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house entered the rural field they were to many of these small stores blessings in disguise. The storekeeper had been figuring that so long as he was making money everything was going all right. Same as the advertiser mentioned above. But when fierce and soulless competition forced a change, the small store keeper found that he could actually cut his business down from one-half to twothirds and make more money. Some of his different branches had been carried at the expense of others and when lopped off gave those others a chance to show their real earning power.
To the mail order advertiser his inquiries are his departments which he must make profitable or discontinue them. He who ignores this fact will be like the country storekeeper who merges all his departments into one business and finds after the sheriff has divided things up that he was carrying too many dead or unprofitable branches.
From time immemorial, as the ad. business goes, the percentage which could be allowed for inquiry cost has been a perplexing problem. Recently in a more or less elaborate attempt to set a standard one writer has stated that if a $1.00 article be advertised the inquiry cost should not exceed ten cents and that this ratio would hold all
through. This figure merely represents money paid to publishers. Suppose that advertiser sells to one in ten of his inquiries. He has sold $1.00 worth of goods and paid $1.00 for inquiries. His profit is hard to find. Suppose the goods cost him 50c. He paid $1.00 for his inquiries and 50c for his goods, and has $1.00 to show for it. Perhaps he may, like the peddler of clothespins, make it upon the large number he sells, but our algebra does not show it that way.
You will at once say this is an impossible proposition; that he who sells but 1 to 10 is off somewhere. But I can show you many mail order houses who are doing no better than that average, and I seriously question whether many of the advertisers of the more costly commodities, such as furniture, pianos, clothing, etc., are doing as well. To such an advertiser it is useless to
argue that he is getting his inquiries cheaply and that all he has to do is to continue. To the man who pays the bill technical terms are not soothing when he knows that at the end of the year he is worse off than he was a year before. To him glib talk of inquiry cost means nothing in view of thie fact that he is paying out more than he is taking in. It is plain that too many of his inquiries are unproductive and that, whatever the cost, they are too expensive for him to maintain; they are the unprofitable departments.
Hence if we discard, for the good of the advertiser, erroneous methods of computing inquiry cost, if the ad. man and the agency will give due weight to consideration of what is finally the true cost of inquiries, we can better make careful analysis of the conditions that confront us. It is only by looking facts squarely in the face
can gauge our course in safety. Having ascertained the facts we can then figure out means for reducing the inquiry cost to a point that will be profitable, and to set a limit beyond which danger lies.
It will thus be seen that the relation of inquiries to orders in point of cost is all out of the commonly accepted proportion, and must of necessity be considered from different standpoints. Inquiry cost has been mainly a passing term to determine the relative pulling power of various papers, I would not for one moment abate any of its value for this purpose. But it must be backed up by something else to convince the careful advertiser.
Selling cost is usually treated including inquiry cost. This is wrong Selling cost comes in only after inquiry cost has been expended and may not come in at all while the inquiry cost goes on just the same. The line of demarkation is not always plain and the difference would make a good subject for a treatise on cost system in an advertising business which I may sometime take up but cannot here enter upon. Suffice to say now that what we want is means for accurately (as is possible) determining when our inquiries bear their proper relation to orders in matter of cost. And in order more fully to
appreciate its importance we must turn to a second phase of this relationship, that of probability. In oth
wr, hwmuuries will become orders.
The ideal in mail order advertising is that every inquiry shall develop into an order. Ideals when realdeasbedel. To be an deaubesmethnghatur
shenevending inspirat greater effort. To see how nearly we camerathea thavnguem
I cited an instance of selling only 11 Now there may be reasons for that proportion. Whatever the ratio is, constant effort should be employed to reduce it. Show me one we12awwu a phenomenon in mail order business.
In casting about for reasons for unprofitable inquiries, the first consideration should be the mediums carrying the ads. and these should be examined as to their character; their territory, and their circulation. Most advertisers reverse this order, but as I consider it the proper sequence is as here given.
The character of a publication reflects its clientage; it is the readers of the publication the advertiser must consider. Are they of the class that will be purchasers of goods such as he is selling? If so, are they purchasers of his grade? It may be that such papers will bring large numbers of inquiries but when parties receive catalogues and literature they find the goods not of the grade that appeals to them. There are papers with a million circulation that would flood an automobile advertiser with inquiries, but it is doubted whether a single reader could raise the money necessary to purchase one. On the other hand there are publications with equally large circulation that would bankrupt the advertiser of cheap goods. Both are good in their class, but out of
absolutely worthless. Both will bring large numbers of inquiries but if the goods are not of their standard sales will result. It would be folly to continue spending money upon
them simply because they bring inquiries at an apparently low cost. Low indeed compared with money paid the
publisher, but tremendously high when properly figured.
I have in mind an advertiser who spends ten thousand dollars to get ten thousand inquiries and considers them very cheap. There could be named three papers that would bring him that number with half the expenditure, and thirty to fifty thousand with the same money. But he has a $50 proposition and sells 3 out of every 5. If he changed to the papers in question he would hardly sell 1 in 20, and could not expect to if he knew what he should of the character of the people reading his ad.
