Creative takes on bigger role

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Last month, the Direct Marketing Association's Research and Intelligence unit published "Getting Creative With Direct Mail," the first research it has produced to examine the key creative components of direct-mail campaigns to help marketers make better campaign decisions.

According to the findings, creative accounts for 25.1% of total lift, and it generates an average response lift of 13.8%. The report benchmarks overall usage and testing patterns for 11 different creative components, as well as effectiveness ratings from marketers themselves. Creative components include envelopes, postage, brochures, postcards, postage and incentives.

"We're shedding some light into the black box," said Michelle Carrera, research associate for the DMA. "It should help marketers to begin to look at their direct mail strategies and learn what is and what is not working," she said. She called this first survey "a good beginning."

In addition to the benchmarking data for specific mail components and overall practices, the DMA also looked at direct mail testing.

Why not test?

One of the most surprising findings of the study was that marketers are not testing direct mail creative components as frequently as would be expected.

Two-thirds (67.6%) of respondents said they test at least one element among creative, offer and list, but that means that a surprising 32.4% do not. That is a high number, especially given direct marketers' long-held reputation for precision testing.

Carrera said there could be any number of reasons for this, among them limited marketing budgets, lack of time necessary to analyze testing results, and mailing lists that are too small to split in order to do A/B testing.

"People who don't test are a surprisingly large portion of direct marketers," said Peter Johnson, VP-senior economist, research and market intelligence at the DMA.

The report contains data and analysis on testing practices, and it also breaks out data on so-called preferred practice testers who are essentially a subgroup of respondents considered direct mail experts.

In terms of specific components, the survey revealed that No. 10 envelopes were most widely used. More than two thirds of respondents (69%) used No. 10 envelopes in the last 12 months, according to the study. The business envelope was also cited by 9.6% of respondents as the envelope they use in every direct mail campaign.

However, it may not be the most effective, the DMA researchers said.

"While most direct marketers use the No. 10 size, we found that 6-by-9-inch envelopes were slightly more effective," Carrera said. "I think direct marketers need to start testing their envelope size to see what works best," she said.

"The conventional wisdom, which is often what people rely on for creative, isn't always necessarily correct," Johnson said.

Among its other findings, the report revealed that despite bulk-rate postage being used most frequently, it actually ranked lower than first-class mail in terms of effectiveness among the respondents.

The DMA surveyed 136 marketers, agencies and suppliers online last September and October.

Johnson said he expects the creative survey to launch a new series of research for the DMA. "We will probably roll out successive reports around creative choices through other channels like e-mail, and we'll get more granular with direct mail," he said.

Creative council formed

In addition, last Tuesday, the DMA announced it has set up a new group called the Creative Council in order to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas in the direct marketing community for the creative element of multichannel campaigns. The council will be chaired by Holly Pavlika, exec VP-chief creative officer at G2 Direct & Digital (formerly Grey Direct), a subsidiary of WPP Group's Grey Global Group.

"There isn't an existing forum for creatives that serves as a source for information, sharing and involvement as a community," Pavlika said. "Creative is taking on a bigger and bigger role as the proliferation of media channels increases and accountability becomes more important," she said. "We're taking all the information [that] the other departments are pulling together in terms of the marketing initiative and bringing that to life. All that information needs to culminate in some piece of creative."

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