How my insomnia led to $200 million in sales…

How many of you consider yourself an “Internet Marketer?”

Can I ask you to stop calling yourself that?

Quoting my good friend (and brilliant marketer) Michael Fishman:

“Don’t define yourself by a channel”

It had to be this premise that also encouraged me to buy the URL:

SingleChannelMarketingIsSoBoring

I know that squatters everywhere want it…so I have it on automatic renewal – don’t try to steal it from me.

I would like to re-tell the story today that was the biggest single success of my career; and after you read it you will be encouraged to stop defining yourself by a channel (if you tend to do that sort of thing).

And this story is not meant to be a brag; rather, I think it’s a valuable story about the power of “multi-channel marketing.”

In fact, one of my biggest failures came on the heels of this biggest success…which added to the lesson.

I wrote about that earlier this year: Please read The Biggest Mistakes of My Career Part One after you read today’s post.

Isn’t it usually the case that our biggest failures often come off our biggest successes?

And our biggest successes are the result of failing miserably before hitting pay dirt?

As far as big successes go, I hope I got your attention with the subject line…and no, it is NOT an exaggeration…

In fact, if I add up all of the ancillary sales from this multi-channel bonanza, it might have been closer to $300 million.

But it took a long time to get there…

How this party started was when one of my mentors gave me some of the most important advice I may have ever received over my 35 years in direct marketing.

This mentor was Adolph Auerbacher who was a senior executive at Meredith Corporation (one of the largest magazine publishers in the world at the time he worked there) and the brains behind the tremendous growth of magazine brands like Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies Home Journal.

I know those of you under 30 are saying, “What’s a magazine?”

Auerbacher, who may have been the most logical person I have ever met in my life, said something to me in the early 1980’s which has dictated how I have operated every day as a marketer and businessman:
“Follow the anecdotal evidence”
And that simple premise led to a franchise at Boardroom that created sales well over $200 million in the “trifecta of media”: Direct response television, direct mail and online display.

And there was some print, e-mail and telemarketing mixed in too.

This incredible franchise, which was basically the marketing of two broad based consumer health books, is all about “following the anecdotal evidence” (combined with a little insomnia).

Flashback to 1988 (or so)…when every magazine seemed to be on TV selling subscriptions using one minute or two minute spots…remember the “sneaker phone” premium from Sports Illustrated?

I was jealous…why couldn’t WE sell our incredibly popular consumer newsletter Bottom Line/Personal (BL/P) or one of our fantastic broad based consumer books like The Book of Inside Information (“BII”) using short form (i.e. 60 second and 2 minute) TV?

We had crushed it (hate that term but love using it when talking about stuff from the 80’s when the term didn’t exist!) in direct mail for “BL/P” and “BII” to the tune of 200,000 (plus) active, paid subscribers and over 3 million books sold, respectively.

But short form TV for both products proved to be a disaster.

Even with as “long” as 2 minutes, there was no way to adequately sell products like ours–which were basically unknown except to the lucky millions who were in our direct mail universe.

Then Tony Robbins came along in the late 1980’s and helped create a new medium called long form TV (i.e. infomercials which were 28 and a half minutes).

Guthy-Renker was the company behind all of that success…and I spoke in a previous post about Greg Renker, one of the co-founders, in detail. He is a marketing genius and was one of the headline speakers at Titans Of Direct Response.

I keenly observed that 28 and a half minutes was a lot longer than 2 minutes to tell a story not previously told or known.

So Marty Edelston and I met with Bill Guthy and Greg Renker…told them about our amazing “Bottom Line franchise” helping millions of consumers with life changing information…and we asked:

“How can we create a program from our (virtually unknown) brand like Tony Robbins did from his?”

The logic was good too (or so we thought):

Sports Illustrated (a known brand) sells with simple #10 envelope mailings in direct mail which can easily translate to a 2 minute TV spot; Bottom Line/Personal sells with long 12 page letters, 16-32  page magalogs/self-mailers and even 64 page digest-size “bookalogs” in direct mail which should better translate to 28.5 minute TV.

That is, a long sales letter promoting an unknown brand needs 28.5 minutes to sell…

Brilliant!

And the idea went nowhere.

Not because of Guthy-Renker…but because we didn’t see a model that made sense to invest the hundreds of thousands of dollars it would take to test.

When we ran the numbers, our books were too low priced and the cost of goods were too high. Buying infomercial time was not cheap and we didn’t have the right product line (it seemed).

Trying to figure out the “Bottom Line Program to a Better Life” was more than one book (or so we thought)…Tony Robbins had tapes, CD’s, workbooks…and live events and other products on the back end…and my concept went from brilliant to something that simply died under its own weight,

But we never lost the desire to get our products on TV…

I also had put myself in a position to continue to be challenged: After all, I had billed myself as the direct marketer who never met a medium he didn’t like…and one who was prepared to test everything.

