Testing for B-to-B Marketers: How Hard is It?

B-to-B marketers are often guilty of laziness when it comes to testing their communications, whether it’s testing the copy approach, the layout, the offer or the target audience. Well, to call it laziness may not be entirely fair. It’s a fact that the typical B-to-B campaign targets universes that are too small to support a split test. If you’re selling specialized machine tools, you’re lucky if you have 10,000 potential customers worldwide.

B-to-B marketers are often guilty of laziness when it comes to testing their communications, whether it’s testing the copy approach, the layout, the offer or the target audience. Well, to call it laziness may not be entirely fair. It’s a fact that the typical B-to-B campaign targets universes that are too small to support a split test. If you’re selling specialized machine tools, you’re lucky if you have 10,000 potential customers worldwide.

I work with a company that offers employee benefits programs, and markets to HR professionals. We are planning a campaign to take the service into the Boston area, targeting firms with more than 100 employees, which number about 6,000 sites. At two HR contacts per site, using direct mail, we would have a mail plan of 12,000. With an estimated response rate of 1 percent, we’re looking at only 120 inquiries-clearly not enough to conduct a test of the two good offer ideas we are kicking around. Which is a shame, because we really have no idea which motivational offer is going to work better with this audience.

But in the digital world, B-to-B marketers have a lot more options for testing. Split tests are easy to set up, and applicable to any communications vehicle that drives a response-whether it be an email, a landing page, a banner ad, Adwords copy, anything, using free tools like Google Website Optimizer or scores of other SaaS or enterprise software tools.

Plus, there are abundant resources out there now to guide and inspire business marketers. Have a look at Which Test Won, a weekly comparison of two B-to-B live test versions-usually landing pages-where visitors are invited to go with their guts, and pick a winner. Then, you can view the actual winner and participate in a lively discussion of possible reasons why. This brilliant site was the brain child of Anne Holland, the founder of Marketing Sherpa.

So my client would like to conduct an offer test through digital channels, and we are exploring various options. It’s still not easy with a small prospect universe in a limited geography. There are not enough targeted banner media available to reach HR professionals in the Boston-only area. Email to entirely cold prospects is too spammy to generate leads at a reasonable cost-and still doesn’t solve the universe size problem that we face with direct mail. We considered Google AdWords with location targeting, but it’s going to be hard to sell the offer properly within the AdWords copy limits. Not to mention questions about how long it would take to get enough clicks to call the results. So our search continues, and we’d welcome ideas from Target Marketing readers on this one.

A version of this article appeared at Biznology, the digital marketing blog.

A USPS Development that Is Truly Progressive: Carbon Calculations for Your Mail

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

While the nation’s postal-related headlines are dominated by USPS plans to optimize (consolidate) its mail processing network and to slash costs during the next three years as it fights for financial sustainability, a less known development is a new USPS service on behalf of postal customers that is truly insightful—and free of charge—and about to launch early next year, subject to some final testing.

Beginning 2012, mailers will be able to secure from the USPS a “carbon impact calculation” for their mail across various USPS products and classes, with the potential to purchase carbon offsets, too. Essentially, the calculation is the amount of carbon released in the atmosphere as a result of an organization’s mail being in the domain of the USPS delivery infrastructure. The program was piloted earlier this year with business customers enrolled with the Postal Service’s Electronic Verification System (eVS) for Domestic Competitive categories and is set to be extended to PostalOne! participants and all postal products shortly.

Why is this noteworthy?

Many of the world’s leading brands and global enterprises—among them U.S. companies and household names—participate in a global transparency effort called the Carbon Disclosure Project. Many more seek to establish their carbon footprint as they participate in global carbon-trading schemes, designed to lessen greenhouse gases thought to be associated with global warming.

While the United States has yet to adopt formal national goals for carbon reduction for its part in the global economy, many brands that are either (1) global players or (2) environmentally sensitive or (3) both are already doing so in their own operations. These enterprises are acknowledging that managing carbon is a business-smart way to reduce waste and pollution and to optimize efficiency, while no doubt burnishing their own brand credentials. Sustainability isn’t a feel-good pursuit, it’s about the bottom line and intelligent materials management.

