7 key creative concepts for great results

Posted by Rick Rappe
August 28th, 2012

First off, a rant. Direct mail isn’t just advertising; it’s a sales tool. There are less expensive ways to brand your product or service. Your direct marking creative should sell. I’d rather have black and white copy that sells than a 3-D hologram mailer that talks… but doesn’t sell.

Thanks, I feel a little better.

Under the heading of “Creative” we include several things including copy, design and package format. All three of these things come together (with the offer) into an overall direct mail creative concept. This is obviously a huge topic to cover, so I’ll be coming back to it down the road in this blog.

Let’s start with seven of what I believe are the most important creative ideas to ponder as you develop or review direct mail package creative:

1. Make the copy platform the cornerstone of your creative strategy.

All good concepts start with some insights or ideas about the mindset of the recipient, which lead into ideas about how to speak to them to address their needs, desires and problems. From there, you can build a messaging idea or copy platform for your overall package and also for each individual element.

2. Remember the first rule of good copy.

Customers don’t care about you, your company, or what you want to sell them. THEY CARE ABOUT THEMSELVES! Your creative should focus on the prospects needs and what is in it for them. You will get more of what you want (sales) only through helping your customers get what they want. Make sure your concepts focus on your solution to their “problem” in simple terms and always keep in mind that people buy benefits, not features!

3. Tap into emotional needs.

Develop packages and copy with one person in mind and try to imagine what is happening in their heads. Over half of what you or I do and buy comes down to an emotional decision. Key emotional drivers are exclusivity, flattery, fear, greed, guilt, anger and salvation. So, while explaining benefits is a big part of the copywriter’s job, remember that the satisfaction of deeper psychological needs is what often really moves someone to action.

4. Test straightforward, efficient packages first.

Look at the control packages from other companies and test what seems to be mailing repeatedly. There are cost-effective, straightforward DM package formats that are considered workhorses in the industry. Letter packages are the most commonly used formats in direct mail for a reason – BECAUSE THEY WORK! Test these first within your program. You don’t need to invent a new crazy die-cut package format to stand out in the mail box. Don’t believe your ad agency if they tell you that you do. This is advertising thinking trying to masquerade as direct marketing and it will drive up your costs and drive down your results.

5. Don’t ONLY focus on the design.

Most of us are highly visual people, and it is REALLY easy to get enamored with creating beautiful creative pieces. But keep these things in mind…

  • Ugly often outperforms beautiful package design. For some reason people are drawn in by agitating visual elements, and may dismiss creative more quickly that is soothing and visually “beautiful.”
  • A great list and a great offer and a great copy platform will work with simple black ink on white paper. (Trust me, I’ve tested it.) If these other elements are off, the most amazing creative in the world isn’t going to save the program. (Learned that one the hard way too.)
  • Naked and official looking packages often outperform promotional packages. I believe this has to do with how people sort their mail. Promotional looking stuff may hit the recycling bin first, and not be read. While a naked or official looking package generates curiosity and will survive that first sort to be opened and read.

6.Don’t fall in love with your own work.

Don’t over intellectualize, this leads to tinkering, which in turn leads to failure. Embrace that direct marketing doesn’t always have to make sense; it just has to make money. Keep in mind that your direct mail tests are small quantities, and have a short shelf life. They disappear into oblivion quite quickly. This means you shouldn’t get bogged down in trying to create one perfect piece. Create lots of imperfect ones and then get them out there. One of my mentors, Bob Hacker, taught me that a good idea violently executed, will beat brilliance poorly executed – EVERY TIME!

7. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish!

Direct marketing creative talent and their work is just like anything else…you get what you pay for. So pay for the good stuff. It’s worth it. You’ll will reach higher levels of success and your programs will generate a much higher ROI over the long term.

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