What’s Wrong With a Test Order?

As a list broker who has been involved with direct-response campaign development for more than 10 years, I can tell you the similarities between direct mail and email marketing (with solo/dedicated email offers) are easily identified. So are the differences. These differences are not so much related to the methodologies of targeting and copywriting as they are related to the comprehension and acceptance of a test order.

In the direct-mail space, almost all lists available for rent accommodate a minimum order ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 names. In most cases, a marketer will rent a sampling within this range to quantify the performance and quality of the list. The problem that I’ve seen during media-plan development is that many of the sales reps handling the advertising opportunities for their dot-com organizations are interested only in the 100,000-plus name orders.

What are their reasons for this rationale? One is that “It’s difficult to execute a campaign of 10,000 names.” In a turnkey environment of electronic marketing, that is not true. Another is that “With my list being more than 1 million names in size, you need to sample at least 100,000 names to get an accurate depiction of the file.” Not true – a 10,000-name test will yield quite a bit of information on a list. In addition, if a marketer has a $20,000 budget, it makes better sense to spread that out over a variety of advertising opportunities instead of localizing it to one or two list properties.

My challenge to those not accepting a test order is to ask yourself this: Do you, in fact, have faith in the email list you are representing? If you do, you’ll gladly accept the test order. The fact is that almost all of the largest direct marketers in the industry, who have been mailing hundreds of millions of names for years, would never consider a list without proper testing. This has nothing to do with budgetary constraints; it’s just good marketing sense.

So why is the test order such a valuable entity? Very simple it leads to larger, “continuation” orders.

We all know that email is a measurable medium. Because of this, properly developed media plans will reflect samplings of a variety of email list opportunities so that performance based on variables such as copy, offer, and list segmentation can be stratified.

Multiple test cells within an individual list actually provide added opportunities for that list to function at a profitable level. Multiple lists in the media plan help ensure performance of the overall campaign (analogous to a “mutual fund” approach when investing).

The deployment of click-through tracking within the campaign provides very accurate performance data. The list will either work or it will not. In the scenario of the test yielding favorable results, a 10,000-name order will typically lead to a larger continuation order. Assuming that proper “Nth-ing” techniques (evenly weighted sampling) were used to fulfill the order, the performance on the initial test should be consistent with the continuation order. With consistent performance, continuations will typically range between two to four times the sample size, represented by the initial test order.

Gone are the million-dollar marketing budgets designed to support “carpet-bombing” mail programs. Gone are the days of spending the marketing budget for the fear of losing it. With the evolution, refinement, and consolidation that is occurring in the Internet space, marketers are looking at intelligent campaigns that strategically use direct-response marketing budgets to attain a maximized return on investment.

So here’s the bottom line for companies offering email advertising opportunities: A test order should be welcomed with open arms. If the email list is of good quality, large-volume rental orders will follow.

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