There are papers of large circulation, the readers of which answer advertisements readily, but never buy. One paper in particular which stands well up in the scale of respectability is notorious for the fact that a large percentage of its readers are catalog hunters and souvenir collectors. Sending literature to such is costly and productive of little good.
It is true also that as a general rule the very rich and the very poor
not mail order buyers for reasons which need not be here mentioned. Both these
are reached by publications of large circulation and devoted to their especial interests.
The advertiser should know these points and before spending money should ascertain whether he is prepared to follow up his ad. with goods of quality and price to meet the demands of the inquirers. If he has, a simple ad. in such papers will usually suffice. Large space and osten. tatious display will add very little. In such a small ad., persistently car. ried, will accomplish all the results to be gained.
The mail order buyers are recruited from what is commonly called "the middle class." The American people have been likened to an apple pie, consisting of upper crust, filling, and lower crust.
The upper crust is rich and indigestible, the lower crust soggy and unpalatable, the filling substantial and nourishing. So we find at least in mail order buying it is the middle class upon whom we are to depend. Not rich enough to be knaves, sufficiently poor to be honest, and seeking the most for
To this class there are almost numberless publications going, some good, some bad, and some neither. The general mail order advertiser must devote his energies here, and by dividing and subdividing get a list that will give proper returns, not so much in the number of inquiries received as in actual sales.
I cannot leave this part of my subject without again pointing out, as I have often done, the value of the agricultural papers. The farmer is today the most independent man on earth. He has the money to buy what he wants, and raises most of what he needs, physically speaking. His tastes are educated to a choice for quiet, good quality at a fair price, rather than the barbarously ornate or the gaudily uncouth. The advertiser therefore who caters to the rural community, with honest quality at an honest price, finds a profitable and increasing class of customers. The hayseed farmer has passed away, except in a few instances which a kind Providence retains, for some reason, on the stage of the third rate vaudeville theaters. The farmer is today an educated man. His sons are graduates from our colleges, both classical and agricultural. His daughters are familiar with good music and literature. His wife is a member of the woman's club and all are, or should be, Grangers. Not any longer is the country going to town. The town has gone to the country. The farmer is in touch with the world. He feels its pulsebeats and is in step with its onward march. Above all, he is not spoiled. He is honest and a good citizen. What better class could a mail order advertiser approach?
The character of a publication having been found suitable, the next question is what territory does it reach. This is important, because upon it may depend success or failure. It may be that publication brings many inquiries but no sales; or it may bring few inquiries. The character of the paper is all right and is pulling for others. An examination will seldom fail show cause, and one of the most frequent is that of wrong territory. If an advertiser is shipping his goods by mail the question of territory is of
little consideration. But where the freight or express charge is a factor it becomes of prime importance. Sometimes the freight charges are more than the goods cost.
In many cases of long distance
the express charges would effectually kill any sale. This is true of certain western and southern states where there is no freight competition and where legislatures permit the monopolizing roads to charge whatever they please. A close relationship under such circumstances is hardly to be looked for.
Again in considering territory search should be made to ascertain if there are other mail order advertisers in the same line situated in, or nearer to the territory under consideration. If such be found it is evident that other things being equal the party nearest will have advantages in freights and time that others do not, and must naturally be expected to be a strong competitor. To overcome this handicap some mail order houses have adopted methods of paying freight or express charges under arrangements more
less questionable and of which I shall have more to say upon future occasion.
Further, is the territory one that is probably profitable anyway? Notwithstanding the evident folly of advertising sealskin garments in Panama, or palm leaf fans in Greenland, care should nevertheless be taken to see that such conditions exist not even in small degree. The
paper may be one of the best, and yet cover such large territory that certain goods cannot be profitably advertised by it.
Until the publishers adopt a rate based upon the proportion of their territory that is of value to the advertiser, it is wisdom to spend little consideration upon such, unless the returns from the territory wanted are so large as to offset the dead wood.
Again, having character and territory approved, how many more in the same line are trying the same game? Out of 10,000 inquiries it is safe to say that 9,000 have written to other concerns, and most of them to all others advertising in that territory. Now one advertiser cannot sell all and the relation of inquiries
to orders will be just in proportion to the superior methods employed to induce the sale. It is almost certain that he who best presents the merits of his goods will capture the order.
There are those to whom only price appeals. It then turns upon who is offering the lowest prices. Happily this class is dying away and quality, properly presented, is winning out. Conversely, it may be that the grade of goods advertised is too high to be sold at competing prices. These are matters for internal consideration, but must of necessity weigh heavily upon the relation of inquiry to order. And if there are others after the same customers it is only reasonable to expect they will get some of them and allowance should be made for this in considering whether a publication is or is not profitable. If a paper is bringing inquiries from a desirable class in a desirable territory, at a low first cost, and sales are not being made, search for the cause should begin at homeand end there. It will not have to go far.
