Testing: Sometimes, the Little Things Count

We’re always seeking new approaches to achieve breakthrough results in direct response marketing, and sometimes we get a big win with a bold new concept. But while you’re on the quest for a big idea, don’t overlook the little things. Slight changes, particularly in your call to action or offer structure, can result in incremental improvements and even significant lifts in response. And in the online world, these tests are easy to execute and results can be read quickly.

testing in marketing
“A/B testing,” Creative Commons license. | Credit: Flickr by Howard Lake

We’re always seeking new approaches to achieve breakthrough results in direct response marketing, and sometimes we get a big win with a bold new concept. But while you’re on the quest for a big idea, don’t overlook the little things. Slight changes, particularly in your call to action or offer structure, can result in incremental improvements and even significant lifts in response. And in the online world, these tests are easy to execute and results can be read quickly.

Recently, I moderated a panel for the Philly DMA. Panelists Caleb Freeman of Calcium USA, Kate Gomulka of MayoSeitz Media, Julie Herbster of Quattro Direct, and Arly Iampietro of Nutrisystem all shared tips on optimizing online marketing.

Some of the insights Iampietro conveyed illustrate how little things can result in significant wins. She’s responsible for optimizing the website user experience at Nutrisystem. So Iampietro showed us how minor changes to the copy on the call-to-action button, like using a caret (>) next to the button text, made a big difference in guiding customers through the conversion process. Also, for a high-commitment product like a diet program, things that suggested a commitment by the visitor before the person was ready to commit depress response.

For example, early on in the user experience:

  • “Continue >” stimulates more clicks than “Order now >”
  • “View plan >” outperforms “Get started >”

Other easy tests include changing up the imagery on the site. For example, men converted better when shown pictures of men with women rather than with other men.

Offer structure is highly important and easy to test. In his book “Predictably Irrational,” psychologist Dan Ariely relates a classic example of how a simple change in the offer structure made a difference for The Economist magazine. He presented a group of 100 MBA students with the following offers:

  • Internet-Only Subscription                    $59
  • Print-Only Subscription                        $125
  • Print and Internet Subscription          $125

The results — 84 selected the combo offer vs. 16 selecting Internet only. With the “Print Only” decoy offer removed, only 32 selected the combo offer. I repeated this experiment with a group of 30 undergrad students, presenting the scenario without the decoy offer first. None of them chose the print and Internet option. With the decoy offer inserted, about half went for the combo offer — and these were budget-conscious undergrads who don’t consume print as a rule!

Easy-to-execute tests that bring big results are not limited to online marketing. In my agency days, we had a B2B client who was sending millions of mailers out each season. We tested multiple creative executions against a very recalcitrant control every year, without a significant win. Then we decided to buck traditional direct wisdom that mailing to an actual name would outperform a non-personal address. What we found was that addressing mail to the functional title of the decision-maker outperformed our mailings to specific names, some of which may no longer have been at the company. So don’t be afraid to test against your long-held assumptions, so long as you do it in a limited way.
The takeaway? A big win doesn’t always come from a big change.

What little things have you done that have generated big wins?

Taking Personal Relevance Beyond the Message

Personal relevance is still mission-critical, but in a much different way. We don’t need to have customers’ names in lights or all over a direct marketing piece as much as we just need to deliver information about products and experiences that are timely and meaningful to them via channels and at times that are relevant, as well.

relevant contentYears ago, we got excited when digital printing technology enabled us to personalize direct marketing letters, self-mailers and pretty much anything else that could be printed on a Xerox iGen, which merged individual customer data into the copy and even the graphics of pretty much anything that could be printed. We’d open a #10 envelope and see our name in the header, at least one sentence in every paragraph, and sometimes even in the graphics, like on an image of the product the sender was trying to sell us. It made us feel recognized and valued.

A few years later, we enjoyed getting personalized videos that were “all about me,” too. And then, well, it just became standard to see our names on everything, even M&Ms and the covers of catalogues for our favorite brands. It just wasn’t a big deal any more; and in many cases, neither were the results.

