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?

Author: Chuck McLeester

Chuck McLeester's blog explores issues about marketing and marketing measurement. He is a marketing strategist and analyst with experience in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, financial services, pet products, travel/hospitality, publishing and other categories. He spent several years as a client-side direct marketer and 25 years on the agency side developing expertise in direct, digital, and relationship marketing. Now he consults with marketers and advertising agencies to create measurable marketing programs.

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