Testing… one, two, three

Feb 01, 2001 10:30 PM  By

When it comes to assessing the impact of your e-mail, your customer is a better judge than your manager

What’s wrong with this scenario? Immediately after I concluded a speech on e-mail in the U.K., two people who had been in the front row and had been both attentive and participatory approached me.

“We’re going to submit your suggestions to our Con Committee,” one of them told me. “If the committee agrees, we’ll use your concepts and wording for our next e-mail campaign.”

Just what is the Con Committee, and who is on it? It turns out to be the Consensus Committee, to which creative teams and people in sales and marketing offer ideas. The committee is a group of middle and upper managers. After hearing ideas or themes or actual copy platforms, the committee votes. If the concept is accepted, it goes into play. If not, it’s left to rot.

Ugh.

Oh, sure, I guess I should have been flattered that my ideas were worthy of presentation to this Con Committee. But as a marketer, the whole notion gives me the wim-wams.

Suppositional and speculative decision-making have been the worms of arrogance that already have eaten away the success potential of too many Web marketers. The count is continuing at a pace that should alarm anyone who counts on the Web for bottom-line growth.

A more valid committee: the prospects One huge edge that e-mail has over any medium that has preceded it is its capability of handling multiple tests. How much more flattered I’d have been had these well-intentioned folks told me they were going to test a concept or two.

And I’d have been more at ease had they used a word other than “campaign.” E-mail doesn’t need that tag, which suggests long-range goals. An individual e-mail message should have short-term goals. That’s one of the more delightful aspects of this delightful marketing weapon.

What’s more, while everybody is a self-appointed expert when it comes to gauging the effectiveness of an e-mail message, only one person can provide definitive expertise: your target.

Here’s the point: We who generate e-mail messages should be test-crazy. We should test and test and test and test until our conclusions are worthy of roll-out; and even when we have enough ammunition and evidence of having made the right choice of words, the most convincing imperatives, the optimal message length, and the most acceptable familiarity, we should continue to test against the winner. It’s the venerable principle of direct mail, squared.

The World Wide Web has superimposed reaction generators we accept as reasonably standard. So, generally, we test against these assumptions:

* Informal wording will outpull formal wording.

* Including the target’s name in the subject line will outpull excluding the target’s name from the subject line.

* First-name-only greetings can double response or cut it in half, depending on preexisting rapport.

* A dynamic first sentence will outpull a low-gear start-up.

* A message from an individual will outpull a message from a corporate structure.

* A long message should have a trial “click here” option midway.

Notice, please, how these notions were introduced: “So, generally, we test against these assumptions.” We should test against our preconceived prejudices, too, if we have the statesmanship and courage to do it. As convinced as I am that the World Wide Web is price-driven and its users are looking for a price edge, that’s another area we should test against. Exclusivity and status aren’t out of the ballgame, and we dare not stride smugly into this shiny new marketing arena with marketing haughtiness that’s locked in cement.

Will these work? Some e-mail marketers use newsletters as a “holding” mechanism. Do they work? As an opinion – and please, please qualify the statement as opinion – newsletters are a short-term fix.

I’ll justify my opinion on two grounds: First, a newsletter is considerably less exciting than a one-to-one offer. And an unexciting e-mail isn’t competitive. Second, a newsletter marches in place. What is the reader supposed to do? Building respect for the sender isn’t parallel to responding to an offer. So (again an opinion) a “newsletter” should parallel a mailed magalog. It should be peppered with offers and should never descend into intellectualized analyses.

Do rented lists work? More opinion: Only if…

E-mail lists are too expensive to be treated in a cavalier fashion. Negotiating list rentals isn’t for the tyro nor for the faint of heart. We already are hearing horror stories about people who send hate mail in response to e-mail because the rented list came from a sweepstakes or a freebie outside the orbit of the company renting the names. Opt-outs from such rented lists are epidemic.

If you dip your toe into rented e-mail list waters, I suggest two caveats. One: Copy should tell the recipient you recognize that your message is an intrusion, but you can justify the intrusion. Two: Justify the intrusion.

I said earlier in this harangue that everybody is a self-appointed expert. This means nobody is an expert. That certainly includes me, but you can temper any reaction by becoming more expert.

How do you do that? You test. And you test. And oh, yes, you test again. Expert to expert, that’s the best advice I or anyone else can transmit.


 

Testing…One, Two, Three

Feb 01, 2001 10:30 PM  By

What’s wrong with this scenario?

