In Praise of Dry Testing
By Denny Hatch
When Don Jackson and I put together "2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success," Internet marketing was in its formative stages. Not much space in the book was given over to e-commerce. At one point, I'd planned to do a book detailing how all the old rules of direct marketing that go back to the year 1196 (the year Chartres cathedral burned to the ground and the first direct mail fund-raising campaign was launched) could be applied to the Web, but I got sidetracked.
What spawned this column was the acquisition of two clients who built extraordinary Internet-based businesses—with fabulous Web sites—and then decided to talk to marketing people to figure out how to make money on them. I'm not talking small bucks here. One guy spent $2 million on a financial services site; the other spent $6 million on a newsletter and database. Neither thought through who would subscribe, what to charge, what the offer should be or what medium to use. Rather they put all their cash and energy into creating the Web sites and assumed that marketing was a field of dreams. "Build it and they will come," said Kevin Costner.
"Build it and they will come is BS," said the late Philadelphia developer Willard Rouse. "Build it, sell the hell out of it, and they will come!"
The FTC has always disallowed dry tests—sending out an offer for a product that does not exist—because you're prohibited from offering a product or service that you cannot fulfill within 30 days. Dry tests are okay if it's clearly spelled out in the mailing that the product does not exist. But that destroys the validity of the test mailing, because it will have to be changed if the test is successful, and the product is created. Even if you make a free offer and don't ask for any payment, the FTC will scream bloody murder. Yet it's far more sensible to send out a test mailing to see if your idea fogs the mirror, than it is to go to the huge expense of creating a product and hoping it will sell.