Call Me Maybe

As I’m hoping you noticed, I sent out an e-mail yesterday announcing the reopening of my one year marketing program.

It was a relatively brief message which linked to the page describing the program in detail.

A few hours after the message went out, I got an e-mail from a reader named Tom. Now I don’t know Tom, but apparently he’s got a background in direct response marketing (of which, yesterday’s message was an example).

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Tom gently – but firmly – suggested that by including humor in the e-mail (something I did not once, but 6 or 7 times), and by not pointing readers more directly to “the offer,” I was dampening response.

First of all, thank you Tom. Nobody wants a damp response and when the people to whom you’re selling try and help you do a better job of it, I take that as a good thing.

Second, I have no doubt that he’s correct. Go ahead and Google “humor and direct response e-mail,” for example, and you’re going to find plenty of people advising against it.

That said, and with all due respect to my new friend Tom, I did it all consciously and, given the chance, I’d do it again. Here’s why:

  • I’m in it for the long term
    I spent 12 years working for a company in which my specific role, at least 50% of the time, was sending direct mail (the other 50% involved drinking coffee and looking for leftover birthday cake in the office kitchen).

    And it worked. We dropped hundreds of thousands of pieces of mail a month and each time we did it the phone rang. “Success” was easy to measure: cost per lead and cost per sale.

    The one thing we never considered, I later realized, was the damage we were doing to our list – and to our reputation – by continually pounding people with offers.

    Sure, some people bought. But as in any direct response campaign, most people didn’t.

    Think about it. In the short time since I sent yesterday’s e-mail, 1,500 people have opened it. But there’s only room for 12 in the program – less than 1%.

    So sure, I want the sales. But even if I’m successful in selling out the program, over 99% of the people who got the e-mail are not going to be buying.

    It seems to me that if I plan to be in business for more than one day, I need to pay attention to how today’s non-buyers view my marketing.

  • One strike and I’m out
    I can rent a list of every person in your town and send all the direct mail to your house that I want. You may not like it, but you can’t stop it (easily).

    And if you don’t buy today, I can just give it another try with a different offer, next week or next month or whenever I feel like it.

    Same with the newspaper, TV, billboards, sponsorships, and most interruption-based advertising. Nobody cancels their newspaper subscription because they don’t like an ad or takes a different route to work to avoid a billboard.

    But e-mail doesn’t work that way. The end-user owns their inbox and as a result, holds all the cards. If you unsubscribe – for whatever reason – you’re gone from my list. Forever.

    Here again, that means I need to be careful about what I send, what I say, and how often I mail. It’s not possible to satisfy everyone – every e-mail leads to unsubscribes – but it’s not something you want to take lightly either.

  • Everything is marketing
    As a subscriber to this newsletter, you’ve come to expect a certain voice, a certain point of view, a certain, dare I say, panache. There’s tremendous marketing traction in consistency and I try to maintain that across everything I do, from my web site, to my voicemail message, to the way I speak to a live audience.

    If, however, I put on my “time to sell” hat (you can buy one on Amazon) and follow “direct response best practices,” even if they are more immediately effective, I’m going to water down my brand.

    In my case, if I send you an e-mail that’s hard sell and not at least somewhat funny, I’m pulling in the wrong direction.

    Likewise, you’ve got your own branded approach. So make sure your sales strategy and sales materials line up with it.

Here’s the bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with selling and there’s nothing wrong with learning how to do it well.

That said, you don’t “get a pass” because today’s the day you’re promoting your new program. Your readers aggregate everything you say and do into an overall impression of you and your company.

The smart marketer knows that today’s “maybe’s” are tomorrow’s buyers and takes great pains to keep them coming back.


32 thoughts on “Call Me Maybe

  1. Steve Slaunwhite

    As you know, Michael, I teach copywriting. I’m always reminding my program participants to think about the two R’s when writing copy. The first R is response. The second R is relationship. If you write copy that gets a great response, but does little to build the relationship, you’re doomed. You might sell a little more in the short term, but you’ll damage client/customer relationships over time. Ideally, your marketing copy should get a good response AND build relationships. And when in doubt, err on the side of the second R!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Steve! That’s a great way to think of it. I find with direct response writing that it can quickly get complicated. Focusing on the two R’s seems like an easy way to ensure we’re on track.

  2. Craig

    Well said. I’m often trying to get clients to “be themselves” or “find a consistent voice” instead of throwing out one promotion after another. You’ve done that and we appreciate it.

    It is so difficult to relay the trust in leaving an inbox open and that you’re building relationships rather than selling. Thanks for the reminders.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree, Craig. The “be themselves” thing, while easy to understand, is somehow very hard to do, especially in a corporate environment. (One more reason not to have a job, I guess!!)

  3. Lee Kirkby

    Michael: I have been on your list for a long time and the reason I am is because you keep it real, brief and to the point. If you just wanted to maximize the response to every solicitation you would have to do it differently, but as a reader I don’t get the sense that is your purpose. You to inform, help and nudge people in the right directions, and oh by the way you do need to sell a bit at times to stay in business…nothing wrong with any of that.

    Keep doing YOUR way. Its a big reason I still subscribe…greetings from Canada

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks very much, Lee. And I’m glad “brief” was in your list. Even there, while I know skipping the stories would be briefer, I’ve found they’re worth their weight in relationship-building. And regards right back at you and my Canadian friends.

  4. Bob McCarthy

    Well said Michael.

    If you were marketing to an outside list, I might be inclined to focus more on generating the response – and getting the biggest bang for your buck in lead acquisition.

