The Counterintuitive Nature of Direct Marketing Creative Work

Here I am sitting at a Starbucks Coffee shop in Coppell, TX having a Grande French Roast with a small amount of milk and a few grains of sugar after a successful client presentation for new business.

As usual, it was a lot of fun and similar to so many that came before.

What strikes me as one of the most difficult lessons to learn is how direct marketing creative executions that work are so counterintuitive to most business people who make the buying decision for creative services.

Things like:

“Short copy is the only thing that works with our customers because they are so busy. So loose the letter and about 80% of the copy in your brochure. And while you’re at it, drop the reply form. You don’t want all of those pieces getting in the way. In fact, just send that shorter brochure in the envelope without including any other enclosures. That’s the kind of mail I respond to."

“How are you going to get people’s attention with that envelope package? They’ll just throw it away without opening it. So create a postcard instead, because the copy is real short and you can put some eye-catching graphics on it with 4-color printing on both sides. Now that will work! They don’t even have to open it!”

If you’ve been in this business for long, you can predict the conversation. Unfortunately, clients are almost always wrong about what works and doesn’t work unless they’ve done a lot of A/B split testing and spent several years doing it in multiple channels. What works is counterintuitive.

But when you think about it, reality or truth usually does not follow the expected pattern regardless of the trade. Only years of direct marketing experience honed by a large volume of testing in multiple channels takes away the counter intuitiveness of successful direct marketing creative work.

When success comes in the form of new clients, the first thing I have to deal with is not finding new customers for them or helping clients keep their present customers. The first task is to save clients from themselves when it comes to developing their creative work.

I suppose David Ogilvy said it best, “If it doesn't sell, it isn't creative.” And benefit-laden copy sells best.

In direct marketing, copy is still king and will usually be the one thing that separates successful direct marketing creative work from the failed campaigns. That statement alone is counterintuitive to what most people believe about great creative work.

So the challenge of selling the direct marketing creative discipline continues.

Does any of this hit a hot button for you? Do you find that successful direct marketing creative work usually contradicts what many believe makes for great creative work? Please share your perspectives on this with me.

Posted on February 14, 2008 and filed under Direct Response Creative.