However, personal relevance is still mission-critical, but in a much different way. We don’t need to have customers’ names in lights or all over a direct marketing piece as much as we just need to deliver information about products and experiences that are timely and meaningful to them via channels and at times that are relevant, as well.

This means that we need to have relevant content that inspires consumers to engage with our brands, purchase our products or just have a conversation with us. This content can be ads, promotional offers, white papers, invitations to join a cause and such. And this content must be adapted for every consumer segment or persona we target, and it must be delivered frequently enough to keep our brands top-of-mind, and on the channels that consumers use the most, which are not just a few any more.

Add it up, and we marketers need to develop and distribute a lot of content to a lot of customers a lot of times. And that’s the challenge to personalized, relevant marketing today.

Think about it. You want to promote a special offer for a limited time across all your market locations and you need to use all channels – print, digital, social, point-of-sale displays – and you want to do it in French, English and Spanish. And all elements have to be in place at the same time, as it is a limited-time promotion and you want to measure the impact of various channels and which locations and segments did the most business with you as a result. If you take that promotional ad or digital banner you created and manually adapt it for each segment or persona that won’t respond unless it reflects some aspect of how they see themselves, and you then manually adapt each of those for each channel, format and language needed, that’s a lot of time. And if you use an agency, that’s a lot of billable time. But you have to do it.

In many cases, customizing content such as that described above can increase your campaign costs substantially, according to Perry Kamel, a leader in the content management technology field and CEO of Elateral, a cloud-based content hub designed to manage and deploy content in all formats, digital and print, across all channels.

A key aspect of marketing relevance then is to have a system in place that enables you to adapt your content and get it ready for multichannel distribution in record time, while customers are thinking about your category, product and brand, and before you competitors get their “personalized” content out. Doing both requires content management processes and systems that enable you to create content frequently, quickly adapt to all channels and formats, and get it ready to send out via your CRM platforms quickly.

When you can adapt your content for multiple channels quickly, the impact of your programs go up, and often by a lot. Following are some real-world examples of cost and time savings realized by some of Elateral’s clients:

  • 89 percent unit cost reduction for marketing materials
  • 95 percent faster time to market
  • $5 million savings after first campaign flight

These numbers reflect the reality of relevant marketing today. Content must be relevant, the channels used must be relevant, and the frequency of content distribution must be, too. It’s not just about the message and its psychological or emotional appeal and impact.

Some tips to consider:

  • Time to market is critical for any campaign; just as much as the direct relevance of your offer and message to the persona and segments you are targeting. The more time it takes to get your content adapted for every channel is likely enough time for your competition to intervene and get the sale before you do.
  • Consumers expect messages and marketing images to reflect who they are and align with their lifestyles and aspirations. Content for ads, emails, social posts and point-of-sale displays that don’t line up with who they are or want to be likely won’t influence behavior as effectively, and there simply is not time to waste.
  • Every time you have to manually change a headline, language, image or size of shape of a marketing piece, you spend time getting it done, and that can be costly in terms of paying outside suppliers to do it for you. You need to find a system and process for getting your content adapted as cost-efficiently as possible so you can lower costs and improve your advertising ROI.

Take away: Relevance is not just about the message or offer, or how it appeals to each persona you target. Relevance must address the timing with which your message is delivered, the frequency and the channels that are most meaningful to your consumers.

Will Millennials Fully Experience the Analog Revival?

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Analog is making a comeback
Analog is making a comeback

Analog is back. It’s hip, it’s retro and it’s hot in film photography, print books and paper notebooks. But will the embrace of tactile, non-digital media among Millennials extend to music? That remains to be seen.

Instagram shows over 3 million posts each for the hashtags #filmphotography, #filmisnotdead and #polaroid. Photo booths are popular at weddings. Young people are increasingly enamored with pictures taken on devices other than their phones, even though Instagram remains the go-to place to view and share them.

