Years ago, direct marketing experts such as Bob Stone wrote that it is the list, the offer and the creative, in that order, that influence your response to a direct mail piece or campaign.

In other words, the most important factor in determining what kind of response you would get from a direct mail piece was the list. If you had a great list you would most likely get a great response.

Next in importance was the offer. In other words, what are you offering at the end of the direct mail piece? Is it a “hard offer” (buy our product now)? Or was it a “soft offer” (respond now for some free information or some other free offer)? Coming up with an offer that really connected with your public was key. And often direct marketers would test different offers to see which one would work best.

The item in last place in terms of determining response was the creative, meaning the copywriting and the design. Yet many marketers who didn’t know this would spend all their time (and I know some that still do) worrying about the design or the sales copy (text).

Up to 2008 and Online Marketing

So is this still relevant today when all the media that we use have changed so dramatically? Absolutely. Let’s take a look at how it is relevant today.

List: This is very relevant in terms of email marketing today. Most rented email lists get terrible response today. But a “house” list, meaning an email list that you compile out of your customers or prospects that contact your company, usually works great.

Offer: The offer is one of the most important things to consider when designing a web site, or when designing a pay-per-click advertising campaign.

A web site needs to have multiple things offered on it, usually for free, that will entice visitors to give their name and contact information. This allows a company to build up an email list, which can be quite a marketing resource.

In a Google AdWords campaign, one of the most important things to consider is what your offer is going to be. Many campaigns I have put together have offered some kind of free report or white paper, and this has almost always increased response levels. One of the advantages of Google AdWords is that with their sophisticated statistics tracking, you can test several offers and within a few days, know which one is working best.

If you are selling a high ticket item, where you are doing lead generation on the Net, meaning you’re not trying to sell them something online the first time they visit your site, then some kind of free offer is almost a necessity.

But if you are selling a product or service online, then you still have to consider the offer. In that case, your offer can include a discount, some free item along with it, a limited time discount, or other incentive that gets people to buy now.

Creative: The creative (ad text or design) are still important. Your sales text is what gets your message across and sells the product. Your graphics create an ambience and communicate the proper level of professionalism for your company. But these items take a back seat to the list (where relevant) and the offer.