Message & Media: 19 Creative Tests to Schedule Right NOW!
Creative testing may sound like an oxymoron, but it's not when you're a direct marketing writer or designer. Testing creative elements, such as headlines, subject lines and format, is an effective strategy for improving results—both B-to-B and B-to-C. And the results of testing aren't boring or scary. They're the big payoff for doing what we do.
During a recent in-house copy workshop, I reminded the 10 writers in the room that we are all entitled to our personal opinions, but an opinion is a sample of one. It is not statistically sound. Only testing provides an accurate reading of what motivates a customer to click, call or come through the door.
In today's world of digital direct marketing, creative testing is faster, easier and more effective than ever. We can test in the morning and rollout in the afternoon—no waiting!
"But what should I test?" is the big question. Common sense says to test creative elements with the most potential to make the biggest difference.
Here are some ideas to put on your creative testing radar as cross-channel direct marketers.
1. Headlines: It's easy to do an A/B split test of headlines on postcards, card deck offers, space ads, emails, landing pages, letters and more.
2. Benefit-Focused vs. Emotional Headlines: Test a pure benefit headline vs. a pure emotion headline, or a combined version of a benefit/emotion headline. Different approaches may work for different audiences.
3. Subject Lines: Pre-test subject lines before rolling out. Higher open rates translate into more people to click on your email's call to action.
4. Outer Envelope Teasers: Direct mail OE teaser copy and email subject lines are first cousins. Both are important to test, because they both are gatekeepers of your marketing message. Even though you can't easily pre-test OE teasers, they are worth testing head-to-head when you have a flagging control.
5. Button vs. Hyperlink: Test a hyperlink vs. button for your call to action.
6. Button Color: While you may think red or orange is best, test button colors to find out which gets the most clicks. It may not be what you think!
7. Call to Action: Test button, link and ink-on-paper call to action (CTA) copy. Every word counts. You may be surprised at the difference in response generated by words like "try" vs. "buy" and "read" vs. "learn."
8. Response Options: Test how you promote your phone number, URL and retail locations. This includes placement of the information, and test using words and numbers only vs. words and numbers with icons.
9. Long Copy vs. Short Copy: The length of effective copy depends on your business objective, audience, offer and many other variables. While digital scanners typically prefer content that's short and easy to scan, test to make sure this holds for your audience. The same holds true for direct mail.
10. 'From' Line: An A/B split test will tell you whether it's more effective to send your email from a person in your organization or from your company directly. When it comes to direct mail, you will want to test who signs the letter. The person's title may be more important than his or her name. It depends.
11. Personalization: An email client recently reported getting a 3 percent to 4 percent lift from starting a subject line with the recipient's first name. Test to see how this applies to your situation. Plus, thanks to variable data printing (VDP), it's now faster, easier and more cost-efficient to truly personalize direct mail with relevant data—both with words and images!
12. Format: Direct mail marketers know the value of testing formats—solo, self-mailer, postcard, oversized, etc. Email marketers can also test the look of their electronic messages including e-letters, e-newsletters and e-postcards.
13. Video: Thanks to image recognition technology, you can provide customers with access to videos directly from your ink-on-paper marketing messages, as well as email and online. Test using video for product demonstrations and comparisons, customer testimonials, personal "thank you" messages and more.
14. Offers: While "offers" technically may not qualify as an element of creative, how you communicate them through copy and design definitely does.
15. Images: Test the tactic of including images in email, Web and print messages vs. words and graphics only. Even more powerfully, test images of people or human elements (hands, eyes, even feet). People are drawn to images of people; nobody really cares about your corporate headquarters building.
16. 4-Color vs. 2-Color vs. Black and White: Space ads, direct mail, maybe even email—this is a creative test that can produce surprising results.
17. Openers: Denny Hatch reminds us the first 10 words are more important than the following 10,000. That's why it pays to test the opening sentence of a flagging control letter, email or space ad. You may not need to do a major rewrite or take a totally new approach. Simply try a new lede. Stuck for an idea? Take a look at these 48 letter and email openers.
18. Testimonials: Some testimonials are more effective than others. Here's proof from a blog post by Monetate's Peter Borden: An e-commerce site tested three testimonials in the banner ad under the website's navigation. All three offered free shipping in addition to showcasing the variable testimonial. The testimonial that highlighted the site's breadth of selection and brand quality won hands-down. It was well worth the test.
19. Color, Texture and Size: Because direct mail messages are tactile ink-on-paper advertising, test paper color, weight and texture, as well as the size of your postcard, self-mailer or outer envelope. To control the number of variables, use your control copy and test the rest.
One more thing: After you read the results of your creative tests, please make sure to share these results with your writers and designers. It's all part of our continuing education.