Testing 1, 2, 3.

What would you like your mailing to achieve for your business? Imagine being able to direct mailing campaigns to boost your sales and company reputation, then being able to thoroughly evaluate the results.

Look in a corner of the business reply card in a big commercial mailing and you’ll probably see, in very small type, what looks like an arbitrary sequence of letters and numbers. This is a code that is key to knowing which version of the mailing, which offers, or even which mailing list, brought in the most reply cards.

Codes, versions, offers—they are all part of a process called testing. Professional mailers will sometimes test dozens of variables to see who’s most likely to buy and what is most likely to induce them. And the three variables that are the most important to test:

  1. The Mailing List
  2. The Offer
  3. The Creative

1. The Mailing List

There is no factor more important to the success of a mailing than the list of people you send it to. According to many professional mailers, the quality of the mailing list accounts for at least 40% of the campaign’s success.

The best way to refine your target audience is to test it. Test both your in-house mailing list and lists that you rent from mailing-list brokers. Here’s how: ask the West Chicago Printing team about sending two identical mailings out to the two lists. The list that generates the most responses is your winner.

2. The Offer

The offer is what compels the recipient to respond immediately to your mailing. This is very important to test because it is otherwise difficult to predict what offer will get the best results.

There’s a story in direct marketing lore about a department store that tested two offers in credit card solicitations. One postcard offered 10% off on the first purchase with the new card, up to $50. The other postcard offered a free Teddy Bear, worth about $3. Surprisingly, the Teddy Bear won the test. Who would have predicted that?

Test discounts, free gifts, and free samples. And don’t forget to test pricing. Direct marketing professionals also tell stories about products that nobody would buy for $4.00 but sold out at $12.00.

3. The Creative

Creative is the most fruitful area to test. You can test a humorous approach versus a serious approach. Or flashy designs versus simple pictures. There are stories about simple word changes that produced dramatic results.

While you’re testing creative, test formats. If you mail letters, see if adding a brochure gets you more responses. Also, see if the extra responses cover the cost of adding the brochure. Or try sending a less expensive mailing. Maybe there will be no drop-off in response and you can build sales more cost-effectively.

Evaluating Results

You can’t look at the results of any test without first knowing what you were trying to achieve. If you wanted appointments for salespeople, then you should test for the list, offer and creative that get the most appointments. On the other hand, if the cost per appointment gets too high, you might want to test for a combination that gives you a lower cost per appointment. You might also want to look at the quality of responses—follow up your mailing to see which list, offer and creative ultimately produced the most sales.

Keep testing, testing, 123. When you get the results you want, build on your findings and start again!