Packaging The Appeal

April 15, 2008       Herschell Gordon Lewis      

Burnt Offerings  Herschell Gordon Lewis The key to every suggestion in this month’s column is one you already know but might not always decide to turn, opening the response-lock the way every one of us should:  Test it.

What brings this to mind are three situations, the results of which reinforced a truism we too often ignore: Our personal beliefs and prejudices might not mirror those of our targets.

The first test proving the value of testing was what started out to be just another in a series of mailings for a nonprofit. The mailings always had run on tracks — a specified number of lines and characters-per line. No postscript. Those charged with the responsibility of maintaining response-pace convinced management to test a “p.s.”  To make the test valid, it ran head-to-head against the same text that didn’t include a “p.s.” Result: The version with the “p.s.” pulled 19 percent better.

Ah, but that’s history. Of late, the “p.s.,” like the words “free” and “personal,” has lost much of its cachet. When our prospects begin to expect what we say, it’s time to test against it.

The second test was a mailing for a financial service, the type of business that in many ways parallels nonprofits. For some forgotten reason, a two-color brochure was tested against a four-color brochure. The two-color brochure brought greater response, not only increasing the number of leads but doing so at a substantially lower cost.

If it hadn’t been tested, we never would have known. But is superiority of two colors over full color a universal expectation? No, nor is any supposition.  Test it.

The third test was an email subject line test. Prior testing had shown that including the recipient’s name in the subject line increased response. Now, should we lead with the name or end with it?

Predictions were 60/40 in favor of beginning with the name. But these weren’t genuine predictions. They were guesses. Ending the subject line with the name increased response by eight percent.

The runaway winner? The decision to test.

What we think doesn’t count I’m philosophically opposed to self-mailers. That isn’t based on an implicit prejudice. It’s just that I can’t generate results that match the medium. On occasion when a self-mailer does initiate more response than an enclosed mailing, the benefit disappears when comparing the bottom line.

A test of enclosed versus self-mailer, then tabulating monies in, lets you draw a preliminary conclusion pending a later analysis of lifetime value. If what the addressees think parallel what you think, then your opinion becomes a valid conclusion, not a presumptuous prophecy. What you think doesn’t count until validated by your potential donors.

Similarly, test actual postage stamps against postal indicia. Invariably stamps out-pull indicia. Is the increase in ratio to the increased expense? The answer comes clear in one word:  Test.

An endless world of testing Direct marketers in the hypercompetitive nonprofit world dare not run on tracks. If you accept the notion (and that’s what our opinions are) that the typical donor has a finite amount of money to distribute among all causes, it’s a conclusion that needs no other validation to tell us, “Don’t ever slack off.”

Is slick enamel paper preferable to simple machine-finish or even newsprint? Is an investment in heavier paper stock worthwhile? Is shifting to a Number 11 envelope a smart move? (The Number 11 is slightly larger than a standard Number 10 and usually is more productive, but if you have a window envelope the response device could shift slightly out of the window.)

How about color on the envelope? For commercial mailings, an orange envelope is today’s darling. Will that work for a nonprofit or will the more sedate prospects regard an orange envelope as garish? Want an answer that proves the point one way or the other? Test. Handwritten fonts have come of age. The contemporary fonts have three versions of each lower-case letter, so a letter — or, more logically, an envelope — looks one-to-one. Lettershops tend to charge more for this effect, which adds the comparative cost-addendum to the mix. Worthwhile? Test.

A test doesn’t have to be 50/50 Another warning that has to be unnecessary to anyone who has survived being in the murderous nonprofit climate for more than three months: If you have a successful mailing — and that means one that has at least broken even, making the prospect of follow-ups an almost certain move into a solid black bottom line — test gingerly. Then, if the challenger beats the incumbent, re-test, switching the ratio.

In politics, sports, and, yes, our beloved profession, the incubus always is digging at our brains: “I’m not guessing. I know.”

Oh, yeah? Remember the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman”?  NPT

Herschell Gordon Lewis is the principal of Lewis Enterprises, Pompano Beach, Fla., consulting with and writing direct response copy for clients worldwide.  Among his 31 books is the recently-published “Hot Appeals or Burnt Offerings.” Among his other books are: “Open Me Now;” “Asinine Advertising;” and “How to Write Powerful Fundraising Letters.” His Web site is www.herschellgordonlewis.com

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