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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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 NMOAs 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 Rays marketing tips and how-to articles in the
pages of Direct Marketing
Digest and the article archive on the NMOA website.