I have been reflecting lately on how the definition of direct marketing has so evolved and expanded since we opened our doors at Avalon 17 years ago, and how our agency has grown along with our industry.
Beyond integrating marketing channels and testing how best to capitalize on the digital space, Avalon has focused its evolution on finding the perfect balance of right-brain (creative) and left-brain (analytical) thinking. That’s because we know that the Don Draper flash of creative genius is a myth – in real life, great creative is achieved through a process of carefully crafting message and design to realize the strategic goals and corresponding results our clients need. You simply cannot have strong creative strategy without relevant and actionable data analysis.
We watch the commercial space to understand agency trends, particularly in the disruptive areas of digital marketing and analytics. And it’s wonderful to see that our methodology (marrying the left and right brains for strategic creative) is well supported. A recent piece by Aditya Joshi in the Harvard Business Review nicely outlines the importance of leveraging both creativity and analytics for the best possible outcomes.
From the beginning, Avalon has integrated strategic analytics with program and creative strategies, bringing actionable analysis to the table for all creative conversations. Organizations can implement this way of thinking in several concrete ways:
Strategic priorities: Understanding your organization’s and your fundraising program’s big-picture goals, as well as the ramifications of the methods you are using to achieve them, is a critical first step. As an example, if your strategic priority is to move your program to a higher level of donor value, then the $5 offer being proposed by your digital team may actually undermine your most important goal.
Messaging: Let messaging anchor your creative strategies, because this is where you will see the big gains. Package tactics are also critical, but they are most effective when they are refining the delivery of a carefully crafted, well-tested, and consistent messaging strategy.
Campaign creative: This one is a no-brainer, but surprisingly easy to slip up on: wait for your results before you call a winner. Remember that “anecdote” and “instinct” are not synonyms for “data” – so conduct your analytical review in concert with your creative brainstorming. That way, your creative direction will be informed by facts. The result? A fluid process that integrates actionable analytics with innovative creative.
Your team: Not only should your creative process be integrated, but also the people leading the process must be skilled and experienced in both the analytical and the creative spaces. Your team must nimbly balance many moving parts to generate the best possible work, integrating analytics and creative at every step in the process – from strategic goal setting, to messaging, to package design. And every member of your team must understand your program’s strategic priorities, in order to measure and judge the success of your creative through that lens.
Your extended team: Furthermore, your extended creative team needs to integrate this into their thinking as well: provide results to your production partners if they’re making recommendations for package techniques, and make sure your program staff knows the topics that were big winners and losers, in order to inform program updates. In addition, make sure your writers know what messages worked and what tone to convey, based on historic performance data and your strategic goals.
Finding the right balance of creative and analytical thinking should become the default framework for your entire fundraising strategy—which, in our experience, will lead to a more strategic and successful program across the board.