and walk through a blizzard to mail it to you, right now?

It’s easier to do this when the product or service appeals to the baser emotions, like greed, fear and lust.

When your executive customer or client goes home, he is laying on the couch, drinking a beer and watching television, just like Homer!

You can’t bore people into buying from you! Gary isn’t the person usually quoted for this, but he certainly practiced it. His advertising and sales letters were compelling. They grabbed the customer by the throat until the customer had to have the product or service.

A newsletter can emotionally tie your customers to you. Gary had one of the largest circulated marketing newsletters in the world. People subscribed for years and years. Some people even paid for lifetime subscriptions. In his newsletter, Gary gave what seemed like personal messages. You got "warts and all" Gary.

He freely admitted he got bored with his business plans easily, so he started farming them out to others.

Like many other geniuses, Gary appeared to be manic-depressive. He had definite highs and lows, and shared his emotional state with his readers.

He would use sexist language and printed bathing suit photographs of his girlfriend. (She is beautiful, but to me, this was pathetic.)

He included important sales and marketing lessons, including the style of his writing.

And his readers loved him.

The Halbert family has committed to maintaining the archive of his letters, www.thegaryhalbertletter.com, so that we can continue to study his material.

How to write a lead-generation advertisement. When Gary was lonely, he wrote a very long "personals" ad to find a woman to share his life with. He was successful in meeting someone with whom he shared a relationship for many years. More importantly for us, he wrote an entertaining example of how to write a lead-generation advertisement.

He wrote what he wanted and what he didn’t want in a woman. He explained what he was looking for in a relationship. He explained his own strengths and weaknesses – what he could and could not offer in a relationship.

You can find that letter in Gary’s book, How to Make Maximum Money In Minimum Time. You can get the book at www.twipress.com/productpages/HowToMakeMax.htm.

How to win a marketing contest. Gary once challenged a group of people at a seminar to a marketing contest. "I’ll bet I can beat you by selling more hamburgers than any of you. What will you use to beat me?"

"Golden arches!"

"Secret sauce!"

"A clown that appeals to children!"

"To beat all of you, all I need is a starving crowd!"

When you use a mailing house, have them deliver the letters to you instead of the post office. Gary was burned enough times that he learned to audit and control his mailings. Another hard-nosed business lesson that we can follow.

Gary passed away on April 8, 2007. He will be sorely missed, but has left a wealth of material and his students, now teachers, for us to study as a continuing legacy. You can’t say you are a serious student of marketing if you don’t study Gary’s material.

For new articles about how to improve your business, subscribe to our newsletter, Michael Gray, CPA's Tax & Business Insight!

Business owners and marketing executives can learn a lot from Gary Halbert.


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Michael Gray, CPA
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