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To Test or Not to Test?
by Ray Jutkins

Can a direct marketer really be asking this question?

Those of you who have been in this business more than a day and a half have undoubtedly heard someone say: "Direct marketing's middle name is test/test/test" — probably with an exclamation point.

I challenge that thinking. Let me explain. It is not wrong to test. Far be it for me to say testing is wrong. In fact, in my seminars, part of the program often includes a section on testing.

However, testing is frequently impractical. For everyone at some time, it does not make either time or economic sense to test. For others, it never makes sense — especially in the business arena.

Why? Because of the numbers. If we use U.S. figures only, there are about 12 million businesses in this country. At least half of them are very small-five people or less. Close to 87 percent have less-than 20 employees, and 97 percent have less than 100.

We all know getting your message to the right audience is mandatory ... and will equate to about 60 percent of the success you will or will not enjoy with any direct marketing program. Walk with me through these numbers.

Using a major list broker as the source, here is what I found in its 1993 catalog. In the category of attorneys, there are 45 divisions by specialty. Agriculture attorneys number 2,730 nationwide. Civil rights/equal opportunity attorneys number 11,040. Even the taxation group has fewer than you might think: 100,760.

When you select by state, using just the four "A" states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, and Arkansas — there are only 19,017 attorneys total in all categories.

Under the medical doctor field, there are 87 separate listings. The total number of doctors in the U.S. is 55 7,70 1 -approximately 641 per category. Infectious diseases has 1,936; child psychiatry, 2,825; abdominal surgery, 194; cardiovascular disease, 12,323. California has 67,089 total, while Wyoming has 67 1.

What about lesser-known markets than attorneys and doctors? There are 1,099 surfboard stores; 2,258 airports; 1,252 audio-visual dealers; 933 4H clubs; 660 Knights of Pythias; 3,609 professors who teach police science; 10,566 fabric shops; 18,260 wholesale grocery stores; 2,508 ice and roller skating rinks; 90 farm magazines; and 1,092,563 people who buy garden supplies by mail order.

There are 196 weekly newspapers with over 10,000 circulation; 3,172 quarries and pits; 2,450 rabbis; 1,435 racquetball clubs; 50,742 pizza restaurants; 11,677 T-shirt shops; 5,618 stamp and coin dealers; 48,055 speech therapists; 30,003 welding shops; and 483 water-distribution engineers.

Now let's take a quick glance at a special consumer select: America's wealthiest families: 209,467 own their own planes; 65,490 own a 30-foot-plus yacht; and 188,763 are considered wealthy women.

What does all this say? It says clearly that America is made up of niche markets, that it is filled with specialists. The reason the Yellow Pages has more categories than ever is simple to understand-there are more segments than ever.

And that is the clear answer to why the vast majority of the nation's direct marketers do not test. They can't. Their marketplace is too small to make a meaningful learning test. They do not have the numbers.

Years ago, I worked with a company that had created a product exclusively for the sugar-beet industry. It had to do with air-pollution control. After you get the sugar out of sugar beets, there is a pulp that must be discarded. In the old days, it was burned-which dumped all sorts of nasty stuff into the atmosphere. My client had a product that would collect this gunk so that it would not pollute.

Any idea how many sugar-beet plants there are in the U.S.? Try 79. Yet, it was a good audience because each of these plants had to put in some new equipment. They could be easily identified. And there were three to five people at each plant site to talk to. Direct was the only way to go.

Did we test? What, with less than 400 people at 79 locations? Absolutely not! We just did it! First, we called each location to confirm the name/title/address of each person we knew we needed to reach. Then we mailed. And mailed. And mailed. Followed by telephone sales calls to set appointments to give a demonstration. No testing — just action.

Let's assume the sugar-beet mail/phone program did not work the first time out (although it did). What would be the next step?

Simple: Do it again! Try another approach. Make a different offer. Upscale or downscale. Bundle with another idea or unbundle from the first package. Aim high or aim low. Anything that was not the same as the first time. Why? At least two reasons:

First, multi-contact-multimedia programming is something marketing and direct marketing have learned from advertising. Just as Pepsi, Nabisco, Kellogg's and Chevrolet do not put one TV or print ad into the marketplace one time and then stop — neither can we in direct marketing. We have to go at it again and again.

Second, I firmly believe these words: There are no failures — only lessons. You never fail in business you learn something for next time. This is surely applicable in direct marketing.

Some may say reason number one is testing. Fine, I will not get into a semantics review. My point is still the same. Many-in fact, most-people in direct marketing do not test. And I believe they should not test. Why? Because they cannot test effectively and learn anything useful.

If your business is difficult to define and your audience has small potential numbers, here are nine ideas to try:

1. First, as clearly as possible, define your audience-who you want to talk with, your marketplace. You must have some ideas who your audience is, based on previous experiences. Know what your competition is doing. You must know something about your target in order to aim your arrow.

2. Think about getting noticed. Try something odd, like color, size, weight, shape, design, shocking copy or surprising look. Notice is a key word. Getting through the mail slot or into the "In" basket is not enough.

3. Get your package opened. You want your audience to get into your package-to read your offer and learn about your products and services.

Use teaser copy, bold graphics, windows, the front and back of your envelope, stickers, stamps or coins. Make your package lumpy by including a "thing" inside. These are all ways to get your "noticed" package opened.

4. Consider using a self-mailer. This format may work for you if your offer is blatantly clear and is at least remotely aimed at the right ears and eyes.

Self-mailers also work well when your audience already know who you are and when used as part of a series. They work when you only need low response to be successful.

5. Use informal copy-copy that makes your offer and tells your benefit story in the first few sentences. (Please note that I said sentences, not paragraphs).

6. Make your message readable — short words, sentences, paragraphs in your audience's language. Do not talk down-talk "eye-to-eye."

Abe Lincoln's most powerful speech was the Gettysburg Address: 267 words — 200 of which are five letters or less. In all Hemingway's works, his average sentence length is 13.5 words. Make your writing readable, too.

7. Make it totally understandable so that your audience gets the deal, the offer, with the first look-see-read.

Make certain your benefits jump — the one, two or maybe three reasons why anyone should do business with you.

8. Make me an offer I cannot refuse — something over and above features and benefits, something so outstanding, I will not be able to resist. Offer a "free" something, a demonstration, a "limited time opportunity" or a sample. Anything that will get me to raise my hand and express a willingness to talk with you.

9. Always, always A.F.T.O. (Ask For The Order.) Always let your audience know you do want to do business with them. Why else are you sending your message? Only to get more new business. I firmly believe most people do not like to be sold. I equally believe these same people certainly do like to buy. Let them know you want them to buy from you.

There is nothing biblical about these ideas. They're just basics. And they are not solely for those who cannot test effectively. They are for all of us. There are no failures — only lessons.

About Ray Jutkins, October 3rd, 1936 — January 6th, 2005. Ray was one of the NMOA’s most generous contributors. Over the years Ray supplied the NMOA with hundreds of tips and articles for members. This is just one of many. Ray worked with B-2-B and Consumer clients throughout the world ... including USA, Canada, Mexico, Asia, the South Pacific, Europe, the Middle-East, Central & South America, Africa. Keep an eye out for more of Ray’s marketing tips and how-to articles in the pages of Direct Marketing Digest and the article archive on the NMOA website.

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