Immediately after I concluded a speech on e-mail in the U.K., two people who had been in the front row and had been both attentive and participatory approached me.

“We’re going to submit your suggestions to our Con Committee,” one of them told me. “If the committee agrees, we’ll use your concepts and wording for our next e-mail campaign.”

Just what is the Con Committee, and who is on it? It turns out to be the Consensus Committee, to which creative teams and people in sales and marketing offer ideas. The committee is a group of middle and upper managers. After hearing ideas or themes or actual copy platforms, the committee votes. If the concept is accepted, it goes into play. If not, it’s left to rot.

Ugh.

Oh, sure, I guess I should have been flattered that my ideas were worthy of presentation to this Con Committee. But as a marketer, the whole notion gives me the wim-wams.

Suppositional and speculative decision-making have been the worms of arrogance that already have eaten away the success potential of too many Web marketers. The count is continuing at a pace that should alarm anyone who counts on the Web for bottom-line growth.

A more valid committee: the prospects

One huge edge that e-mail has over any medium that has preceded it is its capability of handling multiple tests. How much more flattered I’d have been had these well-intentioned folks told me they were going to test a concept or two.

And I’d have been more at ease had they used a word other than “campaign.” E-mail doesn’t need that tag, which suggests long-range goals. An individual e-mail message should have short-term goals. That’s one of the more delightful aspects of this delightful marketing weapon.

What’s more, while everybody is a self-appointed expert when it comes to gauging the effectiveness of an e-mail message, only one person can provide definitive expertise: your target.

Here’s the point: We who generate e-mail messages should be test-crazy. We should test and test and test and test until our conclusions are worthy of roll-out; and even when we have enough ammunition and evidence of having made the right choice of words, the most convincing imperatives, the optimal message length, and the most acceptable familiarity, we should continue to test against the winner. It’s the venerable principle of direct mail, squared.

The World Wide Web has superimposed reaction generators we accept as reasonably standard. So, generally, we test against these assumptions:

Informal wording will outpull formal wording.

Including the target’s name in the subject line will outpull excluding the target’s name from the subject line.

First-name-only greetings can double response or cut it in half, depending on preexisting rapport.

A dynamic first sentence will outpull a low-gear start-up.

A message from an individual will outpull a message from a corporate structure.

A long message should have a trial “click here” option midway.

Notice, please, how these notions were introduced: “So, generally, we test against these assumptions.” We should test against our preconceived prejudices, too, if we have the statesmanship and courage to do it. As convinced as I am that the World Wide Web is price-driven and its users are looking for a price edge, that’s another area we should test against. Exclusivity and status aren’t out of the ballgame, and we dare not stride smugly into this shiny new marketing arena with marketing haughtiness that’s locked in cement.

Will these work?

Some e-mail marketers use newsletters as a “holding” mechanism. Do they work? As an opinion—and please, please qualify the statement as opinion—newsletters are a short-term fix.

I’ll justify my opinion on two grounds: First, a newsletter is considerably less exciting than a one-to-one offer. And an unexciting e-mail isn’t competitive. Second, a newsletter marches in place. What is the reader supposed to do? Building respect for the sender isn’t parallel to responding to an offer. So (again an opinion) a “newsletter” should parallel a mailed magalog. It should be peppered with offers and should never descend into intellectualized analyses.

Do rented lists work? More opinion: Only if…

E-mail lists are too expensive to be treated in a cavalier fashion. Negotiating list rentals isn’t for the tyro nor for the faint of heart. We already are hearing horror stories about people who send hate mail in response to e-mail because the rented list came from a sweepstakes or a freebie outside the orbit of the company renting the names. Opt-outs from such rented lists are epidemic.

If you dip your toe into rented e-mail list waters, I suggest two caveats. One: Copy should tell the recipient you recognize that your message is an intrusion, but you can justify the intrusion. Two: Justify the intrusion.

I said earlier in this harangue that everybody is a self-appointed expert. This means nobody is an expert. That certainly includes me, but you can temper any reaction by becoming more expert. How do you do that? You test. And you test. And oh, yes, you test again. Expert to expert, that’s the best advice I or anyone else can transmit.

Herschell Gordon Lewis (www.herschellgordon lewis.com) is president of Lewis Enterprises in Fort Lauderdale, FL. Author of 24 books, he writes copy for and consults with clients worldwide. His most recent book is a new edition of his classic On the Art of Writing Copy.