As direct marketers, we’re all looking for an edge, even just a slight adjustment to the offer, copy or design that will lead to better response rates. Would you believe me if I told you that something as simple as one sentence, just five little words, has the power to lift results by 20%? The key is direct mail testing.
When we engage with clients, the bar is typically set at achieving double digit improvement in response rates, at least 10%, compared to past campaigns. While this number varies by the client’s test volume and their appetite for risk, most of our clients consider anything below 10% a disappointment. How do we achieve double-digit improvements? We test, test and test again. Consider this your three-step guide to achieving better response rates:
- Build an annual direct mail testing calendar: Understand what volume you can commit to testing for the year and build a calendar to implement those tests. We generally recommend committing 20% of your direct mail volume to testing. Then build a list of all of things you want to test, which can include data, offers, segmentation, messaging, creative and format. With a clear view of your testing strategy, it’s much easier to prioritize what you want to test.
- Build discipline into your test design: A good friend once told me, “You should learn as much from your losers as you do your winners.” Know what you are testing and what you will learn before you commit to the test. In our Acquisition Audit process, we review a client’s testing history. Many times we find that all they know for certain is that a package didn’t work. There might be some very good elements to that package, but due to lack of discipline in building the test design, they are lost to “we tried that and it didn’t work.” With proper test design, you will learn as much (or more) from how the test panels perform compared to each other as you will from how they compare to your control.
- Build a control rotation: You would be amazed how rarely this cardinal rule of direct marketing is actually being followed. Controls have a tendency to fatigue as recipients see the same package over and over again. Generally we find that this is a result of clients who are struggling with their testing process. They can’t seem to find packages that work even remotely as well as their control package and therefore have no choice but to keep mailing the same package. Without rotation, control fatigue is amplified significantly.
We recently took a client through the three-step process described above. We built a direct mail testing calendar for the year and worked through prioritizing our testing options to build an efficient test design. They told us they were in the process of completing an extensive segmentation analysis of their file and how their customers used their product differently. Armed with this information, we built segment-based message testing into the testing calendar for when the analysis was complete. One of these tests, a simple change to the headline of the copy deck, delivered that 20% lift I mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Remember, direct mail testing is a process, not an event. Look for incremental gain and learning throughout the year. A well planned calendar with discipline built into the test design will improve results and create options for control rotation. It will also create a rich database of test learnings that can be leveraged to improve results year-over-year.
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