Does Your Direct Mail Have Grit?

Direct mail is not an easy marketing channel to do right the first time. It takes persistence and perseverance to get the results you want.

white flower growing on crack street, soft focus, blank textDirect mail is not an easy marketing channel to do right the first time. It takes persistence and perseverance to get the results you want. Angela Duckworth has written a book called “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” This book has many great takeaways for how we can improve our lives, but it is also very applicable to direct mail marketing. Grit means committing to make things better, not waiting to see if it gets better. Grit takes control of a situation and makes things happen. So how can we apply this to direct mail?

  • When you consistently look for ways to change your direct mail for the better, you are more likely to find them and make them work.
  • When faced with a direct mail failure, identify the problem, fix it, and try harder next time.
  • Continue to innovate and change your direct mail formats.
  • Be open to all possibilities and the good parts of change.

How can you accomplish these ideas? Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What can I do differently this time?
  • Is this the right color, right message, right offer?
  • What ways can people respond, do I need to change them or add more?
  • How is my list doing? Do I need to refresh it?
  • Who can help me? Someone on my team, an expert I can reach out to?

Direct mail strategy meetings can be a great way to generate ideas from your team. Ask them to come to the meeting with some sample mailers that they have received in the mail. Keep in mind that you have to try hard things — they push you to do better than you thought you could. They help you grow and create better direct mail. The more you try them the better you will get. As you make changes and try new things, you should test them on only a segment of your list at a time. This A/B test will allow you to see if the changes you have made gave you a better result. After all, the results are what matter. A bad result is not a failure, but an opportunity to change what you are doing and make it better next time. Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I have successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Along the way, you also find what does work — do not get discouraged; have grit.

Remember to strive against conforming to direct mail norms. Stand out proudly as something special. Of course, you do need to keep postal regulations in mind so that you are not spending extra on postage. Even with the regulations, you can create fun direct mail that stands out. The more determined and persistent you are in your direct mail marketing, the better your results are going to be. You don’t just will it to happen, you make it happen through relentless testing and change. That is having grit in your direct mail marketing. That is how you have success.

Let’s Do This, 2017: A Few Marketing Resolutions

Last January, I whipped up a list of New Year’s marketing resolutions for me and other young marketing professionals to shoot for in 2016. We don’t have to get into how many of them I successfully followed. In any case, it’s a brand new year now and it’s time for a brand new list.

Last January, I whipped up a list of New Year’s marketing resolutions for me and other young marketing professionals to shoot for in 2016. We don’t have to get into how many of them I successfully followed.

In any case, it’s a brand new year now and it’s time for a brand new list. (Keeping it shorter means a more likely 100 percent success rate.)

Group of people dressed in business attire racing on track. Some slight motion blur on people.
Look, our good friends People in Business Suits Doing Athletic Things are back!

Use A/B Testing Way More Often

I’m so embarrassed at how little of this I actually do. The number of times per week I think to myself “Ugh, these two subject lines both seem appealing but which one is the true winner which ONE??!!,” but ultimately blindly make the call and pray … well, it’s a lot of times. Not to mention the age-old question “would the text-only or graphics-heavy version of this email work best?”

Clearly, the simple and intelligent answer is A/B testing, yet it always seems to come down to an “if I only had the time” pipe dream. Or, in cases when I would need different versions of creative, “if the art department only had the time.”

But, seeing as it’s been proven time and time again that testing works (I mean, logic, right?) I think 2017 is the year I stop making excuses and start making the time. If I can complete even one test per campaign I’d be satisfied. Who’s with me?

Do More Research

This one’s more or less inspired by the previous. There’s just so much brilliant marketing research being done every day, new statistics and new reports and new blogs about statistics and reports, it can get a little overwhelming. But it’s also information that could make my job a whole lot easier and more successful in the long run. In 2017, I’m planning to learn and grow more from the insight and intelligence of others in the field, starting with all the resources right here in my home.

Write Outside of Work

Before I went to college to major in professional writing, I did a lot more writing in my free time, as you can imagine. Now that I spend a good portion of my days writing promotional copy, I still don’t write in my spare time much. This might sound like more of a personal goal than a professional one, but it’s my personal belief (and many in the writing profession agree) that getting those creative juices flowing with no pressure, no deadlines, and no constraints can only improve the writing you do from 9-5. Even if it’s just journaling about my day or blogging about the latest episode of Sherlock (anticlimax much???), I’m hoping to incorporate writing into my non-working life every single day in 2017.

How Do You Decide What to Test in Direct Mail? 

