Tuesday, May 6, 2008

When Is It Time For "Fresh" Creative?

Should you change a direct mail format if you can save on printing or postage costs? Can your design become tired? Is it appropriate to change your copy or appeal based on world events?

It can be difficult to let good creative go. On the other hand, it can be costly to change your package creative simply for the sake of change.

What the heck is “creative?” As direct marketers, we throw the word around all the time, but what does it mean? According to Webster’s Desk Dictionary of the English Language, creative
means “resulting from originality of thought or expression.”

Creativity, as it applies to marketing, is hard to define. It is elusive, yet obvious when you see it. A creative idea takes something familiar and presents it in a new and compelling way.

The goal of direct mail creative is to compel your customers and prospects to act. The bottom line is that good direct marketing creative should get results.

There are times when fresh creative is needed. The most obvious reason for a change is when response rates start to slip. However, it’s important to know why response is declining so that you can make the appropriate changes to the creative.

Here are a few factors related to your creative that may lower response.

When creative becomes dated.
Some direct mail packages seem timeless. An excellent example is The Wall Street Journal direct mail package with the well-known letter that begins, “On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college.” Similarly, many not-for-profit organizations have packages that have worked, unchanged, for several years. Yet, in most cases, creative can become dated over time. Graphic elements and design that was innovative and cool when first developed can begin to look old and uninteresting. Copy that had just the right tone and tempo can become flat and lose its appeal.

When your list becomes tired.
After multiple mailings to the same list, you may experience list fatigue and response rates will decline. It may be time to modify the creative to give prospects a fresh look, offer, or message. In addition, other mailers — including the competition — may be mailing to the same audience, which can detract from your response. Once again, a new creative approach can regain your prospects’ interest.

When the audience’s motives change.
Although the saying goes that people don’t change, their motives can. For instance, if your audience is maturing, they may change from being motivated by messages about entertainment and fun to messages that relate to family and security. When a product is new, the audience may be motivated by novelty, but as they become more savvy, the motive may change to value or quality. It’s important to keep motive top-of-mind in the creative process and change your creative appeal to fit the current motives of your customers and prospects.

When outside influences change.
Many external factors can impact a program’s results. For instance, in recent times, the economy has been wreaking havoc on once-solid response rates. In addition, national or global events can change the way customers and prospects respond to mailings. Even what the competition is doing can change people’s perceptions of your industry, product, or service.

When the product or service changes.
Since the product or service you are promoting is the driving force behind your mailing, any modifications can dramatically affect your creative. For instance, if you improve your product or service, add a new feature, or have something new to promote, your creative should reflect that. If a software company introduces a newer, upgraded version, the creative would be freshened up to reflect the new features and benefits.

When your offer changes.
The offer is a key aspect of the strategy behind a direct mail program. If your offer is given a fresh approach, the creative will need to reflect that as well. For instance, if you start offering a free trial, discounted price, limited time offer, amazing premium, additional benefits, or special donor recognition, the creative should promote it.

When your audience changes.
When you target a different audience or even segments within your overall target market, you may need to fine-tune your creative to better reach them. For instance, you may find that your mortgage customers vary in age, marital status, income level, and hobbies and interests. You can create mailings that talk specifically to their needs. Young couples without children may be interested in travel and leisure activities. Couples with college age children may be looking for ways to help pay for their children's education. You can develop fresh creative that appeals to each audience.

When you can save money.
Another reason to rethink the creative approach for a program is when you can gain cost-efficiencies through different printing methods or lower postage. For example, you may find that slightly modifying the dimensions of your package will allow you to save on envelope costs, print more efficiently, or meet postage guidelines that qualify you for a lower rate. You may even find that you can entirely leave out a piece of a package and still maintain the same response!

As you can see, there can be many reasons for freshening up your creative. No matter what the reason, there’s one thing you should always do: test.

Is it time to give your package a fresh, updated look? Test it. When the economy is tight, should you change your copy to be less lighthearted and more serious? Test it. Should you try a two-color brochure instead of a four-color one to save money? Test it.

You get the idea...