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The topic of how important creative implementation is in direct marketing is a blazing hot and contentious topic in the world that I absorb myself in.  This is because on the direct marketing implementation scale you have two polar opposites; the uber creative sat at one end (imagine: jeans and a blazer with a Starbucks in hand), whilst at the other end you have the super logical data specialist.  Each is pitching for the lead role in your direct marketing programme, both with convincing reasons for leading on your campaign.  So which is the lead role, creative or data? My option is formed from my stand point which is neatly in the middle of data and creative.  Not the kind of ‘fence sitting’ middle, but the objective middle.  I have achieved my position in the (objective) middle because I have worked at either end of the scale, firstly as a practicing creative, whilst also gaining experience in data planning and the development of CRM and targeted data driven marketing.

So which is the most important element of a campaign, the data or the creative? This question becomes more obvious if you re-phrase it e.g. will your highly creative campaign deliver on your bosses demand for ROI, when it finds its way in to the hands of someone that couldn’t give a damn about your product?  No it definitely won’t.  Still, with this said there are campaigns being pitched and produced everyday with a lack of thought around extremely important factors in a campaign such as the target audience, the offer, the timing, the creative proposition, and the response mechanisms.  These five elements are all important, but data, offer and timing more than the others… this is a fact.  There are a hierarchical set of dm elements that will contribute towards the success of your campaign. As I am not a fan of anecdotal notions, I will substantiate this view.   Campaign testing conducted by dm guru Draighton Bird, highlighted the relative importance of data in direct marketing campaigns (using direct mail as a testing platform).  Bird’s tests looked at 12 lists. Each list had a statistically sound chance of returning an equal response.  A number of elements were varied as part of the test, including different pricing points, creative propositions, response methods and timings.  The result was that the pinnacle campaign performed 58 times better than the worst performing campaign.  By far the most important factor tested was the data – this is how the various elements performed:


  • Database x 6
  • Offer x 3
  • Timing x 2
  • Creative x 1.35
  • Response Mechanism x 1.2

This is a typical scenario! So there it is, data vs creative – data wins hands down.

Does this mean marketers should only focus on data, offer and timing?  Definitely not.  Whether Joe Public recognises it or not, he likes to receive a creative campaign – it’s engaging.   But creativity doesn’t get results on its own.  I regularly receive direct mail pieces that are often brilliant, sometimes even genius, but if the other elements aren’t working for me the engagement (opportunity) created by the creative implementation has been wasted.  Which sums this up nicely… creativity facilitates the process of engaging with your audience, but it can’t do the job of delivering a sale, where there isn’t a sale to be had.   The right data, offer and timing will do the hard work for you.  Get the foundations right, then building on them with relevant, timely and engaging communications.  Get this right and your boss will be laughing all the way to the bank.


Article originally written as part of Nuance & Fathom’s portfolio.

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