The 40/40/20 Rule – How to Predict Your Marketing Campaign’s Success – Without Spending a Dime

Run a successful marketing campaign with the 40/40/20 Rule.

Want to predict how successful your direct response marketing campaign will be?

The 40/40/20 rule is a classic tool for gauging your success. Here it is:

40% of your marketing campaign success depends on your list, 40% on your offer, and 20% on your creative.

In other words, if you have a great list and a strong offer, your chance of success is roughly 80%, even if you have poor copy and design.

Or if you have the best copy in the world, but a bad list and poor offer, you only have about a 20% chance of success.

If a marketing campaign is a fire, the hot list is how flammable the kindling is, the offer is the fuel and the creative is the match.

Let’s break this down.

1) List

This is the target list, or audience, that will receive your offer.  A hot list, or highly targeted audience, gets the best results.

In direct mail, you either purchase or cultivate that list.

If you’re sending emails, your software may segment your list to make it more targeted.

If you are posting to social media, the algorithm decides who sees your content. Cultivate a targeted audience by consistently posting content around a specific theme or message.

If you are running Google ads, the people who see your ads is managed by Google’s algorithms. They look for “just in time” buy signals, like the use of keywords that signal top, middle, or bottom-of-funnel keywords.


A “hot list” is segmented based on 1) people who bought from you in the past, 2) people who bought products similar to yours, and 3) the channel they bought it on (email, website, etc). It may also be segmented by demographics, such as gender, industry, income, zip code, and more.

When targeting your audience, it is ideal to niche down. For instance, targeting “women between 20 and 30” will result in poor campaign success. On the other hand, if you are selling baby formula, you might segment “women aged  20 and 30 who’ve bought diapers on Amazon in the past 1 month.”

The more you know about the audience the more effectively you can craft your messaging. It is common to think in terms of TOFU, MOFU and BOFU. But a more useful and discreet  way of thinking about this is Eugene Schwarz’s five stages of problem-solution awareness.

But what if you don’t know who will see your content because you’re on social media and an algorithm is making that decision? This part of the success equation gets much more complex. I will speak about this down below.


2) Offer

Your offer is composed of three components: desire, price, and incentives.


Desire is an index of how badly people need your solution to their problem.

Primal desires, found at the bottom of this pyramid, take priority when people spend their money. They include the desire to eliminate physical pain or make more money.

Moving up the pyramid towards esteems, and self actualization, solutions that “save time” are highly desirable.  Since issues of income are no longer an issue, coaching, professional development and counseling are hot ticket items in the self improvement and career advancement crowd.

Looking for ways to fuel desire? Mystery, intrigue, and unique mechanisms with “proven results” are essential to differentiating your offering from the competition and can make customers want you more.


This isn’t just how much your produce costs. It’s the products perceived value, market competition and how easy it is to buy. Competing on price alone makes your product a commodity, which is never a good thing. Still you can improve sales with incentives.


Incentives are ways to offer your customer a deal. They may increase perceived value and give your customer a sense they are getting a bargain.

One common way to provide greater value is by offering additional bonus materials or services. These are particularly useful to both the buyer and seller if they can lead to a deeper relationship with the customer. For instance, including a free coaching session(value of $250) can give, or additional training material.

Here are other components of an effective offer:

    • Dimensionalize: Examples of dimensionalization include “Buy 1 get 1 at 50% off”, “Get 2 for the price of 1” or “Buy 1, and save 50% on the second product.”
    • Urgency: Deadlines provide urgency and increase the likelihood of response, if they aren’t pushy. The simplest way to do this is offering a deadline like “offer expires January 31st” or by creating a sense of scarcity like “offer only available to the first 5 orders.”
    • Risk Removal: Customers are placing a bet every time they buy a product or service. Good bets have a small risk of failure or disappointment.  A “no questions asked” money-back guarantee is a common offer. It demonstrates your confidence in results, but it could be made stronger.  For instance, if you provide a ‘double your money back’ guarantee, then you boldly state confidence in your product. This can help customers feel extra safe about their purchase.Risk removal is essential to getting the first sale that begins a long-lasting relationship with your customer. If your customer’s lifetime value(LTV) is high enough, it can justify more aggressive, risk removal tactics.

3) Creative – Copy. Design. Format.


Though not as potent as copy, design “stops the scroll” and keeps your piece from being thrown in the trash.  It’s the pretty graphics or photography that get people to stop and pay attention. It is also the presentation of information that makes it more appealing, sets a mood or makes it easier to process by providing an information hierarchy.


Persuasive sales copy is the most important part of creative. It is what hooks people and persuades them to consider the offer.

This includes elements such as:

    • “Scroll stopping” headlines that hook your target audience so they have to keep reading,
    • Special bullets, known as fascinations, that pique reader curiosity and get them to read more of the marketing material
    • Subheads and leads that get the read to keep reading, and suck into the body copy
    • The readability level and flow of the copy

Media Format

Different types of media allow for different presentations of your message. Since direct mail is paper-based, you can deliver it directly to a person’s hands. This gives them a sense of feeling and experience not replicable in digital format. For instance, the quality of paper can provide a sense of value. If you present a big manilla envelope, with something stiff inside, it is harder to throw away since important documents might be inside.

In print, you have 4 seconds before people throw your message in the trash. The amount of time is even less on the web. If your site loads slowly, or your design is poor, you have 2 seconds before readers leave. If you are running digital ads, you have to get attention in a space where people have become experts at ignoring distractions.

In Summary

Want to predict the success of your direct marketing, in print or by email? Start with the 40/40/20 rule.

40% of your campaign success depends on your list. 40% depends on your offer. 20% depends on how you present the offer with copy, design and media.

Make sure you address the pain points of a highly targeted audience. Do the homework to make a great offer. Then hire a copywriter who understands your buyer’s psychology and product, so they can write copy that converts.

Want to know more? Hire an expert who has experience with these different platforms. Also, follow me to learn how you can leverage copywriting to run a successful marketing campaign in any medium.


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