Direct Mail Tales: The Sad Story of King Customer


Direct-mail-tales-the-sad-story-of_king-customerOnce upon a time, in the land of Commerce, there lived a king by the name of Customer. All the merchants of the land depended upon his favor and so regularly sought an audience with the King in the hopes that he would choose to spend some of his wealth on their goods and services.

Securing such an audience, however, was no simple task. The king, of course, was a busy man and performing his kingly duties left him little time to spend reviewing the requests of his suitors.

The merchants, however, were nothing if not persistent. They continued their assault if requests on the king’s castle with renewed vigor—and a surprising degree of ingenuity.

Some discovered a few of the king’s preferences and shaped their requests to reflect his likes and dislikes. Others dressed themselves in colorful clothing in an attempt to stand out form the crowds of people vying for the king’s attention. There were yet others who hired trumpeters and criers to call out the fantastic benefits that their particular goods or services would bring to the king.

The king, however, being a wise king, was not fooled by these attempts. He quickly realized that eye-catching outer appearances and empty boasting did not necessarily guarantee that the message delivered would be one that presented any value. And the king soon wearied of entertaining the merchants’ requests. It became more and more difficult for these merchants to catch the king’s attention.

One simple merchant, however, being an individual of some intelligence, pondered the predicament long and hard. He realized that in order to gain the king’s attention, he had to think like a king.  What did the king think about? What worried him? What were his problems? With what did he need help?

He knew that the kingdom was plagued by rats. They destroyed buildings; they ate the stored grain; and they carried diseases that ravaged the populace. The king had been unable to get rid of the vile creatures. So the enterprising merchant came up with a plan.

He dressed himself in clothing that made him look like a man who could take care of rats—something that commanded respect and suggested he knew how to handle the problem. He then had a simple sign fashioned that was easy to read, even from the walls of the castle. The sign said, “5 Ways to Rid Your Kingdom of Rats in 3 Days.”

When the king saw that sign—and the serious looking merchant who bore it—he invited the merchant into the castle. Excited, the king asked the merchant, “What should I do?”

The merchant began to give the king a short history of rats and the misery they brought. “Yes, yes!” exclaimed the king, “I know that! But what shall I do?” The merchant then went on to explain how his methods, techniques, and equipment were all far superior to anything the king had seen before. “That may well be,” shouted the frustrated king, “But what do I do now?” The merchant went on to explain that his services were most reasonable—but that he would only be able to offer them to the king at that price for a limited time.

Finally fed up, the king had the merchant (and his sign) thrown into the dungeon. While he sat there—and watched the rats chew on his sign—the merchant finally realized that he had never given the king the opportunity to respond to his offer to rid the kingdom of rats.

The moral of the story is that success in direct mail isn’t merely dependent upon getting the right list (the king), having the right package (clothing), or even having the right message (how to rid the kingdom of rats). The goal of direct mail is to get readers to respond—and to make sure it’s clear and easy to respond.

Without a clear and compelling call to action, your direct mail story can’t have a happy ending.

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