Can Drew Kaplan Bury WalMart.com?

Last week WalMart.com backers were spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt regarding Amazon.com, saying, in effect, that WalMart would bury it.

Turnabout is fair play. WalMart, meet your worst nightmare.

Drew Kaplan – the creator of the DAK catalog and the man who sold 900,000 breadmakers with a cookbook and a headline (“Five Minutes to Homemade Bread”) – is coming to a modem near you. He revealed his secrets at the “Billion Dollar Summit” last week.

Kaplan isn’t photographed in his catalogs, so for the record he’s tall, trim, with a Lincolnesque beard and a distinct twinkle in his eye. He’s a copywriter who first gets enthusiastic about a product, then puts his arm around a prospect and tells them why they should feel as he does. He also talks very, very fast.

“You’ve got to be the customer. You’ve got to read what he or she reads, think what he or she thinks. If you come across phony you are phony. You have to understand everything there is to know about the product and the user of that product.”

While WalMart aims to build regular traffic through its “My WalMart” feature, Kaplan just wants your email address. Then, “Every email you send had better be exciting, informative, and a darned good read. Every one has to count. If you send a dull email they won’t read your next one. It costs you that reader.”

The DAK catalog, bought from the Far East in bulk, used a good read to create demand. Kaplan’s web business will use the same technique.

“You need to create your own brands. It’s no fun to fight price. I make up my own names all the time, and trademark them. Pick a name, trademark it, and use it, but don’t try to go head to head with everyone else because you would lose.”

Kaplan likes the Courier 10 font, and always writes lines 43 characters in length. He writes long, then edits ruthlessly. The aim is “first you educate, then you sell.” He uses his real friends, family and experiences to write his pitches, and takes the time to refine each one.

When Kaplan tests a product, especially a computer product, he looks for “Easter Eggs,” hidden features like the “Flight Simulator” game inside Microsoft Excel. “This is what you’ll find on my site. I’m giving you games so it will be fun for you, so you’ll come back and give me your email address.” Sitting on the fence? Here are more Easter Eggs, then another request for the email address, and a link to my privacy policy.

“The style should be: You’re twice as smart as I am, but you’re a microbiologist while I learned about this,” whatever it is. “Corporate distance stinks. So you talk about your dog and your children. The point is we’re a family, we’re human beings.” And Kaplan is Uncle Drew the gadget expert.

What thrills Kaplan most about the web (besides email) is everything can be tested quickly. “No one knows what’s going to work,” he said. “It’s up to the customers. You run 100 tests and you’ll get the best.” Then keep testing, sending the lines that test best to 80 percent of the prospects, and something else to 20 percent.

Since Kaplan plans to be big in email, you should know some more about that. He plans to audit all his lists with Whitehat.com, and he’ll use an email subject line as a virtual headline. “The headline really has to grab them by the eyeballs.”

Today’s point isn’t that Drew Kaplan will bury WalMart.com all by himself. The point is that while WalMart.com may appeal to buyers, sales go to salespeople. The web is about selling, and the best salespeople are now coming online.

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