Direct Marketing Rules!


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Life is complex and complicated. And it is getting more so. To make things easier, we use simple heuristics or rules of thumb to make decisions. Many of them work remarkably well, despite no-one really knowing where they came from.

One of the best rules of thumb in direct marketing is the 40:30:20:10 rule. The rule sets out what drives success in a typical direct marketing campaign.

40% of success comes from identifying the right customer to contact. That means, a customer who is a potential buyer of whatever you have to offer.

30% of success comes from contacting the right customer at the right time. That means a customer who is interested in buying something from the category in the near future.

20% of success comes from contacting the right customer at the right time with the right offer. That means an offer that is interesting, affordable and relevant to the customer’s needs for the category.

The last 10% comes from the right creative. This comes as a surprise to many who herald from the creative side of marketing. It is not that great creative doesn’t work, on the contrary, it does, just that most direct marketing creative isn’t good enough to have that much of an impact. And that we don’t really know which creative works with which customers in which circumstances. Not in the way that say, Readers Digest, knows which combinations of wording, font, size and weighting work best in its magazine advertising.

Despite this simple rule, I am still amazed how the energy spent on direct marketing is often inversely proportional to the relative importance. A great deal of time is lavished on getting the creative right and having an attractive offer. Less time is spent on getting the timing right. And all too often, the right customer is just the 10,000 customers with the highest propensity scores.

What do you think? Are you using the 40:30:20:10 rule? Or are you just sending out glossy creative to almost anyone with a pulse?

Post a comment and get the conversation going.

Graham Hill

Graham Hill (Dr G)
Business Troubleshooter | Questioning | Thoughtful | Industrious | Opinions my own | Connect with me on LinkedIn


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