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The Customer’s Always Right ... Unless They’re Wrong

In the direct mail business, like all businesses, the conventional wisdom say’s that “the customer is always right.” I respectfully disagree. In fact, I’d have to say that 9-times-out-of-10, our customer, the budding artist, is badly in error.

Allow me to explain:

We design and process direct mail advertising for a number of industries. Our job, as I see it, is to take the client’s product and design a letter that will generate the biggest response possible. Over the years, we have gotten pretty good at what we do. We know what pulls and what doesn’t.

However, the past few years has seen a rise in the number of easy-to-use publishing software programs. These cheap enablers have turned the average person into the Rembrandt of advertising copy. There is nothing more frightening than to see a letter emailed to us that practically jumps through the monitor from all the bright colors (usually 40 or 50 different shades) and big, bold print. For all that little extra oomph, it’s also sitting on a bright neon yellow background.

It’s really not the letter itself that bothers us, it’s the knowledge that we will have to try and talk the customer down from this lofty, colorful perch. He, or she, just spent 5 days perfecting what they believe is the Cadillac of letters. From a pre-determined template that came free with the software package, the client has altered, moved, deleted, added, and re-colored the piece into a masterful work of art. “The flow (yep, they’ve learned the lingo), the style, the structure, the overall look of the piece is exactly what I was looking for.”

The advent of cheap, ready-to-use software wasn’t enough. We’ve seen the arrival of inexpensive color printers that produce copy clear enough to counterfeit $20 bills. It really is amazing. Photo-quality prints coming out of a $164 printer. But, oh so dangerous in the wrong hands. Now, the artiste´ can produce hard copies to show their family and friends, who politely tell them that it is an amazing, breathtaking work of art.

That’s where we come in. I have always believed that, to produce the best possible advertising piece for a client, particularly a budding artist, was to use tough love. At the very real possibility of losing a client, the truth must be told. It must come from the heart and soul. A little discretion is required, along with some handholding, encouragement, and praise for a job well done. Well done...but, wrong.

The fact is, what the client “wants” is not what the client “needs.” He, or she, “wants” the colors, beauty, originality, and sense of pride that follows the hours — nay, days — of blood, sweat & tears. However, the client “needs” response (our job.)

A typical discussion goes something like this:

Joe: “Did you get the email I sent you with my letter attached.”

Me: “Uh, sure did Joe, and it looks spectacular.” (Encouragement)

Joe: “Thanks. I really spent a lot of hours getting it just the way I wanted.” (Uh-oh)

Me: “The use of colors, the form, the structure, it’s a thing of beauty.” (Ego builder)

Joe: “So, how do you think it will pull?” (Oh, geeez)

Me: “Well Joe, in looking at the piece, I might suggest we make a couple of changes, you know, just to improve the understanding of what it is you’re selling. Let’s see. Okay, how about we remove 39 out of the 40 colors. They may distract a bit from your message. Oh,   Continued ˃