Direct Marketing has Changed – Not the 40/40/20 Rule Anymore

I was organizing my bookshelf this morning and flipped through an old Direct Marketing book that I had, Direct Mail by the Numbers. It was published by the United States Post Office and was a pretty good guide. When I was doing direct mail, I went to the local Postmaster and got a box of them. When we met with a client that had never done Direct Mail before, it was a great resource for them to learn the advantages of direct marketing quickly.

Reviewing the book today, I realized how much things have changed over the last decade – even in the last few years.

The old theory of direct marketing was the 40/40/20 Rule:

Direct Marketing 40-40-20 Rule
  • 40% of the result was due to the list you sent to. This could be a list you purchased for prospecting or could consist of your existing customers list.
  • 40% of the result was due to your offer. I’ve always told clients that the amount of time you had in a direct mail campaign to attract the prospect was equal to the number of steps between the mailbox and the trash.
  • 20% of the result was due to your creative. This weekend I received a direct mail piece from a new home builder. In it was a key to test in the model home. If the key fits, you win the home. That’s an intriguing offer that may just get me to drive out to the nearest community – very creative.

Direct Mail and Telemarketing used this rule of thumb for the last couple decades. The Do Not Call Registry and the CAN-SPAM act have proven that consumers are tired of intrusion and won’t put up with solicitation without permission. In fact, I believe that lack of permission will cause a negative impact on your campaigns and is worthy of increasing the importance of the List.

Word of Mouth Marketing is now a significant portion of every company’s marketing – but it’s not owned by the marketing department, it’s owned by the customer. If you can’t deliver on your promises, people will hear about it faster than the time it takes to execute your campaign. Word of mouth marketing will exponentially impact every marketing campaign. If you can’t deliver, then don’t promise.

It doesn’t flow off the tongue as easy, but I believe the new rule is the 5-2-2-1 Rule

New Direct Marketing Rule of Thumb
  • 50% of the results are due to the list you send to and paramount to that list is the permission you have to speak to them as well as how targeted the list is.
  • 20% of the results are due to the message. Targeting the message to the audience is a must. The right message to the right audience at the right time is the only way to ensure you can maintain permission and get the results you need for your marketing efforts.
  • 20% of the results are due to the Landing. For email marketing, this is a landing page and the subsequent service and execution of the product or service. If you can’t deliver on the promises you’ve marketed, then word of mouth will get that message out faster than you can try to patch it up. You must “land” the client well in order to have successful growth in the future.
  • 10% is still the creativity of your marketing campaign. You may think that I’m saying creativity is less important than in the past – that’s simply not true – permission, the message, and the landing are simply more important than they used to be.

The old 40/40/20 rule of direct marketing never took into consideration permission, word-of-mouth marketing, nor the execution of your product and service. I think the 5-2-2-1 Rule does!


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    I have to say that your advertising link as the first line of every blog posting is making it very difficult to decide what I want to read in FeedDemon. Since I don’t get the first paragraph anymore, I only get the ad, I often simply mark the whole feed as read without going into it.

    While I understand the need to maximize exposure, I would kindly suggest that perhaps placing the text ad into the body of the posting rather than as the first line would allow your content to become more appealing and allow people like me to intelligently decide if viewing your posting is a good idea or not.


    • 2

      Tim, that’s great feedback. I noticed that myself after I had posted it and forgot about it… tonight I moved it to the bottom of the feed. Thanks for taking the time to let me know. I really appreciate it!


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