Remake Your Control for Other Media
Hands down, the most successful direct mail control ever mailed is the much talked about "Two Young Men" effort, written by Martin Conroy in 1974 for The Wall Street Journal. Many copywriters have tried to imitate its success, and have not been able to duplicate the magic of the original.
When you have a blockbuster direct response effort like this on your hands, in which the copy remains relevant and powerful after 30 years, how can you not look at ways to transfer the appeal of this sales message to other response media? To reach new markets, the Journal created not long ago a direct response TV commercial that draws on the same story-telling presentation style that makes the 30-year-old control a powerhouse.
If the direct mail environment has gotten a little claustrophobic for you, you might want to consider what you can do in other media channels too.
Do You Have a Candidate?
You don't need a 20-year, a 10-year or even a five-year control to think about adapting its copy, graphics and offer structure for other media. You simply need a control, preferably one that has been tested, back-tested and mailed successfully without the bells and whistles. If you have that, you're ready to roll.
"The key criteria are the complexity of the message and the amount of real estate available for the media you've chosen," explains Terry Talley, the copywriting half of the creative partnership, Talley/Tabatch, in Irvington, NY.
For example, she explains, if your control mailing is a 9" x 12" envelope or polybag effort, you know you have enough material to fill a large FSI, or free-standing insert, that can ride along with newspapers or a partner company's order fulfillment parcels.
That's not to say you can't take a smaller package and expand upon it for a medium that offers a lot of selling space, says Tabatch, but you will probably have to add more copy or imagesand that could change the control presentation enough to affect results.
Sally Roffman, president of the Chevy Chase, MD direct response group Creative Strategy, advises marketers to think about adaptation from three additional perspectives:
* Offer. How will the offer work for other media? Is it a lead generation pitch? Two-step works well for a variety of media, but those that are short on selling space may require some revisions to the presentation and the follow-up campaign.
* Selling Environment. You have to keep in mind the specific drama of where the prospect audience might be when exposed to your message, says Roffman. For example, if the medium is a newspaper FSI, the prospect might be in bed with a cup of coffee and listening to a weekend news program. How does your message have to work to get noticed and acted upon in this environment, as opposed to the way a direct mail effort gets sorted with the bills, greeting cards and latest issue of Vanity Fair?
* Media Attributes. Finally, what expectations have people come to associate with each particular medium? Keeping with the FSI example, might people anticipate a coupon and discount offer, asks Roffman. If it's a Web site, will people be disappointed if you don't offer a freebie, like free shipping or a free white paper for filling out a survey?
"When you look at a direct mail effort," says Roffman, "you have to break down the buying decision into simple stepswhat it takes to get people to accomplish the action you asked them to take ... Many products can be sold via multiple media, but you may not be able to convert to a sale with all of them."
Which Elements to Adapt?
"Testing variations of the control package is the way to determine what part is successful," says Carol Fusaro, vice president/account manager, Sullivan Creative, in Watertown, MA. "And don't assume that [what] works in one medium will work in another."
Generally, explains Roffman, you want to think about what makes your direct mail package personal and establishes a connection between sender and audience; for direct mail, that's the letter.
In a space ad, she continues, a letter often doesn't workbut, if the letter is written by a well-known person associated with the product or company, than a strong quote or two might bring credibility to the advertisement.
When it comes to e-mail, says Roffman, the letter can offer personality to a medium that is supposed to be about one-to-one communication. The only problem, she explains, is that the immediacy and ease of e-mail has made it a one-question mediummeaning that people often don't scroll past the first big point in the message.
The challenge here is to find a way to unravel the message so that the prospect can respond as soon as the copy has convinced him to take action.
Of all the components in a direct mail package, Roffman finds the brochure the most adaptable to other media, because it offers a blend of both visuals and supporting copy that tend to feature the big benefits. While it's not enough to do the job on its own, the brochure provides a great starting point.
Talley cautions marketers against slicing and dicing the control presentation. "If you have a strong control, all the elements of the package work together. Anything superfluous will have been eliminated in testing."
In other words, if you make substantial tweaks to the copy or graphics, you won't have the set-up from the original control any longer. And that can have a dramatic effect on response.
"When you have a good idea of what contributes to the success of a control, then you use all of it for a greater chance of success with the new medium," says Talley.
Medium to Medium
The easiest adaptation is that of a direct mail control to a magalog-style FSI. What makes this a smart investment is that this piece also can be popped in the mail as a self-mailer.
Talley and designer Linda Tabatch converted their 9" x 12" envelope control for The Economist into a strong-performing FSI. Talley notes that it was pretty easy to take the front and back of the outer envelope and make that the front and back of the FSI; the letter was flowed into the larger FSI page size, and the teaser from the outer envelope was used again along the top border of the letter. The brochure needed just slight tweaking, such as rearranging the pages a little to provide an inside back cover for the FSI, and the order card was combined with the premium insert to create a larger order card panel.
Of course, says Talley, an envelope package with a blank outer is a big challenge in converting to an FSI,
because you have to create an outer. That kind of makes it a new campaign approach. For e-mail or the Web, you may or may not use the creative on the outer to draw prospects; it just depends on what will work for the medium.
For example, Roffman worked on a recent lead generation campaign where the client (which sells expensive software systems) wanted to use direct mail, as well as e-mail, microsites and Web banners.
For the adaptation of the direct mail effort to the e-mail campaign, Roffman and company abbreviated the copy from a one-page lettertruncating bulleted lists, tightening feature copyand eliminated the cartoon graphics. The same key benefits were presented, as well as the offer of a free white paperwhich could be downloaded from the microsite after prospects filled out a short survey form.
Roffman points out that the cartoon graphics were used on the microsite, where they would have more impact and the offer of the freebie was the first thing that came up after clicking the hot link in the e-mail. This way, the form does not slow down the momentum created by the e-mail. It's all about getting the lead, says Roffman.
Talley, who also has some experience in converting direct mail to
e-mail, points out that you usually can't use the exact language from the outer envelope for the subject line. It's best to tweak this copy to work in the e-mail environment.
Who Does the Work?
In most cases, says Talley, the marketer owns the creative and copy for the control, so it's not required to bring in the original creative team. But that doesn't mean it shouldn't involve them.
Obviously, if they created the control, then they know what it takes to get response. If they have expertise with e-mail or FSIs, or whatever medium you've chosen for adaptation, then it's probably wise to have them do the conversion.
If they don't, says Roffman, it's more important that you hire a creative team that knows the medium. At minimum, you could have the original creative team brief the new hired guns on what made the direct mail control successful.
Sometimes, Fatigue is Just Fatigue
If you see the direct mail control begin to fatigue, is it a signal that the creative approach is flagging for other media?
"Hopefully, you find that different media have different lives," says Roffman.
Talley advises marketers to track each medium separately, reviewing your efforts by market for saturation. And resist the knee-jerk reaction to revamp all media based on one campaign's results.
Roffman concurs: "You need to be able to tell whether fatigue is due to the medium or the creative strategy. It could be that the universe is running out, and you need a new media channel."