Even in Tough Economic Times, You Need to Test

In tough economic times, there’s a great temptation to offer deep discounts or free shipping as incentives to order. Here’s why it’s always good practice to make sure there is a control group so you can accurately measure the incremental value of the offer.

It seems simple enough, but in today’s multichannel world, there aren’t many catalog offers that are not supplemented by an e-mail offer as well. Chances are pretty good that any customer within the control group is going to get that e-mail offer (probably several times), thus ruining any chance of a good read on the performance delta between customers who received the offer and those who did not.

This situation is pretty easy to avoid if you have a campaign management system that handles mail and e-mail promotions, but most mailers aren’t that fortunate. Another way to handle this is to make sure when the customer file gets pulled for segmentation and merge purge, the e-mail address you have on record is carried along with the name and address, and the record is flagged as having an e-mail address.

When doing the backend splits and splitting off the control group from the offer group, make sure the control that has e-mail addresses is flagged and designated for different treatment in the holiday season. This file should then be handed off to the Internet marketers and keycoded as a new campaign that never gets the promotion.

As an extra safeguard for the integrity of the control group, the file should also be used as a suppression file in the promotional e-mail stream. This process is not going keep every control group customer from getting the e-mail promotion because often the e-mail marketing system itself will have a different e-mail than that of the order entry system, but it will catch most of them.

Obviously, it makes sense to do this every time there is an offer test in the mail. The real challenge is making sure that the e-mail address is carried along with the file from the beginning and then coordinating with the e-mail marketing team for their part of the process—which is usually quite some time after the mail files have been finalized. This can be difficult, but the upside—readable tests and actionable results—makes it well worth it.

Allison Baumhefner is senior marketing manager at catalog consultancy Lenser.

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