Testing and Measuring — Optimizing Your Mailing to Maximize Your Results


In this series on direct mail we've addressed the basics of increasing donations, personalization,and integrating direct mail and online campaigns. With all that underway, the next big step is to optimize your results. That can only happen through continuous testing and measuring followed by selecting the optimum approach, then testing yet again. So, what do you test and when?

Test Everything — All the Time

You must test everything relentlessly. Things that worked for a while can suddenly grow stale and stop working completely. You need to be measuring your results and testing along the way to find what works today, for your organization, for your mission.

How to Test

As the basis for your testing you'll need to select similar A versus B mailing lists ideally in the range of 3,000 to 5,000 addresses. However, you can test with as few as 100 to 500 addresses. It's just that the smaller your testing lists, the more likely you won't have a statistically valid response. None-the-less, testing in whatever manner possible will still add insight into what works and what doesn't.

You'll need to set up test mailing lists that are relatively similar to one another in terms of the key factors for your audience. For example, you wouldn't want to test one thing on a Southern audience and another on a Northeastern audience and expect to learn anything by the differences in their response. Instead, you'll need two relatively closely matched lists that would be expected to return identical results were they to receive the same mailing.

Once you've set up your testing lists, you'll need to consider what to test between those lists. Ideally, you'll only be testing one item for each test. Otherwise you will see different results but won't be able to narrow down the exact cause because of all the differences between the mailings.

What to Test

Direct Mail Marketing 101 provides a good white paper covering testing basics and best practices. Another good resource is CRM Trends direct marketing best practices. Reading through these documents you'll find that when we said, "test everything — all the time" we were not alone in sharing this advice. So what are some of the key things to test?

Mailing List CRM Trends when talking about direct marketing best practices states that creative will only affect 20% of your response rate while your mailing list will affect 80%. So where should you focus your attention? Your mailing list is the key — it needs to be constantly updated and nurtured to find those who are aligned with your mission as well as willing and able to support that mission.

Build List Data — You can typically expect that people who have already supported your cause are 3 times more likely to respond than those who haven't. So make sure you build donor history into your list database. Segment prospects from current donors as each will respond to different messages. This is only the start of adding data to your mailing list.

Creative — As noted above 80% of your success will be due to the mailing list with roughly 20% of your success attributed to the creative. Now that you have your optimized mailing list, you can focus on the creative elements for your letter, inserts, brochure, donation form, envelope, premiums, and even your landing pages.

Letter — Many direct mail experts feel that the most important part of your mailing is the letter. They cite a test mailing with letter and response form compared to a folded self-mailer. The letter response rate was 3 to 1 over the self-mailer. They feel that a letter just seems more like a personal communication and people will take time to read your message. Even with that said your audience might have different expectations. Don't assume, test to find out what works for your audience. Here are a few items to test within that letter:

  • Headline – This is your key message to attract the reader to the rest of your message. Try benefits, promises, impact, and how they can make a difference in supporting your mission.
  • Opening – Critical here is talking to the reader about what's important to them. If you start out by talking about your organization, you'll lose them.
  • Copy – Try bulleted lists, scribbled notes in the margins, and subheads to bring your message home to those who are just skimming the letter.
  • Call to Action – Make it easy for your reader. Spell out exactly what you want them to do.
  • P.S. – This section of the letter can actually be very effective. It has been proven to be the most read part of a direct mail letter.

Inserts — Examples of what can be included are post-it notes that generate curiosity about the lumpy letter in their hands or some other insert that serves as a motivator to get your audience to open the envelope and engage with the contents.

Brochure — The brochure should be designed to convert the prospect who is sitting on the fence to support your efforts with their hard earned cash. CRM Trends says that the brochure can impact up to 25% of the decision making process.

Donation Form — The donation form has been found to affect 10 to 12% of the final decision. Plus, it is often read before anything else in your mailing package as the recipient attempts to cut to the chase. Given this, make sure you're including your key selling points on the donation form.

Envelope — We touched on envelopes earlier with some tests showing that a completely blank envelope,save for the personalized address, was opened and acted upon more frequently than branded envelopes. But don't take this word as gospel. Test what works best on your mailings from branding, to promotional copy, to the type of postage.That's right, the type of postage can make a difference in whether your envelope is even opened. A stamped envelope can often encourage opening while bulk mail indicia may mean it goes in the garbage before it makes it through the front door.

Premiums — Try different premiums for different levels of giving. Some things are going to pull better than others. Find out what is best for your audience and/or different segments of your audience.

Landing Page — We talked in an earlier post about integrating your direct mail campaign with your online fundraising efforts. So make sure that you test your landing page. One study found a 48%increase in the number of gifts after renovation of their landing page. This is an easy thing to test by providing several landing pages and different links in your mailing campaign.

What to Expect

OK, we've sold testing but here are the facts according to CRMTrends:

  • 53% of what you test makes no difference at all
  • 25% improves response rates
  • 22% hurts response rates

Given this, testing is essential to first make sure you're not hurting your response rate and second to find those elements that actually improve your response.

Closing Thoughts

We've devoted four lengthy blog posts to the topic of direct mail and yet it feels like we've only touched the surface. Hopefully, these posts have provided insight into some things you can do right now to improve your direct mail campaigns. They may also have spurred you to do some more study on what might be the best approach for your organization.

I will also note that a best practice is to work with the experts in the field of direct mail fundraising. Look no further than Campaign Now for that expertise. Contact a specialist today here or call (855) 329-4327. Or you can sign up for our special offers and latest news.

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Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson

Jim Wilson is the founder of PathForeWord, a freelance writing and communication consulting service. He has over two decades experience working for the largest youth membership organization in the USA as director of communication services. He’s written on nonprofits, associations, journalism, technology, and the job search process.


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