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Why You Don’t Want to Fail This Direct-Mail Test

In direct mail (DM), testing is the process of putting a letter or package in the mail, counting the replies, and coming to a conclusion based on the results.

Testing is a huge advantage that direct marketers have over branding and general advertisers: We first do a small test to determine whether our direct-mail package works. If it does, we can gradually expand the campaign. On the other hand, if the test bombs, we know early on that the package doesn’t work. The test costs only a few hundred or a few thousand dollars, and it saves us many more thousands of dollars by not continuing to mail a DM package that consistently loses money.

Testing is one of the central ideas of direct-mail marketing: Test small, then roll out in larger quantities once the tests show you which is the winning package.

The 3 most important factors to test

What are the three most significant factors you can test — the ones that can have the greatest influence on response?

Number one is the mailing list. There could be a half-dozen mailing lists suitable for your offer — or even more. You can’t assume you know which one is best based on your personal biases. The only way to know for certain which list will pull best with your package is through a test mailing.

The second most important factor to test is the price. This applies mainly to mail-order selling. For instance, let’s say you’ve published a thousand-page market-research report on broadband internet. How much will people pay for it? $195? $495? $1,200? You simply don’t know until you test. And frequently you’ll be amazed at how many people place orders at prices you think are sky-high.

The third most important factor to test is the offer. Should you try for mail orders or leads? Should you offer a premium? If you do, will you get better response offering a gift item such as a digital watch or free information such as a booklet or special report? You won’t know which works better unless you test.

A/B split tests

When two mailings or mailing factors are tested against each other, it’s called an A/B split test, with one version labeled as test cell A and the second as test cell B. For instance, you might test letter A against letter B to see which pulls more orders. Or you might take letter A and mail it to two different lists, to see which list produces the better response. Or you might mail a control as test cell A against a new test package as test cell B.

control is the current best-performing DM package. For instance, a marketer may be mailing thousands of the same direct-mail package month after month because it’s profitable. But how do they know another package, with different graphics, size, colors, and copy, won’t generate even better results? They can’t, unless they test it. So they periodically commission a new direct-mail package or put one together in-house and then mail it against their control in an A/B split test. […]

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