The Life and Death of Lear’s
With a dry test, the product does not yet exist — and never will exist if the dry test mailing bombs.
A 25,000-piece dry test mailing is a lot cheaper than a wet test: starting a company, hiring editors and designers, printing 50,000 copies of a new magazine and the figuring out how to sell them and get advertising.
Most start-up magazines have just enough money in the pot to finance a single dry test effort. Lear’s millions enabled her to sign up four top direct mail copywriters to create competing mailings.
(Check out an earlier column of mine, “The Art and Science of a Dry Test” for the nitty-gritty of this technique.)
The Lear’s four test mailings were all very different. Most entrepreneurs would be delighted. With diversity, one or two should be clear winners that would identify the Unique Selling Proposition (USP) and tell the incipient publisher in what direction she should head.
Instead, Lear announced none of the four efforts was precisely what she had in mind for her magazine. So this inexperienced control freak browbeat her marketing consultant to change the copy in all four mailings until they were all alike and she was comfortable.
The dry tests were mailed with virtually no difference in the results.
Nothing was learned.
Takeaways to Consider
- A dry test is a lot cheaper than a wet test.
- “The holy grail of direct marketing is the single variable test.” —Don Nicholas
- Multi-variable tests are doable. And cheaper. But don’t try them unless you know precisely what you’re doing.
- See page 52 of Bob Hacker’s brilliant Direct Marketing Doesn’t Have to Make Sense: IT JUST HAS TO MAKE MONEY for how to do “Power Testing.”
- The point of a test is not to tell the market anything.
- Rather, you are asking the market to tell you what to do.
- Lear’s magazine reached a circulation of 350,000.
- Lear summarily decided to change the business model of Lear’s so it would appeal to women age 35 and over.
- Whereupon she was in direct competition for readers and advertisers with every other woman’s service book — Ladies Home Journal, Redbook, etc.
- “In direct marketing there are two rules and two rules only. Rule No. 1: Test everything. Rule No. 2: See Rule No. 1.” —Malcolm Decker
- The magazine died in 1994, after an estimated loss of $30 million.
- Frances Lear assumed room temperature two years later. She was 73.
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