Do you have three tested direct mail packages waiting in the wings to use when your control starts to fatigue? If you don’t, you should. It’s never a question of if a control will die, it’s when. So what is most important to test now to get to that breakthrough package? Here are some ideas.

Direct mail testDo you have three tested direct mail packages waiting in the wings to use when your control starts to fatigue? If you don’t, you should. It’s never a question of if a control will die, it’s when. So what is most important to test now to get to that breakthrough package? Here are some ideas.

Smart direct mail marketers are constantly testing. It may be the offer, positioning, format or anything else — but what variable gets you the biggest bang for the testing dollar? And which test delivers the most favorable cost per acquisition?

Traditional mail testing can be very expensive, time consuming and yield limited insight if not executed correctly.

After personally overseeing and writing multitudes of direct mail packages, it’s still tough to choose just one variable to test. The reality is that several variables should be tested all at the same time to get to a new control faster. These are the types of tests I’ve found most successful in revealing key attributes for a new control:

  • Your offer is highly influential in your response. If you’re testing price (most typical), you can test dollars off or percent off. I’ve found offering dollars off to be best, but every market is different.
  • Are you including a bonus or free gift?
  • Repositioning your product — or testing a new unique selling proposition — can reinvent your complete message and offer to produce sizeable increases in response rates.
  • A new production format can refresh an existing control. Perhaps you’ve used a #10 outer envelope for a long time. A simple switch to a #9 or #11 envelope can make a difference.
  • I like to include showstopper text and graphics on my envelopes, each worth about a half-second of time for the recipient to pause and study the OE. I’ve found elements such as faux bar codes, handstamps and seals yield favorable impact.
  • Evaluating data overlays from models or profiles will return tremendous information and insights. But if you don’t spend the time to interpret it and imagine the possibilities, you can overlook great new ideas.

So with all these test possibilities and data, what variables should you test?

In my last column, I shared a new Bayesian Analytics methodology that I think will upend direct mail testing as we know it today. Bayesian Analytics isn’t new, though its current applications are new and spreading to many fields, including weather forecasting, insurance risk management and health care policy. Later this month I’m moderating an online session on this topic (learn more at my website).

A/B testing is effective, but usually builds a new control quite slowly (how many times have you tested, only to find the test performed under your control?). Multivariate testing enables you to isolate variables and achieve a new control more quickly, but it still takes several packages to confidently identify the winner. But the use of Bayesian Analytics in direct mail gathers substantially more testing insight and produces more cost savings, while taking less than half the time of traditional testing.

I believe in taking out the guess-work of testing where it’s possible. Otherwise it is easy to incorporate our own personal emotional appeals and biases, like when we say “I’d never respond to that!” We’re probably not our own market. We’re often wrong, even as informed as we are about our products and audiences.

My point is this: You must keep testing. Test outside your comfort zone. Let your prospective customers tell you what variables they’d respond to by using Bayesian Analytics methodology to deliver the emotional insights that big data can’t deliver.

If you don’t have at least three tested packages, or knowledge of what variables form the magic combination necessary to increase response rates, Bayesian Analytics will save you a lot of time and resources.

Download my new report, “Predicting Direct Mail Results Before You Mail” to learn more about Bayesian Analytics.

Direct-Mail Testing Upended With Bayesian Analytics 

Direct-mail marketers have relied on either A/B testing or multivariate testing to evaluate winning campaigns for generations. Those evaluations, unfortunately, weren’t always based on statistics, but on educated guesses or office surveys. But a confluence of technology and something called Bayesian Analytics now enables direct mailers to pre-test and predict responses before mailing.

Direct-mail marketers have relied on either A/B testing or multivariate testing to evaluate winning campaigns for generations. Those evaluations, unfortunately, weren’t always based on statistics, but often on educated guesses or office surveys. But a confluence of technology and something called Bayesian Analytics now enables direct mailers to pre-test and predict responses accurately before mailing.

Bayesian Analytics may well upend how we test to identify the highest profit-producing control more quickly and at a fraction of the cost of traditional testing methods. Bayesian Analytics is already being used in astrophysics, weather forecasting, insurance risk management and health care policy. And now, a few cutting-edge mailers have successfully used this analytics approach, too.

Usually, direct-mail marketers test four categories of variables, such as price, headlines, imagery and formats.

Within each of those variables, direct marketers often want to test even more options. For example, you might want to test the relative effectiveness of discounts of $5 off, $10 off, 10 percent off or 15 percent off. And you want to test multiple headlines, images and formats.

