Stop guessing

When it comes to marketing, there are lots of opinions. And there are a lot of “experts” about what’s the best thing to do… and the right thing to do… the best selling price… the best headline… and so on.

Your opinions… my opinions… are just that: only guesses.

The reason is that in the marketing process, there truly is only one expert. That expert is the consumer. More specifically, it is all consumers.

Your consumers will tell you everything you need to know about your business. But you must be willing to ask… willing to listen… and willing to do something about what you learn as a result of your asking and listening.

There is an age-old testing model in marketing that is simple enough that any business can utilize it to some extent. It’s called A-B testing. It works like this. You’re curious what would happen if you raised your price from $39 to $49. Would you sell fewer? Would you sell the same? Could you sell more… even at the higher price?

The next step is that you divide your database of customers, clients, and prospects randomly into two groups. One group is identified as group A, the other is group B. (A-B testing.) Next, you communicate a marketing message. In this case, let’s think in terms of a postcard mailing. Everyone receives what appears to be the same postcard – with the exception that half of the people receiving the postcard see the $39 price and the other half sees $49.

The statistics that you generate over the weeks following your mailing give you your answer. You can count inquiries, calls, presentations, and sales. Through this simple A-B testing approach you learn, for example, that you sold just as many at $49 as you did $39. You can make a decision at that point to raise your price to $49 and pocket more profit.

Through simple A-B testing, you can test just about anything. You can test price, as in the example above. You can test headlines, offers, and even the color of the paper that you printed the postcard on. If you’re purchasing lists, you can even test to compare the viability of two or more lists.

Now, here’s the caution that comes with all testing: test only what’s really important.

Two shades of green, different fonts, the placement of the mailing panel, a vertical card versus a horizontal card, using a photo rather than clip art, and so on typically are very low on the list of important things to test.

However, testing price points ($39.95 versus $49.95… or 2 for $99), testing the structure of an offer (save 50% versus “buy one, get one free”), added value offers such as free shipping, free trial period, a premium or gift, and so on could be very telling.

As you think about testing, keep these two fundamentals in mind. You’ll save time and money.

First, don’t test what you already know. For example, in the world of direct mail and direct marketing, it’s a given that solicitations that are personalized with the name of the recipient generate a greater response than those that are not. If that’s the case… and the world of direct marketing tells you that it is… then why bother to test it yourself?

Second, test only one variable at a time. In the examples above, I mentioned testing headlines, offers, pricing, and so on. If you test two headlines and one pulls better than the other, you’ve listened and you’ve learned. If you test two price points, and one pulls better, you know where you stand. If you test both the headlines and the prices points in the same test, and one approach pulls better than the other, you don’t know why. It could be the price, it could be the headline, it could be both. Now, sophisticated testing can accomplish this –– especially if the number of test subjects is large enough. But remember, we started out to look at a simple A-B test model that just about any organization can do.

Don’t just think of testing as a part of client attraction. Testing can help you at each step of the sales process. It can help you ascertain the value of the marketing activities you employ. Whenever you are prone to ask, “Is there a better way to do this?” you’re looking at an opportunity to do some A-B testing.

Some businesses don’t test enough. Some don’t test at all. They feel they don’t have the time… or they don’t want to divert their attention from other challenges or activities du jour. In a way, not testing is like saying, “It’s okay to do the wrong thing” or “Doing something (or anything) is better than nothing.” By my way of thinking, if I’m investing money in marketing, I want to reduce my risk and increase my odds of winning. So taking the time to test could save you in the long run.

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