Why hitting the target will win the prize

Mark Thomson, media director at Royal Mail, argues that direct marketers need to focus on targeting first and creativity second.

Mark Thomson
Mark Thomson

Before the golden age of direct marketing began in the 1980s, the answer to the advertising industry’s chicken-and-egg question was pretty easy.

If you’d asked the UK’s ’mad men’ the question “which comes first, creativity or targeting?”, you’d probably have got a resounding ’yes’ to the former. The brains behind some of the most famous TV and outdoor campaigns – think the Dambusters ad for Carling Black Label or the Saatchis’ poster campaigns for the Tories – would quickly have proclaimed that creative was king.

Fast forward to the beginning of the 21st century, where the media mix includes an established DM industry, and the picture is very different.

Thanks to the maturation of the DM industry, and increasingly sophisticated data techniques allowing the seemingly simple task of aggregating all on- and offline data sources, many marketers – particularly those who use direct – would argue with some justification that the balance has been redressed.

If you take into account the tough targets we have all been set by government departments to recycle greater levels of direct mail, for example, then targeting becomes even more critical.

Certainly better targeting in recent years is one of the reasons for a decline in direct mail volumes and this has helped produce a rise in response rates – which can be no bad thing as we strive to extol the virtues of direct work.

This is supported by recent research conducted by the Direct Marketing Association as part of its Media Trends report. Good targeting of direct mail is currently more important to consumers than the style of the item that comes through their letterbox, says the study.

Recipients are not only more savvy about environmental issues than previous generations, they are also more upset by badly targeted material, and now have more mechanisms for opting out.

The DMA report states that consumers rate getting a message from a brand they are interested in as a greater motivation to open a piece of direct mail than how it looks. Furthermore, an attractive envelope turns heads for just 4 per cent of consumers and only 15 per cent are convinced by an ’interesting package’ to open a mailing.

But that doesn’t mean great work won’t cause ripples and the creative process should never be ignored as part of campaign planning and generation.

This is particularly important because of the way direct marketing can be used to propel the brand experience, engaging consumers in a way that amplifies the creative deployed through other channels.

As a great example, Citroen recently dovetailed a microsite – http://www.c3picasso.com/uk/ – for its C3 Picasso model with a brochure that could be requested in the post. The twist was that thanks to the wonders of augmented reality, the recipient could check out the car in 3-D. It’s a really nice piece of work that demonstrates the creative juices that still fuel our industry.

So I believe it’s vital for advertisers and agencies to weigh up the question posed at the beginning of this column before each direct campaign they carry out.

Creativity is important to encourage response, which is of course the ultimate test of any piece of work. But if consumers receive unwanted marketing material, however pretty it looks, it is more likely to end up in the bin.

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