For 10 years, I taught a direct marketing course at Bentley College in Waltham, MA. It was a one-night-a-week course for business and marketing professionals who wanted to learn more about creating successful direct marketing programs.

As a way to kick off each new semester, I would always ask the class the following question:

“What is the single most important thing in all of advertising and marketing?”

Pretty simple question, I think. With more than a few good answers.

Great creative was one very common answer. Finding the right media, the right mailing lists, the right strategy, the right benefit, the unique selling proposition, the creative concept, the offer, the logo, slogan, tag line – it would go on and for a good 10 minutes.

All are good and reasonable answers, I would tell them, but no, that’s not what I was looking for.

To me, the single most important thing in advertising and marketing is money. Let me say that a little louder – MONEY.

If you have the money, you don’t have to worry about getting it right. You can saturate the market – you can be on every tv channel, every radio station, every magazine and every newspaper. You can mail to everyone with an unlimited number of messages. You have no limits.

You don’t have to worry about making a mistake, because your “marketing well” never runs dry.

But of course, that’s not the way it works in real life (unless you work for Nike or Microsoft or Budweiser or Coca-Cola – or so it seems).

No, most of us have budgets. Most of us have to make good (or safe) decisions the first time around. Most of us need to know what is working (and what’s not working) so we can have confidence in our future planning.

If you are working within a budget, you need to be smarter. You need to make every penny work. You need to be able to track and test each and every one of your marketing efforts so that over time, you will become smarter and more efficient with your marketing decisions.


Written by Bob McCarthy

This article may be reprinted without permission as long as the article includes the following credit: Bob McCarthy is a freelance copywriter and consultant specializing in direct marketing and lead generation. His website is He can be reached at 508-473-8643 or by email at

About Bob McCarthy

Bob McCarthy is a direct response consultant and copywriter with a focus on direct mail, email and digital marketing. Bob works with B2B, B2C and Non-Profit clients. You can download his free ebook, "Making Snail Mail Work: 13 Lessons in Direct Mail Strategy."