Use Illustrations During Financial Presentations of Direct Marketing Math

Direct marketing is measurable and accountable. What that means is that for every dollar you spend on marketing, you can figure out if you made money. In today’s tough economic climate, direct marketing should be the last thing you cut. It’s the only part of your entire marketing budget that you can show that for every action, there is a reaction – and that reaction boosts profits or losses. It’s that simple.

I once managed a catalog for a large non profit corporation. When I took over the catalog, it was in a sorry state of affairs. Two consultants familiar with the industry had been hired to fix it but with each mailing, the response great grew worse and worse. As a last ditch effort, my boss tossed the catalog and a great mound of files on my desk. “Here,” he said. “See what you can do with this.”

It was the end of the fiscal year, and like many people working in non profits, my budget would mysteriously and suddenly go POOF and disappear at the stroke of midnight on the last day of the fiscal year. Just like Cinderella’s pumpkin coach. Back to a gourd and horses back to mice.

The first thing I did with that catalog was make ugly into pretty. Ugly rarely sells (unless it’s Ugg boots or Crocs, both of which I will never wear upon my feet – ever). The original book catalog was a black and white affair with long, dull lists of words and no pictures.

Using the internal group of graphic designers at the company, we transformed it from a portrait orientation to landscape, added a colorful cover and lots of product shots inside, and updated the copy. We re-categorized the books, added an index so that customers could find topics of interest, and coded the ordering and response mechanisms so I could track which customer segment responded most favorably. The little bit of money I could squeeze out of the marketing budget I put towards increasing the print run, gambling that our new catalog would do better than the old one.

The results were staggering. We shot past the financial target until we garnered five times the original response rate!

When I went to present these findings to the CEO and the Senior Vice Presidents, I had all my spreadsheets with every little financial detail I could muster up. I had samples of the catalog. I started going over the numbers. I was astonished when the CEO said, “I think we should cancel the catalog. It costs us $100,000 to print it!”

“But we made $500,000 in profits!”

“We should put it on the internet.”

“It is on the internet… but [customers in this industry] have told us they prefer print catalogs.”

He stubbornly persisted that we should discontinue the catalog, while vice presidents all nodded.

Except my boss, the VP of Sales.

Slowly, my boss took out his wallet. He thumbed through it. The CEO glared at him. My boss smiled across the table. “Do you have a dollar?” Clearly annoyed now, the CEO opened his wallet and pushed a dollar bill across the table at my boss. Now I was annoyed. What was this, a diet cola break? Was my boss running to the candy machine now that the meeting had stalled? Was he leaving me high and dry to defend a catalog that was profitable?

My boss took the dollar. With a smile, he extracted a five dollar bill from his wallet and pushed it across the table at the CEO.

“That,” my boss said to the astonished CEO, “is what Jeanne’s catalog does for this company. For ever dollar we spend, we make five back. Do you still want to discontinue it?”

I’ve heard the catalog lasted ten years after that day, but I’m not sure. What I do know is this; direct marketing is the language of numbers. But sometimes numbers alone aren’t enough. The numbers tell a story, but sometimes you have to illustrate the story quickly and clearly.

Mathematics may be the instrument of reality, but storytelling is as old as the hills. And everyone loves a good story.

The next time you are presenting numbers, I challenge you to get creative – not with the numbers, but how you illustrate them!

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