Early on in my marketing career, I had a boss — a terrible boss — who looked at a few mock-ups for a direct mail campaign and told me that he didn’t like the colors on the envelope and didn’t think other aspects of the mail creative were pleasing to his eye.
“That’s good,” I told him. “You’re a fifty-year-old man and this is supposed to target women in their late twenties.”
He didn’t love my answer, but I had some pretty well-tested, relevant research about direct marketing to back me up. I knew about the concept of “list offer creative” and why it mattered in almost every direct marketing campaign.
For a long time, old school direct mail marketers preached the concept of how much each component (the mailing list, the compelling offer, and the creative content) mattered to the success of the marketing campaign. Some said that the success was 40% list, 40% offer, and 20% creative. I had another mentor who taught me that the list was 10 times more important than the offer, which was 10 times more important than the creative.
The reality probably lies somewhere in between.
Whether you were doing a direct mail campaign, a newspaper ad, or some other form of advertising, the LOC rule usually applied. You need to focus on the list first — the right offer, beautifully presented, to the wrong person will almost always miss the mark.
List Offer Creative as Part of Digital Campaigns
As we moved into the digital marketing age, the three legs of List Offer Creative didn’t really change that much. For paid search, you wanted to make sure that your offers were being seen by the people most likely to respond. We’d do this by doing robust keyword analysis to infer search intent. For online display campaigns, we’d want to identify specific groups of people (first using our own hunches and gut feelings to choose which website to advertise on, and later using DSPs to pick them for us).
Putting a good message in front of the wrong audience is not a recipe to find potential customers. Yes, you need all three legs of the stool, but throughout my career, I’ve constantly found that marketers spend a disproportionate amount of their time interested in the creative components of each campaign, and relatively little time focused on the list or the offer. We search for the easy, comfortable thing and ignore the more important stuff.
Using List Offer Creative with ABM Campaigns
At Ampfactor, we have success implementing this concept with account based marketing (ABM) campaigns. (The dirty secret is that ABM is really a lot like any old school direct marketing campaign.)
You’ve almost certainly read about a basic process for building an ABM campaign, often using a TEAM framework (target/engage/activate/measure). You target the businesses most likely to become new clients using data categories like technographics, firmographics, search intent, insights and more. You engage the audience at each of those businesses using email, ABM advertising, chat, direct mail, white paper distribution, blog article creative, and many other tactical campaigns. You activate the accounts by collaborating across your revenue team when signals tell you to.
And you measure the activities and outcomes so that you can build sustainable pipeline in the key accounts you are targeting.
When we are building out campaigns, we always use the mantra of List Offer Creative when talking to our team and to our customers. Each of the three legs is an important component of any ABM strategy and we make sure it is a guiding light for each campaign as we drive business development and go-to-market strategy.
In the days of direct mail, you’d work with list brokers to provide you a mailing list of people you requested. The better brokers would segment the list based on your needs and some would use regression or modeling to help you find the best fit for your campaign. This was how we avoided sending mail to the wrong people.
Today, in an ABM program, the concept of “list” is typically broken down into two important categories:
- Target Account Lists (TAL): The target account list is typically built using a collection of tools and insights designed to find your ideal customer profile (ICP). The ICP is the best fit account for your product, based on industry, size, revenue, propensity, intent, technology, and many, many other example data points. We build a TAL and then usually segment it into easily digestible buckets like different industry verticals or company sizes. You can use tools like Zoominfo, Bombora, Discover.org and many others to search for these data points and build your ICP.
- Personas: Inside of each account is a group of people who will participate in the buying committee or buying council for your product or service. Every deal has one “yes or no” person who can make the final decision — we call them the economic buyer but there are other names — and then a bunch of other folks who can influence a “yes” or a “no” but can’t really make the decision. We identify who these people are and then create small clusters or personas to find them easily (maybe using job functions like finance, IT, operations, etc.).
For ABM, the list isn’t EVERYTHING, but it’s pretty damn close. Think of it this way: imagine you’re building a wall in your house. You measure the dimensions of your project and you’re “just” a half inch off. But this is a long wall, and that error compounds as you continue to build it. When you’re done, you have wall that makes you look like it’s the first time you ever picked up a hammer and saw.
Building your list is no different.
The success of your account based strategy is strongly correlated to your ability to choose the right people in the right accounts. If you choose the wrong audience for your ABM program, you’re going to fail. Period.
The old view of direct marketing would consider the “offer” as the incentive to purchase your product or service. You’d include “30% OFF today only” in your newspaper ad or in your social post and you’d hope that incentive was large enough to get your potential clients to respond to your ad and make a sale. When the offer ran its course, you offered up a new offer.
For ABM campaigns, we think the offer component is a little bit different. To do account based marketing, you need to have a product or service that has a large enough ASP or ACV to justify an investment in 1:1 or 1:some marketing campaigns. This means there are a finite number of people involved in the deal in a finite number of accounts. You can’t pepper them with “30% off” offers or even with “MEET WITH ME TODAY TO LEARN MORE” offers. You don’t want to burn the bridge and make response more difficult.
For our clients, an offer is compelling information for individual people (not companies) that helps them solve a problem they are facing. It might be a white paper or an article that’s interesting to them. It might be a targeted webinar or a website landing page that helps them.
Bottom line: the offer is something that your audience finds relevant. The incentive isn’t to talk about your product or service or widget, but rather to enable your future client in their search for a better way of thinking. When you match this kind of offer to the right list (meaning TAL and persona within each account), you’ll find that you’re creating value and trust — which is more important than talking about your tool.
As we go to market, we spend a lot of time thinking about the visual and written messages that our direct response and branding campaigns convey. Your business has a brand and you want people to hear your story. That’s a good thing — and a very important part of your strategy.
But for account based marketing, our ABM agency believes that creative is the third most important part of the three steps. Whether you’re designing a website landing page, an email nurturing series, a social post, a gift marketing program, an SDR sequence targeting your audience, a dimensional mail package, or any other marketing initiative, you want your brand and brand message to come forward.
But you do not need to start your ABM program with creative.
- As you look towards a future where you are promoting your business using account based marketing, it is critical for you to build your program using the tried and true concepts of direct response programs.
- As someone responsible for generating interest in your products and services, for solving your customers’ problems, and for generating revenue in your organization, you should be focusing on the tried and true methods that focus on the list, the offer, and the creative. In that order.