The following matrix illustrates the complexity of testing multiple variables. Let’s say you want to test four different pricing offers, four headlines, four imagery graphics and four direct mail formats. Multiplying 4 x 4 x 4 x 4, you find there are a possible 256 test combinations.

GHBlog100516It’s impractical and costly to test 256 combinations. Even if your response rate dictated you only needed to mail 5,000 items per test for statistical reliability, you’d still have to mail over 1.2 million pieces of mail. If each piece costs $0.50, the total testing cost is $600,000.

Bayesian Analysis works with a fraction of the data required to power today’s machine learning and predictive analytics approaches. It delivers the same or better results in a fraction of the time. By applying Bayesian Analysis methodologies, direct mailers can make significant and statistically reliable conclusions from less data.

The International Society for Bayesian Analysis says:

“Bayesian inference remained extremely difficult to implement until the late 1980s and early 1990s when powerful computers became widely accessible and new computational methods were developed. The subsequent explosion of interest in Bayesian statistics has led not only to extensive research in Bayesian methodology but also to the use of Bayesian methods to address pressing questions in diverse application areas such as astrophysics, weather forecasting, health care policy, and criminal justice.”

Bayesian Analysis frequently produces results that are in stark contrast to our intuitive assumptions. How many times have you used your intuition to test a specific combination of variables thinking it would result in a successful direct-mail test, only to be disappointed in the results?

Bayesian Analytics methodology takes the guess-work out of what to test in a live-mailing scenario. Instead of testing and guessing (as the late Herschell Gordon Lewis wrote in his recent column, Rather Test or Guess?) you can now pre-test those 256 combinations of variables before the expense of a live mail test. The pre-test reveals which combination of variables will produce the highest response rate in the live test, resulting in substantial test savings.

But wait, there’s another benefit: You can learn what mix of variables will produce the best results for any tested demographic or psychographic group. It’s possible to learn that a certain set of variables work more successfully for people who are, for example, aged 60+, versus those aged 40-59. This means you may be able to open up new prospecting list selections that previously didn’t work for you.

Again, a handful of mailers have already pre-tested this new Bayesian Analysis methodology — it has accurately predicted the results in live testing at a 95 percent level of confidence. Now that beta testing has been completed and the methodology is proven to be reliable, look to hear more about it in the future.

There’s more about this methodology than can be shared in a single blog post. To learn more, download my report.

My new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” is available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with how the primitive mind thinks. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.” 

8 Simple-Yet-Brilliant Copy and Creative Tips That Make a Huge Difference

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Copywriter/Copy Coach Pat Friesen speak on several copy-centered webinars in the last few years, so I knew I needed to make time for her session: Design & Copy: Little Things You Don’t Want to Overlook.

Hey hey hey, happy March, people of the marketing sphere! The month has been great for me so far. Among other things (cut my Comcast bill in half, SCORE!) just last week I got to spend my day at the annual Direct Marketing Day @ Your Desk Virtual Conference. Did you get to check it out? It was live on March 10, but is available on demand in its entirety starting today, so I’d highly recommend heading over there if you couldn’t make it!

Target Marketing snagged some seriously top-notch speakers (VP of Marketing at Cirque du Soleil, for one, daaang) to share their expertise on a whole slew of helpful and fascinating topics like marketing-first companies, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and of course — copy and design.

I’ve had the pleasure of hearing Copywriter/Copy Coach Pat Friesen speak on several copy-centered webinars in the last few years, so I knew I needed to make time for her session: Design & Copy: Little Things You Don’t Want to Overlook. Pat, along with President and Chief Creative Officer of DM Creative Group Patrick Fultz, went through some of their tried-and-true design and copy tips to boost conversion and sales.

All the content presented at the show was fantastic, but since this is a copy/creative blog I thought I’d just speed through some of the key takeaways from Pat2‘s copy/creative session. (Hope they won’t mind I just deemed them Pat2.)

