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Different Strokes: If You Increase Frequency You May Need To Vary Up Your Messaging.

Once upon a time the single control was the very foundation of response marketing. Today it’s important, but some fundamental things have changed in recent years. The main difference is that we have tended to increase frequency as relative costs have decreased.

Back in the day I used to work on the American Express acquisition business. We methodically tested everything meaningful in direct mail. We tested big things and seemingly small, things like:

1. The post mark

2. The envelope (teaser) line

3. The free gift

4. The order of the questions on the application form

5. The color of the X in the signature box of the application form

6. The name of the signature – John Randall v Mary Lively (I'll tell you which won)

7. The layouts, formats, sizes etc.

8. The letter copy

9. The opening lines of the letter

10. The CTA’s


We knew precisely what worked. We found things that improved responses over the years. In those days we had three major mailings per year, each more than four months apart. While the mailing lists changed somewhat, broadly speaking we were writing to the same audience. In all likelihood you would get the control.

Here’s what’s so different now. Today we use a lot of digital media – email in particular. It’s relatively inexpensive. We tend to send multiple communications a month. Similarly, there are brands who send out direct mail every month because the relative costs of data and production has decreased substantially in relative terms.

If you send out multiple emails or mail very regularly you are basically making the same proposition to the same people – continuously.

We know that there’s going to be some deterioration of response rate as frequency increases. You must know what the effect of frequency is on your response rate is. It's obviously going to be different for different industries and products.

That response rate deterioration is going to depend on a lot of factors. Mail and email have significantly different deterioration rates because of the open rates.

Direct mail has an open rate of around 90% so the deterioration rate is going to be steep.

Email open rates are around 20%-30% depending of recency and frequency; so that’s going to factor into the equation here. The deterioration rate is also slower because most email is being sent to customers or past customers.

So if you’re regularly asking for a response you should be changing up messaging regularly. Think about having a series of “control” messages. Between 2 and 5 depending on the frequency and whether we are talking about mail or email. Test what works best for you.

When you start to build this series of communications the Core Messaging – what the brand stands for and what the basic product is – is probably going to remain constant.

Consequential Details are going to remain constant too.

Consequential details are things you’ve probably tested that are important to your response rate, but don’t need to change. These are things like the best CTA, the best layout, the best response mechanism. These don’t need to change. Unless you want to re-test them these should remain the same.

Benefit Appeal is what should change. If you wrote to someone last week and emphasized, say Cost Savings, then this week you should try emphasizing something else, say like Ease of Use or Fun or Technology or something or anything that might appeal to someone who did not respond to Cost Savings. That means changing the headline. It means re-ordering the benefits with a different emphasis. It doesn’t mean changing what the brand stands for or ignoring the cost savings completely.

To some degree you might send out the same Benefit Appeal email a few times before you need to change it because of the lower open rate of emails to mail.


In the Control senario you may learn more people respond to a letter signed by Mary Lively than a letter from John Randall (we did). In a Series senario you'll actually find completely different people respond to different things.


"Different strokes for different folks", was first used by Muhammed Ali, and popularized by Sly & The Family Stone in their first number one single, "Everyday People".


The 'strokes' here means, 'comforting gestures of approval'. It's an important concept for response marketing.


We’ve found that clients that email or mail very frequently it’s easy to beat ‘the control’. Almost every major new pack or email we send works better than the last – by how much depends a lot of how good a pack it is. With clients that mail infrequently, if they have been testing for some time, it’s more difficult to beat the control. If you mail frequently, change it up. The communications wear out with frequency just like a TV commercial. But you don't have to abandon a good pack or email completely. Save it. Test it again at a later date. Or put it into a rotation with other high-performers.


It might be time to change your approach away from mailing the same control and move towards a series or curriculum communications approach.


Contact Us

If you want to connect with us at WhiteStripe and discuss the most effective way to test into a series mailings approach for your business, or any other part of your marketing plan, please go to WhiteStripe.org. We’d be pleased to help.


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