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#77 Oppo Research (a.k.a. Stealing Smart)
Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia , PA
Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Issue #77 - Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Posted by Denny Hatch

Oppo Research (a.k.a. Stealing Smart) You’re Nuts Not to Invest in It!

46 Words That Changed My Life
In 1980 I attended a Direct Mail Writer's Guild luncheon in New York where the featured speaker was Dorothy Kerr, Circulation Director of US NEWS & WORLD REPORT. Her words were instantly etched into my DNA:
“If you want to be successful in direct mail, you have to know who’s mailing what and track which mailings come in over and over again. These are the controls—the hugely profitable money-makers that are making marketers rich. Save them, study them and “STEAL SMART!”

That very day I started collecting junk mail—filing it by category, analyzing it, labeling it and—most important—tracking mailings that came in over and over again. By 1984 I had eight file cabinets full of junk mail in 123 categories.

     Word of my little archive got around the southern Connecticut creative community. A number of local writers and designers stopped by to look through my collection. I didn’t charge them. I loved exchanging gossip with visiting colleagues and was happy to help.

Harry Walsh was a lovely guy—big, gruff redhead who spent World War II teaching gunnery to fighter pilots. After the war he was an agency copywriter and Ogilvy & Mather’s direct mail copy chief until he went freelance. His schedule: work like hell from six a.m. to noon and then repair to Chez Pierre, an upstairs saloon in Westport, Connecticut for martinis and a long, leisurely lunch that lasted until mid-afternoon.
      I remember he called me to say he had an assignment to write a mail shot for the publisher of an upcoming series of World War II books. Did I have anything in my files that could be helpful? I did indeed—an 8-1/2” x 11” package for a pictorial encyclopedia from Columbia House as well as another set published (as I recall) by Stuttman.
     “Lemme come over and use you Xerox machine and I’ll buy you lunch. I’ve got an idea for you.”
     After copying the two mailings, he drove me to La Bretagne in Stamford and we settled into martinis. His idea:
     “I’d like to pay you for the privilege of using your archive.”
     “If you do that,” I said, “I’ll have to start a newsletter that tells you what mailings are coming in every month.”
     “I’ll be your first subscriber.”
     After that very wet lunch I lurched into the house and told Peggy I wanted to start a newsletter based on our junk mail archive.
     Her response: “Collecting money from newsletter subscribers must be easier than from a bunch of freelance clients. Let’s do it.”
     We took $10,000 out of savings and sent out a test mailing—5,000 to each of two lists, Adrian Courtenay’s DM News and Pete Hoke’s Direct Marketing magazine. The offer: Three Months Free, $99.00 per year. Cancel any time and receive a refund on all undelivered issues.
     The test brought in enough money to do a roll-out, which brought in enough money to launch the newsletter and junk mail archive service.


Trashed: A Once-in-a-lifetime Record of
Obscenely Profitable Communications
In 1992 we sold the business and moved to Philadelphia where we ran WHO’S MAILING WHAT! and saved Target Marketing magazine.
     After a 33-year run, in 2017 the new owners finally folded WHO’S MAILING WHAT! and trashed the archive of over 200,000 mailings in 223 major categories going back 35 years. (“We needed the storage space.”)
     Included in the detritus were 1,161 “Grand Controls”—mailings that had been received over three or more consecutive years—the products of tens of millions of dollars in testing.
     For example, in the trash was the most successful advertisement in the history of the world—The Wall Street Journal’s “Two Young Men letter” of 775 words that was mailed for 25 years and brought in $1 billion in circulation revenue
     The company's message to me and to the direct marketing industry:
     “Junk mail is dead—clunky, expensive, passé and a pain in the ass to keep track of and store. Hey, all you Luddites, digital marketing is the future! Get used to it!”
     Oh yeah? 
Direct Mail Is a $44-Billion Industry

“The Direct Marketing Association reports that the direct mail industry is valued at $44.2-billion. It’s the second largest channel for ad spend in the U.S. (teleservices is first at $45 billion) and it’s growing by billions of dollars each year.
     “For every $167 that was spent on direct mail in the U.S., products or services sold for an average of $2,095. That’s a 1,300% return on investment.” MSP, Pittsburgh, PA

 The Newsletter and Archive Were NOT About Direct Mail. 
This was about offers, pricing, Unique Selling Propositions (USPs), headlines, envelopes and teaser copy, personalization, premiums, freemiums, copy platforms, pricing, business philosophy and business models.
     In the 200,000 mailings over the past 35 years of old fashioned direct mail are the words, phrases and designs that motivate people to buy stuff. What’s more, all of these proven marketing techniques and knowledge are completely relevant in the techie world of digital marketing as well as TV, space advertising, telemarketing, Social Media, roadside billboards and skywriting.
     In addition, the only sure, safe way to test a new product or service is by direct mail. That’s because the Chinese “steal quick-‘n’-dirty” and will steal you blind.

