This is the 21st century, and some of the classic definitions have become blurred by the next-to-limitless availabilities the World Wide Web has introduced. Veteran marketers describe split runs as they described them in the 20th century: identical availability of space in publications or time in broadcast media, split on an n-th name basis. Contemporary interpretation is broader: advertising the same item or benefit to segments of the same list. Down the line may come tighter interpretations, such as potential lifetime value.
A total message test can be more educational (ergo, more valuable) than individual word or phrase replacement. Careful, though, because yet another element can stir the mix in the wrong direction: The appeal has to be (ostensibly) appealing to the same targets.
Changing the tone from logic to shouting? That’s not just OK, it’s a strong rationale for a split run. Changing the description of benefits? OK, if both sides seem equal. Changing from promised benefit to a testimonial? Careful, because you can be tilting in a direction opposite to what your typical prospect wants to see and have.
What medium should we use for our introduction to the hostile world of pre-existing competition? And what price should we quote? Or should the test include price at all?
If the decision is based on guesses, it has to cause furrowed brows if we’re entrepreneurs. It can cause death of a relationship if we claim to be for-hire marketing “experts.”
In the Internet super-world, anyone and everyone can send a message to anyone and everyone. And the plethora of offers for products and services ranging from the exotic to the impossible already has superimposed skepticism atop receptivity as the principal reaction of our most targetable targets.
Before accepting or shrugging off price as the key criterion (which it most often is, if the two halves of a split run differ only in price), consider other possible criteria — humor versus straight, choice of a spokesperson, product in use versus glamour photos, medium versus medium, colors and anything else that can differentiate without adding cost. Differentiation that adds cost isn’t a tribute to us as direct marketers.
What is a tribute to us as direct marketers is maximizing response. So go do that.