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List, Offer and Creative

Posted on February 6, 2006 and read 7,616 times

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There’s an old adage in direct marketing: the three elements of a direct mail test—in order of testing importance—are:

– List

– Offer

– Creative.

And that’s pure bunk.

Let’s take a step back and find out why the adage places creative execution at the bottom of the heap. In the olden days (read: prior to the 1950s remember, direct mail has been around since the 1800s!), list brokers acted as de facto agencies for clients. They consulted on how to position direct mail packages, and more often than not, were focused on getting the most out of a client’s pocketbook via list testing. They even helped clients develop offers—for a fee. What they typically didn’t do is roll up their sleeves and develop the creative execution of the mail package.

So their lockstep chant of “List, Offer, Creative” makes sense in a shortsighted way: tell clients the most important aspect of direct mail is the aspect you make the most money from namely, lists.

And while early list managers used the adage of “List, Offer and Creative in that order” as a way to line their pockets, somehow over the years, it’s become a mantra. A wrongheaded mantra. Here’s why:

Your competitor can use the same lists. And your competitor can come out with the same offer. But if your competitor copies your creative well, that’s a very visible, telltale sign that your competitor is lacking in vision, is a copycat, isn’t original, can’t you get the picture.

So, we think the order of importance should be reversed because creative is the one aspect you have the most control over—the aspect your competitors can’t pass off as their own.

When testing, consider bold strokes that is, a test in which 14-point type on the outer envelope is pitted against 16-point type ain’t much of a test. And don’t think testing a blind outer envelope versus one with a message is a creative test. That’s more of a format test and a weak one at that.

Instead, test emotional resonance. That way, you’ll find how consumers feel about your product and offer, by comparing emotional appeals and approaches. Further, by honing in on the emotions that drive sales, you’ll be able to spread that knowledge to other marketing activities, like, advertising, promotions even brochure and collateral development.

The best place to start is addressing the Nine Basic Human Wants. Simply put, all direct marketing appeals boil down to consumers connecting with one of the following wants:

Acceptance: In this instance, the appeal addresses a person’s innate need for belonging, fitting in, acceptance of oneself or acceptance by others;

Adventure: The focus here is on new experiences, the drama of life and anticipating the future;

Community: Here, appeals address socialization and maintaining relationships and home harmony;

Creative Expression: Here, messages and visuals focus on communication, art, dress and, um, expression;

Freedom: In this instance, communications focuses on independence and personal control over choices;

Growth: The emphasis here is on discovery discovering new options and building/expanding boundaries;

Interchange: Here, messaging and visuals focus on trading or sharing knowledge and being “in the know” before others;

Responsibility: The emphasis here is on seeking out leadership positions, looking at accomplishments, maintaining or gaining control and responding to authority;

Security: Here, the emphasis falls on feeling safe and assured, as well as fully understanding plans and information.

So, a solid creative test would perhaps pit a concept focusing on “Responsibility” versus a concept regarding “Freedom” versus the control package. Imagery and word choices that emphasize each of the different concepts then go far beyond testing 14- versus 16-point type.

And, any designer worth his or her salt will be able to give you graphic elements that evoke—on an emotional level—those Human Wants. For example, the color palette that signifies “Responsibility” (conservative blues and muted grays, greens and browns) is far different than the vibrant colors of “Freedom.”

Best yet, copywriters will be able to give you the verbal trigger words that connect with these different wants, making your direct mail packages work that much harder.

Ultimately, direct mail is about connection on a one-to-one level. And that’s achieved by dealing with each recipient as a person—a person with wants, needs and emotional perspectives. Now, we know that list and offer do play a vital role in direct marketing but emotion can’t be measured purely by the demographics of a list or the parameters of an offer.

So the next time a so-called direct mail expert trots out tired clichés about testing hierarchy, just smile to yourself
and go with the creative.


John Tomkiw
President
Elevation Marketing






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