The Forgotten Format Test
If you've been involved in direct mail marketing for more than 30 days, then you've heard and understand THE critical formula factor for success: first, the lists you use; second, the offers/messaging you make; third, the creative you use; fourth, the timing and other attributes.
For the purpose of this article, let's focus on the creative side.
Direct mail IS a copy-driven medium. Your success can be greatly enhanced or reduced based on the copywriter you employ. You know that. However, when the creative discussion moves beyond the copy, few practioners know where to turn to do meaningful testing.
Typically you'll find outer envelope (OE) messaging tests employed (copy tests), and sometimes different color OE's being tested. Other times, you'll see the inclusion or subtraction of lift notes, buckslips and brochures. While these tests are important to conduct, they typically do not provide huge lifts to response. Switching formats, however, can measurably help lift results and can also lower production costs when implemented correctly.
For whatever reason (often an attempt to trim costs), when direct mail marketers do test formats, they almost always try and go smaller, simply because smaller usually equates into cost savings. But that may not be the right thing to test.
If everyone else in your space is going smaller, go larger and vice versa. This helps you stand out in the mailbox, differentiate your company and oftentimes lifts results.
For instance, in the health insurance space, many companies go after the over-65 Medicare eligible market and send big, 9" x 12" envelopes stuffed with information. One company went the opposite direction and focused on mini-packages that were both light on copy and components, but their results were unbelievable.
Today, format tests are often employed before letter copy tests because they are working so well. In some instances, this type of testing is trumping copy and that's because it is working.