My students who have done class research projects on ebook readers have consistently found that college students prefer print books over electronic ones for classes. I’ve observed an increasing number of students using paper notebooks rather than tablet computers and laptops to take notes. Hardcover diary-type notebooks are gaining a hipster cache, and recently, I had a student enter an appointment in a paper calendar, as I remarked, “How quaint!”

A New York Times review says the new David Sax book, “The Revenge of Analog,” is “a powerful counter-narrative to the techno-utopian belief that we would live in an ever-improving, all-digital world.” The review adds that the author contends that the analog revival “is not just a case of nostalgia or hipster street cred, but something more complex.”

But while most things we can have and hold are easily accessible to Millennials, music is different. Fortune magazine reported vinyl record sales hit $416 million last year, the highest since 1988, according to the RIAA. But there are several barriers to the mass adoption of analog music, most significant of which is the need for a turntable and vinyl platters. Millennials own digital music and listen to it on portable devices through headphones, occasionally through a Bluetooth speaker. I’ve written before about the Millennial music experience being more individual than social, more like filling your ears with sound than filling a room with sound.

It’s easier for Baby Boomers to embrace analog music, because many still have their vinyl collections stored away. Marketing consultant Lonny Strum recently wrote in his blog Strumings about re-experiencing the joy of a turntable needle drop, saying “What the process of using a turntable has reminded me of is the joy of interaction/engagement with music that vinyl provided. The ‘needle drop’ (and alas the subsequent vinyl scratches) were all part of the process of listening to music. The selection of the song, the cut of the album took time and consideration, not a millisecond fast-forward that digital allows. I rediscovered the snap, crackle and pop from excessive play in past years. In fact, I instantly recall the places in songs of my 45s and LPs where the crackle, or pop existed, as if it were a key part of the song.”

EmotionsThese are the types of experiences that the Times notes in reviewing “The Revenge of Analog,”

“ … the hectic scratch of a fountain pen on the smooth, lined pages of a notebook; the slow magic of a Polaroid photo developing before our eyes; the snap of a newspaper page being turned and folded back … ”

A recent study published in the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society concluded that “MP3 compression strengthened neutral and negative emotional characteristics such as Mysterious, Shy, Scary and Sad, and weakened positive emotional characteristics such as Happy, Heroic, Romantic, Comic and Calm” making the case that analog music might actually be a more positive and pleasant experience.

Will Millennials and the generations who follow get to experience it?

Journalism: Where Are We Going and Who Will Pay for It?

What a time to be a chronicler of news. In 2015, being a newspaper journalist just overtook lumberjacking as the worst job in America — posting a 13 percent decline in employment prospects. (Broadcast news wasn’t far behind, at third worst.)

news-1172463_640Is journalism — the chronicling of the day’s news and analysis about that news – under threat? Of course it is.

Last month, I visited my alma mater for the 50th Anniversary of the University of Connecticut and its journalism department. There were panels of alumni reporters, editors and news entrepreneurs — some with Pulitzers in big-city papers, some with broadcast backgrounds and some stringers for local news in hometowns, U.S.A.

A dominant discussion was the future of journalism — and who will pay for it? There were hopeful statements, for certain — just being a reporter these days demands resiliency among other mind and skill sets — but there was also plenty of worry.

What a time to be a chronicler of news. In 2015, being a newspaper journalist just overtook lumberjacking as the worst job in America — posting a 13 percent decline in employment prospects. (Broadcast news wasn’t far behind, at third worst.) Certainly digital news sites abound, but print historically demanded a subscription — and consumers just don’t pony up to online news sites and their paywalls like they used to do offline.

