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 Pushing the Envelope Neednít Break the Bank
By David R. Yale

This article appeared in DM News, 3/9/98, p.56
Copyright © 1998 by David R. Yale.

Creative Testing Without a Budget
Combating Universe Saturation
The Official Approach Ties the Score
Designed to Look Like a Notepad
Frustrations and a Possible Solution
Gold Award Winner
Beat the Control
Pushing the Envelope for Less Than $1500

Creative Testing Without a Budget

      Now thereís a way to test the creative approach for #10 direct mail packages, even if you donít have a testing budget! Itís a low-risk approach I call "Pushing the Envelope" that will set you back less than $1500 for creative and printing.

      But the payoff can be huge. You could point the way to a new control, find a new winning formula and combat list fatigue and universe saturation -- all while boosting the bottom line.

Combating Universe Saturation

      Faced with declining response rates at a small specialty financial newsletter publisher, I decided to minimize testing risk by wrapping new carrier envelopes around proven, money-making control packages. I had several objectives in mind when I created these tests:

  • Beat the control and make even more profits with essentially the same package.
  • Combat universe saturation by making the package unrecognizable and thereby buying a new chance to get the envelope opened.
  • Appeal to new prospects who didnít respond to the control envelope.
  • Point the way to an entire new control package -- and a new, fresh, winning formula -- built around a new winning envelope. This was especially important for us because all of our envelopes used the same highly promotional approach -- and it was showing serious signs of fatigue.

The Official Approach Ties the Score

      The first test used an "official" approach, with a plain white #10 window envelope. The return address did not identify the sender, and the envelope was blank except for a small black square and a governmental-looking serial number.

      We added a check background to the window show-through area that made the package look like that long-expected refund check from you-know-who.

      Test #1 tied the control. We decided to use it as a second control which we alternated with the highly promotional envelope.

      Unfortunately, our database and the design for the product promoted in these packages did not have the ability to tell us much about what type of buyer responded to the official vs. the promotional envelope.

      The second test, was more ambitious from a creative point-of-view. It also involved a more sophisticated product that gave us more information about respondents, so it answered the question about test vs. Control buyers, at least in part.

Designed to Look Like a Notepad

      I chose a totally different creative approach for test #2. The envelope was designed to look like someone had used it as a notepad. "Handwritten" notes, with cross-outs and little doodles, covered the front and back, and a few items were circled, underlined or marked in red ink.

      A "smile face" wasnít smiling, but had tears pouring down. And a simulated coffee stain in the corner of the envelope added to the "doodles" quality.

      The copy was straightforward. The front of the envelope read:

      "Bonds out of the question. Rising interest rates will slaughter them. Joe is right. Nix that plan!!

      Blue Chip Stocks Return too low. Canít retire in style. 11% not enough.

      Canít retire

Frustrations and a Possible Solution

      John has answer. Says heíll show me how investors make 200%+ with safe investments. Take him up on offer to show me. Top priority!!"

      The back of the envelope had a scribbled retirement budgeting attempt with the words "Canít retire" highlighted in red ink.

      It looked as if someone had jotted down all their frustrations about investing for retirement -- along with a possible solution. Was that solution inside the envelope? You bet!

Gold Award Winner

      This envelope looked different from anything else in the mail. It won a Gold Award -- Best of Show in the First Annual WDMI Jillies.

      More important than an award, test #2 tied the control on the front end. But a quick look at the numbers showed I had to do some more analysis to get the complete picture.

      The new test produced a higher response rate, but a lower break-even. My analysis showed that there were more orders from subscribers choosing the quarterly-payment option, and fewer payments for the entire year.

Beat the Control

      When I looked at projections for long-term profitability, test #2 beat the control by several percentage points.

      This was big news. We had still another winning formula. And the number of quarterly payment subscribers made it obvious that it met our objective of appealing to new prospects who didnít respond to the control envelope. Once again, we decided to use the new envelope as a second control, and alternate it with the first.

Pushing the Envelope for Less Than $1500

      The cost of these tests was minimal. In our case, I did the conceptualization and writing in house, and the freelance design cost a couple of hundred dollars. On a 100,000 A/B split run for the envelopes, Westvaco charged us about $300 for a press wash-up. And there was a charge of less than $100 for a black plate change for the keycode on the order form. But even if you donít have creative talent in-house, you should be able to "Push the Envelope" for less than $1500.


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