Is It Killer Creative? 5 Quick Questions Can Help You Know

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"I want to be part of the creative process, but how can I effectively contribute?"

That's a question many direct marketers ask themselves, knowing that they have much to contribute strategically to the success of a creative campaign but don't always have the confidence to know what to look for in the creative review process.

They know that a less-than-enlightened contribution can damage relationships with the creative team or hurt the creative output. So how do marketers navigate? Short of going back to school or interning with the creative department, there are ways any marketer can positively influence and evaluate creative. A number of proven best practices facilitate the development of powerful, effective creative -- using a helpful dialogue between the marketing and creative sides of the table.

Here are five important questions to guide you when you critique creative:

1. Is it clear what I'm selling -- and, more importantly, to whom I am selling it? The foundation for any winning creative effort is ensuring that you're selling the right product or service to the right audience.

To determine a match, ask yourself: Is it clear that the copy voice knows and understands the audience? How can they expect to benefit from the offer associated with your product or service?

Knowing your audience, and what they want, will help you determine whether your final creative product speaks to them personally and directly and is based on the market need you think your product or service supports.

A comprehensive creative brief provided to your creative team should describe thoroughly the audience to whom you are speaking (geographics, demographics and psychographics). This is critical in developing on-target creative. While there are many different percentages that convey the importance of the target audience in the success of your marketing, they all agree -- the right audience is the most important factor.

Now let's discuss the "what." What product or service are you selling? What is your offer, and is it clear in the creative? What have you shared with your creative team about the history of the product or service? What about the control creative and test history? What worked and what did not? What offers have you tried successfully or unsuccessfully? What do you know about your customers' interactions with your company? Have you studied customer correspondence and focus group data? Listened in on call center calls? Read customer feedback?

If you haven't shared all this with your creative team, you should. Research is important to developing on-target creative that delivers the right product to the right audience with the right messaging.

2. Am I honoring the most important word in direct marketing? Quite simply -- it's you! Yale University studied the most persuasive words and word combinations, and all included the word "you." So the bottom line is to make it personal. Though company mission statements and histories are important from a credibility standpoint, they never should be the lead, nor should they take up more than a sentence or two in your communications.

Instead, focus on the WIIFM (What's In It For Me?) from the reader's perspective. When you review copy, count the "YOUs," then count the "WEs." There should be far more of the first than the second. And don't forget these other powerful words: "free," "guaranteed," "save," "new" and "easy." Do be aware, however, that what works for direct mail doesn't always translate to e-mail -- e-mail spam filters can spot words such as "free" and block transmission.

So what about some not-so-powerful words, phrases or approaches? Here are some that may turn people off for any variety of reasons. Avoid hard-to-define words such as "quality" and "beauty." Don't get all hyped up with words like "exciting" and "great." (Instead, tell your reader what makes your offer exciting or how it's great -- qualify and quantify.) Stay away from empty modifiers: "very," "really" and "virtually." And be careful with humor -- when in doubt, skip it.

3. Am I sure that the copy delivers my message and my call to action clearly and effectively? Put yourself in the shoes of your target audience; then start reading. If you have even the slightest doubt about the clarity of the message, stop. Kick it back to your creative team to have at it again. But ensure they understand the audience, "get" the offer and know what you want your audience to do -- so that they can make acting as easy as possible.

Also, ensure your copy is compelling. If you've read three paragraphs and found that the real meat doesn't show up until the third, you're probably better off cutting the first two.

Look for the copy elements that invoke interest through language that summons strong human emotion -- need, greed, fear, guilt, flattery, exclusivity or curiosity. These are the strongest emotional motivators in any direct marketing effort. Combine them, when possible, with copy that lays out a clear reason for the target to pay attention with crisp, logical facts and figures and through the conveyance of a clear competitive advantage.

Ensure a technically correct copy structure, including a headline or lead-in that is provocative, news-oriented, promising, commanding or selective … body copy that is persuasive … and a wrap-up that contains a compelling call-to-action statement. Finally, don't offer too many choices as it slows decision making. In channels of response, choices are good. But when it comes to the offer, less is more. Too many choices can confuse and stall your reader.

4. Is the creative scannable, easy, involving? Move the target audience beyond immediate interest to involvement in your offer through tactics such as continued use of the recipient's name; captions and call outs; bullets; boldface and/or centered type; underlines or italics; the use of spot color; a strong P.S.

All of these can help your readers scan your creative in about four seconds. That's generally all the time they'll give you before they abandon the effort. So ensure your creative is easily scannable.

There also are physical ways to engage your audience that may include the use of tangible, tactile devices such as seals, stamps, tokens, die-cuts, worksheets, cards, checkboxes, scratch offs and magnets. Think, too, about faux handwritten messages that add personal appeal.

5. Have I taken off my marketing hat and stepped into my reader's shoes? Look at your creative from the perspective of your target audience. The following questions offer you, as the evaluator, a helpful checklist: Does the outer envelope, packaging or subject line tease, force or intrigue you? Would you open it if it appeared in your mailbox? Does it say too much?

Once open, does the message follow through with a clear, compelling offer? Does the brochure or landing page dramatize the benefits, show the features and reinforce the call to action? Do graphics support rather than upstage the copy? Is it clear how the recipient can take advantage of the offer? Is the response area easy to find? Does the order/registration/response form fully restate the offer and benefit? Is it easy to complete? Easy to understand? Easy to pay? Easy to return? Are alternative response channels evident?

The ability to recognize good direct response creative is a skill that can be learned -- and marketers who do well by this aid the creative team. By asking yourself these quick questions and incorporating other creative best practices, you'll more easily and confidently guide, judge and evaluate creative with confidence -- helping pinpoint the execution that is killer creative and destined for success.


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