[Note: California—the U.S.’s largest state economy—has adopted carbon reduction goals as a matter of policy and practice.]

The USPS needs to be lauded here. Already, the USPS has conducted a lifecycle inventory regarding the delivery of the nation’s mail, and has adopted aggressive waste reduction and recycling goals in its own operations—all in a bid to increase efficiency and revenue. It knows, more or less, the carbon footprint of each class of mail and is ready to share such information with its customers in a true “value-add” function that is specific to each customer’s own use of the mail. Carbon calculations can be retrieved by month, by quarter and by year, or on an ad hoc reporting basis as requested by a customer.

To take advantage of the carbon calculation offer, mailers might look for an official announcement from the USPS at some point early next year, once final testing is completed on eVS and PostalOne!

By knowing the carbon footprint of their mailings, brands and companies that participate in carbon markets can derive more accurate readings of the direct mail portion of their marketing and operations activity.

Maybe then they can start tackling an even harder subject for direct marketers—how to reduce the carbon impact of their data centers and digital marketing.

Helpful Links
USPS 2010 Sustainability Report (see page 37)

Environmental Leader: Most Climate-Responsible Companies Revealed for 2011

Huffington Post: California’s Drastic Carbon Reduction Goals are Achievable, Study Says

Direct Marketing Association: USPS Releases Report on Life Cycle Inventory of the Mail

USPS Sustainability Efforts

USPS Carbon Accounting Pilot

Carbon Disclosure Project

What Do We Really Know About Consumers?

Turns out American’s didn’t splurge on trivial junk during this recession, and that means many experts don’t know today’s consumer as well as they thought they did.

Turns out Americans didn’t splurge on trivial junk during this recession, and that means many experts don’t know today’s consumer as well as they thought they did. At least that’s the takeaway from this article by Mina Kimes of CNN Money.

The prevailing assumptions about recessionary spending were based on studies of consumer spending during past recessions that showed Americans spending more on cheap indulgences during hard times. But as Kimes points out, that hasn’t held true during this recession. iPhone sales spiked while lipstick, liquor and candy dropped.

Some of those trends saw ups and downs (a previous report by Kimes indicated general cosmetics doing well last year), but overall, 2009’s cash-strapped consumers seemed to make purchase decisions more thoughtfully than in recessions past. Instead of cutting expensive items and indulging on the cheap, they made more complex calculations. They often saved money to buy expensive items, for example, sometimes by cutting out the very indulgences consumers might have wallowed in during “simpler” times. It appears that many took control of their finances instead of living hand-to-mouth, with some surprising retail results.

I wonder how much of that reflects a psychological shift in consumers, and how much reflects shifts in the retail market. Many goods are available at relatively low prices these days thanks to several decades of the biggest retailers competing on price (i.e. Wal-Mart). I’m not sure indulgent lipstick’s that much less expensive than a pair of bargain shoes. On the other hand, consumer electronics is not simply an entertainment purchase. People spend their careers using their personal laptops and smartphones as tools; so spending more can mean more money or better opportunities. Consumers are well versed in the investment calculation of these items: If you have to buy a phone and phone service anyway, why not choose the one you can carry with you and load with apps that make you more productive, or at least more entertained?

Consumers have changed, but the retail landscape may have changed even more. What can you assume about a nation of potential customers who constantly consider that?

That’s probably not surprising to those of you who read Target Marketing or All About ROI, which often talk about the importance of testing and verifying assumptions about your audience. At heart, direct marketing is a numbers game, and those successful at it know what my football line coach used to sum up: to “assume” makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

But even extensive testing doesn’t really take assumptions out of the equation. Who spends resources testing something they don’t expect to work? When you try something new, where did the idea come from? Usually an assumption. So even with testing, there’s a bias to test toward what we believe to be true. Adaptability is learning to recognize and react quickly when things we thought we knew turn out to be wrong.

So have consumers changed during this recession? Has that been the case for your customers? Are they acting against type, buying or not buying in ways that defied your expectations?