Direct Mail

How To Analyze and Test Direct Mail Campaigns

How to Analyze and Test Direct Mail Campaigns 

All you marketing folks out there have probably heard that people need to receive a message multiple times before it sinks in enough to make them act. And you’ll get no argument from us on that theory.    

However, reaching out to prospects repeatedly with the same ineffective messaging not only turns them off but costs you time and money, as well. The fix? Analyze and test (yes, they’re different) your campaigns to find out what works and what doesn’t.  

So, let’s outline the key elements of a direct mail campaign (that you should always examine) and break down your testing options.      

Part I – The Investigation 

Get out the microscope and make it a party, because delving into the guts of your strategy will help you see how each part contributes to the triumph or failure of the whole crusade.  

  • Results: The first step in every campaign audit is looking at the results.  
    • Did the numbers fall below expectations?  
    • Did you lose money on the campaign?  
    • Did people visit the website but not make a purchase? Hint: Using a QR code on the direct mail piece lets you track visits that came from the campaign. 
    • Was your response rate high but conversion rate low (people responded with interest but didn’t purchase)? 
  • Offer:  
    • Was the offer clear and understandable?  
    • Was it enticing enough?  
    • If you used a promo code, did the code work as expected? 
  • Recipients:  
    • Were the right people targeted for this campaign? Hint: Asking a group of renters to buy homeowners insurance is less than ideal.  
    • Is your list data accurate? Hint: Misspelled names and wrong addresses contribute to many failed communications. 

Your list can make or break a campaign, so it’s critical to keep your CRM up-to-date.    

  • Size:  
    • What direct mail piece did you send?  

Larger pieces stand out in a mailbox more than smaller ones. If you’ve used this piece before and had success, size is probably not the issue.  

  • Design: This part can take time because there are a ton of design elements that go into a high-quality direct mail piece. Catching someone’s attention not only involves placement of images with copy but the types of images used.  
    • Was there enough color differentiation to look appealing?  
    • Does the call to action stand out?  
    • Are the images personalized (yes, you should customize more than the copy), and do they convey the right message?  

To effectively check your design concept, you must examine all aspects of it. It’s a tedious but crucial part of the process.  

  • Copy: Like design, dissecting copy can get more complicated than you think. Because great copy doesn’t only mean concise, relevant messaging.  
    • What font did you use?  
    • How large is the lettering and what color?  
    • Did you bold or italicize key words for emphasis?  
    • Did you use simple language and avoid acronyms?  
    • Is there conflict between copy and images? 
  • Timing: For direct mail, timing involves factors out of your control.  
    • Did the mail reach recipients on time?  
    • Did it arrive damaged?  

If you plan a mailout around holidays or elections, you risk fatiguing an already stressed system. That doesn’t mean you can’t execute a dynamite campaign in December…but you should factor in some delays. A well-timed campaign also means communicating with intention. Pushing your landscaping services in January, for example, could prove premature if people aren’t yet thinking about spring.  

Reaching out to folks via direct mail is an excellent way to attract new customers and engage existing ones, but you must target the right people with the right offer at the right time. 

Part II – Testing 

Once you’ve analyzed past campaigns and theorized what should change, you’re ready to roll, right? Not so fast. Before you can accurately test your theories, you’ll need to lay some groundwork. These steps will help ensure you get clear results, so you can draw valid conclusions. Otherwise, what’s the point?  

  • Establish a Control Piece: Before testing, you need a baseline (frame of reference) against which to judge future campaigns.  The control piece should be one with a proven track record of greatness (high response and conversion rate).  

If you’re new to the game, you’ll want to create a direct mail asset with a compelling offer, eye-catching design, and clear call to action. Send it out and collect your metrics before testing against another piece.  

Over time, as you test and refine your processes, your control piece might change. That’s okay. Excellent marketing requires flexibility and innovation. But remember to test your new control piece in several scenarios before committing.  

  • Choose a Test: Although you can test a campaign multiple ways, the two most common types are A/B, or split tests, and multivariate tests. Both types require sending out the control piece and the test piece(s) each time you experiment. If not, your results will lack context and your conclusions will be inaccurate.  
    • A/B Test: A/B testing means you send out two direct mail pieces, the control and the variation. They should be identical except for one key difference (offer, call to action, mailing list, format). In this scenario, you’ll be able to see which change made a difference based on the response or conversion rate.  

A/B tests work best if you think a single factor is making or breaking the campaign—the offer isn’t large enough, you’re mailing to the wrong demographic.  

You can easily adapt this to an A/B/C test if you want to try a third variation (15% off, 30% off, 50% off).  

  • Multivariate Test: This type works better if you want to test multiple components of a campaign. Multivariate tests also help if your direct mail use is limited and you’re not sure what works and what doesn’t. If you find yourself saying, “Maybe we should change the offer and CTA. And I want to update the design,” then go for the multivariate. 

The more elements you test, the more pieces you’ll need. If you want to change two components, you’ll need four variations. See the matrix below for an example of a campaign varying the image and CTA: 

CTA 1 A1 B1
CTA2 A2 B2


Note: The more variables you test, the less concrete your results will be. This happens because test sets get smaller with each new mailer.  

  • Measure Results: And the fun starts over. Once you’ve designed and mailed your direct mail pieces, you can compare each data set against another.  
    • Did the new CTA improve your conversion rate? 
    • Did one image resonate more with your audience than another? 

Final Thoughts 

Successful marketing means evolving with consumers and their preferences, so testing direct mail campaigns should be an ongoing activity, not a one-off event. Also, try to approach the task objectively, letting the data (not your hunches) inform your decisions.  

With time, you’ll catch on to what spurs your customers to action and which design choices help your pieces stand out. Good luck, and happy testing! 


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