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Direct Response Marketing

Drawing a Better Roadmap

1 Feb, 2013 By: Lizze Slocum Response

Producers and agencies use DRTV-related research with great results … except when they don’t.


Traditionally, most DRTV marketers have treated the beginning stages of planning a campaign as more of an art than a science — it’s common practice to go on instinct and use what’s worked in the past during the creative and production processes. Like in Don Draper’s office on Mad Men, ideas get tossed around before the team settles on what makes them laugh or evokes some other emotion.

Companies frequently spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a DRTV campaign without allocating the $25,000 to $30,000 needed up front to gain valuable insight from their target audiences. Marketers who do have research available to them often fail to share it with their creative teams or, said one commenter, give that team very little information on how to proceed. “In this industry, it’s like, ‘Have you done fitness? Okay, do this show!’” Carla Roberts, president of Team 360, says, adding that it is unusual for a DRTV client to walk into her office with a strategy. “They expect the norm, where the client will sit around the table with the creative team and they’ll evolve what they think is going to work. It’s usually based on hiring a team that’s done it before and had some success.”

Roberts and a handful of other industry leaders have been changing those expectations by championing the use of consumer and other research during the creative phase of a project. Think of doing research as “the first building block in the campaign’s life cycle,” says Tim Hawthorne, founder of Hawthorne Direct and a member of the Response Advisory Board, writing on dmnews.com. “Look at … what you expect to achieve from the campaign.”

In addition, he suggests looking at data collected during the product development phase, including research on the product and brand as well as the market. He has seen a tendency among marketers to “jump on the air and see how things go from there.” Trial and error, he points out, is not research.

Doug Garnett, Founder and CEO of Atomic Direct, believes research at the very front end is the most important because it’s the most efficient. “Research the message,” advises the Response Advisory Board member. “Research can bring the most leverage on a message by shaping all the assumptions that are made in crafting a show.”

Message research is “a road map, it’s an insurance plan, it’s a leg up,” contends Roberts. From the beginning, she will challenge her clients to fully understand their products. What does it do? How does it do it? How do you know it does it? After taking the time to ascertain what has to — and what could — go into the show, Roberts takes the informational concepts (not ad copy) and rough demos it into focus groups. What unfolds is the “road map,” directed
by what the consumer wants, where the objections lie, what persuades them, what turns them off and, eventually, how they reach the point of “I’ve gotta have it!”

Roberts adds, “A lot of the creatives who are hired by clients I work with … appreciate research and they know how to use it. When they don’t have it, they feel impinged. So they see that it makes their job not only easier but also more creative and more successful. That’s what they want.”

She cites the Electrolux vacuum cleaner, which sold for $900. That campaign’s challenge was to penetrate the mass market and overcome the perception that good vacuum cleaners cost only $400. Roberts used focus groups to translate product benefits into selling points and to find effective product demonstrations that would bring in qualified leads. An offer was constructed to prompt potential customers to invite a sales rep into their homes.

The infomercial generated $6 in sales for every dollar spent in media — an exceptional media efficiency ratio (MER). To maximize response and conversions, the infomercial was tested with consumers at the rough-cut stage and again after it rolled out. It was tweaked at each point, leading to even better results.

“Message research has impact on two levels”, says Garnett. “First is the big idea or ideas, like what are the three most important things about the product, or what you say it does. You also need to connect the dots.”

He uses Kreg Tools to illustrate his point. “What the Kreg Jig does is guide your drill bit so you can drill a hole. But what that does for you is makes it possible for you to build that shelving in your kids’ room.” Seeing that the ability to drill a hole will enable you to put up shelves embodies the big picture.

The second level, Garnett says, comprises “little nitpicky stuff.” While conducting focus groups for the Kreg Jig, his team uncovered a language issue. Do-it-yourselfers who did not consider themselves experts were intimidated by the word “woodworker.” A tool for “woodworkers,” the audience thought, might not be a tool they felt comfortable using on their own projects.

By employing that word more selectively and making sure the message was friendly to beginners, the campaign appealed to experienced and beginning craftsmen alike. “Without that, we could have driven away half the market,” Garnett says. Instead, his team helped create a message that reached the most diverse audience possible, beating the on-air sales goal by 20 percent.

Garnett contends, “The second most important time to use research is when you have a rough cut of your show, and you take it to test groups. With your show in front of a group, you can dig deep and look for last-minute tweaks.”

For example, respondents watching an infomercial for the Drill Doctor voiced specific questions about the tool’s durability — durability so well known to the creative team that it didn’t occur to them to emphasize it in the first cut. Its message polished, the Drill Doctor became the longest continually running tool infomercial in history.

It’s Pretty Noisy Out There

According to Koeppel Direct’s website, the average American family in 1960 got five television channels. By purchasing airtime on one — or all — of the five, media buyers could likely reach some part of their target audience. Currently, more than 2,000 TV stations are on the air; global and satellite networks number in the hundreds. The average consumer now has 95 channels to surf through, making it “impossible for today’s media buyers to get coverage everywhere,” according to the site.

Media buyers routinely use a combination of data and experience to select stations and time slots when buying time for their DRTV client’s show. If certain stations and time slots worked well for previous campaigns in a similar product category, media buyers look to those same venues to repeat their success.

