Strategy Session: A Game Plan for Creative Testing
If you're like most marketers, your testing budget has been slashed, and testing new creative takes a backseat to list and offer testing. What should you do with little money left for creative testing? These principles can help you decide what creative aspects are best to test in different situations.
Principles of Creative Testing
In a new product launch, your creative testing should be radical. That means at least two very different concepts in different formats. You might ask, "Isn't that mixing apples and oranges?" Yes, but you're trying to find the winner quickly. Subsequent testing can deconstruct the winner's success.
Example: Recently, I developed a launch plan for a health insurer seeking to generate consumer leads. The plan outlined three very different concepts worth testing. No. 1 focused on taking control of rampaging premiums; it contained a #10 envelope, two-page letter, four-color brochure, premium slip and response form. No. 2 played on the idea that people want straight answers to questions about health insurance. A freemium replaced the brochure and premium slip. The springboard for No. 3 was consumers' view of insurance companies as malevolent monoliths. It included a personalized letter/response form, and a lift note from a professional service advisor.
Deconstructing a package's success involves testing key elements to find the trigger. At Business Week, some 25 years ago, the second package I tested (wish I had written it) was a big winner. It had unique firsts: a four-issue-free offer, a scratch-off on the response form, and a lift note that turned into a full-color brochure. So I tested versions with one issue vs. three issues free, with no scratch-off or lift note. Trigger factors: by far, the four-issue-free offer and the lift note.
You also should do radical testing if your control has been flagging badly. Testing minor changes will not turn your
business around. You may need an entirely new strategy.
If your control has been beating budget consistently, do nuance testing. See what happens when you change teaser copy or Johnson box copy slightly. Test removing the Johnson box and changing your P.S. Leave out or add the brochure and/or lift note.
Test the BIG Ideas
The old saying "If you want a quantum leap in response, find the big idea" is still true. Big ideas include:
Engage in Eternal Envelope Testing
The late, great Bill Jayme spent 50 percent of his time in creating a package on the envelope. Envelope testing is relatively inexpensive and can have a big payback.
Test every tactic, but first set a basic strategy. Do you want the envelope to look like personal correspondence (relatively hard to do these days) or, as Jayme put it, a "store window"?
If you opt for a one-to-one strategy, do you go with a truly personal look, or one that could be mistaken for an invoice, rebate check, etc.? Should your store window appeal use clearly promotional teaser copy or something more official? If you choose a promotional approach, should it be psychologically involving (like Jayme's classic "How much do you tip the waiter when you're planning to steal the ashtray?") or offer-driven?
Again, with a control package that's faring well, keep the control's strategy. If you need a big win, take an opposite strategy.
Take a Side in the Self-Mailer vs. Envelope Debate
Many marketers claim that self-mailers are working. For most applications, I'm still extremely skeptical.
Large postcards work well to generate retail or Web traffic, and for travel promotions. Smaller postcards, in a series, are useful as support, but don't generate much response alone. Double postcards are worth testing for publications that are well-known to the target audience, for catalog requests and as follow-ups to more comprehensive packages. Billboards have been tested by lots of publications, but relatively few have worked.
Self-mailers are not the right strategy for mailing to C-level executives if you are trying to generate leads for insurance, loans, investment services or complex business services. Assistants screening the mail will recognize self-mailers as direct mail and toss them into the trash.
In a new launch situation, forget about self-mailers. Get everything right first, then perhaps downsize to a self-mailer when you have a winning creative strategy and offer formula.
Test These Strategies for Cutting Costs
Rather than cutting mailings, test leaving out components.
The first candidate is the brochure. In certain lead-generation and fundraising efforts, dropping the brochure not only cuts costs, but increases response.
The second candidate is the response form, and BRE, but I'm not particularly in favor of dropping this. Even if you heavily promote other ways to respond (800 number, URL), a response form signifies that you expect something from the recipient. Still, most auto insurance and mortgage providers skip the response form, saving money and maintaining lead production.
3 Guidelines to Keep in Mind
Debates rage about what and how much you should test. These three guidelines, though, few would debate:
1) NEVER STOP TESTING. Control packages are wearing out faster than ever. New insights into your customers lead to smarter creative.
2) TEST ON A PLAN, NOT A WHIM. If you're going to test a "Statement of Benefits" package, have a good reason for it, and make sure it fits your product/service and market.
3) ADAPT TEST PLANS TO THE HEALTH OF YOUR BUSINESS. If you have a long road back to profitability of your mailings, don't take 1-inch steps.
Lee Marc Stein is an internationally known direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He now works primarily with clients of Horah Direct, a full-service agency, as creative director and chief strategist. Read more of his articles at www.leemarcstein.com.