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NMOA Direct Marketing Article
What to do When a Promotion Bombs
By Bob Bly

Here's a situation we've all faced: you send out a mailing you think is great, and it falls flat on its face. Now what?

Well, if it's a product launch, and the best package you could create doesn't come anywhere even close to break-even, it's probably the product, not the promotion. Simply put, the product is a bad idea: The topic won't work with that audience. Should you try again with the same piece or same idea? Probably not. In direct marketing, it's usually best to cut your losses early. If an idea isn't working, find another that will. But don't throw away more good money on a bad idea. Also, be realistic when assessing the negative effects of time- and event-based depressions in mailing results. Yes, 9/11, a stock market crash, or a recession can lower your response rates - but all the way to zero?

If competitors are still doing a decent level of business despite the setback, and your response is nil, then you can't blame the economy, the environment, or the market. There's a deeper flaw in your mailing which sending it out again at a better time will not likely rectify. Study your list results. If just one or two lists pulled a halfway decent response - even though, overall, the mailing was unprofitable - there may be a glimmer of hope. You may want to retest the winning lists along with additional lists that reach a similar audience. Test as many lists as possible. Even for business-to-business products appealing to narrow vertical markets, the best-performing list may outpull the worst-performing list by 5:1 or more - though on the surface, the lists and the market they reach appear almost identical. You simply have to test.

Perhaps price was the problem. There are some markets that are not price sensitive; but most are. Have you tested enough price points to find whether what you're asking is what the customer is willing to pay? And keep in mind that the low price doesn't always win. A too-low price can create the perception of low value - an impediment to brisk sales.

Copywriter Gary Bencivenga says that a format test - varying the package size and type - can be as effective, or even more effective, than a copy change in lifting response. If you already know that short copy works best for your offer, test your #10 letter package against a postcard, double postcard, self-mailer, and other proven short formats. If you already know that long copy works best for you, test your #10 letter package against a #11 or a #14, a 6 X 9, a jumbo (9 X 12). Also test against a magalog, a tabloid, a bookalog, and other long-copy formats.

About the Author:
Bob Bly is an independent copywriter and consultant with more than 25 years of experience in business-to-business, high-tech, industrial, and direct marketing. He has written copy for over 100 clients including Network Solutions, ITT Fluid Technology, Medical Economics, Intuit, Business & Legal Reports, and Brooklyn Union Gas...and has won numerous industry awards. Bob is the author of more than 70 books including The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing (Alpha Books) and The Copywriter’s Handbook (Henry Holt & Co.). Visit:
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