How To Launch a Direct Mail Test – Part 1, Email Campaign

by Gil Zeimer on December 8, 2010
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Do you want to contact your prospects and customers with a direct mail campaign?

Whether this is your first endeavor or you’ve reached out this way for years, here are some common sense tips and best practices assembled from my two decades of experience as a direct response copywriter.

Email campaigns will be discussed in the first article of this four-part series, postcard campaigns will be part two, letter campaigns will be part three, and radio campaigns will be part four.

As a side note, for any direct mail test, consider the 40/40/20 Rule. In general for any type of direct marketing test: 40% of the success depends on the quality of the names on your list; another 40% is the strength of your offer; and 20% weighs on how good your copy, layout, and production are.

Naturally, you’ll find a lot of overlap among these four test types, but these tips are specific to email:

1) Scrub your list – By surveying people on your current email list to see if they’re open to receiving emails from you, you’re letting them “opt-in” or “opt-out.” One of the conveniences of using an email list management program like Intuit Email Marketing is that this function is built in. If you buy a list from a broker, be sure that the company ensures that the list is current and the recipients will receive the email without it being flagged as spam.

2) Do an A/B subject line test – Test one email subject line vs. another to see which pulls the best response. If you’re mailing to 100 to 500 people or more, split the list in two and send subject line A to half and subject line B to the balance. Both would receive the identical email with the same offer. For example, various possible subject lines you can test for an upcoming webinar could include:

A) Free sales Webinar this Friday only
B) Live Webcast – join us Friday to increase sales
C) Register for a free webinar & boost sales
D) Discover the three secrets to increasing sales

Remember to make your subject lines 41 or fewer characters, which is a rule of thumb for most email software applications, so all the copy will be visible in the subject line.

3) Test your offer – If you have a larger list, you can do a four-way test to see what price point or offer will get your phone to ring the most. For example, 25% will receive subject line A with one offer (maybe a $79.99 price point); 25% will receive subject line B with the first offer; 25% would receive subject line A with an alternate offer (maybe a $99.99 price point); and the final 25% would receive subject line B with the alternate offer.

Note: The lowest price point doesn’t always win, because a higher price point can connote a better, more robust product or better client support.

4) Filter your copy – If you have an offer that hinges on that all-powerful word “FREE,” it’s wise to run it through filtering software that tests your email copy, design, and headline against all the major spam filters. One company offering this invaluable service is EmailReach.com.

5) Test your creative – Will your email be as short as a few paragraphs with a few bullet points, or will it be a longer page with many subheads and copy that’s several pages deep? Will it have one visual, many, or none? Illustrations or photos? This is another area that you can test using the above technique. Remember that best practice for email is HTML that’s generally two to three paragraphs maximum, with a call to action (phone number or clickable image and domain name) in both the first and last paragraphs so readers can respond quickly.

6) Send your email mid-week – Historically, the best times to send email campaigns are Tuesday after noon through Friday mid-morning. These are the times when workers are most receptive to email because they’re not distracted from coming back from their weekend or preparing for the next one.

7) Prepare for landing – If a reader clicks on a link in your email, it needs to go somewhere: To a web landing page that has all the details that the email is lacking. Make sure the offer is so clearly defined that there’s no question what it is, what it costs, and what the prospect will receive for their money.

8) Follow up by phone – If you’ve got a great list and a simple offer, try following up with 25 to 33% of the prospects that you’ve emailed by calling them to see if they’re interested. Write a short script that you can use on these calls with different objections and responses planned out in advance. One campaign I wrote last year boosted response rate by more than 5% through follow-up calls.

9) Gauge your response – A 2009 Direct Marketing Association report found email response statistics are stabilizing, with “open” rates (those who opened the message) for house lists at 14.92%, click-through rates in the high single digits (9.36%), and conversion rates in the mid single digits (5.26%). Prospect lists performed faintly worse than house lists, with open rates at 8.56%, click-through rates at 5.57%, and conversion rates at 3.15%.

10) Count your touchpoints – According to the Direct Marketing Association, it normally takes 7 to 10 touchpoints to get a consumer respond to your offer. In direct marketing terminology, one email is one touchpoint; a campaign of three emails is three; a phone call is one more.

Also in the “How to Test a Direct Response” series:

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