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Three Ways Digital Has Changed the Rules of Direct Marketing Creative

Our agency has written extensively about how data, attribution and optimization have made Digital the greatest direct marketing medium of all time. Now, I would like to talk a little bit about how Digital has flipped the script on direct marketing creative.

As a marketer, you need to know this, because creative approaches that were once ‘guaranteed to work’, no longer do, and approaches that tested terribly are suddenly driving stellar results.

Understanding what has changed — and why — is key to keeping your company’s online and offline campaigns outperforming the competition.

So let’s look at three new rules for making result generating direct response creative in the digital age.

1. The Image is King

In direct response marketing, words have always been significantly more important in the selling process than images. Even in DRTV, which one would think of as being primarily a visual medium, words have always had far more impact on response rates than the visuals.

However, in the digital world, two primary advertising vehicles — display ads and Facebook ads — severely limit the amount of copy one can use. As a result, the relative importance of the image in the sales process has spiked dramatically.

At our agency, we spend more time collecting, curating and generally obsessing over images than ever before. Why? Because killer copy can no longer carry the day. Now, to create powerful digital ads you must rely on images that attract attention, or you’ll never get anyone to read your brilliant copy.

And what images do that best? Our testing reveals that dramatic, active and eye-catching pictures can out-pull more moderate images by up to 40% — that’s a significant number.

Of course, if you can incorporate some copy into your image (like a picture of a woman holding up a sign with some enticing copy on it, such as: “Save $50”), you can circumvent the power of the picture slightly.

One unexpected consequence of the visual bias of Digital is that it is much more difficult to sell complex products online, especially using Facebook or display ads. If your product or service is one that needs detailed explanation, you’re at a significant disadvantage when it comes to digital marketing.

New Rule #1: In the new world of digital-influenced marketing, images are more important than ever.

2. Less Is More

One of the foundational truisms of direct marketing has always been that “the more you tell – the more you sell”. This has been true of direct mail, radio and especially DRTV, where 120-second commercials have consistently performed better than 60-second commercials, which have performed better than 30-second commercials, which have performed better than…well, you get the gist.

In fact, as little as five years ago, it was extremely rare for a 30-second DRTV commercial to deliver a higher ROI than a 60-second commercial. Now, 30-second, 15-second, and even 10-second commercials can sometimes outperform 60-second spots!

How is this possible?

It’s simple: back in the day, a DRTV commercial had to function as a self-contained selling argument. Now, especially with e-commerce companies, the main objective of the spot is often just to drive the customer online and the next step in the sales process.

Of course, there are still many products that benefit from a longer commercial, but thanks to Digital, there are also many products that can be sold using much shorter commercials.

New Rule #2: In the new digital-influenced world of direct marketing, less really is more.

3. Order Matters

People can stare at a TV screen for hours on end and — believe it or not — they will absorb and retain much of what they see and hear. However, the ability (or willingness) of the average person to ingest, process and retain information from a computer screen or mobile phone is much more limited.

In the digital world, attention spans are miniscule, and it doesn’t take much to make your prospect click off your site and move on to the next enticing experience.

This means that the vital information you are trying to communicate to consumers needs to be presented in small, engaging and easy to chew tidbits. This means that, as a marketer, you need to have a very good grasp of your product’s messaging hierarchy, and parcel it out with utmost care and precision.

You also need to be hyper aware of the aesthetic presentation, because every person who looks at your webpage makes an instantaneous, pre-conscious calculation about the level of difficulty involved in reading that page — based on the amount of copy, font size, images and white space.

Needless to say, the easier the information appears to be to absorb, the more likely the viewer will read it.

As a result, marketers are always dancing between giving consumers enough relevant information to keep them scrolling, and trying not to overwhelm them.

It is a difficult art to master, and the only guaranteed solution is to test your way to success, which is why savvy marketers constantly run multivariate tests on their webpage to increase engagement, decrease bounce rates and improve conversions.

New Rule #3: In the new, digital-influenced world of direct marketing, information must be pieced out slowly, carefully, and in an aesthetically pleasing design. Order matters.

There you have it: three ways Digital has changed direct marketing creative. Apply the new rules on your next campaign and watch good things happen.

About the author

Bryan Walkey, CEO

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