You shouldn’t have to choose between creativity and targeting

Mark Thomson, media director at Royal Mail, argues that the blank canvas mail offers provides marketers with the chance to be both creative and effective.

Mark Thomson
Mark Thomson

As direct marketing continues to evolve, the question is whether the best creative minds in the industry can keep pace with the changes in technology.

Gone are the days when a long copy letter or voucher book were the only things on offer to direct marketers, or a large proportion of posted marketing material was dismissed by detractors as ’stuff that folds’.

Instead, we’re now afforded a choice of channels ranging from direct response press ads, to the hundreds of Apps which become available to iPhone users every month.

In terms of direct mail, what’s at stake – as outlined in these column inches before – is the chicken-and-egg scenario of targeting versus creativity. With expert data capabilities at our disposal, it would be easy to put all our eggs in the targeting basket by simply picking the list of recipients which seem most likely to act on the mailing, based on existing insight we hold in our databases.

But to do that would be to completely ignore the creative potential of the post. The good thing about mail is its flexibility. To talk about it in TV terms, do you want a 30-second mailing or a 30-minute mailing? The space and time constraints of other media don’t apply to mail. Do you want to show a range or a single item? Or need to talk about the intricacies of a financial product? No problem – you can be as detailed, precise, expansive, verbose or as brief as you want.

And, of course, while people do inevitably throw some of their post into the recycling bin, when they open it, they look at it. You can watch an ad on TV or the internet and almost completely ignore both the message and the tone of delivery. Mail is unusual. You can’t read your post while surfing the Web or driving a car. Even if just for a minute, you do gain someone’s undivided attention. And they’re more likely to do that if there is something eye-catching dropping through their mailbox.

There was a great recent example of making a mailing creative from Orange.

The telecoms giant lined up a DM push to target taxi firms by sending despatch managers a pack in the shape of a bottle of motor oil, including information about better ways of managing driver communication using a Smartphone. The innovative piece also featured the incentive of a 30 per cent discount on the deal.

Another challenge for marketers and their agencies is to determine which comes first: the channel or the creative idea. In other words, does the planner or the creative team take precedence? Essentially, a good creative idea should be able to stretch across several channels, as opposed to being restricted by the platforms it is being designed for.

As for direct mail, it’s not a case of creativity being dead – more like the mail giving marketers a chance to be dead creative.

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