Friday, March 9, 2007

Direct Mail - the Deadly Sin Of Not Testing

Direct Mail - the Deadly Sin Of Not Testing
by: Robert Wilkinson

If there's one thing that makes direct mail a reliable method of drumming up new business, then that would have to be the ability to test if different version of a pack achieve a better return on investment. Having processed many mailings over the years, I can attest that clients rarely take full advantage of this feature. In fact, more often than not, clients don't test at all.

Not testing is commercial suicide. In today's competitive climate, if there is anything that can be done to reduce the cost of acquiring a customer, then it must be done. It's a no brainer. Research shows that in times of depression, those that continue to advertise are those that do well. It also shows that those that continue to advertise also make efforts to stretch their budget even further.

You decrease your direct mail costs by application of a little commonsense and by testing which produces the best response. We'll take the example of direct mail pack that comprises five parts in all.

The parts of the pack are as follows:

1) Envelope
2) Personalised letter
3) Brochure
4) Leaflet/Order form
5) Business reply Envelope

Looking at this you would think that this it, but we've forgotten the most important part of all:

6) The data

So, there's enough there now to get your message out.

Experience shows that the most important part of the mailing is the data, so we must test this part. A badly produced but well targeted letter will almost certainly produce a better return than a well written badly targeted letter.

You may have a particular target audience already decided, for example, lawyers. You will be able to get lists of lawyers from more than one source, that can be tested. Equally you'll have the option of mailing to a named individual, or to a job title, so you can test that too. So far that's at least four permutations provided you use 2 data suppliers. It would be 6 if you used 3 suppliers. If you hadn't narrowed your field to one sector, then the choice of tests to run could be massively increased, but it's not practical to take it to the extreme.

Targeting is everything, you must get that right, and you can only find that out if you test.

Looking at the envelope, you have a huge number of choice here too. You can send plain with a stamp, or printed with a message. You could make the material from an unusual paper, print in full colour, use different sizes. You could print different designs, use different taglines and the like.

Depending on how your envelope is made you may be able to run multiple designs for a minimal charge. The nature of some jobs is that they are printed 2 or 3 or up on a sheet, so you will be able to produce equal quantities of more than one design. Even if it's not free, chances are that it won't be hat expensive for a plate change.

For the letterhead, you can change the material. Studies by paper merchants have shown a 20% increase in response just by changing to a textured paper. The copy itself on the letter can be changed, offers can be changed. The number of options to test here is almost limitless.

Moving on to the leaflet, the same applies here as did for the letterhead. Copy, material, imagery; they're all fair game.

Last but not least we move on to the BRE. There's not a huge amount you could do here. White or manila envelopes perhaps? Maybe even a coloured BRE? if it isn't going to cost a lot, why not try it.

Using these methods over time you can increase the effectiveness of your mailings. Always test, even when you think you have the perfect pack, continue to run a test campaign against it, even if the difference between the two is really quite small. If you continue to do this, your costs to acquire a customer should fall and fall.

Overall, the point is that there an almost infinitely large and almost limitless opportunity for testing. Maybe it's this huge scope for testing that puts people off, but I don't think it is. I think it's just a lack of awareness of what you can do. You don't need to complicate things, you can just run two packs with one difference between them and see how it goes.

Whatever you do though, don't commit commercial suicide and fail to test.

About The Author

Robert Wilkinson is the owner of, a print, design and direct mail business specialising in direct mail and envelope production for small and medium sized businesses