    But this is your house list and part of what you’re doing is lead nurturing.

    Although I’m not a buyer (yet), I read your emails because they are fresh, entertaining and informative.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great distinction, Bob. The “hit and run” outside list vs. the house list.

      It’s funny, I’m so focused on just the house list for myself and my clients, that I forget how much of marketing is about grabbing the attention of strangers, without a care for whether you’ll ever see them again. (I suppose that’s why I met my wife through a mutual friend, rather than in a bar. I’m all about marketing to the people you already know!)

  5. Alexandre L'Eveille

    Absolutely agree. Humor is consistent with your brand and maintaining brand congruency is almost all I talk about. I beat my customers over the head with it all the time. And, they thank me for it. Of course, most of my clients are masochists….

  6. Catharine Inniss

    Michael –

    You are just so clever and so likeable. I plan on joining you for group coaching at some point, just not quite yet. Your warm, friendly and funny invitations keep me coming back for more. Pounding your potential clients would turn them off I believe.

    Keep up the good work of being clever, likeable you.

    Warm regards,


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks so much, Catharine, I appreciate it! And, I look forward to having you in a group soon. (Hurry, offer ends soon, act now while supplies last, void where prohibited.)
      Cleverly yours,

  7. Christina Honde

    Yes, yes, yes to all you said, Michael. I open every one of your newsletters because they’re such a pleasure to read, and even if I don’t need what you’re offering at the moment, you’re the first person I’d go to for that kind of help when/if I need it. Please keep up the humor!


  8. Tina Bemis

    I read all of your emails, all of the words, all of the time. Because I like what you write and how you write. I have not “bought” anything from you (yet) but one day the time will come. And ONLY because I like what I read EXACTLY HOW YOU DO IT. I agree with you.

  9. Phil Stewart

    A long time ago a fellow told me “Humor is the Nitroglycerine” of advertising, done well it moves mountains and buyers, done poorly it can kill your campaign and customer base. Always best to error on the side of caution, if you are not skilled enough to make it work.

    As you are that skilled and also a natural mentor it seems your communications are top notch every time as we the buyers hang on your self deprecating descriptions of life and the foibles of a solo professional.

    But as always there is a hidden step, which I use by tuning into the Station WIIFM
    (Whats In It For Me)
    asking the question “have I created a substantial value that is clearly evident to the reader”, answering the question WIIFM that she will surely unconsciously or even directly reference.

    If I can do that consistently I know I am not over communicating or hard selling and should be creating a further relationship bond as you do every time you post.

    Love your work . . . Kudos!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a terrific clarification, Phil. And I agree, even if the humor is good, it’s easy to get lost in that for its own sake and forget the WIIFM for the reader. A good reminder!

  10. Katherine Andes

    Oh, yes, I really dislike that DM style of copywriting that is so hypey. Thankfully, there’s room for other types of copywriting that is relationship-building. Your voice is authentic and fun. Keep it up. I can’t wait to have an excuse to hire you …

  11. Yemi

    Hi Michael:

    I subscribed to your newsletter about 3-4 years ago when I worked for a non profit organization as an Events Manager, and your newsletters had a lot of relevance to the work that I did. I left that job just over 2 years ago when I purchased a modeling agency (yeah, not your daily run-of-the-mill career change), but I chose to update my subscription so that I could continue to receive your newsletters. I admit I don’t read every email you send, because as a new business owner, I am often juggling a bazillion hats and can’t afford the time to stop and read ‘stuff’. However I continue to receive your stuff and read them when I can, BECAUSE of your humorous writing style. Your messages are always clear, there’s always food for thought, and you are FUNNY; and I read your newsletter more than I do any other that I subscribe to. I also often read and never comment, but felt the need to let you know that someone (and of course, I am not alone here) appreciates what you do!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Yemi, I appreciate your reading for so long and taking me along with you.

      And speaking of modeling, I hear the “skinny middle-aged bald guy look” is all the rage this year in Paris. So just send that contract over whenever it’s ready….


  12. debbie hagen

    Mike, I love your humor. That is the main reason I keep your newsletter going when so many others have been trashed or deleted. I love your style and would love nothing better than to be in your group (which email I read, sighed over, and said “nice, but not this time” one more time, but have on my list for “someday”). Your style is inspirational and just as soon as my transitional stage of unemployment moves forward to a more steady source of income, I will be a paying customer, instead of an avid reader.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks Debbie, and no pressure to move to paying customer. Happy to have as many avid readers as possible too! Al the best with your transitional opportunity.

  13. Brandon Rigney

    Hello, Michael:

    I’ve been a reader forever, and intend to remain so.

    I have bought everything you sell, except the most recent annual
    program, and I have profited/enjoyed all of them.

    I have practiced for my primary client of over 4 years the drip
    call and email approach of informing them of new info available
    on a subject of relatively narrow appeal (there is a universe of
    only about 100 companies in the US that can use their services).
    We dare not offend any one of them, so we don’t sell in the
    contacts, only inform. We don’t use humor, however, as this
    is not an appropriate approach in this case.

    We hope we are not offending the 75% who have not become
    clients with repeated contacts, as you allude, so we are very
    careful with content.

    Love your stuff…..


    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Brandon!
      Yes, always a question of “how much is too much” when it comes to the balance between promotion and purely useful content. And I think there’s no perfect answer, since some people will tolerate zero while others are eager to hear about what’s available.

      As in most areas of my life, I live by trial and error!
      Thanks for keeping in touch,


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