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How I Learned the #1 Rule of Direct Response Marketing (The Hard Way, 20+ Years Ago)
by David Foley


Recently, I was shredding some old orders and it reminded me of Direct Response Rule # 1. It was this business that taught me this rule. Here’s the back story …

In 1987, a partner and I were selling hundreds of calculators with a built-in phone directory using small space newspaper advertisements in Toronto, just like the one you see on the right.

Our basic offer was an Aurora EZ-3 databank for $59.95 plus $3.00 S&H and tax – or 2 for $99.90, a $20.00 savings. A 10 Day No Risk Trial was offered and, as an add-on, customers could purchase a leather wallet for $12.00 (and throw away the plastic case that came with it).

Despite good margins and over $25,000 in sales in the first two months, the business never made much money -- we were spending virtually all of the margin on more newspaper advertisements to bring in more customers (which is exactly the right thing to do), BUT  --

and here’s where Rule # 1 comes in – we did not have anything else in the pipeline to sell to those recently-acquired customers. Of course, we did not realize this at the time – we were too busy picking, packing and shipping EZ-3’s across the country and buying more newspaper ads.

With the clarity of 20/20 hindsight though, we should have had a series of products, most likely personal electronics, which we could sell to these customers. A second product could have been promoted, for virtually FREE, as a package insert in outgoing orders. A third, and subsequent products, could have been promoted by direct response mail.

That experience taught me Direct Response Rule # 1: Always have other products or services ready for customers to purchase. 

As we knew back then, acquiring customers costs money. What we did not know (or realize) was that the value of these customers was in the profit that could be made from future sales. Having purchased once … having been reassured by the 10 Day No Risk Trial … having been more than satisfied with the product supplied (at the price), we had quickly earned the credibility to offer them something else. We just did not capitalize on it!

Don’t make the same mistake. When planning your direct response campaigns always have several additional products waiting to be sold or in the final stages of development.


The Author

David Foley

David Foley and his team offer practical, results-oriented advice to organizations that strive to get more from their marketing budgets using proven, targeted direct and database marketing for up-sell, cross-sell and customer acquisition. A conversation to discuss your situation is always offered without cost or obligation. You can reach David in Toronto, Canada, at 416-253-1224 or by e-mail at

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Copyright 2009 by David Foley. All rights reserved.

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