In considering a particular territory the physical conditions must be taken into account. What is the general condition ? Is the season backward ? Are the people prosperous? Is there flood or drought, good crops or bad? All these have a cumulative effect because if doubt once enters a community it affects all whether there he just cause or not. Thousands will answer ads. thinking of buying. Now if conditions are favorable in their vicinity a slight pressure is sufficient to secure the order, but if not it takes hard work to interest them to the point of buying. Unless in absolute need they put it off until "things is easier.” These conditions should be ascertained, because, while of course the proper man will always use his best argument, it will so assist him ir. So concentrating his force upon the hard places as to successfully clean up the whole field. An advertising campaign resents some analogy to a military campaign in that there is almost certainly some strong point that requires superior force to conquer, while others are easily subdued by a careful skirmish line.
The successful salesman is one who studies his people, their life and
surroundings, their characteristics and capabilities. The mail order man must do the same, but he must do at long distance and by extraneous information what the salesman does by contact and personal observation. After all has been said the fact remains that one cannot judge unerringly by letters of inquiry. Any experienced mail order man can affirm this. It is therefore necessary that we familiarize ourselves with the condition and environment of our customers and get near to them if we would exchange our wares for their money.
Lastly, because I believe of lesser importance, is circulation. The character of a publication being approved, covering desirable territory, whatever its circulation it should be of value. And it will usually be found that regardless of circulation the returns will be found proportionate. That is to say, the cost per inquiry will not vary greatly. Large circulation will bring more than small, but costs more. Circulation is now same as gold or silver bullion. A certain quantity is worth a certain price and will, if properly manipulated, turn into just so much money. The mail order (or any other) advertiser must beware of cheap space, for, like any other lowpriced commodity, it is of exceedingly doubtful value. A large circulation at a very low line rate excites suspicion in the experienced mind, same as
advertisements of gold watches at $4.99 do to those who really know what such goods cost. Too many advertisers are unable to resist the opportunity to get large space at a low price, hence throw away good money, and then complain that their advertising does not рау. . of this, however, more later. The only vital question is, is the circulation honestly stated? Is it legitimate? Circulation cannot be counted by postoffice certificates, nor by paper bills or press count. The true circulation is the number taken and paid for by parties who find the publication helpful, who are influenced by its advice and who have confidence in its advertisers. Such circulation, if it bring inquiries, will bring such as may almost certainly be counted orders—for someone, and of course the relationship will be in
direct proportion to the manner of working them.
But in the last analysis, the relationship is influenced to no small degree by the methods employed in the selling department and if these be not right all favorable circumstances are neutralized. It is to be assumed that ads. are always keyed. I am aware that some large advertisers say this is undignified, but it is wise, nevertheless. Now make a careful analysis of the inquiries that do not become orders. What publications brought them? From what territory did they come? What is the character of the publication? What are the physical conditions obtaining in that territory? and greatest of all, are your methods for turning inquiries into orders correct? Of this last it may not be possible for you to judge and it is a cause for employment of expert opinion.
If no flaw be found then it is evident that if a large number of inquiries remain such that they are unprofitable departments and would best be let alcne and the papers that brought them would be the first to advise discontinuance of effort in that direction. But extreme care should, yea must, be taken to settle all these points beyond possibility of "reasonable doubt” for, except in rare instances, some explanation can be found that will change the relationship and turn to profit what was before a decided loss. Of course the first evidence of the value of any paper is its ability to bring inquiries, and generally it is good evidence. But I had on my list last year large and influential papers that
gave many inquiries and few orders, and one paper that gave 80 per cent of orders with a limited circulation confined to one state, and a small portion only of that.
It will thus be seen that the relation of inquiries to orders is one
that is well defined and capable of large influence, dependent entirely upon the personality, skill, experience and industry of the person handling the inquiries. A circular letter recently received starts out by saying, "Money spent in advertising, if it does not bring adequate returns, is an expense, Money spent
bring profitable results must be considered an investment, the value of which must be taken into account just as much as the value of stock at inventory time." So inquiries of proper character, from the right territory, must be considered by the mail order advertiser as assets which it is his business to make valuable. To him they are like unto the bricks and lumber which he has collected for his building. Shall they be allowed to lie fallow, or shall they be woven into the business fabric, or shall someone else appropriate them to his use? Shall the relationship between inquiries and orders be a remote one, or shall it be close and ever drawing closer until "they two shall be one?” I have endeavored to point out how this relationship may be controlled and cultivated. Much more might be profitably written, but as the best teacher is he who stimulates the pupil to do his own thinking, so I can merely present the facts and leave to each one his own way of working out his own problem and perhaps his salvation. It is my purpose in the forthcoming numbers to treat the mail order proposition from six different standpoints with but one objective. These efforts must of necessity bear more or less upon each other, so that I ask my friends to withhold criticism 'til I have had my say. It is a problem that demands constant study, for surely each year some are approaching nearer the ideal, and surely we must not
be counted among the “poor relations."