Today Stealing Smart Has a New Name: Oppo Research
Stealing smart is about old-fashioned—totally legal and aboveboard—research. For example, along with my researching direct mail:

Politics: "When you go and talk, honestly, to congressman, they all do it, they always have, and that's the way it is. It's called oppo research."
  —Donald J. Trump to George Stephanopoulos, June 13, 2019

Automobiles: For over a century, on the very day one of Detroit’s “Big 3” (Ford, Chrysler, GM) introduces a new model into showrooms, research engineers from the other two secretly buy the competition’s spanking new car. They drive it off the lot and immediately tear it all the way down to every last nut and bolt. The object: learn everything possible about the newest developments and—yes—steal smart for next year.

Codes: The dogged U.S., Polish and British codebreakers of World War II in the Pacific and Bletchley Park outside London cracked the Nazi and Japanese secret codes and shortened the War by two years, thus saving millions of lives and trillions of dollars. 

Amazon: When the brand new replacement blades for my trusty Phillips-Norelco shaver started tearing up my face I did minimal oppo research on the source—Amazon—and discovered Jeff Bezos is in the counterfeit business big time and can no longer be trusted. With the exception of Kindle books, I am no longer an Amazon customer.

Oppo Research: The Incalculable Value of Secret Shoppers
Business is war. Your competitors are acquiring and serving customers who probably should be yours. You owe it to yourself—and your business—to do oppo research so you can know
precisely what your competitors are up to—what they are doing well and what they are doing badly—enabling you to steal their best ideas.
     When Peggy and I were running WHO’S MAILING WHAT! we had our own secret shopping network—roughly a dozen correspondents in homes and businesses all over the country. They sent us their junk mail. (We paid postage and gave them a free subscription to the newsletter.)
     Obviously we got only a fraction of what was in the mail. But we received the main stuff—an average of 1,800 unique mailings a month in 229 categories—business, consumer, non-profit and catalogs.
Takeaways to Consider
     • If you Google “Secret Shoppers” or “Mystery Shopping,” you discover a lot of companies and agencies offering to be your secret shopper.   
     • My advice: if you can find someone internally who knows your industry and your business, he or she needs minimal training and can start right away.
     • Set up the Secret Shopper (SS) office with a distant Zip code and different area code than yours.
     • Turn your SS into a customer who starts doing regular business with your competitors.
     • Have SS order their products and/or services.
     • Are the products delivered as promised—on time and well-packaged?
     • Scrutinize what you are sent—much like Ford, Chrysler and GM analyze each other's cars.
     • Pay special attention to the instructions that accompany the shipments. Are they clear, easy to follow? Or are they sloppy translations from the Chinese? How do yours compare?
     • Collect and analyze their fulfillment material—the stuff that accompanies their shipments, upsell efforts, newsletters and miscellaneous communications.
     • Collect the direct mail promotions, catalogs and email they send.
     • Is it easy to return a product or is it a hassle?
     • How are you treated by customer service reps on the phone.
     • How are new products or services introduced? Should you look into offering competitive products or services?
     • In short, what can you learn? What are they doing that you should be doing?
     • Create a dossier on each competitor that includes an ongoing, up-to-date information on their marketing, fulfillment and customer service.
     • While you're at it, secretly monitor your own organization's performance for comparison purposes.
     • What are they doing you and your people should do.
     • Are they offering products, services and line extensions that will further your reach and bring in additional revenue?
     • In short, what ideas can you Steal Smart?
     • Incidentally, every person in the workplace is thrilled and flattered to contacted by a headhunter.
     • If your SS comes away with a very positive impression of an employee in a competing company, alert your favorite headhunter to anonymously query the happiness and availability of that stellar person.


Word Count: 1608

At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


Denny Hatch
The St. James
200 West Washington Square, #3007
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-644-9526 (Rings on my desk)

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