Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising, said it best: "There are no answers in direct mail except test answers. You don't know whether something will work until you test it. And you cannot predict test results based on past experience."
What he means is this. You can take something that has worked for another real estate marketer, apply it to your own audience, and have it flop. Or it could be a huge success. The only way to know for sure is to try it and test it.
Sure, there are "best practices" you can start with, and you can learn a lot from the successes and failures of other marketers. But to get the best possible ROI on your real estate marketing investment, there is no substitute for testing.
Think of it this way. Best practices will put you ahead of 75% of your competition. Testing can help you surpass the other 25%.
And Now for the Good News
Direct mail makes testing easy. In fact, it's one of the easiest marketing mediums to track and measure. If you send 500 postcards out and get 25 phone calls about that postcard, you've just measured a 5% ROI (if we could all be so lucky!).
Advertise through radio or television, and your results are much harder to quantify.
You don't have to be an analyst or statistician to start a basic testing and measurement program for your direct mail. Here's an example of how simple it might be:
Send a farming piece using buyer's (or seller's) guide as primary offer. Use this piece for a specific period of time -- let's say two months.
Track and record all responses that come from that card. When you get an email or phone call from a prospect, ask them how they heard about you. If they say, "We received a postcard mentioning your buyer's guide," then chalk up a response to that particular card. Stop counting at the two-month mark and write down the total number of responses.
Next, adjust a single element of your mailer -- let's use the headline for this example.
Send your new mailer and track the response over the same period of time as you measured the first. Example: Out of 200 pieces mailed, postcard one generated seven responses in a two-month period. But postcard two generated 11 responses in the same period of time.
Postcard two is the winner (or the "control"). And because you only changed the headline, you know specifically what led to the increased response ... a stronger headline!
Toss the weaker headline, keep the stronger one, and repeat the process with a new "challenger."
Now continue this one-element-at-a-time method for other parts of your mailer. Test the layout, the wording, the offer and the list. Pretty soon, you'll have a combination of best headline, best graphics, best layout ... best everything. Run it until the wheels fall off!
"But how do I know which card somebody is responding to? Maybe they've just held on to card number one for a long time and are calling in response to it (instead of the current version)."
Easy. Just place a small code in the corner of each piece to allow for tracking. Example: Code 144 equals postcard one. Code 155 equals postcard two. When a prospect calls in response to your postcard, I can practically guarantee they have the postcard in hand (or nearby).
Then you simply have to ask, "I hope you don't mind my asking, but I like to track my postcards to see which ones have been delivered properly ... is there a number in the lower left corner of the card?"
This is a basic but reasonably effective approach to testing. I won't go into the weeds of statistically valid samples, because it's beyond the scope of this article. Just know that you have dozens of ways to track responses. Where there's a will to test, there's a way to test.
Use your imagination. Keep it simple. And above all else, be consistent.
If you want to learn more about testing (and about proven advertising techniques in general), I recommend a book whose name says it all: Tested Advertising Methods, by John Caples. To go the free-information route, just type "how to test direct mail" into any major search engine.
Brandon Cornett has worked as a marketing manager for a direct mail company serving the real estate industry since 1986. He now dedicates his time to helping real estate professionals improve their marketing. His "Modern Guide to Real Estate Marketing" and his free newsletter are available at: http://www.ArmingYourFarming.com.