If you’ve spent any time in the trenches of internet marketing over the past few years, you know precisely what I’m talking about: Those out-of-the-park grand slams are fewer and farther between these days. Once upon a time, you could blast an offer – almost any offer – to your customer file or even ice-cold prospect names, then sit back and watch an avalanche of orders come pouring in. The money was amazing: When one of my clients e-mailed a single note to his 35,000 customers back in the mid-1990s, he raked in $12 million in less than a week. Ah, the GOOD old days! Today, that client would kill to get those kinds of results. Like most internet marketers today, he’s working harder and profiting less. Much less.

Why is web marketing getting so much tougher?

It should be obvious: When web-based marketing was new – and still relatively rare – just about every one of your prospects and customers read every word of every promotion you sent them. But these days, even e-mailed sales messages I want to receive are lost among the scores of slimy junk messages that slither into my inbox (while I wrote the above sentence, e-mails from TWO different Viagra companies arrived. No kidding!).

And while all that junk is still finding its way through, overly aggressive spam filters are not only blocking promotional e-mails I’ve asked to receive – they’re even trashing non-commercial e-mails to and from my family, friends, and clients! And even all that’s just the tip of the iceberg: The entire internet is awash with ads. Try to get a report from Weather.Com, or check the stock market on Big Charts: Pop-ups and pop-unders galore!

“It’s like Deja Vu — all over again!”

— Yogi Berra

It was bound to happen. Since the dawn of time, every new marketing innovation and medium to come down the pike has gone through the same response cycle:

Phase #1 — Advent: A small handful of innovative businesses and marketers discover a new advertising medium or technique that proves to be far superior to traditional methods – advertisers’ return on investment (ROI) skyrockets.

Phase #2 — Proliferation: Hundreds, then thousands, then tens of thousands of businesses and marketers discover the secret and begin using it — ROI begins to the flag.

Phase #3 — Saturation: The novelty wears off consumers, besieged by advertising messages, begin tuning out — ROI begins to decline.

Phase #4 — Maturity: With its novelty spent and ROI falling, the once-vastly-superior new medium or technique eventually takes its place as an equal among many in the advertiser’s arsenal.

Today, we are clearly in Phase Three of the internet marketing explosion: The saturation phase. In just about every industry and product area you can name, open rates, click-through rates, response rates – and most importantly, ROIs — have peaked and are beginning to decline.

The days when you could sleepwalk through your web-based promotions with lousy, hastily written sales copy, unbelievable product claims, and beyond-the-pale pricing strategies are vanishing fast. That doesn’t mean web-based marketing is dying. Not by a long shot. Well-conceived, well-crafted, well-executed web marketing can still make you rich beyond dreams of avarice.

But web-based marketing is maturing. And to generate maximum response and ROI in this environment, it’s becoming increasingly important to make sure that your marketing strategy, sales copy, and offer are razor sharp. It also means that the internet is quickly becoming recognized for what it really was all along – one of many media through which marketers attract new customers and make their sales.

Here’s how thinking about the internet in this new light recently made a favorite client $5 million richer in just 5 weeks. Several months ago, one of my favorite clients asked me to create a web-based promotion for a new investment advisory. The service would give daily mutual fund trading advice to investors for the princely sum of about $1,000 per year. So instead of beginning with a series of e-mails or even a new web page (as my client requested), I promptly sat down and wrote a 24-page DIRECT MAIL package.

Internet Marketing

It’s not that I’m contrary by nature – I just had a better idea. My client had been blasting several sales promotions for other products to his customers every weekday via e-mail and had been doing it for years. And predictably, response to those promotions had crashed to less than one-tenth of what he had been getting years earlier.

My goal:

To do everything possible to make this promotion the exception – boost response rates and ROI by order of magnitude.

My strategy:

To establish the new $1,000 product in prospects’ minds as head and shoulders above every other product my client had ever offered them. To do that, I would demonstrate the uniqueness and superiority of this new product – and create emotional momentum for it by introducing a gala event.

My tactic:

Use every medium available to me over a 5-week period – beginning with the cheapest avenues and proceeding step-by-step to ever-costlier ones to sell the maximum number of subscriptions possible with a positive ROI. That would require much more copy than the client usually produced for an e-mail promotion – but it would be worth it.

And beginning by writing long copy – copy containing every benefit, every credibility element, every reason why the prospect should buy the service would be the best way to make sure that the strongest sales copy available appeared in every contact with our prospects. Once the long copy was finished, the rest would be easy: I would excerpt it repeatedly to create my multi-step campaign.

STEP #1 — Pick the low-hanging fruit – cheap: A respectable chunk of my client’s customers love him to death and will buy just about any product he recommends. For these wonderful customers, I created an extremely low-cost, multi-step e-mail campaign: A series of short, daily blasts announcing the new product and the reasons why the customer should jump on board right away, re-announcing the new product asking them why we hadn’t heard from them, etc.

Important point: The e-mail medium itself is, in an authentic way, a big part of the message. By its very nature – the fact that it is instant communication, the e-mail medium screams “urgency!” And it also raises key questions in your prospect’s mind: “Why is this communication urgent? “Is it because you urgently need to sell me something? “Or is it because I urgently need a piece of information to bring value to my life?”

If my prospects perceived that my e-mail messages were just crass attempts to sell them something, my e-mails might be instantly deleted. If, on the other hand, my e-mails were perceived as a timely and sincere offering to help the recipient in some way, my sales message would be far more likely to be read and responded to.

