When to Test Direct Mail?

By Wilson Zehr, CEO, Cendix

Testing direct mail pieces is the best way to track your return on investment (ROI). Direct mail marketing may not be an exact science due to the constant evolution of consumer behaviors and preferences, but some of the guesswork can be taken out of the process by simply testing various messages, materials and methods to small groups of consumers before conducting a large-scale campaign.


When should you test? Direct mailers should test when:

Test the mailing list

The mailing list is a crucial step in the element of your direct mail campaign. It can make up over 40% of your total responses according to the Direct Marketing Association. The best offer in the world - if not targeted to the right audience - will fail. What is the best type of list? Look at your own in house mailing list. What are the characteristics of that list? Use your house list to build outside lists. There are more than 50,000 lists out there, which are available from a wide variety of sources. The main categories of lists are compiled lists, response lists, paid subscription lists, and controlled lists. Choosing the right one - with its corresponding benefits and features - has the potential to make or break your campaign. They are as follows:


As stated before, the mailing list is the most important factor in determining the effectiveness of any direct mail campaign, so it should be selected carefully. Direct mailers can significant improve their response rates by using a more recently updated list. Many compiled lists are updated 2 or 3 times a month.



Vary your offer

The second most influential factor in determining the success of a direct mail campaign is the offer - what you will give people for responding and how you present it. Mailers should make sure that they understand what the recipients want. Keep in mind that the offer must match with the list. Some general tips to improve your offer are:

Some offer elements worth testing, include price points, quantity of volume discounts, the way you state your offer (e.g. "save 50 percent" versus "purchase for half price"), and the method of response.


Experiment with your mail package

When considering your mail package, begin with the outside, or you could miss out on a valuable selling opportunity. A consumer's interaction with the typical direct mail piece is like their interaction with a door-to-door salesman. The key is to "make your pitch before the door is slammed in your face."


The average person spends three to five seconds deciding whether to open your direct mail piece, so start selling immediately. Testing outside logos versus blind envelopes can help you determine what's best for your audience.


When testing different mail packages, try to vary the package type (e.g. postcard, letter, self-mailer, etc.) In addition test the use of stamps versus indicia. Even the use of stamps with different designs could produce a noticeable lift in response.


The inside of the mail package should be test also. The following suggestions apply the body of direct mail letters and solicitations:

Seasonality, timing and frequency

When are your customers doing budgets? Will the mailing hit at the end of a quarter, when they have little money to spend? Is it best to market your product or service before or after the holidays? If you're marketing to trade show attendees, how far out from the event do you market? Is it best to send e-mail before or after the direct mail piece to alert recipients of its arrival?

The effects of such factors generally vary by market, and are worth testing to determine the best approach for your product or service as they could have a significant effect on the response rate.

General rules for testing

There are several basic rules of testing to ensure success:

Your markets and customers are always changing, so you have to keep testing to find out what works.

About the Author

Wilson Zehr is CEO of Cendix (www.cendix.com), the leading provider of Web-to-print solutions that increase sales both online and offline. Cendix also provides strategic and tactical marketing consulting services for emerging growth companies in the Pacific Northest. In addition, Wilson serves on the faculty for the School of Management at Concordia University, Portland, Oregon. A complete bio and contact information are available at contact Wilson Zehr and more details on the Zairmail affiliate program can be found at Zairmail Affiliate Program.



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