A 7-Step Method to Beat Your Direct Mail Control
If you use direct mail, one of your biggest challenges is beating a control in a head-to-head test. Most people use the "potshot" method, trying random formats, offers or creative approaches, then crossing their fingers and praying for a winner.
There's nothing wrong with testing a wide variety of ideas, but it doesn't have to be a random process.
Here's my 7-step procedure, based on proven problem-solving methods. It works for any medium, including direct mail, prints ads and broadcast spots. It doesn't guarantee a winner, but it does guarantee a logical and well-ordered method that can get you to a winner a little faster.
1. DEFINE your problem
Formulate every control-beating effort as a problem to be solved. Put the problem in writing. Be specific. If your company thrives on sales leads and good leads have dried up, your problem is a lack of good leads. Write "The problem is our current direct mail package is not generating enough qualified leads for our salespeople." Without a specific problem, you'll never arrive at a specific solution.
Even if your control performs well, and you simply want to beat it, you should formulate a problem statement, such as "The problem is that while our control generates 1.4% response and is profitable, we want to increase response to at least 1.8%."
2. EXPLORE your resources
Gather information about your problem. Collect samples, promotional literature, press releases, competitor information, memos, testimonials, articles and reviews, marketing reports, everything. Read and ask questions. But don't make any creative decisions yet.
3. ANALYZE your control
Look at the control by itself and in context with all past tests. How does it measure up creatively? Look for fundamental problems. Run a diagnostic check against proven principles and techniques.
Then look at the numbers — response rates, conversions, ROI, cost per customer, etc. Arrange tests chronologically or by response. Do you see a pattern? What has worked and what has not? Why?
When your analysis is complete, formulate your hypothesis. This is a statement that summarizes what you believe the real problem is and what — in general terms — should be done about it. For example: "The acquisition package is getting a good response and has beat out all contenders, but the ROI could be better. The package must be made more cost efficient while maintaining the current response and conversion rate."
By now, your eyes are bleary and your brain is numb. It's time for a break. Set everything aside and do something else. Take a walk. Golf. Nap. Anything. The break will allow your brain to cool off, to sift and organize subconsciously. If your schedule allows, set everything aside for several days.
5. CREATE your ideas
Now it's time to come up with some ideas. How you proceed will be determined largely by your analysis of the control.
If the control is excellent, it may be doing all it can do. So, your best bet is to brainstorm fresh ideas and take a different approach to beat it.
If the control is merely good — the category most controls will fall into — there's room for improvement. Look for something to change about the current control to improve results.
If the control is bad, toss it. Start from scratch and create something new. It's safest to use a proven formula, to go back to basics. (Caution: A control can only be a control if it has won in tests. So, a "control" that shows poor technique or low numbers may indicate faulty testing or other serious problems.)
6. EVALUATE your ideas
Go over the ideas you've generated. Weed out all but the best. If you don't like anything, or think you can do better, go back to creating for a while. When the deadline gets close or when you stop generating useful ideas, move on. Choose the single best idea you have. This is the one you will develop.
7. ACT on your best idea
Plan how to make your idea happen. Anticipate obstacles and prepare for them. Be ready to sell your idea to others. Expect hesitation or even resistance: "We've never done this before." "I wouldn't respond to this." "It won't work." "This isn't very creative."
Doubt is a natural and inevitable feeling as you arrive at the moment of truth. Don't let it stop you. Only testing will prove what works. So, GO FOR IT!
Dean Rieck is one of today's top direct mail copywriters and has created sales and generated leads for more than 250 companies, including Intuit, Rodale, Sprint, and American Express. For a free copy of his white paper, Getting Response in a Down Economy: 4 Key Principles to Boost Your Direct Mail Profits in Today's Difficult Market, visit www.DirectCreative.com.