Pen-Ultimate Marketing

(Listen to this post, here.)

Do you know what happens to me about once a year?

If you said, “You’re mistaken for Vin Diesel?”, I’m going to give you partial credit.

But no, I’m talking about the white padded envelope with no return address that shows up in my mailbox.

It’s always the same thing inside: A sample pen with my company name already embossed on the side, courtesy of the National Pen Company.

This year’s sales letter opened with the following:

Dear Michael,

You have one of our top-selling pens in your hands, the Soft Touch Diamond Grip Stylus Pen. Don’t wait any longer to benefit from our first-time, special introductory offer.

And every year, when the package arrives, I do the same thing: I keep the pen (see photo) and toss everything else in the trash. 

I was about to repeat this annual ritual, but for some reason, this time, I thought, “Hmm… maybe I should get a bunch of these to give away, here and there.” 

Ten minutes later, I was dropping the postage paid, prefilled order form in the mailbox outside. 

Say what you will about direct mail offers, but if you sell a professional service, there’s a lot to learn from the marketers at the National Pen Company:

  • They sent me a sample. 

    It’s fine to describe a product with words and pictures. But it’s not the same as holding it in your hand. The sample pen – with my company name already on it, for crying out loud – is pretty compelling. 

    As service providers, of course, we can’t give prospects something to hold (insert your own inappropriate joke here). But we can do a lot more than just describe who we are and what we do, through our web sites, our bios, etc. All that’s fine, but it’s the equivalent of showing a picture. 

    Compare that to our version of a free sample: Original content. Blogs, podcasts, presentations, and the homerun of them all, newsletters … all of these show people how you think, not just who you are and what you’ve done. 

    If you’re getting hired to think (and if you’re not, you’re probably selling the wrong thing), original content is your sample pen.

  • They kept coming back. 

    I’ve been getting these for at least five years, maybe longer. I don’t know why, but for some reason, when the pen arrived today, I decided to pay attention. 

    Note, by the way, that my interest in investigating further this time had nothing to do with the offer, the sales letter, or the ease of purchasing. Until I had an interest, none of these other details mattered and I tossed it all in the trash. 

    As a professional service provider, you’ve got the same timing problem. Getting hired is about more than just price, packaging, reputation and all the rest. Sure, you need that, but you also have to be in front of prospects at the time they, for whatever reason, are ready to buy. 

    Which means you need marketing that repeats. That repeats. 

    It’s the reason a newsletter sent to a few hundred people over and over is so much more effective at generating leads than is speaking at a conference, being quoted in the newspaper, publishing a book, or doing anything else once – even if it’s an impressive once and puts you in front of way more people.

  • They made it easy. 

    Postage-paid envelope, prefilled order form with my name and address, no payment required up front, four ways to place my order (online, by phone, by mail, by fax). They know that every hurdle they can remove – even something as easy as finding a stamp – increases the likelihood of my moving forward. 

    Here as well, and although we’re in a different kind of business, the concept for us is no different: Have we removed as many hurdles as possible? 

    Is our phone number and email address easy to find on our web site, or do we force others to fill out a form to get in touch? 

    Do we offer multiple options for accepting payment (check, bank transfer, credit card, PayPal, first born child, etc.), or just one? 

    Is our agreement so complicated that prospects need to get their attorney involved before they sign? 

    These are just examples and maybe you have good reason for whatever hurdles may exist in the buying process you’ve created. 

    But I bet you’ve got some things that are just in the way, slowing down your money-making machine as a result. 

Here’s the bottom line. 

It would be nice if financial success were highly correlated with your skills, experience and level of intelligence. Unfortunately, that type of well-oiled meritocracy ended the day you left high school. 

Out here in the sloppy, unpredictable world of marketing a professional service, the purchasing experience itself matters as much as the objective value of whatever it is you sell. 

Samples of your work, constant visibility, and ease of use go a long way in getting prospective clients over the finish line – fast, furious or otherwise. (You knew that was coming).

Discussion Questions:

  1. What Hollywood action star are you often mistaken for? Send photos.
  2. Vin Diesel only: How often do people mistake you for Michael Katz?
  3. What do you do to make it easy for people to hire you?

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12 thoughts on “Pen-Ultimate Marketing

  1. Laurie Schnebly Campbell

    Today’s message was PERFECTLY timed, because just last night I had decided to skip this month’s email to the people who hadn’t ordered for the past four years. But if the pen company was still pursuing the sale five years later, I’m gonna keep doing that too. Thanks, Michael!

  2. Maggie Schuette

    I’m never been mistaken for a Hollywood action star, but I won’t give up hope.
    Sorry – I still have all my hair.
    Pretty sure I’ve been doing the “getting hired” thing all wrong because I still work for someone else.

    But – while you’re passing out your pens, I hope you run into someone named Gwen, just so you can say “would you like a pen, Gwen?” Make sure it’s a blue one.

  3. Stephanie Fleming

    I am going to keep reading your emails and make sure I use your advice. I have been worrying about sending my emails each week and would people be getting tired of them however onward! Thanks for your timely advice.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Yes, staying visible is a big part of the mix! Remember, you’re not being annoying, you’re offering useful information.

  4. Gina Longo

    I had a few people over the years tell me I looked like Jodie Foster, but obviously they’d just been bellied up to the airport bar for a bit too long. Did Jodie Foster ever play an airline pilot? I always seemed to be in uniform when it happened.

    I’m not looking at the mo to get hired, but I am working on making it easier for people to sign up for my newsletter! Small steps….

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Yes, small steps is practically my marketing motto.

      (And can I rightly assume that your dogs, named Jerry Lee and Holly, are named for their rock n roll counterparts?)

      1. Gina Longo


        Wow! I’m amazed and grateful that you know their names! (Thank you.)

        Actually, they’re not, at least not directly. I loved the film “K-9” from the 1980s (it had a gorgeous German Shepherd in it), so when I saw my soon-to-be boy in the shelter, Jerry Lee he became. The film character was probably named after Jerry Lee Lewis, though.

        As for Holly, the shelter had put her in with the boys (she was big for a female) and had named her Hawk because they thought she was a boy. It was near to Christmas when I brought her home and popped her in the shower… clearly not a boy! She already knew the name “Hawk,” so I had to think of something that sounded similar… and my Christmas Holly was born!

        1. Michael Katz Post author

          I’m kind of hoping that you have a pair of pets of another species, one named Lewis and the other named Buddy.


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