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The ABCs of Testing

September 1998
When it comes down to it, the key element that separates direct marketing from other marketing techniques is the offer. Direct marketing campaigns are meant to sell products and services; a two-step campaign may be needed to explain the offer, but the desired result is a concrete sale.

That's why marketers who think they can stuff image advertising into an envelope and generate results tend to lose money on those campaigns.

Since you can measure response, you can also determine which offers and mailings work best. When you get an order, you can surmise that something about the way you asked for the prospect's business was on the money.

When response starts to flag on a control, you know it's time to breathe some new life into it. And, of course, you don't want to wait until your best mailing dies before testing new ideas. Marketers who weather the changing times continually test offers, copy and creative; they also rely on several direct mail packages to bring in sales.

If you're having trouble viewing your offer in a new light, listen to the experts: Look to other proven controls and borrow techniques to adapt for your own efforts.

With the help of the direct mail archive service, DM Source, we've rounded up several long-term controls (Axel Andersson Grand Controls) to provide you with fresh ideas.

Wellness Letter

Some of the most interesting offers ever to be found come from newsletter publishers. This control from the University of California at Berkeley (at right) has been mailing for many years with only minor tweaks along the way.

The mainstay of its simple appeal is the free issue offer; thus nearly every element in the package is geared to support this approach. The letter dives right into the meat of the offer in the first paragraphs:

I'd like to make a deal with you.

I want to send you two free gifts under the sole condition that you agree to spend enough time with them to make a judgment of their value…

One gift is a premium with order, and the other "gift" is really an issue of the newsletter.

To further downplay the commitment of ordering the publication as opposed to getting a "free" issue, the Wellness Letter uses a sticker with the word "maybe" printed on it. The sticker is to be peeled off the left side of the order card and placed a couple inches to the right, just above the guarantee. No coincidence here, as the guarantee is another element designed to keep prospects' anxiety levels to a minimum.

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