Testing – Direct marketing wisdom translates online

Sometimes old wisdom brings fresh insights.

Online marketers are waking up to the value of traditional direct marketing. And they’re hitting gold with one of the oldest and best DM principles – testing.

What is ‘testing’ in marketing?

Testing is a key component of effective direct marketing. Its principles hold as true online as they do for any other advertising or marketing medium.

In the olden days, before t’internet, we’d test ourselves silly. We’d litho print a run of 100K, splitting the creative four ways using different headlines. We’d mail the different creatives to different customer segments. We’d find out which approach worked best then we’d roll out to vast databases of millions, with reasonably predictable returns.

Obviously it was never foolproof. A campaign that’s a roaring success in the summer might bomb if rolled out in winter. I’ve seen that happen. I’ve also spent months planning an intricate, highly targeted campaign, backed up with plenty of apparently rock solid test results, only to find that the non-segmented, non-targeted ‘control’ chunk performed best.

Nevertheless, testing is valuable ammunition. It lets you hone your messaging, copy and special offers. It helps you plan your SEO. You can target your business firmly at the people you know want to hear from you most. And because you know what they want to hear, you can let ‘em have it!

Online, testing has huge potential. Unlike print, a website header can be changed in seconds at little or no cost. New chunks of copy can be pasted in with negligible effort. New offers can be dropped into place. Content can be shifted and re-arranged. New images can be uploaded instantly… all at a fraction of the cost of traditional direct marketing’s re-artworking, plate making, proof checking and vast, smelly machines.

Not only is it easier to test stuff online. It’s also much simpler to track response. Webstats make campaign analysis a dream.

The reasons for response – or no response – are as multifactoral as they ever were. But a bit of wisdom and insight in the face of heavy competition has to be worth a shot.
John Caples, grandfather of direct marketing and inventor of split run copy testing, we salute you!