Design, Maslen on Marketing

The sales secret many marketers ignore

Two salesmen decided to hold a month-long competition. The loser would have to fork out for a five-course dinner for both of them.

Tom discovered something in the first couple of weeks. Each day, he’d wear a different suit. And on the days when he wore a dark blue suit, which he didn’t much like, he sold more. When he wore a light grey suit – nada. So he started wearing the dark blue suit every day. And he made more and more sales.

Jim liked to go with the pale grey suit he thought made him look good rather than his boring navy blue one. Sadly for him, the punters kept away. At the end of the month he was way behind Tom and was phoning his credit card company to increase his limit.

No salesman, once he’s discovered a sales secret, will ignore it. He’ll take up golf, if that’s the game clients like to play. He’ll buy them tickets to the opera, even if Britney’s more his thing. He’ll wear dark suits, if that’s what makes the cash register ring.

So what’s going on with marketers? They will cheerfully ignore sales secrets, preferring instead to rely on intuition, personal taste or guesswork. The secret I have in mind this month is, to some eyes, a bit boring. Nerdy even. It has to do with typefaces.

Put simply, if you use a serif typeface – like Times Roman – for body copy, people are five times more likely to understand it thoroughly than if you set it in a sans serif face like Arial. Put it another way. If you mailshot 10,000 people with a letter set in Arial, it’s like throwing 8,000 on the fire yourself.

Yet despite the research, this is exactly what happens every day of the week, as well-meaning but dim companies send out mailings in typefaces that they just think look nice.

Perhaps the best example of this trend is our old friend Courier. Reminiscent of old-school typewritten letters, Courier seems to elicit the most extreme reactions from marketeers. “Ugh!” they say. “I hate it, it looks so old fashioned.”

Here’s the funny part. Ready?

Letters set in Courier have been shown to be 20% more PROFITABLE than letters set in other, more trendy, typefaces.

It’s why many of the world’s most successful mailings are set in Courier. Some of our clients have tested typefaces and now wouldn’t use anything but Courier. Good for them – they’re making more money.

Another complaint about Courier is that “it doesn’t reflect our brand”.

So let’s take the New Yorker as a case study. It’s a very upmarket, cultured and decidedly non kitchen table-y US magazine. You won’t find a single article in Courier within its pages, which groan with advertising for brands like Mercedes, Lexus, Chanel and Louis Vuitton. Yet its direct mail letters are set in Courier. Maybe someone at Condé Nast knows something.

Of course, it’s not just about the typeface. The New Yorker employs very good copywriters to ensure that the message is already very persuasive before the designer adds a little typographical magic.

And I’m telling you this because

Marketeers tend to be creative types. As opposed to, say, accountants. But the lovely thing about accountants is that they are ONLY concerned with money. If they find a way to make more of it, and give less of it away, they tend to a) tell you about it and b) start pursuing it with almost religious fervour.

In a field as measurable and testable as direct mail, we need to behave more like accountants and less like art gallery directors. We should use hard-nosed commercial sense whenever there’s evidence to support a particular course of action. Maybe it’s time to get that blue suit dry cleaned?

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