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A potpourri of tips on testing on a tight budget. (Promotion).

Writing in Inside Direct Mail (January 2002), Paul Barbagallo and Hallie Mummert observed, "In tight times, testing is often the first exercise to fall by the wayside.

"But the companies that consistently get the most out of their direct mail programs are those that remain dedicated to testing, no matter what the economy is doing. Simply put, testing should not be an option, but a routine practice."

They continued: "The key to smart testing is a tight focus on those elements of a direct mail campaign that produce significant results. Otherwise, you're spending extra money on research that doesn't pay for itself in improved future campaigns. In a way, testing is really a cost saving step."

Barbagallo and Mummert asked a few experts "to share their best practices for how to test in direct mail with the lowest possible investment." Here is a sampling of the responses.

* "You want to start using more paper and then see if you can suck your way down into smaller sizes, without depressing response," freelance copywriter Josh Manheimer suggested. "For instance, if you've got a 9 x 12" envelope control, you might want to shove everything into a #14 envelope and see what that does for you."

Cheapest test is to change the outer envelope

* "The cheapest way to test a direct mail package is to change the outer envelope," freelance copywriter David Yale said. "With simple copy and graphics changes on the same envelope form, you can expect to invest less than $1,500 in an envelope test that boosts a flagging control or creates an alternative effort to stagger with the control."

* "In the mail, the marketer who wants to pre-test should avoid heavy production costs in the test elements," freelance copywriter and consultant Herschell Gordon Lewis said.

"That may mean self-mailers in two colors, instead of enclosed mailings in four colors. The results may be slightly lower than they eventually will be, but the cost of the test drops significantly."

* "Confine your testing to off-season months, so you don't cut into your control package's more profitable results during peak sales periods," advised freelance copywriter George Duncan.

* "You can test adding simple elements that weren't in previous mailings, like a lift note or a buckslip," said freelance copywriter and consultant Bob Bly. "Sometimes the inclusion of a low-cost insert provides the added information needed to draw extra orders."

"Recency only modestly corresponds with response"

Speakers at last month's Publisher's Multinational Direct Conference (NL/NL 3/15/02) also offered some valuable testing tips.

* One participant observed, "Recency only modestly corresponds with response. Look at your house files and mine them. We've mailed to expires four years old. Test. You can do it profitably. Test. Even cancels."

* Paul Syzmanski, consumer marketing manager at Harvard Business School Publishing, said they test envelopes a lot-not changing the copy or art much. Test #10, 6 x 9", 9 x 12".

Syzmanski reported failure in testing a sales letter intended to move prospects to the company's web site. "Try it in limited quantity," he advised.

* Arthur Cohen, circulation promotion manager of the Harvard Business Review, echoed his colleague's remarks: "For one and a half years we've been trying to drive prospects from our DM packages to our web site. We have had no success, but others at this conference have found modest success."

* Regarding e-mail testing, others reported that HTML usually beat out PDF files, making the recipient work less to read the message.

Long vs. short copy

David Palmer, head of Palmer Consulting Services, has written, "Longer copy is often appropriate, but sometimes a pithy page or two is enough to do the job.

"I once had breakthrough results with a completely new letter that was just two pages, went in a plain white #10, and only had an order card and BRE. Not only did response increase nearly 50 percent, but the production costs were significantly less than the prior control. Publishers have also had past success with the 'sign and detach' all-in-one letter. Remember to re-visit past packages that have had time to rest."

Inside Direct Mail, 401 N. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA 19108, fax 215-238-5270.
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Publication:The Newsletter on Newsletters
Date:Apr 15, 2002
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