The original sin of the Internet was not the first display ad, it was giving it all away for “free.” Some argue the “big give away” democratizes information. Others see it as an alarmist trend toward socialism. The rise of the citizen journalist (I’m one here) doesn’t necessarily translate to the most learned of fact gatherers, fact checkers, superb editing and the advancement of human knowledge. Too often, it’s the lowest common denominator — rumor and innuendo, celebrity and entertainment, prurient subjects — that gather the most clicks and distracts the electorate (and quite a few candidates) from more considered concerns.

Just think about it — music, news, sports, weather, apps and so many other conveniences — how many of us, as users, pay online for what some more seasoned of us used to pay offline. Even where we do pay, is it at the level we once shelled out in print, or dollars to dimes?

And yet, our nation’s fourth estate — the vibrancy of our democracy — is at stake. Who is served when diversity of news and opinions are concentrated only in deep pockets, amid a hurry to post online and worry about fairness and accuracy tomorrow? When a columnist at a Las Vegas newspaper can’t even write about community business leaders who are owners of casinos — is this what journalism is coming to?

Let me conclude with some upbeat answers. When paid subscriptions wither, we all know who is there to fill the bill: advertisers. The division of church and state — keeping the newsroom independent of the publishing side of the business — is a time-honored and necessary check and balance inside most media organizations. Where it’s blurred, the integrity of information is sacrificed. That’s always worried me about native content trends. However, there are many journalists (alumni friends) who are very happy that advertising, advertisers and ad tech exist. They well know that without us, diversity of content, news and opinion, professionally gathered and edited, would go the wayside along with their livelihoods. It might be dimes instead of dollars, but it’s some compensation. Our hometowns, our nation, our world and now the Internet cannot afford anything less, and it’s certainly worth a lot more.

Fall in Love With Direct Mail All Over Again

I will admit to doing a lot of reading. What can I say, I love it. I especially like to read something and find out that my own views have been verified. So, when I read the Washington Post article “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.” I was so excited! Here is someone else saying the same things about print that I say every day. Basically in summary, people prefer to read in print rather than digital.

I will admit to doing a lot of reading. What can I say, I love it. I especially like to read something and find out that my own views have been verified. So, when I read the Washington Post article “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right” I was so excited! Here is someone else saying the same things about print that I say every day. Basically in summary, people prefer to read in print rather than digital.

There are many reasons for this but the top ones are:

  • Easier to read: The eyes find the printed pages less straining to read.
  • Easier to comprehend: There are less distractions when reading print so it is easier to understand.
  • Easier to recall: Readers skim less when reading print versions so they remember more when finished.
  • Feel: Touch is a very important sense. The feeling of different types of paper stock and textures adds pleasure to reading print. You can’t feel digital.
  • Smell: Paper, ink, coatings and binding all add to the scent of a printed piece. You can even add a scent to enhance the printed piece. You can’t smell digital.

Even millennials prefer print. The best part about all of this talk about the benefits of print is that direct mail can take advantage of every single one of the reasons people love print. Direct mail can get pushed aside by marketers looking for the newest channels, but statistics still show direct mail as a very strong marketing channel.

Create direct mail that provides an experience:

  • Reading: Engage the reader with well written copy. Use bold and bulleted text to draw the eyes to important information.
  • Comprehension: Use clear and concise wording, a strong call to action and “what’s in it for me” language.
  • Recall: The most important items to be remembered should stand out. You can use italic, bold and underlining to emphasize what you need the reader to remember.
  • Feel: You can go beyond just the texture of the paper by adding different coatings. From soft velvet to rough stone, there are many to choose from. Get creative.
  • Smell: Depending on what you are offering, smell may or may not be a good fit. Try to think of creative ways to use smell to make your unique direct mail stand out.

Take advantage of the pull of direct mail, with less skimming your message resonates more. You have the opportunity to get someone to act on your call to action right away.

There is no reason why you can’t use direct mail to drive digital interaction too. QR Codes, Augmented reality and NFC all enhance the direct mail experience. The power of direct mail is waiting to drive your marketing ROI to new heights. From catalogs to flyers to samples, direct mail can handle it all and provide an excellent experience for recipients.