  • Specificity makes a difference! “Save $478.88 each year” has much more credibility and impact than “save money” or even “save hundreds of dollars.”
  • Numerals appear more impressive at a glance than numbers spelled out. Tip: Include decimals in money amounts for an extra kick:Ten thousand” vs. “$10,000” vs. “$10,000.00.”
  • Reverse type considerations! This requires the visual they gave, check it out:


  • When it comes to photo captions, “features describe, benefits sell.” “Sewn stars and stripes” doesn’t mean as much to a reader as “Sewn stars and stripes look classic and add durability”.
  • Better CTAs stress immediate satisfaction (“Get it now,” “Download now,” “See it in action”) and are clear about what the action is (“Sign up” vs. “Submit”).
  • A/B test your CTAs! Don’t underestimate the difference every element can make, from button copy to text color to button color and shape.
  • Use an email pre-header. When viewing an email with no pre-header in the preview pane, a reader will see something like “To view this email in a browser …” etc. Instead, include a pre-header that briefly elaborates on the subject line or gives a hint what the email is about! They’ll be much more inclined to open and read.
  • Place offer above the fold. A great offer, like “Receive a free _______ for signing up,” should be in the upper half of your email; shrink or eliminate graphics if necessary to pull the offer up.

This is just a quick n’ dirty rundown of what was a fantastic session, I actually had to limit myself to eight so I wouldn’t just post the entire session transcript. Definitely carve out 40 minutes, register and check it out. Once you sign up, you’ll instantly have access to the rest of the show’s sessions and content on demand too, from now until June. It’s all can’t-miss material.

I will see all your shining faces back here in April. À Bientôt!

Direct Mail: Why A/B Test?

This is a very common question our clients ask, especially the smaller ones. They need to know if they should be A/B testing. The easy answer is “yes.”

This is a very common question that our clients ask, especially the smaller ones. They need to know if an A/B test is something they should do. The easy answer is “yes,” because it allows you to try out different offers to see which ones work best.

Stressed, anxious person biting finger nails.If you don’t know what is working, how can you increase your ROI? Not to mention that, when you are using only one offer, what if it’s a bad one? What money are you leaving on the table by not A/B testing? Usually, the main reason people don’t want to test is because they think it will be complicated. That really is not the issue. You can create a very simple test and still gather valuable insight to apply to future direct mail projects.

Here are some ways to test your next direct mail campaign:

  • Simple test: In this test, everything about the mail pieces are exactly the same except for one element, which is usually the offer, but really you can test anything you want. You then take your mail list and split it in half, so half your list goes to one version and the other half to the second version. After you get all your responses back, it should be easy to tell which version had a better response. If you don’t have the time to collect your responses, talk to your mail provider, they can help you.
  • Control Group test: In this test, you will use a piece that you have mailed before and one test piece. You can use entirely different pieces. Decide what it is you want to test — usually design, color and images are tested in a control setting. You will split your list in half and see which one gets the better response. This works great if you are considering a new format and want to see how well it is received.
  • Complex test: In this test, you will be testing at multiple levels. This takes a lot of planning and strategy. You can test so many things — such as breaking your list of people up into like groups based on purchase history or demographics, and then creating multiple versions for each group to see what works best with each one. You can also test types of response methods from mobile texts, phone numbers, URL’s, QR Codes, reply cards and more.

One of the great results with testing is what you learn each time. It is extremely important to add this information to your database so you have it available for future testing. The more you know about your prospects and customers, the better your direct mail offers will be. Basically, A/B testing is a waste of time if you are not tracking your results. So let’s look at ways to do that.

Here are some ways to track direct mail results:

  • Unique phone number: Create a special phone number for each campaign.
  • Unique URL: Create a special landing page URL for each campaign.
  • Unique coupon code: Create a special code for people to use at purchase for each campaign.
  • Unique short code: Create a special texting short code for each campaign.

Now that you have tracking information, you can analyze it to create reports. You want to know which version had the best response, the most spend, who responded to what, and so on. The most important thing to know is what your ROI was on each version. Some things we do cost more money than others, so knowing if spending more gets you more money is vital otherwise you could just be wasting your money.

Have you tried testing? What has worked best for you?

Your Top 5 Direct Marketing Problems

What do you consider your greatest marketing problem? Or perhaps of even more interest: What do your peers report as their top marketing problems? And if you could, wouldn’t you want to know what channels your competitors report as working for them?

Angry manWhat do you consider your greatest marketing problem? Or perhaps of even more interest: What do your peers report as their top marketing problems? And if you could, wouldn’t you want to know what channels your competitors report as working for them? I recently surveyed a few marketers with those questions, so today I share what’s on their minds, along with an analysis of those marketing problems and successful channels as we go into 2016.

First, the top five problems:

  1. “Finding new customers and reengaging the ones we have to buy again.”
  2. “Competitive pressure is relentless and we’re struggling to break out.”
  3. “Overwhelmed with channel choices and uncertain what channels to use.”
  4. “Marketing in general isn’t delivering like it used to.”
  5. “Profitability is too low.”

