Santa Claus isn't the only one who makes his list and checks it twice. Direct marketers do, too. But, experts say, they definitely have to look over their lists more often than that. To help marketers out, those in the list business provide their own itemizations of overlooked testing strategies.
If marketers follow this advice, they may find more than lumps of coal in their stockings. Those bestowing the gift of wisdom are: Mary Ann Buoncristiano, executive vice president of Princeton, N.J.-based American List Counsel (ALC); Joshua Goff, executive vice president of sales, marketing and product development for Fort Myers, Fla.-based AccuData; and Dave Scott, CEO of Seattle-based Marketfish.
Here's what they say marketers should do:
1. Think of testing as a strategy, instead of a sporadic chore. Several factors have to be in place to have an effective testing strategy, Goff says. The company must be committed to the idea, put a budget in place for it and be willing to fail.
"Not all tests are going to work," he says. "In fact, provocative tests, tests that really try to move the needle, don't often work. And if your organization is not willing to fail and support the people who are involved in the testing, then no one's going to want to test. Because what happens if you fail? You get fired. Or you lose your budget. Or you miss your number. Or something else. So a company has to remove a piece of that from the equation."
Another reason to have a budget in place is to be able to afford renting a big enough list "to really get a good understanding of how well that list performs," Scott says. He suggests staying between 25,000 and 100,000 records for each campaign.
2. Test at various times. Scott says many e-mail marketers hold firm to the idea that "Tuesday through Thursday, 7 a.m. is absolutely the right time" for a campaign to hit recipients' inboxes. But, anymore, B-to-B marketers, for instance, may want to consider Sunday night—when many check their work e-mail so there are fewer surprises on Monday morning. Or, catching the lunchtime inbox peek, Goff says noon can be a good impulse buy time.
Direct mail users may want to do the same, Buoncristiano says, adding that they may also want to try not mailing a particular segment of their file during a specific time period to watch the impact. "Are you still getting the same number of sales?" she asks. "Are these folks getting hit with online advertising? Or do [you] need to mail all of these house file names at the same time?"
3. Cast a wider net. Scott brings up the example of a client who insisted on only contacting chief marketing officers. Marketfish finally convinced the client to contact vice presidents, marketing directors and on down the line—and the results were much better, Scott says.
Buoncristiano expands on that thought, saying marketers should also look at lists that are working and "aggressively" test into either "older recency ranges, expanding into either lower dollar ranges ... or even removing the dollar range."
4. Develop testing data before trying to negotiate a lower list rental. "If you put together a good enough test where you can really track what your overall cost per lead is or what your overall success is, then, after the fact, you'll have a baseline to go back to the list owner," Scott says.
5. Determine the testing dimensions. Goff thinks marketers should ask themselves about these dimensions:
- Creative: There's different elements to test. Is it the package? Is it having an insert or not having an insert?
- Targeting: Am I using a model? Am I using a profile? Am I using a list? Am I using certain customer behaviors or triggers? So, where's my list coming from? (Buoncristiano adds that testing by list source is also a good, but overlooked strategy.)
- Offer: Is it a financial offer? Is it a process benefit? (Goff cites the process benefit of loyal airline customers being able to board the plane first.)
- Response Channel: Am I using a self-mailer? Is it an 800 call-in number? Is it a website? Is it a DVD that I want someone to watch on his computer and then click through to a website?
Marketers can take chances here, for instance, with creative. Scott says one client mistakenly placed only the word "webinar" in its subject header, and the webinar invitation saw an 18 percent open rate and a 6.1 percent clickthrough rate.
As for the "offer" element, Scott says marketers should test a few, because consumers may be in different phases of the buying cycle. And, while a white paper may appeal to someone in the education phase, those closer to purchase may want a 30-day, free trial.
6. Consider other measurements besides response rates. Goff says response rates may not mean sales, and sales may not translate to valuable customers. (Depending on what the offer is, first-time buyers may be one-time purchasers or even returners, Goff explains.)
Goff believes value is a more useful metric, as determined in the "value-adjusted optimization model calculation" AccuData created (see the formula in the Media Player above).
7. Realize that list interaction reports still matter. Take a look at the merge/purge reports, see where the best-performing names are coming from and make sure that they, and other names, are not duplicated on other lists. Ensure cooperative lists, for instance, are providing enough unique, valuable names to justify the cost, Buoncristiano notes.
8. Implement a reuse strategy for prospecting efforts. Buoncristiano says: ""Sometimes your top 25 percent of your list can yield a better performance on a reuse than the bottom part of your plan."
Buoncristiano offers two bonus tips for direct mail users:
- Mailers once adhered to the one household, one mail piece rule. Now, she says, they might consider addressing individuals within the household.
- Marketers may want to understand their specific geographic "strong points," she says. Going as far as figuring out which part of the plus-four in the ZIP+4 works well might improve performance, considering how far models have advanced.