Tony Attwood is primarily known for his work on raising response rates in
direct mail which led in 1995 to the
first publication of the Unified Theory of Direct Mail – an approach which offers the most comprehensive vision to date of why some direct mail works and some does not.
The Unified Theory was first released
at a time when it was commonplace for direct mail consultants, experts, gurus and the like to give their clients and potential clients little more than lists of do’s and don’ts – do sell benefits,
don't sell features, do personalise the letter, and so on.
Prior to the launch of the Unified Theory, there was nothing save a set of assertions that held these factors together. True, these beliefs often led to successful direct mail, but sometimes they didn’t. What was worse was that many such assertions had never been tested – and of those that had the results were often contrary to dominant thinking in direct mail – and these results were often ignored.
Thus it was widely held, prior to the advent of the Unified Theory, that colour was always a good thing to have in direct mail – the more colour the better. In fact research has repeatedly shown that this is often untrue. What’s more, the reason for such variance has been known since the 1970s, and yet direct mailers have continued to ignore such findings and stick to their view (ably supported by printers who make more money selling colour print) that colour is always good.
Tony’s work has incorporated much from the psychology of perception and he has gone on to use these studies to evolve a deeper understanding of how all these factors can be unified into just three underlying principles – hence the “unified theory”.
Among the many findings of this work is the conclusion that the dominant factor in raising the response rates in direct mail is invariably the text. The design is important but it is the text that has the dominant function. Thus, in addition to setting out the fundamental laws of direct mail, Tony has also evolved a subsequent analysis of how the copy within direct mail affects response rates.
His work leads to the view that there are only five approaches to writing direct mail that consistently work: price, benefits, selling by asking an interesting question, attracting attention through humour, forging an emotional link.
Much of Tony’s work for Hamilton House and its clients has centred around the use of these five options – and he has become particularly known for his copywriting using the interesting question, the benefits and humour, in the latter case opening up new possibilities through his long running humorous Toppled Bollard stories which have established a unique place within direct mail literature.
Tony’s book “Education Marketing: the theory and practice of direct mail” offers new insights into the way in which we can sell into schools. He is currently working on a new volume (“You are not reading this”) which gives a full analysis of the Unified Theory of Direct Mail. In the meanwhile the details and explanation of the theory appear on www.theory.bz