Evaluating Creative Pieces like Advertising or Direct Mail


As business owners, you need to know about marketing and evaluating creatives. It will become more important as the amount of marketing increases, as you increase your marketing efforts.

Every marketing piece, whether it be distributed to a large group of people at once or distributed one person at a time, must be persuasive to one degree or another, capable of fulfilling the purpose for which it was designed or created. Below is one approach among many for determining the persuasiveness of a piece. Although there are many methods, this is the first one that I was taught. It was given to me in 1994 by my mentor, Stan Weiss, who had been mentored by leaders at Procter & Gamble, Coca-cola, and American Express. Here is Stan’s method in my words looking back twenty years.

This evaluative approach can be considered “old-school marketing” since it was developed before the advent of social media, before the minute analysis of the online behaviors was possible, but it offers the value of simplicity, a value upon which you can build. The method was used for print and broadcast media, the only two types that mattered at the time, and it made the assumption that the likes and interests of the individual members of the target market could not be individually discovered and recorded and that the best way for marketers to guess at likes and dislikes was to identify the demographic categories to which individuals in the target market belonged. These demographic categories enabled old-school marketers to make reasonable guesses at the individual likes and dislikes. Now, fast-forward twenty years. Social media and online marketing are turning this old-school method upside down. Many online marketers are now able to ask individual members of their audience if a particular piece of advertising is “relevant to you.” The computers make a record of the response, enabling technology to respond on an individual basis. In other words, new-school marketers are starting to categorize individuals by their actual likes and dislikes rather than having to guess at them. As you can tell, the way that target markets are selected is changing. So I wonder, can you use some of the simple principles given below to move forward in a world driven by online or digital advertising and promotions? How can you become one of the new-school marketers?

The evaluative method only works of you have done the preliminary work. This consists of establishing, first, business objectives; second, sales objectives; and third, marketing objectives and a marketing strategy designed to facilitate the attainment of the sales and marketing objectives, which in turn help with the business objectives. (By the way, sometimes it is important to distinguish between marketing and sales activities. One way is to make a distinction between talking with many people with mass or automated communications and talking with one person. Marketing involves a similar message to many people whereas sales involves answering specific questions from an individual, taking down their individual purchasing information, and completing the transactions one at at time.)

As a small business owner in the insurance industry, in what some may consider a mature or even declining market and in what others may consider a vibrant if chaotic market, you may choose to follow the path of least resistance by doing what other successful agencies are doing or to find a market niche for just yourself. Either way, we would like to help. Talk with us if you are still wrestling with the ideas for your business strategy and marketing strategy. Regardless, you probably want a strategy that allows you to nudge your prospects along. A nudge affects a small decision on their part, taking them in the right direction. Each nudge on your part is small enough that the prospects do not resist them. A successful sale happens when none of your nudges have been rebuffed.

The Evaluative Method

When evaluating a marketing piece, proceed through these general steps:

  1. What is your initial reaction to the piece? Prevent the designers from doing any setup that might bias you. This steps lasts 15 seconds—or more if you choose.
  2. Listen to the intellectual support from the designers, contrasting what they say with your initial reaction. It is the contrast that drives the evaluation or critique.
  3. Go back in your mind to discover why you had the initial reaction you did. Does your initial reaction accord with the intellectual support given by the designers? Does it differ? Why?

Answering the why is the analytical aspect of evaluating creative pieces. The analysis involves asking yourself 5 sets of questions:

  1. Is the creative piece on strategy? In other words, is the creative designed to nudge behavior or perception in a way that harmonizes with the overall strategy? A piece should offer a many nudges as necessary for you to get from one message to the next without their halting the communication. You nudge them toward any number of behaviors or thoughts:
    • Purchasing: you could say something like “completing an application requires your signature and the date.”
    • Enhancing image or brand deals with continuity in the branding effort; it takes time, persistence, consistency, and repetition.
    • Educate and inform: “The government would like you to make a decision by date x; if you have not, you risk a penalty.” This approach is used by most insurance agents.
    • Announcement or introduction: This approach is used often in the insurance industry by brokers and carriers trying to recruit agents.
  2. Who is the audience, who will consume the message? The audience used to be defined by age-related names like “baby boomers,” “millennials” or life-style names like “empty nesters,” and “snow birds.” Such segmentation is still good if you do not have access to your own marketing data from the Internet; in other words, you are not eHealth or some other online agency. However, even if you are a small agency, you can start developing an online presence that will start giving you data.
    • There are two refinements to the notion of “audience”:
      • The “target market” is the subset of the marketing audience that you actually wish to talk with; however, since you do not have perfect knowledge, you cannot talk exclusively to them and have the expense of talking to the larger audience.
      • The media vehicle is something like the hometown newspaper or facebook that plays a large role in defining your audience and helping you reach your target market.
  3. What change will be elicited from the target market? There are 4 alternatives when one tries to modify behavior and/or perception:
    • Feeling loyalty toward the agent
    • Feeling predisposed to accept suggestions and offers from the agent
    • Feeling willing to to purchase from the agent (“engage in a product trial” according to old-school marketers)
    • Feeling willing to purchase a subsequent product from the agent
  4. What are the message characteristics?
    • Is the message first and foremost persuasive. The potential buyer should say, “Yes, this is important to me.”
      • One way to elicit the proper reaction is to highlight the end benefit
    • Is the message credible? What is the history of the product and its problems? What is the intellectual support for making claims? Is there statistical, literature, or testimonial support for correction of the problems?
    • Is the message truthful? (This also means legal, ethical, etc.)
    • Is the message provocative? (Will it capture someone’s attention?)
    • Is the product (goods or services) itself prominent in the ad?
  5. Are business requirements met: corporate culture, logo treatment, fine-print support? Are the specific rules of your business being followed? (Many businesses no longer pay as much attention to this aspect of marketing, feeling that since everything else is changing this can too. The neglect is also due to the fact that anyone who can use software is now designing promotional content, not just people trained in marketing. Most de facto designers do not seem to be following such rules. The benefit is that they save time and frustration in the short run; the risk is that they will hurt their brand and sales in the long run.)

As a business owner, you can also engage in “pre-evaluation.” You can ask for the opinions of people who have seen what you have not seen. If you do so, determine in your own mind whether the person is part of the target market. If not, then his opinion is not as credible as a person’s from the target market.

Doug Draper

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