By Lee Marc Stein
Most direct marketers face limited funding and time for testing creative strategies and executions. Overall budgets have been cut and what’s left is used to test media/lists and offers. With the little bit of money available, managers must structure creative tests very carefully. Here are about a dozen rules for doing that. 
In a new product launch, always test two very different concepts (and not tactics). If you test only one and it doesn’t work, you have no idea what to do next. 
Similarly, when you are far from meeting budget, you must test radically against your control.
Never mix apples and oranges: the wording of the offer in your test must be exactly the same as in your control.
Similarly, don’t mix concept/creative strategy testing with format testing. If you need a quantum leap in response, go with concept and creative strategy testing first.
Test the big ideas. These would include vertical and/or horizontal positioning of your product/service; what customers call it, how they use it, and what they tell their friends about it; and how the package leverages societal trends.
Consider creative segmentation. It’s not a big idea, but it can provide the same kind of lift in response if you harness database technology and digital printing properly.
Next to testing big ideas, envelope testing is most important. You have to decide if you’re going with a one-to-one correspondence strategy vs. envelope as store window. In B2B mail to executives, one-to-one almost always wins. Promotional envelopes haven’t worked for most mailers for some time.
Letters are still the prime selling vehicle in most direct mail. (The latest trend, in fact, is to insert letters into self-mailers.) Key parts of letters to test are the headline or Johnson box, opening two paragraphs, P.S. and cross-heads or sub-heads.
If your control package is working fairly well, you may want to engage in component testing – new letter, new brochure, lift note, or even response form.
Go with your best effort first, then see what you can do to cut costs. Try eliminating the brochure first. You can also look at eliminating the response form and BRE, particularly if you are driving people online to order.
Learn from your competitors. Don’t bother testing what they haven’t been able to make work.
Test on a plan, not on a whim. You need to be strategic about improving your performance.
— Lee Marc Stein is a direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He can be reached at 631-476-5395. His website is