Next, the channels with the highest satisfaction:

  1. Email
  2. Websites/landing pages
  3. Facebook
  4. Video
  5. Direct mail

Combining these two topics, I offer this analysis in the form of three takeaways:

Takeaway No. 1
Problem No. 1, finding new customers, and No. 3, channel choices, are linked. If these two elements are your problems too, you may be limiting your profitability with the channels you’re using. The number of channel choices and the pace at which they evolve is dizzying. You need to be knowledgeable about them (or find someone who can untangle them for you). You may need to venture out into the unknown. As they saying goes, you need to “meet your customers where they are.” If they’re on a channel you’re not using, then you likely suffer from difficulties in finding new customers and reengaging past customers.

Now, let’s overlay these problems with the channels where your peers report satisfaction.

  • The marketers who I heard from are satisfied with email marketing. If you’re not happy with your email marketing results, maybe it’s time to more aggressively A/B test new approaches to identify winners. Don’t forget the importance of your landing page to close deals.
  • Consider A/B testing of video on your landing page and evaluate its impact on conversions. Or test a long-form video sales letter. A well-done video can create greater comprehension.
  • Have you tried Facebook remarketing? Promoted posts? Are you engaging your followers frequently, with meaningful content, to create raving fans? Once you build Facebook followers, you have to continue to deliver meaningful content before you see results.

Takeaway No. 2
Problem No. 2, competitive pressure, and No. 4, marketing not delivering like it used to, can also be linked. How do you break away from your competition? You may need to re-examine your unique selling proposition, and then reposition your product or organization.

Have you conducted a competitive analysis? Research what your competitors are doing online and the channels they are using. Document your findings, then make a list of the top five things they’re doing that you’re not and test new approaches.

Takeaway No. 3
Problem No. 5, low profitability, reveals that you need to find lower-cost channels, or make a higher-cost channel like direct mail work better. Another possibility: reevaluate your offer and price. The top three channels where marketers are satisfied (email, websites and Facebook) are typically less expensive than direct mail, but require ongoing content development. Video doesn’t have to be expensive, especially if you’re able to use customer-generated video for testimonials.

If profitability is lower than you want, now is the time for two tests: One is to invest in lower cost channels. The second is to test new creative and/or production values in direct mail to either increase response, or lower your cost per response.

The Difference a Word Makes (Or Doesn’t?) in a Subject Line

(Note: You have to read this in your best Movie Trailer Voice.)

In a world where subject lines dominate … can one word truly make a difference? One copywriter sets out to learn just that …

Okay, you can go back to your normal voice now. This probably doesn’t actually rank up there with the most dramatic endeavors I’ve ever encountered, but was a pretty interesting test for future reference, and I’d love to know if anyone has done similar experiments and gotten similar results.

Last week, we started promotion of our annual Integrated Marketing Virtual Conference for 2015. First, I just want to note that for the first time, we incorporated video into our regular email campaign. We had Thorin, the editor-in-chief of Target Marketing, record a short “video invitation” to the virtual event, and linked to the video in the email blast.

It was an easy and engaging way to promote an integrated marketing event with, well, integrated marketing. I’ve included it here so you can see what it looked like. All in all, a very successful effort.

Video Email for IMV15

But, as always, without a good subject line no one would even make it to the well-designed HTML. So our question was, how much of a difference might it make to tell the recipient outright that they’d find a video in the email? Would it make a difference at all?

A/B tests to the rescue: We tested two subject lines, evenly split, and they were identical aside from one word.

Version 1: See why you need to be there for IMV 2015!

Version 2: See why you need to be there for IMV 2015! [Video]

Any guesses as to which did better? I assumed Version 2 would have, reasoning that people might be more excited to watch a video clip than read what might just be a block of text.

Here’s how it actually shook out: Version 1 (See why you need to be there for IMV 2015!), nudged its way to victory with an open rate .6% higher and a viewed image rate also .6% higher than version 2 (See why you need to be there for IMV 2015! [Video]). Their click rates were exactly the same.

So in actuality, more people were compelled to open an email that did not tout some sort of video. My theory is that it may have simply read a little more like a casual greeting, and a little less like a promotion. However, I also feel these numbers are just a little too close to draw a firm conclusion, and this question would be best answered by looking at the results from at least a few more attempts of the same experiment.

Have you noticed a difference in subject lines that mention video (or any other specific form of media,) vs. those that don’t? I’d love to hear what you’ve tried and observed.

(In the meantime, don’t mind my little shameless plug — please check out Integrated Marketing Virtual Conferencelive from your desk on August 13, and totally free!)