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National Mail Order Association (NMOA)
Direct Marketing
and Mail Order

The Six Blind Men And The Elephant
By Alan Rosenspan

I have spent more than a dozen years telling clients, creative groups, and audiences all over the world that you cannot succeed in direct marketing without a big idea.

My sources included David Ogilvy, who said "If your advertising is not based on a big idea, it will pass like a ship in the night." To which I've added, "In direct marketing, the ship will sink."

It all sounded good. The only problem is this: Today, I'm not sure if having a big idea is enough. I believe that it's much more important to have the right big idea.

I call this "The Strategic Creative Imperative."

Now "imperative" is a strong word. It means a command, an entreaty, urgent, binding and compulsory. Sounds serious. And I am serious when I say that in every business, there is a strategic creative imperative. Find it, and your advertising and direct marketing will thrive.

However, if you fail to find it, your advertising and direct marketing will never work as well as it should. Let me give you an example: The Private Bank of Boston.

The Private Bank of the Bank of Boston was created for those individuals who have $500,000 in liquid assets to invest. They typically do lead generation to find people who will benefit from their services.

Before I came on the account, the Private Bank sent out the mailing shown below. The headline read about "If Managing Your Finances Is Taking More Time and Energy Than You Ever Imagined..." and they invited you to call the bank for more information. The piece pulled about a 1%.

My first effort for The Private Bank is also shown below.

The outer envelope read, "Why do so many affluent and accomplished individuals chose the Private Bank?" Inside it talked --not about bank services -- but rather the human aspects. The copy featured Advise & Counsel, Peace of Mind, A Lot of Clout.

One package outpulled the other by 9 to 1. Why?

The offer was exactly the same, except I packaged it a bit differently.

Instead of asking people to call for more information, I invited them to arrange a "Private Consultation."

The package pulled 9% to the same lists.

Now, was my work nine times as creative as their previous package? Absolutely not, although it pains me to admit it. Was my package nine times as expensive? Not at all.

So what was the factor that made one package nine times as effective as the other? Can we isolate it, and perhaps reproduce it for other mailings. I think we can. But before we do, I'd like to tell you a story.

Snakes, Trees, Birds and Elephants

There is a famous children's story that involves six blind men who are trying to understand the nature of an elephant. Obviously, they've never seen one. So they are led to a zoo, where they each feel the elephant, and determine for themselves.

The first blind man grasps the trunk of the elephant, and immediately understands. He says, "The elephant is very much like a snake." The second blind man puts his arms around one of the elephant's mighty legs and says, "No, the elephant is like a tree." A third one gently feels one of the elephants massive ears, and says, "Not really. The elephant is like a bird."

Of course, they all cannot see the big picture, and therefore, their understanding is wrong.

Now to see how the story ties in with direct marketing, let's go back to the Private Bank of Boston example.

Their first effort involved time-savings. I submit that any direct marketing effort that revolved around saving time is missing the big picture. In my opinion, time savings is not what people want from the Private Bank. It's like the trunk of the elephant, a small part of the whole.

The main reasons are: a safe place to put my money, people who are experienced in dealing with the affluent, helping me make smarter decisions about my money and my future. And those are exactly the things the second package featured.

But let me go even further.

I believe that the second package would have always beat the first package -- even if the first package was far more impactful and more creative. Because it was only addressing a very small part of the big picture.

And that's the Strategic Creative Imperative.

The Strategic Creative Imperative

The Strategic Creative Imperative can be described as the core selling idea, or the idea that makes a connection between the reader and the advertisement or direct marketing piece.

It is never just a clever headline, or a compelling visual. It is often not about the product or service at all, but rather the person who is using it.

Let me give you an example. Mystic Lake casino is a gambling casino in Minnesota. Now usually casino advertising shows beautiful people, dressed in tuxedos and gowns, and piles of chips.

But their Strategic Creative Imperative was to convince the person reading the ad that they're lucky. And their campaign line was "You're a lot luckier than you think."

The campaign showed a tiny hamster bladder and a human bladder with the theme "You're a lot luckier than you think"!

By the way, the Strategic Creative Imperative goes far beyond your creative work. It is an idea or concept that must be expressed in every element of your marketing program.

For example, your offer. Ultra Slim is a diet drink. Their Strategic Creative Imperative is that you can lose weight fast. Their promise is "Give us a Week, We'll Take Off the Weight". Their offer ties directly in with that. They say "Send Us Your Photo, And We'll Take Off The Weight!"

By now, I hope I've convinced you that the Strategic Creative Imperative might be very useful to you in your direct marketing program. So how do you find it? I believe there are three ways.

Step One: Qualitative Research

Many people in direct marketing tend to look down on qualitative research. Why waste time listening to what people say or think, when we can find out how they'll respond?

However, I believe that focus groups, in-depth one on one interviews can be absolutely invaluable. You will quickly learn why people might consider your product, what stops them from responding, what words they use, their motivations, dreams and desires.

Qualitative research can be done to prospects, but also to customers. In fact, I believe that customer research is the single best way to find your Strategic Creative Imperative.

You probably know how many people buy your product, and how much they spend. You may even know what they're worth -- and their lifetime value.

But without customer research, you may not know why people buy. Or why they don't buy. Or why they buy something else.

Step Two: Talk To Your Salespeople and Telemarketers

Actually, I probably should have said, "Listen to your salespeople and telemarketers."

I consider them the front line of marketing. After all, unlike most of us in marketing, they actually talk to customers on a daily basis.

They overcome objections one a daily basis. And by involving them, you will never be out of touch with your market.

When I worked on the AT&T Winback account, we went to our telemarketing center and brainstormed with the reps. We learned more about customers. They learned more about our marketing ideas. The result was that both groups improved their efforts.

Step Three: The Creative Process

The thing of it is -- you probably already have your Strategic Creative Imperative. You just have to find it and use it.

I've worked with many clients where all I need to do is go through their existing materials, their advertising, direct mail and fulfillment and identify what should be their Strategic Creative Imperative.

They almost always say, "Oh yes, that worked very well." To which I reply, "Why did you stop using it?" There's never a good answer.

You can also discover your Strategic Creative Imperative through the creative process. You need to get your people in a room and come up with as many ideas as possible, on what your product or service really does, what are the most important benefits, and what is the single most compelling thing you can say to your prospects or customers.

Then go back and check your results with your salespeople and your telemarketers.

Once you find it, the Strategic Creative Imperative must clearly show through in every piece of marketing communications. It must be understood and embraced by everyone who works on the business. And it must be protected and defended over the long term (although it can change, if it needs to).

And you too may improve your response rates by 900%.

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