From the April 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

Let's say you've got a product that appeals to a number of different audiences and you want to target each audience's needs individually in your advertising. What's your strategy?

If you're running a giant company like Microsoft, it's blitzkrieg. You can do a media fan-out that includes ads in 50 different industries' publications, from printing to paving to plumbing, from florists to furniture to freight. No problem.

But what if you're still a mogul-in-the-making, working out of your garage and looking for your first dozen sales? What's your strategy then?

If you say you're sending out industry-specific sales letters and brochures that talk about how your product can meet potential customers' needs, you get a high-five. But if you say that, for budgetary reasons, you are including a generic brochure with that letter, that gets a thumbs-down. That's because nowadays, "versioning" a brochure--that is, creating different versions of it to appeal to different audiences--can be quite affordable, even on a small budget.

That's my message to Jo Ann and Craig Hockinson of Palm Coast, Florida, who own Corporate Video Services. Their business produces promotional, training and event videos, and they wrote to ask if I'd critique their promotional materials. The short version of my critique is this: They get a good solid "B" on the sales letter they sent me (not shown), but on their brochure, an "Unsatisfactory."

Here's why. First, the Hockinsons are capable, even on a pea-sized budget, of versioning their brochures to better attract a specific audience. All it takes--and they've actually done this already--is to use fill-in-the-blank brochure forms that only need to be word-processed and output. Although these pre-designed forms will never win any awards for art direction, they really are a godsend for the cost-conscious entrepreneur who's not ready to spend major bucks for advertising materials.

The front of the brochure can then, at the very least, have a headline and subhead that talks to the targeted audience. Sorry to say that the Hockinsons not only didn't version their cover but also decided to hoist up the name of their company as the headline. This is always a no-no in my book, unless the name is used along with other words as part of a benefit-oriented headline.

You've got a half-second's worth of time to blab something compelling and motivating to your audience, and, at least for me, a company name gets in the way. Once you've got their attention and interest, don't worry, they'll be happy to drop their eyes to find your name elsewhere in the ad. So let's talk about what a new, versioned brochure cover would say.

Targeted Talk

One of Corporate Video Services' prime prospect categories is doctors and dentists. In fact, the Hockinsons sent me a sales letter versioned for that audience, and it was pretty well written. But they'll make a much greater impact if they address the doctors and dentists in the brochure as well.

Therefore, my recommendation for the cover is a headline that asks "Doctor, have you considered waiting-room videos to promote your services?" Following that would be bulleted supporting copy: "Captive audience. Predisposed to use your services. A convincing, professional presentation."

With a brochure cover like this and a letter that addresses all the doctor's possible video needs (including patient education and staff training), the guts of the brochure can, indeed, be somewhat generic. That means it could address information that would be of interest to all clients, such as experience, clientele and BODYimonials, all of which the Hockinsons' current brochure already does.

I'd also give the inside of the brochure an imperative banner headline that spreads across the top of the inside panels, saying "Learn how to easily and affordably build your practice via video." Then I'd make sure at least one of the BODYimonials was industry-specific--in this case, from a doctor or dentist.

This new brochure cover should be the template for all the company's versioned promotions in the future, perhaps embellished later on with actual color "screen captures" from productions relating to the profession or industry being solicited. And, of course, once a prospect shows interest, the company must have a "reel" of some of its best work to send out as a video brochure. These suggestions should help Corporate Video Services get going promotionally.

Guess Who?

Every time I discuss sales letters and direct mail, I feel a moral obligation to mention the critical importance of deciding what information should go on your mailing envelope--and even the kind of envelope you're using. That's because these decisions could well be the most important ones you make, notwithstanding all the work you put into the contents of the envelope.

Frankly, the majority of people reading these words right now will not give their envelopes a second thought. They'll simply stick their promotional materials into a company envelope and send it out, secure in the assumption they've given it their all. But they may have doomed their mailing right from the get-go because of their unconscious decision to use this kind of envelope.

I say this because most people will take one glance at the outer envelopes of all commercial mail and make an instant determination as to whether it goes on the "to open" pile or the "death-to-all-bothersome-direct-mailings" pile, destined for oblivion. We've all developed a seventh sense, based on the briefest of clues, as to whether or not we're willing to expend fingertip energy to rip that envelope open and see what's inside.

That's why I've repeated, like a broken CD, that one of the most compelling inducements is the blank envelope. That is, blank except for a return address with your company name indicated as initials, such as "C.V.S." in the case of Corporate Video Services. (In addition, a side-entry envelope, rather than a top-entry one, will further interest the reader.)

An envelope that's essentially anonymous has a better than 50-50 chance of getting opened out of sheer curiosity. But one with a company name that indicates the kind of information that's inside may get tossed into the trash without a second thought, especially if the recipient doesn't make an instant positive connection to the business.

This is not to say a compelling message on the outside won't draw people in. It can and it does. I write them myself for clients. But just to hedge my bet that prospects will be intrigued by what I think is a strong "teaser" to open the envelope, I often suggest that at least half the mailing be sent out in blank envelopes.

Then, when the responses come in, my client can check his list of prospects to see which envelope the prospect received. That should provide an answer as to how to send out future mailings with the expectation of maximum response.

Jerry Fisher is a freelance advertising copywriter. If you'd like him to consider your materials for a makeover, send them to the address below. For information on his new manual, Creating Successful Small Business Advertising, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to "Advertising Workshop," Entrepreneur, 2392 Morse Ave., Irvine, CA 92614, or contact Jerry via Compuserve at 73150,132 or America Online at Jerry228@aol.com.

Contact Sources

Corporate Video Services, 46 Filbert Ln., Palm Coast, Fl 32137, (904) 446-9903.