How I Beat the Control: Turning Green Into Gold
Late last year, my agency received a number of calls from companies who generated leads through telemarketing. "We can't call anymore," they would say. "So we have to make our direct mail work much harder for us."
One such company was Scotts LawnService, a division of Scotts. Scotts LawnService is a $100 million company that provides lawn care and service primarily to homeowners.
Its control package promised a "thick, green Scotts lawn ... without lifting a finger," and it performed well for many years.
However, even the best direct mail package can become tired, and response had started to flag. With the Do-Not-Call Registry in place, Scotts needed to boost responseand do it quickly.
Timing Was Critical
Scotts doesn't have the luxury of year-round testing. It needs to mail in January and February for two reasons:
* First, it wants to reach people before they have been contacted or signed on with another lawn service company. (More about this later because it played an important role in one of our tests.)
* Second, it's essential for the homeowner to start early because, as we say in our letters, "There's only one way to stop turfgrass disease, crabgrass, foxtail and other invaders to your lawnand that's before they gain a foothold."
So we had to do a lot of work very quickly.
We began with a day-long consultation at Scotts headquarters in beautiful Marysville, Ohio. (Town slogan: "Where the Grass is Always Greener.") We went through all of Scotts' previous mailings, and talked about the lessons it has learned. One of the great things about Scotts is that it keeps a binder of every direct mail test it has ever done, so that it can see exactly what has and hasn't worked.
One thing that was working very well in the control was the offer: Scotts will send a representative to the prospect's home to perform a free Lawn Analysis. This is a no-obligation inspection of the homeowner's lawn that identifies problem areas and also includes an estimate.
Based on this intensive work session and what we saw of Scotts direct mail catalog, we came back with three very different recommendations.
1. Improve on the Control
Controls are controls for a reason: they work. So the first thing we did was suggest some minor changes and tweaks to the existing direct mail package.
The Scotts control made what I consider to be a critical mistake. The package was selling the product or service, instead of selling the offer. So we took the existing control and hyped the offer. This included putting the offer right on the outer envelope, and a chart of what it included on the back. This was the only change in the package.
The result: This package pulled 31 percent better than the control. I've seen similar lifts with other clients. If you have a good offer (and you should) make sure you tell people about it right away.
Hyping the offer was a no-brainer; but what else could we do to the control that would improve response?
2. Add to the Control
The second recommendation involved the use of lift notes. As you know, lift notes are the little extra enclosures in a direct mail package that are included to "lift" response.
They usually say things like, "Please read this if you have chosen not to respond." But we went one step further and tested the strategic use of lift notes. We identified several different barriers that might stop people from responding to the mailing:
* Cost. Because prospective customers may be wary of the costs involved in lawn service, we tested a lift note that addressed the issue head-on and gave them an idea of what a typical program might cost.
* Trust. Scott products are well-known and trusted, but Scotts LawnService is fairly new. So we
reassured prospects with this:
Every Scotts professional is a graduate of Scotts Training Institute, headquartered at the world's largest turfgrass research facility in Marysville, Ohio.
No untrained, part-timers will ever set foot on your lawn.
* The homeowner already may have selected a competitor. She could have signed on earlier in the year, or she may have signed a multi-year deal. To address this, one of the lift notes we proposed read:
Please read this if you used a lawn service last year ... and you weren't completely satisfied.
Inside, the copy continued:
Did you know more than 1 out of every 3 customers of Scotts LawnService started with a different lawn service?
They switched to Scotts because they just weren't getting the service they were promised or the results.
That's why Scotts Lawn-Service wants to make sure you know that you are not locked in to your current lawn service. You can cancel immediately simply by calling them, or sending them a note or e-mail.
This final lift note proved to be the winner; it lifted response to the control by 21 percent.
3. Beat the Control
Scotts had been testing variations on its control for several years, so we thought that maybe it was time for a brand new package. This was the fun part, doing something completely different. The agency came up with several new conceptsand imagine our surprise when Scotts agreed to test them all!
The test packages included:
* Reveal, where we focused on before and after. We showed readers what a typical lawn looks like before Scotts, then asked them to unfold the brochure to reveal what it looks like after Scotts service.
* Neighbors. This was a humorous approach that read, "Your Neighbors Will Turn Green With Envy ... (and so will your lawn!)"
* Invaded, which showed all the different kinds of weeds and bugs that are trying to destroy the prospect's lawn. The designer created a frightening border that we used on the outer envelope and the cover of the brochure.
* Proposal. This was a 9" x 12" envelope, personalized with the message, "Lawn Analysis Enclosed for [prospect's address]." Inside, we included a mock "Lawn Analysis Form," and the letter copy began with the question: "What's wrong with your lawn?"
Not many companies are willing to test so many executions. But the results proved that the investment was well worth it.
The Winning Package
The "Proposal" package beat the control by 51 percent, the highest lift in response that Scotts LawnService had ever achieved.
I wasn't surprised. Size does matterat least when it comes to direct mailand larger mailings seem to consistently outpull smaller ones.
We also think this package is improving conversion because once prospects see just how many things can go wrong with their lawn, they will want to have Scotts take care of it for them.
In addition to winning customers for Scotts LawnService, the "Proposal" package earned some industry fans as well; the mailing won a Gold Echo Award at the Direct Marketing Association's Annual conference in New Orleans this past October.
Alan Rosenspan is the president of Alan Rosenspan & Associates and can be reached at (617) 559-0999. You also can visit www.alanrosenspan.com for more than 50 articles on direct marketing and creativity.