What's More Important to Response? The Creative Execution or the Offer?

This question came up when the editor for Inside Direct Mail contacted me for an interview related to offers in direct mail. I knew that he was contacting a number of other direct marketers in the US. So I was interested to see what he came up with.

Lo and behold. I was the only one in the bunch who thought that the offer was the most important predictor of response!

I am quoting from the June, 2008 issue of Inside Direct Mail in the article entitled "Expert Offer Development Can Ignite Response" by Etna Bolt.

Here's how the interviewees answered one of the questions.

"Question: Do offers drive response more than creative does?

  Gary Hennerberg, owner of the direct marketing consultancy Hennerberg Group in Colleyville, Texas answers: If you're a believer in the 40/40/20 rule[List/Offer/Creative], then you'd say offers drive response more. My opinion, molded by tests I've conducted, is that creative drives response more than offers. I think the 40/40/20 rule no longer applies in our culture in which we live today.

    Bill Shelton, president of the direct marketing agency Left Field Creative in St. Louis answers: As a brand creative at heart, I want to tell you that it's all about brand and all about message, but I think it works hand in hand. I don't think you can necessarily say that one is more important than the other... if we do our job and market the creative properly, we're going to get a better response if we have the two working hand in hand.

    Ted Grigg, principal of the direct marketing consultancy DMCG based in Lewisville, Texas answers: The offer is central and holds a starring role in effective direct response copy. This does not mean that the offer is the main selling proposition. But it is the spark that stimulates interest and prompts immediate orders... the offer is a major part of the creative development. I do not separate the two functions. I believe that yes, the offer is more important in predicting response than the creative execution.

Perhaps we should list the elements that define creative execution. These include the following.

1. The design including photography, color, typography and general look and feel of the package.
2. The tone of the language.
3. The use of case studies or testimonials to support key product benefits.
4. The package format such as self-mailers versus classic envelope packages.
5. The main or unique selling proposition.
6. Production quality such as stock and color registration.
7. The list of benefits of the offered product.

There is no doubt that in the absence of a compelling offer, that professional application of all of the creative execution elements will make a big difference in response. But a good offer often makes the difference between break even response and a real money maker package.

In fact, in the absence of a highly targeted list or a strong offer, the best package in the world will not perform well. So it takes all three --- proper targeting, great creative execution and a good offer.

In my experience as a consultant, all three areas are challenges for clients. But where they most often fail is in the development of a strong offer.

The big direct response enemy for all marketers is human inertia. And good offers overcome this powerful human trait. Without it, most direct marketing efforts will not get enough response to warrant expansion.

The major predictor for dramatic response increases rarely involve yet another tweak of the creative execution elements. It usually involves a new offer.

What is your take on this issue. Can you share an experience that would help answer the question about offers versus creative execution?

Posted on May 21, 2008 and filed under Direct Response Creative.