Social Media Doesn’t Trump Direct Marketing: What the Rule of 40-40-20 Means for Orchestra Marketers in 2010

In the 60s direct marketing expert Ed Mayer popularized the 40-40-20 rule. He claimed 40% of a mailpiece’s success depended on the list, 40% depended on the offer and 20% depended on other factors including design.

Check the Numbers Yourself

You can develop your own set of numbers by a simple method. Put three labeled paper bags where you sort your mail.

  1. If you couldn’t possibly have any interest in the product category, put it in the list bag. For example, you might live in a high-rise and get a mail piece advertising garden equipment. Or say you get notices from car dealers but you aren’t in the market now.
  2. If you buy or might buy the product advertised, but the product offer and price doesn’t compel you to act, put the mail in the offer bag.
  3. If the creative execution gets in the way, place the piece in the creative bag. This will require you to look at your mail a little longer than normal. You might reject a piece, but with further examination you see that you really would have responded if the offer had been more clearly stated. Or you might have acted if the execution hadn’t looked amateurish.
  4. If you respond to the offer, don’t count that piece of mail.

At the end of  the month, tabulate your responses. I found that my rule was more like 50-45-5. Going through this exercise for both snail mail and email is itself illuminating.

The Rule Reinterpreted

40-40-20 is a rule of thumb, in no way scientific. Yet it holds wisdom like a proverb.

Let’s imagine what can happen with a season brochure package you send out to a particular household.

  1. If you send it to someone interested in symphonic music, they may respond. If you send it to someone with no interest, there’s virtually no chance they’ll respond. Or if the recipient has already responded, you’ve wasted your mailing. Sending the brochure to the wrong person guarantees failure. Thus the quality of your list is of paramount importance. Maintaining its integrity internally and working with professional firms such as Enertex or TRG to manage it is critical to success.
  2. When the recipient of your brochure looks at it, do they see an actionable offer? Brochures often serve as an encyclopedia of the upcoming season rather than a sales piece. Is there an offer on the cover? Are the orchestra’s telephone number and website featured prominently throughout the brochure? Do you provide a form and business reply envelope to make it easy to respond? Without an offer, the mailing is guaranteed to fail.
  3. Has anyone ever bought a subscription because of a superb brochure design? Of course not. Audiences value the music, musicians and the experience, and design is in the service of communicating that offer at some sort of price. The offer is made actionable, it’s catalyzed by phrases such as “Renew By Next Friday to Get Last Year’s Prices.”

The numbers 40-40-20 mean nothing. Thinking through and executing the list and the offer means everything.

Hasn’t the World Changed with Social Media?

Some writers claim that with social technologies direct marketing has no place, that now we can only engage with people with the objective of deepening our connection, so that eventually they’ll choose to participate in our product.

Bunk. This is a golden age of direct marketing, in which we can fine-tune our communications to a segment of one.

Yes, we’re learning how to harness social media, and what could be more exciting than working in this critical time for marketers? Yet opportunities in conversation technology don’t negate opportunities in direct marketing. Our audiences continue to purchase tickets and subscriptions, stimulated by advertising, direct mail, telephone sales, in-hall campaigns and email. Even advertising tends to be direct marketing for orchestras. And if direct marketing ever stops working, the numbers will show it.

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