“On the media side, we will use traditional media tools, demographic information, audience reach information as part of our planning process,” says Tony Besasie, president of Cannella Response Television. “But the most important metric is all the history that we have compiled during the past 28 years of doing business in our industry. We have our own database — and a handful of agencies like ours do this too; this is not unique to Cannella — but we will record every individual media placement that we’ve ever bought, and we know the response by individual show types. So if you were to ask me what cable media or broadcast market would perform well for a new kitchen appliance item, I can go into my media system, pull research on what were the best performing media, and develop my market plan from that. And it’s all based on response.”

Besasie says the initial media test is the final opportunity to research the viability of a program before airing a full-blown campaign. “When you’re testing creative, you do a small media test,” he says. “You want real-world experience. That’s just to get an understanding of whether your advertisement has a pulse or not. If it has a pulse, that’s great. Now let’s start figuring out how to expand the media distribution of that advertisement?”

To combine data and insight with testing makes sense as several factors continue to cut into the consumer’s potential exposure to the marketer’s message. Consumers have increasing control over their media access, such as the ability to fast-forward through commercials. Many are spending more time online via computer and mobile devices than they are watching TV. As part of the testing process, savvy marketers and media buyers have developed a bevy of ways to correlate media airings on specific stations or networks with traffic spikes on the DRTV vendor’s website.

So, What Went Wrong?

Garnett says, “The third essential time to do research is once the show is on air, and you want to make it better.”

Garnett is also seeing research used more widely to help determine why a program’s results disappointed. “I think we’re seeing an increase in research after the show is released. More people are going back to try to use research to understand what happened. They’re going back to try to see what they can do,” he contends.

Roberts agrees, adding, “Existing shows have always been a mainstay for DRTV research. As it becomes harder and harder to get a show to work, there is more of a tendency to test sooner and in various ways.”

Roberts recalls being consulted on an infomercial for the Bun & Thigh Roller. The show they brought to her was marginally successful, but what the company wanted was a way to make it better. What they found together, Roberts says, “speaks to the creativity of the producers and the writers, as well as the research process, because it has to go together.”

The research indicated that, for a product created for women, there was a lot of ogling; the show depicted men looking at women in a way that was offensive. Additionally, the focus groups found the co-host to be annoying and distracting. “It turned out the producers were so adept creatively, they revamped the show without doing any reshooting. Of course they took out the ogling and the basic ‘talking down’ kind of approach, but the most amazing editing was cutting the co-host out of the show,” she says. In its new incarnation, she adds, “The show was a hit.”

The Critical Back End

What about the teleservices and fulfillment providers who handle orders? How can they change and improve DR marketing strategies? There is a cornucopia of available custom analytics including reports by market, call time, station, program, copy length and offer.

“It is critical to track response,” says Nancy Lazkani, president of Icon Media Direct, on her company’s website. “Response can be tracked at retail, online and through the use of 800 numbers on TV or in print ads. If you do not have the ROI you need, recalibrate front-end offers, creative and back-end offers to help lift profitability.”

That back end, says Hawthorne, is “where even more telling interaction takes place between a telephone operator and customers, the latter of which will often provide valuable insights not only into themselves, but also into the campaign and the product.”

As a prospect or customer sees the show and then calls in, they are initiating a relationship, and, to some extent, the telephone operator serves as a researcher. That operator gathers information, providing the company with a bank of relationship data that can be used at a later point in a campaign. Linda Yarbrough of The Media Mix, writing on her company’s website, suggests, “Ask the call center staff to jot down the response of calls that do not close in a sale: ‘just seeking information,’ ‘wasn’t clear about the cost,’ etc. This can be included in your daily reports. Respond quickly to a pattern that suggests problems.”

One more thing, says Garnett: “You can always go back out to the audience for more testing.”

DRTV Research in the Future

Besasie doesn’t hesitate when asked about the future. “Where the area of research is developing is in multi-channel integrated campaign management,” he says. “There are so many different sales channels now for these marketers. In the beginning it was quite simple: you ran a television ad, added an 800 number, and the phone rang — or it didn’t. Once it rang, you either closed that sale or not. Today potential customers can see that advertisement and there are a number of things they can do. They can call the 1-800 number. They may go to Google with the name of that product. Now the response is coming via the Web, so it’s more challenging to know which media airing drove that specific order. They may go to retail because that product is now available in stores. Which advertising drove that retail sale?”

He continues, “What I’m seeing is that the DR industry is starting to look a bit more like the traditional marketing industry, where you can’t as easily source every one of your orders back to specific media or a specific creative. Now is the time to employ higher analytical tools to understand where those orders came from. Attribution is the core of our industry. Understanding which order came from which media and which creative is critical in DR work.”

A Matter of Survival

“The media agencies that endure” observes Besasie, “make use of a depth of resources and their own databases. No one can afford to fly blind, spending $100,000 on media that doesn’t perform up to expectations.”

No DR campaign can afford to spend money on something that doesn’t deliver during any part of the process. The effective use of research and data analysis plays a vital role in all aspects of a DR campaign, from the creative all the way to gleaning information from the companies that process the orders.

While Don Draper and his Mad Men may be entertaining, their way of doing business is best be relegated to history. Throwing something up on the wall to see what sticks in any stage of the campaign would be madness indeed. ■


About the Author: Lizze Slocum


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