Small changes to your creative can make a huge difference

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I believe my background enables me to answer the question: Can your direct mail creative really make a difference? I put in a lifetime at Publishers Clearing House, where I evaluated thousands of direct mail tests over my 30-year career. When I started to do some consulting after being retired, I found out how valuable my time at PCH was!

I recall stories from the very early days at PCH where the creative geniuses (Cowen, Mienik, Barckley) would make paper airplanes with the names of each test and fly them down the hallway to determine which test they thought would win.

After those early days, we became much more scientific. This was necessary because of the dramatic growth of the business and immense size and number of mailings. Out of thousands of tests, one test in particular really stands out.

Normally, you would be thrilled with a test that gave a 5% to 10% lift, and this would be considered highly successful. One of our tests, with all new copy plus a totally new package format, tested at an extraordinary and unbelievable 100% lift. This result, if true, would result in a ton of money to the bottom line… more than we had ever imagined. We really didn’t fully believe the test result at the time. But we rolled out the new package in our biggest mailing of the year, and tested dozens of versions of the package format and the copy over the next year to isolate what was working.

It turned out that one single word caused virtually all of this incredible result. This word, “finalist,” was banned from use by PCH in 1994 in one of our legal agreements with the states.

I drew on all my PCH experience when I started to do some consulting two years ago.

My first consulting assignment was for a non-sweepstakes magazine publisher where I made copy and marketing recommendations. I didn’t completely change their creative, but primarily added 10 words. These simple copy changes improved their order response by an incredible 55% based on their backtest. We were all thrilled.

Here is a helpful tip on how to improve your creative: make the consumer feel special and singled out for whatever great proposition you have.

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