When to Test a Mailing?

By Wilson Zehr, CEO, Cendix

Testing direct mail pieces is the best way to track your return on investment (ROI).  Direct mail marketing may not be an exact science due to the constant evolution of consumer behaviors and preferences, but some of the guesswork can be taken out of the process by simply testing various messages, materials and methods to small groups of consumers before conducting a large-scale campaign.

When should you test?  Direct mailers should test when:

  • You want to fine tune a successful mailing for even greater results;
  • Your cost-per-order fails to meet expectations;
  • You have new creative and need concrete justification before rolling it out into a full-fledged campaign;
  • You are interested in expanding your market with a wider list;
  • Something in the marketing mix changes, like price or offer;
  • You are introducing a new product.

Test the mailing list

The mailing list is a crucial step in the element of your direct mail campaign.  It can make up over 40% of your total responses according to the Direct Marketing Association.  The best offer in the world – if not targeted to the right audience – will fail.  What is the best type of list?  Look at your own in house mailing list.  What are the characteristics of that list?  Use your house list to build outside lists.  There are more than 50,000 lists out there, which are available from a wide variety of sources.  The main categories of lists are compiled lists, response lists, paid subscription lists, and controlled lists. Choosing the right one – with its corresponding benefits and features – has the potential to make or break your campaign. They are as follows:

  • Compiled lists are databases collected from a variety of directories, credit files, and other resources. They are generated for marketing purposes, updated regularly, and give broad coverage of the market, including basic demographics. These lists work best for broad offers and are available at our website (www.zairmail.com)
  • Response lists are generated from a company’s sales records. They may include information about what product was purchased, and how and when it was purchased, in addition to the purchase price and the frequency of purchase. However, response lists are often less complete, and depending on the purchase procedure, may not include the purchaser’s name and title. In addition, response lists may not be updated as frequently as other types of lists.
  • Paid subscriptions lists have the advantage of compiling recipients who are proven buyers, having subscribed to a specific publication and, therefore demonstrating their interest in a given industry or field. They tend to have fewer change of address issues than other lists and provide a relatively targeted audience; however, they may not provide complete demographics.
  • The result of free magazine subscriptions offered to qualified subscribers who agree to provide detailed demographic information about their companies and purchasing authorities, controlled circulation lists are, as a rule, very niche-oriented. They offer rich demographics and are highly selectable, but may cover only a portion of your entire target market.

As stated before, the mailing list is the most important factor in determining the effectiveness of any direct mail campaign, so it should be selected carefully. Direct mailers can significant improve their response rates by using a more recently updated list.  Many compiled lists are updated 2 or 3 times a month.

Vary your offer

The second most influential factor in determining the success of a direct mail campaign is the offer – what you will give people for responding and how you present it.  Mailers should make sure that they understand what the recipients want.  Keep in mind that the offer must match with the list. Some general tips to improve your offer are:

  • Be as specific as possible.
  • Offer something unique and valuable to your market.
  • Make the offer as risk-free as possible, incorporating a "limited time trial" or "money back guarantee" if necessary.
  • Be clear about when recipients must respond by; avoid pressuring prospects with too short of a response time, but don’t leave it open-ended. Generally, four to six weeks to respond works well.
  • Know the difference between the features of your product or service and the benefits. It is not sufficient to discuss features alone; you must tell recipients why they need to respond. When in doubt about the distinction, remember that features are inherent to the product, while benefits attach the feature to a customer need.
  • Tie your offer to your main benefit. For example, "Act now and save thousands of dollars on online direct mailing costs."

Some offer elements worth testing, include price points, quantity of volume discounts, the way you state your offer (e.g. "save 50 percent" versus "purchase for half price"), and the method of response.

Experiment with your mail package

When considering your mail package, begin with the outside, or you could miss out on a valuable selling opportunity.  A consumer’s interaction with the typical direct mail piece is like their interaction with a door-to-door salesman.  The key is to "make your pitch before the door is slammed in your face."

The average person spends three to five seconds deciding whether to open your direct mail piece, so start selling immediately.  Testing outside logos versus blind envelopes can help you determine what’s best for your audience.

When testing different mail packages, try to vary the package type (e.g. postcard, letter, self-mailer, etc.)  In addition test the use of stamps versus indicia. Even the use of stamps with different designs could produce a noticeable lift in response.

The inside of the mail package should be test also.  The following suggestions apply the body of direct mail letters and solicitations:

  • Use a strong lead. Recipients will likely scan the letter before deciding whether to read it, so seize this important opportunity to make an impression.
  • State your offer at the beginning and the end of your letter. Reinforce what you’re asking the recipient to do and why they should do it.
  • Keep the letter short and simple. A maximum of two pages should be used and avoid busy graphics.
  • Highlight the solutions you can offer. Appeal to the recipient’s problems and daily challenges and offer a way to ease their stress.
  • Use solid facts. Back up your claims with proof in the form of guarantees and testimonials.
  • Make it easy to respond. Close with a call to action and include a vehicle to do so (e.g. coupon, response card, 1-800 number, etc.).
  • Test different letter styles, graphic elements, and techniques. Experiment with different elements of your letter including use of signatures, personalization, bullets, aggressive versus non-aggressive tone, etc., to determine what combination of factors will pull the best.

Seasonality, timing and frequency

When are your customers doing budgets? Will the mailing hit at the end of a quarter, when they have little money to spend? Is it best to market your product or service before or after the holidays? If you’re marketing to trade show attendees, how far out from the event do you market? Is it best to send e-mail before or after the direct mail piece to alert recipients of its arrival?
The effects of such factors generally vary by market, and are worth testing to determine the best approach for your product or service as they could have a significant effect on the response rate.

General rules for testing

There are several basic rules of testing to ensure success:

  • Have a good reason for the test.
  • Test one variable at a time.
  • Test against a control.
  • Make sure the test batch and the control mail at the same time.
  • Test sufficient quantities to get an accurate response.
  • Track your results.
  • Above all, continue to test.

Your markets and customers are always changing, so you have to keep testing to find out what works.

About the Author

Wilson Zehr is CEO of Cendix the leading provider of Web-to-print solutions that automate on-demand one-to-one marketing campaigns and increase sales both online and offline. Cendix offers hosted Internet application software (Software as a Service - SaaS) for print shops, commercial printers, and enterprise marketing. Cendix supplies all the print on-demand and marketing software, hosted systems, and technical talent; Cendix creates and customizes the online application; and Cendix manages all the operations and maintenance required. Cendix is the only application service provider that truly provides "Technology that Delivers". More information about Cendix is available at www.cendix.com; or call toll-free 888.898.0066; or email sales@cendix.com.