Rather Test or Guess?
Of all the negotiating ploys we as marketers might consider, this simple sentence has more success-seeds than any of the fustian and fury we could force out of our bargaining-parleying fingertips. And a “Yes” answer from an understanding medium, which costs zilch, has to result in information far more profitable than even our top-of-the-line brainpower can match.
One assumption we certainly have enough professional knowledge to lean on: the circulation of the medium has at least a tenuous match with a logical buyer. Our prospects won’t think we’re approaching from the planet Mars.
For print media, a split run is easier to mount today than it ever has been since, some hundreds of years ago, we as marketers invaded the nooks and crannies of publishing. For direct mail, it’s a bonanza whose luster dimmed when direct radio and then direct television mussed up the turf. For online, it’s too natural and obvious to be regarded as an innovation.
The overriding interpretation of what we’re discussing is a single word: test.
If the notion of testing a direct appeal is foreign to you, call me or any of about fifty thousand other self-proclaimed marketing experts, and we’ll be glad to take advantage of your naiveté.
Or, if you’d rather, make one decision that has to be profitable: what to test.
The most common test element is price. What price represents the best addition to the bottom line? $19.99 may bring more orders, but $24.99 is more profitable. And in today’s wild marketplace, where 99 cents has almost universally replaced the venerable 95 cents, $24.99 just might bring in more responses than $19.99. What if we glamorize the offer? $29.99 versus $19.99? We can test to give us an answer.
(Sample example: a recent three-way test for a collectible priced the item at $15.49, $15.99, and $17.99. Which brought the highest total number of responses, not just dollars? Right. $17.99. I suspect because the product has a tie to tradition, $17.95 would have left $17.99 in the shade, but the testing impulse didn’t extend that far. Maybe next time.)
And easy? What test could be easier? Just be sure that each addressee gets just one distinct offer and the response code differs for each price.
“Seat of the pants” guesswork is old-fashioned and amateurish, and depending on the deal you can make with media or a lettershop, not an optimal investment in marketing.
Hmmm. Here’s a unisex jacket. Here’s a tablet computer. Here’s a DVD whose content dwarfs any approach to the business problem its content solves. Here’s an extraordinary assortment of dessert-goodies.
A true split is just one split-test: When an offer appears on our monitor, we can’t tell if it’s unique or part of a split run ... that is, if the code doesn’t betray the technique.
What does that mean? Well, suppose you get an online offer from “Firearms.” Does that, emotionally and in your mind factually, differ from “Guns” or for that matter the singular, “Firearm”? What if the sender had split the subject line, sending to one group “Look out. This gun fires in both directions” and to a parallel group “Gigantic 75% discount, today only.” Even from this example, any of us can predict that response will be skewed by the difference in appeals. What we have is a message test, even though only the subject lines may differ.
This is the 21st century, and some of the classic definitions have become blurred by the next-to-limitless availabilities the World Wide Web has introduced. Veteran marketers describe split runs as they described them in the 20th century: identical availability of space in publications or time in broadcast media, split on an n-th name basis. Contemporary interpretation is broader: advertising the same item or benefit to segments of the same list. Down the line may come tighter interpretations, such as potential lifetime value.
A total message test can be more educational (ergo, more valuable) than individual word or phrase replacement. Careful, though, because yet another element can stir the mix in the wrong direction: The appeal has to be (ostensibly) appealing to the same targets.
Changing the tone from logic to shouting? That’s not just OK, it’s a strong rationale for a split run. Changing the description of benefits? OK, if both sides seem equal. Changing from promised benefit to a testimonial? Careful, because you can be tilting in a direction opposite to what your typical prospect wants to see and have.
What medium should we use for our introduction to the hostile world of pre-existing competition? And what price should we quote? Or should the test include price at all?
If the decision is based on guesses, it has to cause furrowed brows if we’re entrepreneurs. It can cause death of a relationship if we claim to be for-hire marketing “experts.”
In the Internet super-world, anyone and everyone can send a message to anyone and everyone. And the plethora of offers for products and services ranging from the exotic to the impossible already has superimposed skepticism atop receptivity as the principal reaction of our most targetable targets.
Before accepting or shrugging off price as the key criterion (which it most often is, if the two halves of a split run differ only in price), consider other possible criteria — humor versus straight, choice of a spokesperson, product in use versus glamour photos, medium versus medium, colors and anything else that can differentiate without adding cost. Differentiation that adds cost isn’t a tribute to us as direct marketers.
What is a tribute to us as direct marketers is maximizing response. So go do that.
Herschell Gordon Lewis is president of Lewis Enterprises in Pompano Beach, Florida. Author of 32 books including “On the Art of Writing Copy” (now in its fourth edition), “Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings,” and “How to Write Powerful Catalog Copy,” he is a member of the Direct Marketing Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at 954.782.1750 or email@example.com. Cell is 954.600.7073.