Go ask my co-workers at Boardroom about how excited I was about advertising on the back of ATM receipts or under yogurt lids.

Both very “sticky” for different reasons…and yes, both were huge losers.

Good ideas at the time…I guess…

However, I knew that if we ever could make it on TV, one medium we had not conquered, it was clearly a medium we could scale.

We went back to our knitting, conquering direct mail, print, e-newsletters, telemarketing and more—which kept us pretty busy. Boardroom grew to be a $100 million business through much of the 1990’s…but TV remained elusive

Fast forward to 2005…right after New Year’s…and I was having a bout of indigestion at 2:00 in the morning (boy am I glad I’ve given up sugar!).

I flipped on the TV to watch super pitch man Kevin Trudeau sell a single book for 28.5 minutes…at $29.95…no well-known company, no brand, and frankly not a whole lot of credibility either.

I even found a picture of me at the time:

untitled

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“It’s 4am – maybe you’d sleep better if you bought some crap!” 

I won’t comment on Kevin Trudeau’s business practices, how he sold or what he delivered…but someone else was using my favorite medium that I couldn’t get to work myself…and using it to sell what I thought was an inferior product to what we could create at Bottom Line with all of our fantastic content and experts.

Regarding direct response television, it was time to follow the anecdotal evidence…

I ordered Kevin’s book and I think I was on the phone for 6 or 7 hours (only exaggerating a little), being sold every version of the book–CD, digital, maybe one wrapped in a “Snuggie”–followed by a Wal-Mart discount card, a travel club, and a host of other offers.

Back-end marketing indeed.

However, the key was that I saw the model that would work for Boardroom.

And I knew that while we would not sell all of the unrelated back end products others did, we could create a back-end we would be comfortable with, proud of and one that would be consistent with our brand and image.

We went on to create some insanely successful long form DRTV spots all because we never gave up on the idea.

I trusted the logic and it was only a matter of time before we found the path.

And once the decision was made I realized that just like in the past with all decisions we made with new media and creative (e.g. we only worked with the best copywriters),  I had to find the very best person in the world to work with that would increase my chances of success and minimize our risk.

Steve Dworman was that guy and he became our partner through all the campaigns and a driving force to this incredibly successful franchise.

More about Steve in the P.S.

Here is the key takeaway of this success story:

Our team at Boardroom was always “in action” to make long form TV work between 1989 and 2005.

We might have been slow learners but we were always inquisitive students.

And we always believed that we didn’t have to invent everything ourselves, just follow the best practices and techniques and then make them our own.

I always encouraged the staff to have confidence in our ability to steal smart…follow the anecdotal evidence…and put our own stamp on an idea that may have been invented elsewhere yet would be unique to us.

And our infomercial success was not the only time this happened.

I actually have a one page sheet taped to my computer (which I read to myself every morning):

“I am six bold moves a day…I am in action all the time…and I am the follower of anecdotal evidence (while being completely open-minded to all that has not been invented yet)”

Of course I get frustrated like everyone else when I just can’t “figure it out”…but I encourage you to stay in action every day, full of momentum, and focused on things you have thought through but not yet implemented.

You will find working models and you will see anecdotal evidence only if you are always looking for it.

And sometimes when you are not.

So go watch some infomercials…or look through the latest thousand promotional e-mails in your in box…study swipe files of great promotions…or just phone a friend…

 

Warmly,

Brian

 

P.S The piece of the story above that was a turning point was when I “phoned a friend”, and then hired, Steve Dworman.

Just as we always bought “a la carte” for copywriting and creative services in direct mail, I knew that to get the best person to execute on this huge idea (that would cost us a ton to test) was critical.

Steve was the spokesman for the infomercial industry for years, publishing his own subscription newsletter, magazine with Adweek on DRTV–and hosted many of the top industry conferences.

He was responsible for discovering “The Total Gym” which went on to do $2 billion on TV.

Steve not only knew direct response, having created his own photo product and marketing it through full page ads, but he had written, directed and produced the most successful infomercial of all time for a woman’s perfume he created.

He knows how to think outside the box and deliver results you only dream of.

I had been dying to work with him for years…and thank goodness he took on the project I talked about in this post.

The rest is history… close to $300 million later with some of the top selling infomercials of all time.

So, the moral is, regardless of the costs, working with the greatest people you can find is inexpensive compared to hiring mediocrity which produces mediocrity.

If you want to experience Steve’s genius for yourself, he just published a free e-book taking all he learned in the DRTV world and applying it to state-of-the-art marketing online.

You can get it by clicking here: It’s called Online Gold

I implore you to get a copy. It’s free and an instant download.

And, I receive nothing in return if you access Steve’s book. My goal here is to bring you the best marketing educational materials I can find…anywhere and everywhere.

Hey…a guy who was my partner creating a $300 million franchise must know something, right?

2 Comments

Leave A Response

* Denotes Required Field