As far as I can see most sensible marketers (by which I mean marketers who measure their results) are keen on improving their creative. And why not? Simply by changing what you say or how you say it you can double, triple or quadruple your profit.

But is that all there is to success?

Actually, no. The first thing is to concentrate on what makes the most difference – not what you like or find most interesting or congenial. But most people don’t. Mark Twain had a good joke about it: “To a man with a hammer everything looks like a nail.”

Creative is fun. We all like playing with words and pictures – and with today’s whiz-bang technology you can make videos and do podcasts and all that groovy stuff

The devil is, though, that good creative is damned hard to do. Most of us professional scribes can tell you that one way or another long copy works better than short. But knowing that is useless if you do not know how to write long copy. It is very, very hard, no matter how many people tell you their magic system will do it all for you.

A gifted product is mightier than the gifted pen” – David Ogilvy

As a writer I’d love to think creative is the most important element in success. But it isn’t.

So if you sometimes wonder why despite all your studies you are not doing too well it may be because you have got your priorities upside down.

In my experience most marketers have. They will spend 10 times as much time looking at creative elements as examining other things which may be more boring but are infinitely more important.

First and most important, by a very long chalk, comes what you deliver and how well people relate to it.

By that I mean the quality of your product or service and its positioning. Improving what you sell or altering the way people perceive it will have more impact on your results than anything.

That includes every aspect of that product and service – such as how it is delivered. Dell became the leaders in their field as a result of a number of things, one of which was selling directly. Another, offering people a tailor-made computer.

Ogilvy & Mather, with whom I worked for a number of years, were very hot on research because David Ogilvy’s background included a spell with Gallup Research. They discovered that the positioning of what you offer was the most important element in advertising.

What is positioning? I think it is your character or personality. I often quote the former Chairman of J Walter Thompson, Dr John Treasure, who described it by saying:, “Why do I love one woman rather than another? It is not just a matter of physical attributes”.

Or take a couple of examples from a totally different field to the one you usually read about here, booze.

Which booze do you prefer?

Jack Daniel’s Whiskey is hugely successful largely because of its positioning. I bet you couldn’t tell it from other whiskeys by taste alone.

But it is distilled in a quaint little town in Tennessee by down-to-earth folks who are clearly as honest as the day is long. They would never sell you or make a lousy whiskey.

In England the largest selling beer is Stella, which originates in Belgium. When it was originally launched it had what might politely be called a nothing positioning. They could have played on the Belgian heritage – Belgium is famous for its beers – but they played on nothing.

The original ad was “there is a terrific draught (or draft) in here”. It’s just a play on words. There was no real thinking behind it. The beer was then re-launched with an appeal based upon its strength. It was slightly stronger than other lagers. This did not make that much headway. Then it was launched again with the proposition “reassuringly expensive” and that has been its proposition ever since.

Higher price implies higher quality.

Before we get to the creative bit we love there are a few other things you should consider. The most important is the element that makes direct marketing, and particularly on-line marketing, so powerful. That is the ability to test, measure and research what is happening as a result of what you are doing or what you plan to do.

I have lost count of the number of times people have come to me bent upon doing something without the faintest idea of whether it is likely to work or not in advance, or the faintest idea afterwards whether it did work or not.

The blessings conferred by Google

I would say Google Analytics is the most powerful weapon marketers have been given since the advent of the coded coupon in newspapers.

I am still astounded that so many people are conducting marketing on the internet without taking advantage of the extraordinary facilities offered by Google, which you all know about.

There are many people who are more qualified to talk about this than I am so I will shut up, except to say how astounded I have been over the years by one simple thing that could be done – yet most people do not bother to do.

I once had a job which involved me going around the world to Ogilvy & Mather offices stirring up trouble, giving advice, talking to clients, making presentations and commenting on creative work. Time and time again I would be shown a piece of work and asked why it had failed; and time and time again I would say “have you rung the people who received it to find out?” Almost invariably the answer was “no”.

Simply asking people whether they received something or recall receiving it, whether they understood it and what they thought it said and why they did not reply is so laughably simple and yet so important that I am astounded so few people bother with it.

The next most important thing is targeting. About 28 years ago I wrote in my book “Commonsense Direct Marketing” that even the worst message sent to the right people will do better than the most brilliant message sent to the wrong people. Gary Halbert put it rather well when he used to say the most important advantage in marketing if you were running a hamburger joint was to have a starving crowd.

The next most important thing generally speaking is the incentive, because what I give you is going to be far more important than any bullshit I can come out with. Sometimes deciding not to have an incentive can be important. When I worked for the Franklin Mint during their glory days they repeatedly tested incentives - and they never worked. They went against the positioning of the Franklin Mint which was a sort of rarefied upmarket approach.

Which brings me full circle - to the thing that everybody likes to spend their time on, yet which is so difficult to achieve: better creative.

But remember, it is NOT the key to success you may imagine

What are you supposed to take away from this?

Get your priorities right. Most people don’t. Most people like to concentrate on what they enjoy most - the creative bit. It is important – but by no means the most important element. Often the least important

For some peculiar reason marketers persist in paying attention to what they like rather than the things that make the most difference. This piece examines this unwise behaviour, explains why it is so common and suggests a more intelligent set of priorities.

-Drayton Bird



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