Direct Marketing Best Practices Revisited – Part 2

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    The great thing about the rule is that it has withstood the test of time. The rule however is facing its greatest challenge since being created by Mayer in the 1960’s. The emergence of the social economy has changed the way we receive and process information. We are literally assaulted with tens of thousands of messages daily. Without powerful creative, will your message have a chance of being noticed, regardless of your data? And if your message isn't noticed, how will your offer being received?

    I asked two industry veterans for their response to the question “do you think the rule of 40-40-20 still applies today or has creative grown in importance?” Their answers were interesting:

    Brian Courtney, Freelance Copywriter:
    “I think that creative has grown in importance because attention spans are shorter and there are more messages competing for that reduced attention time. We no longer have the luxury of a "gestational period" where the recipient will read the direct mail, then mull the concept until they have that light bulb "ah ha!" moment of understanding. If the creative is too abstract or obtuse, it will be immediately passed over. Today's concepts must yield instant recognition and message delivery – and yet still be creative. That's hard to do and it's the reason why so many otherwise good offers fail.”

    Allan Espiritu, Designer:
    “30-30-40 is more like it! As consumers, we are bombarded with a constant flow of information and media. The aesthetic design and execution, speaks loudly in a sea of flashing visuals and messages. More than ever, design plays an important role in getting your message to your audience. But only good design does that. You need creative work that thinks outside the box—design the re-contextualizes and reimages how to use traditional and foundational design elements. Consumers are smarter and are always constant motion, so only visuals that impress, challenge, or even slow them down will get their attention.”

    From my viewpoint as a marketer, while the platforms available to target customers have grown dramatically over the last decade, these advancements have simply changed the way we target, the way we make offers and the way we design our creative. We still must go after a clearly defined target with a compelling offer that is presented in a precise, accurate and timely manner. I know some of my peers would disagree and argue that the 40/40/20 rule was created when direct marketing was a primary means of reaching customers and there was not all this other “noise” competing for consumer’s attention. While this is true, I would challenge them that even with today’s integrated campaigns, data (list) can make or break a campaign and messaging (offer) must be compelling. The creative component is the piece that takes on more weight in order to cut through the clutter. But it’s not a question of either/or. The percentages may vary from the original intent of the rule but all three all important to be successful.

    The topic will continue to be debated as technologies and platforms continue to evolve and emerge. What is your perspective?  Email me at

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