Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

The 40-40-20 Rule of Marketing

The best ad in the world won't work if it doesn't reach the right audience.

Ed Mayer was a giant in the direct mail and direct marketing world. Throughout his career, he worked tirelessly to promote the industry and educate others. Perhaps his most famous concept is the 40-40-20 rule, which states that an effective marketing campaign is 40 percent list, 40 percent offer and 20 percent creative.

In other words, 40 percent of success depends on targeting the right audience (mailing list), 40 percent depends on the offer you make to that audience (incentive to buy) and 20 percent depends on the creative execution (copy, design, color, paper stock, format, etc.).

The direct marketing industry was built on research and number crunching. When someone of Mayer's stature has a marketing formula, we would be smart to pay attention. His concept can be easily applied to newspaper advertising:

Audience, 40 percent: The best ad in the world won't work if it doesn't reach the right audience. Direct mailers figured this out a long time ago, and they applied sophisticated demographic targeting techniques. Online and social media marketers have taken the process several steps further. No doubt, you've noticed companies that track your interest in certain products, and then send related pop-up ads and messages to you.

Today's print sales people should demonstrate that they can reach relevant numbers of an advertiser's potential customers. Making blanket statements about having 50,000 or 20,000 or 5,000 total readers is not enough. Provide plenty of details on demographics, zoned coverage, and numbers of readers within specific mile ranges of prospective advertisers.

Offer, 40 percent: Ralph Emerson wrote, "Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door." That advice worked in the 19th Century, but it doesn't work today, because the marketplace is crowded with all kinds of mousetraps, and consumers are bombarded with information about those mousetraps.

In order to motivate consumers to choose your advertiser's brand of mousetrap over all the others, you have to give them what I call an RTB — a compelling Reason-to-Buy. That's why the right offer is crucial.

Image ads can help an advertiser build brand identity over an extended period of time. But if you — like direct marketers — are looking for immediate response, provide readers with incentive to act now. Not next month or next year. Now.

Consider discount tactics. Or rebates. Or free delivery. Or open house specials.

Creative, 20 percent: After you've targeted the right audience and developed the right offer, the next step is to package the message so it will be noticed, read and acted upon.

Many campaigns die because of inadequate efforts on this 20 percent. The audiences and the offers are on target, but the messages are clouded with puffed up claims of "best deal ever" and "fantastic service." Or the layouts lack white space and have typography that is hard to read.

As long as the advertiser's offer is a strong one, simply tell the truth in a simple, uncluttered way. That will put the percentages in your favor.