I suppose there are some businesspeople who send out direct mail campaigns just to sell some product today, and they don’t really consider the larger context of what they’re doing, and what their actions now could mean for the future of their businesses. You’ll notice that I called them “businesspeople,” and not “marketers,” because I don’t really consider them to be marketers. They’re too shortsighted.
In my mind, a true marketer is someone who is always looking to learn valuable lessons from one campaign with the express purpose of applying those findings in order to make the next campaign even better.
This kind of evolutionary approach to the marketing process requires that the results of every campaign be tracked. I don’t understand why you would send out direct mail, or do any kind of marketing, if you weren’t going to track the results. It’s like keeping the shell of an almond and throwing away the nut!
Tracking a campaign means keeping records of how many orders came in, and sorting those orders according to different variables – an endless number of variables of your choosing. Collecting this information allows you to see which of the variables made a difference by leading to more responses, and which ones didn’t make any difference at all.
Not only does tracking allow you to see which variables led to MORE responses, but you can see which ones led to better quality responses. For example, one mailing list might produce more responses, but another mailing list may generate new customers with greater lifetime value. It’s the one that leads to greater lifetime value that holds more promise for your future marketing plans.
There’s no end to the number of variables you can look at. And with every mailing you send out you should always be testing something. A good marketer is always looking to improve the outcome of campaigns, and is constantly testing and tracking. To get you started, here’s a list of some suggested items you can track.
The Mailing List
As you run your campaigns, you’ll probably rent a variety of different mailing lists. Some will come from different vendors, and you may find that lists from one vendor yield better results. It may be that their list is cleaner, or they have access to fresher names, or more targeted names. If you don’t keep track of how many orders you get from each list, how will you know which works best – and that you should use that list again? You can’t know. That’s why you have to track.
Then there are issues with the type of variables you ask your list broker to select for. There are demographic variables, like age or income. Then there may be variables like other products people on the list have bought, or what interests they have.
It may turn out that you should be primarily marketing to a certain age group and income level, and not waste money sending mailings to a different age group and income level. This is valuable information that only tracking will tell you.
One of the main points to getting this information is to identify lists that you should expand on and take even more names from in future campaigns. At the same time, you want to identify the lists that, for whatever reason, you should never mail to again. The idea is to make the best use of your marketing dollar by homing in on the lists that give you the best response.
There’s no end to the testing you can do with your copy. You can test long copy versus short copy. You can vary the headline and the subheads. You can vary whether the sales piece is a letter or an informational piece, and whether it’s personal or more formal in tone.
Sometimes you can compare two completely different sales pieces and see which works best. Companies do this when they are comparing their existing control piece (their main sales piece) to a new piece that they’re creating to replace the older one.
The Sales Piece Design
You’d be surprised at how even small aspects of sales piece design can affect the results. Does the piece get a better response if it’s laid out in digest form or as a magalog? Does adding a lift note make a difference? Does a four-color piece do better than a two-color piece?
These are all ideal issues to look at with a properly designed campaign that keeps track of different responses.
The offer is another critical part of every campaign. What’s your best price point? Does a free trial really work better than a $1 trial, or a full-priced offer? You may think you know the answer, but until you run the numbers, you don’t know for sure.
And what about adding bonuses, free reports, two-for-one offers, etc.? There are so many possibilities. And what works one time may not still work two years later. That’s why you have to keep testing and improving your methods.
The Call to Action
Once you’ve got prospects ready to respond, you have to tell them exactly what you want them to do. And depending on what you tell them, you may get a different response rate. Asking people to call may not bring the same response as asking them to go online, or mail in an order form. You want to ask people to do the thing that makes them more likely to respond. That’s why you have to test and track the results.
The Time of Year
As I said, there’s no end to the variables that could be affecting response. You may find that for your particular product or service, mailing in January and July brings a fantastic response, but mailing in September gets you minimal orders. That’s important for you to know. Now you’ll roll out your big campaigns at the time that will be most profitable for you, and you’ll send few, or no mailings during the times that are historically low for you.
But again, things change, so you have to keep testing the waters and tracking the outcome.
Always Remember to Segment and Track Properly
Just as a reminder, all your tracking has to be done scientifically if it is to be of any value to you. That means you set up your test groups logically so that you can tell what the results mean. If you test two variables at the same time, like comparing Offer 1 and Design 1 against Offer 2 and Design 2, then even if one version of the piece does better, you have no way to determine whether it was the offer, the design, or both that made the difference. A properly segmented list is broken down so you can test out the variables, like this:
Group 1: Offer 1, Design 1
Group 2: Offer 1, Design 2
Group 3: Offer 2, Design 1
Group 4: Offer 2, Design 2
Now you have every combination covered, and you can use statistical analysis to let you know what the results mean. For example, if Offer 1 always outpaces Offer 2, regardless of the Design, then you know that it is the winning variable.
I won’t go into more detail here. You can find more information on list segmentation in my book, The Direct Mail Solution, which is available on Amazon.com.
As a final note, you probably can think of a number of variables that you should be testing for given your specific product or service. Make a list and start studying these variables.
Then, track your campaigns, and your direct mail program will stay on track.