The ABCs of Testing
When it comes down to it, the key element that separates direct marketing from other marketing techniques is the offer. Direct marketing campaigns are meant to sell products and services; a two-step campaign may be needed to explain the offer, but the desired result is a concrete sale.
That's why marketers who think they can stuff image advertising into an envelope and generate results tend to lose money on those campaigns.
Since you can measure response, you can also determine which offers and mailings work best. When you get an order, you can surmise that something about the way you asked for the prospect's business was on the money.
When response starts to flag on a control, you know it's time to breathe some new life into it. And, of course, you don't want to wait until your best mailing dies before testing new ideas. Marketers who weather the changing times continually test offers, copy and creative; they also rely on several direct mail packages to bring in sales.
If you're having trouble viewing your offer in a new light, listen to the experts: Look to other proven controls and borrow techniques to adapt for your own efforts.
With the help of the direct mail archive service, DM Source, we've rounded up several long-term controls (Axel Andersson Grand Controls) to provide you with fresh ideas.
Some of the most interesting offers ever to be found come from newsletter publishers. This control from the University of California at Berkeley (at right) has been mailing for many years with only minor tweaks along the way.
The mainstay of its simple appeal is the free issue offer; thus nearly every element in the package is geared to support this approach. The letter dives right into the meat of the offer in the first paragraphs:
I'd like to make a deal with you.
I want to send you two free gifts under the sole condition that you agree to spend enough time with them to make a judgment of their value…
One gift is a premium with order, and the other "gift" is really an issue of the newsletter.
To further downplay the commitment of ordering the publication as opposed to getting a "free" issue, the Wellness Letter uses a sticker with the word "maybe" printed on it. The sticker is to be peeled off the left side of the order card and placed a couple inches to the right, just above the guarantee. No coincidence here, as the guarantee is another element designed to keep prospects' anxiety levels to a minimum.
Payment is discouraged, as these options would be loud reminders that an order is being placed. The Wellness Letter also discounts the price in the tiny copy at the top of the order form. The final paragraphs of the four-page letter go into slightly more detail, but the postscript assures prospects that the publisher is not assuming it has a new customer until the bill is paid.
One of the most widely-used offers, according to Axel Andersson, is the easy first payment. Knowledge Products markets its Audio Classics Series via a negative option continuity and an unusual pricing structure.
The first order of two tapes sells for only $1, with the cost of shipping and handling disclosed. Future shipments will jump to $14.95, but the guarantee is that prospects can return any tapes they don't want for a refund.
Knowledge Products asks for payment upfront—in fact, it wants prospects' credit card numbers so shipments can be charged automatically. Continuities normally don't want prospects to even think about payment so soon; it puts too much emphasis on the commitment. In this case, the rock-bottom price induces prospects to take a chance.
Another oddity is the option to double up on shipments that is promoted on the order form.
To cinch the deal, Knowledge Products throws in a mini boombox premium that gets its own buckslip for promotion and is featured in copy on the outer envelope.
The Oxford Club
Agora Publishing knows that flattery is a strong emotion direct marketers can tap to drive response. Instead of selling a newsletter via a trial issue, it promotes the publication and ancillary products for The Oxford Club with a membership offer.
People like to feel that they belong, especially when it comes to money and financial investments. So Agora butters up prospects by telling them they have been sponsored by another member to join the "club."
Instead of shipping a sample issue and then having to keep pushing for a continuation of service and a payment, Agora can ask for the money upfront. What kind of club wouldn't ask for dues immediately?
The copy works hard to convey a feeling of exclusivity: prospects will become charter members, the order form is called an "application" and the sponsor's name is printed on the application.
Never one to be shy about asking for the order, Agora pre-alerts these recipients to the opportunity they'll receive in their acceptance kit to become lifetime club members.
Interestingly enough, the mailing never once specifies what the newsletter is called; there is only vague reference to "special member communiques."
What makes the standard Gevalia Kaffe offer stand out (see above) is a premium that's worth more than the initial product shipment. For this reason, the marketer promotes the premium, a coffeemaker in prospects' choice of three colors, heavily in its control.
Since the offer is for automatic shipments of coffee, Gevalia Kaffe is in no danger of losing money on this proposition. As long as most customers take enough shipments to pay for the coffeemaker, the deal is successful.
Other interesting points to note are the lower, introductory price on the first shipment, the promise of future freebies to keep prospects salivating and a guaranteed refund on any unwanted and returned coffee shipments.
Because even the best premiums can suffer fatigue, Gevalia Kaffe recently has been testing a plush bathrobe and a pump thermos against the coffeemaker.
Professional discount offers are typically used by publications that would go to professionals whose offices have waiting rooms, such as doctors or lawyers. Vogue's bold move into new territory makes it the first women's consumer magazine to successfully work the professional discount.
As the offer is price-driven and typically used by well-known publications, the mailing efforts are bare bones packages with only a stark outer envelope, carbon slip order form and a business reply envelope. A few marketers add short letters to the order form.
The price is always promoted as the lowest discount available, but the actual numbers get tested for maximum efficiency. The bill-me payment option is encouraged; the BRE is just for quick response but can pull in cash with order.