The Art and Science of Versioning Copy for Different Audiences
Let's see ... creative concept approved? Check. Data standardization and hygiene performed? Check. Personalization proofed and accurate? Check. Collation samples at the letter shop? Check. The mailer meets postal regulations? Check.
Have you forgotten anything? You certainly may have. When creating a direct mail campaign, one of your
opportunities for improving response comes from your message. Typically, creative versions are developed for a couple of reasons: to test new creative against the control package or to separate the audience using demographic or behavioral characteristics. But smart direct marketers also are segmenting their audience to version messages as
a means to tap into the individual reasons a person will buy. Rather than describing general product benefits
or sending a one-size-fits-all offer, segmenting and versioning copy to focus on the factors that matter to an individual most when they're buying can strike a chord that will improve the performance of your mailing.
The Case for Versioning
To understand the reasons why a unique message targeted to an individual based on his or her particular lifestyle and motivational triggers is necessary, a brief look back is in order: Simply stated, the traditional marketing model is broken. The majority of American adult consumers todaynearly 70 percent as indicated by the Yankelovich MONITOR consumer tracking study of American lifestyles and valuestell us that they want products that will help them avoid marketing and advertising. And more than half of consumers say they avoid buying products from those businesses that overwhelm them with marketing.
Despite these sentiments on the part of consumers that "enough is enough," business response historically has been to push yet more direct marketing into consumers' mailboxes and inboxes, which, by and large, continues to lack resonance with consumer lifestyle needs. In fact, nearly two-thirds of consumers reported they feel very little of the marketing they see has any relevance to them.
And, as marketers continue to add weight to the mailman's load, consumers have grown increasingly frustrated with the volume of irrelevant mail they receive. The result, as direct marketers know, has been at best, flat response, and at worst, a steady decline in response rates. This saturation of marketing on the part of businesses has led consumers to the point of virtually ignoring the direct mail they receive, and to the "socialization" of consumer marketing resistancemeaning, it is now commonplace for people to actively keep marketers at bay while they find their own ways to choose what to buy, without the intrusion of unsolicited offers.
Why are people increasingly ignoring marketing efforts? The reasons are twofold: Consumers are using different criteria to assess marketing today, and they hold businesses accountable to new standards. Consumers don't need marketers as much as they did historically. Conventional marketing is just not as important as it once was. It used to be that consumers needed "push" marketing because they didn't have as much access to information to make an informed decision.
Consumers relied on the marketing activities of companies to help them learn about products. Certainly the fact that consumers have access to unprecedented amounts of information today is a major reason for this fundamental change.
Consumers also have less time on their hands today, so the time they give to marketing messages had better be worthwhile. Some 37 percent of Yankelovich MONITOR respondents say they give up sleep to get time back in their lives. If people are willing to forego sleep, then marketers have a real challenge in capturing consumer attention. After all, dropping unsolicited mail in the waste basket or hitting the delete button on unread e-mails is a much easier way of recovering a few extra minutes in the day than giving up sleep.
The Silver Lining
Believe it or not, these developments actually are good news for the direct marketing community, as long as you can improve the precision and relevance of your offers. This means that cutting through the clutter with unique, well-targeted messages is mission critical.
Being relevant to consumers in today's world requires more savvy and more tools. Not only are direct marketers suffering from fractured consumer attention, the historical options to target consumers and message to them have lost their ability to increase response. Relying on demographics alone to target and version copy has less and less impact than in the past, and new strategies are necessary to garner consumers' attention. One strategy is to message based on the unique lifestyles, personal values and individual motivational drivers for your customers and prospects.
Do you know if your customers or prospects are motivated by novelty? By feeling like a smart shopper? By price alone? By status brands? By being individualistic? Understanding which of these attributesand othersare important to your target audience can be used to develop more meaningful creative versions.
Consider two consumers who are, for all intents and purposes, identical demographically and likely would be segmented together with the same message in a direct mail campaign if based on those demographic characteristics.
But what do Jenn and Sarah care about? By segmenting these two individuals using the values they hold, one also can understand their unique approaches to life and uncover which factors are most important to them when they're deciding what to buy.
If both Jenn and Sarah receive the same offer with the same message based on the fact they are married women with children in their household, it is probable that at least one of the women will find little connection with that offer.
However, using their lifestyles and attitudinal drivers to guide the development of the message will allow you to tap into the unique motivations of the individual and connect the offer to the person who will most appreciate the value proposition of your business and your product.
For Jenn, an offer that subtly speaks to her desire to succeed in life will touch upon her core sensibilities. Or, understanding that she is looking for novelty provides insight for developing copy that taps into her interest in staying current and aware of new offerings.
For Sarah, an offer that promisesand delivers onher need for respect and convenience and that simplifies the buying process is going to resonate nicely. And a message that offers reassurance along with a fair deal will be far more meaningful to Sarah than to Jenn.
Let's say, for example, you have a product that relates to financial services. In this case, Jenn will appreciate facts about smart planning, while Sarah will be more engaged by copy that addresses her need for partners and easy ways to make ends meet.
In addition to versioning copy, creative also can be improved with changes to imagery and graphics. For instance, knowing that Jenn is outgoing and novelty-seeking might yield more vivid imagery, featuring movement, fun and spontaneity, as well as copy that offers her the chance to learn something new or be more brief to be in line with her desire to get information quickly.
For Sarah, who is more of a thoughtful buyer, it would be better to provide information covering all of the bases and answering her possible questions, while offering a reassuring tone without too much visual splash.
While it isn't always possible or practical for businesses to develop more than just a few different copy versions, you can achieve incremental gains by developing unique messages using these kinds of attitudinal insights. Putting this approach into action can achieve remarkable results. Here are some examples that we have seen:
- A retailer looking to increase the relevance of its communications developed a direct mail effort to test its
hypothesis that copy that taps into core motivations of its customers would drive increased response and sales. The retailer mailed to customers who had not purchased in a specific product category but had attitudinal characteristics similar to best customers in that product category. It crafted messages based on lifestyle attributes and motivational insights. As a control group, other customers were sent a mailer with generic copy.
Customers who received the attitudinally messaged mailer had an overall spend increase of 32 percentsignificantly better results than the generic mailer. Most notably, the business experienced a $24 increase in incremental spend and an incremental profit of $800,000.
- One cataloger that had historically targeted by age cohort was searching for the next breakthrough to improve response. It turned to attitudinal information to message to different individuals within its age target. One messaging test offered a product to a customer group that appreciated advice and positioned the brand as the voice of
authority to that customer group. This small messaging change tripled sales of that product.
- Another business sought to improve the resonance of its e-mail marketing to a younger consumer group. Because its target was an individual invested in social gatherings, the tone and imagery used in the e-mail campaign incorporated these aspects. It featured more socially engaged individuals, lively imagery, and wording that highlighted the desire to connect with peers. Response tracking of the e-mail campaign uncovered that it had increased the number of customers in this target group by 83 percent.
The New Age of Creative
Fortunately, these attitudinal insights are now more readily available and easier to incorporate than ever before, simply through data enhancement processes. There are a number of products in the marketplace that use either lifestyle, life-stage and/or attitudinal insight to segment databases. Ultimately, by using more than demographics to message to consumers, you have the chance to vastly improve the relevance of your direct mail. In this age of declining response and increasing consumer resistance to all marketing efforts, especially direct marketing, it is paramount to find new ways of connecting with individuals on a more personal level and provide them the right offer delivered with the right tone. The tools are there, and you have an exciting opportunity to chart new territory and gain improved response with versioned copy that addresses what consumers want and need.