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Direct-Mail Testing
ILLUSTRATION: MARK FISHER
Q.
I understand the power of A/B testing, but what factors should I be assessing to ensure that our pre-show mailers are as effective as possible?

A.
Direct mail is a cost-effective way to get your message to the masses and then lure those people to your booth. But all of your efforts are for naught if you don't at least occasionally test your mailers. In fact, testing, revising, and testing again should be an ongoing tool in your exhibit-marketing arsenal. Since you already understand the basics of A/B testing, here are four factors to assess when evaluating your mailers.

➤ Attendee segments. Unless you're targeting every single person at each show at which you exhibit, you need to determine the target market for your mailings, as blasting out correspondence to anyone and everyone is a waste of time and money. So cull the show's attendee list and your internal database to identify top prospects, and then divide this new list into groups according to demographics, job titles, buying power, or whatever factors fit your objectives.

Next, test out various messages, timing, offers, etc. on these groups to determine what works best for each. For example, CEOs – or their administrative assistants – may regularly take notice of high-value, creative mailers sent a week before the show, while consumer-level attendees might respond best to message-oriented postcards sent multiple times in the months leading up to the event.


➤ Offers/Activities. Test multiple offers and calls to action, including everything from visiting your booth for a specific prize to simple requests to preschedule meeting appointments. For instance, if you offer a show discount for purchases signed on site, does purchase volume increase? Or if you merely provide product info with a request to set an at-show appointment, is that enough to prompt action? And remember to test a variety of these offers across different segments.

➤ Packaging/Creativity. Does a "stealth" envelope (i.e., one whose contents aren't easily discernible) deliver better results than one that highlights the offer? And what about mailers sent in boxes or uniquely shaped packages? Are these more or less effective? Continuously test your options, as even successful selections can lose their luster over time.

➤ Timing. When and how often should you send mailers in relation to the start of the show? Do your segments prefer a high-value, one-and-done campaign sent two weeks before the show, or are certain segments more responsive to multiple, perhaps lesser-value missives distributed at various intervals – maybe one month, two weeks, and two days prior to the start of the event?

Direct mail can be either a powerful tactic or a money pit into which you blindly pour your dollars. By continually testing your mailers, you can better determine which tactics generate the largest return on investment with each targeted market segment.


— Doug and Polly White, founders, Whitestone Partners, Midlothian, VA
Help Wanted
Send your tough questions about exhibiting to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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