Traditional Brainstorming Techniques Boost Response

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Like platform shoes and bell-bottoms, trends in direct mail formats come and go. Control packages are the "little black dress" that continues to work when everything else is too long, too short or last year's color. But the little black dress fades over time, and response rates to controls eventually lose their sheen.


Like the little black dress that never goes out of style, brainstorming sessions to breathe new life into direct mail packages are here to stay. Though most of us know that brainstorming exercises often start with a blank sheet of paper, few know the history of brainstorming and its ties to marketing.


Alex Osborn, a BBDO executive 60 years ago, was an early teacher of creativity who coined the term "brainstorming" in 1939 and gained widespread acceptance of the concept in his 1953 best seller, "Applied Imagination." Osborn's revolutionary concept introduced the idea of using questions as a method to drive ideas. His technique later was adapted as the acronym and mnemonic "SCAMPER" by Bob Eberle. SCAMPER stands for concepts that ask questions including:


· Substitute?


· Combine?


· Adapt?


· Modify, magnify, minimize?


· Put to other uses?


· Eliminate?


· Reverse, rearrange?


How can you use this classic technique to bolster response? Conduct a brainstorming session by gathering a group that includes your print and mail vendors. Use SCAMPER to bring structure to the session by defining an aggressive timeline for each question and asking everyone to come prepared by reviewing the checklist that follows. Provide samples of your control package, competitors' packages and tests that worked and tests that failed.


It may be tempting to allow 15 minutes or more for each step, but five-minute increments set a lively pace and create a sense of urgency and excitement. Schedule the meeting as the first activity of the day and provide caffeine and sugar as your team requires. The SCAMPER checklist includes:


Substitute. What components can be used instead of those in the current control package? What materials can be used? For example, if your control uses a generic paper card affixed to your form, can you substitute an embossed plastic card to drive open rates by adding bulk and interest to your package?


Combine. Which components or offers can be combined? Can you combine uses of components? A reusable outer envelope to replace a separate reply envelope can drive response to solicitations for contributions to environmental causes, especially if you call attention to this and other environmentally sound features of your package.


Adapt. What else is like the components of your package? What can be copied from competitors' offers or imitated? Can failed test components be adjusted to fit another purpose? What worked before? If a repositionable note worked inside the envelope, will response rise if the note appears on the outer envelope? Can a standard window be changed to a pistol-grip window to reveal your special offer?


Modify, magnify, minimize. Can your package be a different size, shape, texture or bulk? Enlarge your font size to increase response rates from seniors. Make your font style more contemporary for offers to students. Change a conventional package to a monarch shape and size to create a sense of intimacy for your special offer to best customers.


Put to other uses. Can your components be used in a way other than what was intended? Can other business lines share this format and share the cost? Personalize a buckslip by attaching it to your form and having your vendor trim-to-nest in the finishing process. Attach your buckslip to the envelope flap to create a pop-up with a special offer.


Eliminate. What can be removed from your package to reduce cost or make room for a new component? Can a buckslip be replaced with a lift note? Can a generic brochure be replaced with a personalized letter?


Rearrange. Can you change the insertion order of your components to drive interest in a special offer? Can you move personalization to show through the window of your outer envelope? Can you move copy on your outer envelope to duplicate an offer front and back? Can your loyalty program's newsletter be combined with transaction information to create a new layout that drives interest in your offers and the offers of your program's partners?


Collect the ideas from your session and have your creative team and vendors develop new formats and concepts for testing.


Advances in technology are driving complex personalization models not available or affordable 24 months ago. Ask your vendor to review capabilities and investment plans to ensure you're aware of all the personalization opportunities available now and in the next 12 months for your planning purposes.


Go back to Alex Osborn for the six basic questions he outlined in "Applied Imagination." Review your personalization schemes in this context:


· Why is personalization necessary?


· Where should personalization be done?


· When should personalization be done?


· Who should do it?


· What should be done?


· How should it be done?


Engage your vendors and study brochures from leading manufacturers of personalization equipment and technology to identify the where and how. Can your vendor provide duplex personalization that will eliminate a component to drive efficiency and cost savings and improve response rates? Can your form be redesigned to increase the amount of personalization?


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