And so, for urgency and readership, began each e-mail with valuable information or advice relating to a fast-breaking piece of news from the investment world. The subject line and opening copy of each blast was new each day – as fresh as each day’s headlines – and rewarded prospects for reading my sales message. Next, I connected the breaking news and the new investment service – and demonstrated how the service could use this new event to generate huge profits for the reader in the days ahead.

And finally, I inserted a copy justifying my price and asking for the order.

RESULT: A constant stream of $1,000 orders poured in from these e-mails every day for five full weeks.

STEP #2 – Get fence-sitters to a “tipping point” website:

While a significant group of loyal customers could be counted on to buy in response to a short e-mail, I reasoned that the short copy would leave at least 90% of my prospects sitting on the fence. To sell them, I’d need a longer copy – more reasons to buy now – than could be presented in a 5 or 6-paragraph e-mail.

To tip these prospects off their perch, I used about half the long direct mail copy I had written about the product (12 pages, of 12pt. type, single-spaced) to create an “Urgent Special Report” online: A small, cheap website. And in week #2 of my campaign, I began sending e-mails to the client’s customers, urging them to click a link to read the free report immediately.

RESULT: Order volume increased dramatically as a significant number of my client’s customers responded to the simple website.

STEP #3 — Exploit other low-cost or free media:

While my client’s web-based products were extremely successful, he also client published and mails a monthly print newsletter to 120,000 active subscribers every month. Taking my client’s urgent recommendation to his customers in print would position this new product in my prospects’ minds as something special – not just another run-of-the-mill product promoted exclusively on the internet.

So, I took the 12-pages of copy from the little website I’d created, a new headline and opening copy, turned it into a printed special report … and had it inserted in the next issue of my client’s print newsletter. At the same time, I tasked the client’s operators with a pitch for the product on all inbound phone calls from customers. And I included an insert offering the free online report in our outbound welcome packages that new subscribers received.

RESULT: Once again, sales spiked nicely.

STEP #4 — Show up where they least expect you to:

Two weeks after the newsletter insert hit my prospects’ mailboxes, I hit them again – with the full 24-page direct mail package I had initially created to promote the product, formatted as a free special report or “thank-you” bonus for loyal customers.

internet marketing

After years of receiving ONLY e-mail promotions for these high-priced trading services, my prospect suddenly realized that this must really be different – and therefore better than – anything my client had recommended before. Reasoning that anyone who hadn’t bought probably hadn’t read past the headline and lead-in copy, I made sure the first three pages or so were fresh. Beyond that, the copy was pretty much unchanged.

RESULT: Money was positively rolling in.

STEP #5 – I get tenacious:

Two weeks after the 24-pager hit their mailboxes, we stuffed it into an envelope, added a one-page letter from my client asking, “Why haven’t I heard from you?” and dropped it into the mail. Again – the phone rang off the hook.

The final result:

The combined effect of e-mail, the website, the inserts in the print newsletter, and two direct mailings had a multiplying effect on response. When the dust had settled, our multi-channel marketing campaign had sold more than $5 million worth of subscriptions to the new service in just five weeks – about five times more than we would have sold with through e-mail promotion alone!

Lessons learned. Thinking about e-mail marketing and the mini-website as merely two of the marketing channels available to you forces you to think about other low-cost ways to deliver your sales message and position your product as head and shoulders above all the others your prospects have seen.

Picking the low-hanging fruit on a house file with ultra-cheap e-mail campaigns first is a smart way to get the ball rolling. But adding promotions in other media — the newsletter inserts, direct mail packages, welcome package inserts, inbound telemarketing scripts – can make hundreds of sales that are normally lost with web-based marketing alone.

Compelling a “reason-why” sales copy at every step of each campaign is essential for maximizing response, minimizing cost per sale, and sent ROI soaring at every step of your online marketing process. Use anything less than the strongest sales copy that could be written means you’re leaving big bucks on the table. Take a lesson from history. The first print ad in an American newspaper made its debut in 1704. The ad itself was primitive by today’s standards, but since it was a novelty, I guess that 100% of the folks who saw it read it, and many responded.

In the twinkling of an eye, every newspaper in the land was packed with ads, and savvy publishers like Ben Franklin even began creating magazines and other publications for the express purpose of selling advertising. Before long – predictably — Americans were overwhelmed with ads — and readership and response were plummeting. So a handful of alarmed but savvy advertisers went to work to find ways to lift their ads head and shoulders above the clutter and GET THEM READ!

In 1880, John Wannamaker hired John E. Powers – as far as I can tell, the world’s first professional copywriter — to promote his store’s products. In 1904, Albert Lasker and John E. Kennedy overcame reader apathy by introducing the notion of advertising as “salesmanship in print.” A few years later, Claude Hopkins introduced the notion that, for maximum readership, every ad should be filled with “reasons why” prospects should buy the advertised product.

And for the last 100 years, a long line of great advertising legends – Rosser Reeves, John Caples, David Ogilvy, and many others — have spent their entire lives searching for new ways to cut through the clutter. Every one of these innovations was a response to the fact that the novelty of print advertising was declining. Consumers were becoming increasingly buried under an avalanche of ads response was dropping advertisers’ return on investment, plummeting, and their cost of sales was soaring.

Today, web-based marketers are in the same boat. The internet is finally being recognized for what it really has been all along: A medium similar in many ways to TV, radio, print, direct mail, and others. The simple act of thinking of the internet in this new light – and employing proven marketing and sales copy techniques in every web-based promotion is essential to producing bigger winners more often! Clayton Makepeace is a working direct response marketing consultant and copywriter who has helped his clients attract more than 3 million new customers. … quadruple their profits … And rake in more than $1 billion in direct mail and internet sales.