Friday, July 11, 2008

Is It Okay to Break the Rules?

Rules are made to be broken. At least, that’s the way the old saying goes. Many so-called “rules” are simply guidelines for what most people think is acceptable.

For instance, you should change your car’s oil every 3,000 miles. Always put your napkin in your lap at dinner. Only wear white shoes in the summer.

If you break these rules, what’s the worst that could happen? Your car’s performance might decrease. You stain your good pants. You look goofy wearing white shoes in January.

But what if there’s an upside to breaking the rules?

You discover that your car performs just as well when you change your oil every 5,000 miles, and you save money on oil changes. Or, you find that wearing your napkin tucked in at your neck keeps you from staining your shirt. And, you start a hot new fashion trend by wearing white shoes in winter.

What about in direct marketing? Do we have to follow the rules?

Test your knowledge of some basic direct marketing rules. Take this true or false quiz and see how you do. Remember that these “rules” are based on what many experienced direct marketers believe. You may still be able to break them and have amazing success. We recommend testing to see what works for you. The answers are at the bottom of the page. Good luck!

1. T or F — A weak offer to a well-targeted list will produce a better response rate than an excellent offer to a poorly-targeted list.

2. T or F — As a rule, the sole purpose of envelope teaser copy is to present the offer.

3. T or F — A mailing with a letter but without a brochure will almost always outpull a mailing with no letter.

4. T or F — After opening the envelope, the prospect will look at the letter first.

5. T or F — Repeated tests have shown that the cost of providing a business reply envelope is justified by increased response.

6. T or F — About five times as many people will read a headline as read the body copy.

7. T or F — As a rule, a premium will sharply increase response. However, as the response rate goes up, the quality of responses goes down.

8. T or F — As a rule, a blue ink signature in a sales letter will produce an equal response as one printed in the same black ink as the letter.

9. T or F — As a rule, mail delivered to consumers on Saturdays and Mondays will have the poorest response rate.

10. T or F — As a rule, the most effective postage on a direct mail promotion is a single stamp.

There's a time to follow the rules and a time to break them. If you're going to break them, at least follow these two rules:

1. Test everything.
2. Test only one thing at a time.

Should the letter come from someone in marketing, customer service, or the president of the company? Test it. What is the best P.S. for your letter? Test it. Should you include a phone number to reply or just a reply device? Test it. Should your brochure be two-color or four-color? Test it.

But, be sure to try one thing at a time. Say you change your envelope, letter copy, and try out a new list. Response rates improve dramatically. How will you know which one increased response?

It's important to know the basic direct marketing rules. Then, you can go out and break them!

1. True. If you’re mailing to the wrong people, the best offer in the world will receive a poor response.
2. False. The number one goal of the teaser is to get the recipient to open the envelope. Anything beyond that may be counter-productive.
3. True. The personal aspect of the letter makes it one of the primary elements in a successful direct mail package.
4. False. You have no way of knowing which piece the prospect will look at first. Some will go to the letter first, others to the brochure, and still others to the reply device. Each piece must be designed to capture the reader.
5. True. The easier it is to reply, the more likely a prospect will respond.
6. True. Most people are skimmers and will look at the headline first.
7. True. While more people will respond, many respond simply to get the premium. It is best to look at conversion or follow-through rates when using a premium.
8. False. Blue ink will typically pull better than black ink.
9. True. Many believe that Tuesday is the best day for prospects to receive mail.
10. False. Many marketers have found that multiple stamps pull better than a single stamp.