IT or MIS? The Answer Is in the Test

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If database solutions firm Hot Data, Austin, TX, would have stayed with the funny mailer chosen in its focus groups before dropping its business-to-business direct mail program, it would not have had anything to laugh about. Instead, however, with the help of Lyon Advertising, also of Austin, - and a little testing - it went with a simple, to-the-point mailer, and the last laugh is in the results.

"I don't trust focus groups when it comes to direct mail," said Ellis Oglesby, marketing director for Hot Data. "We ran these mailers past six different focus groups, and every group said that the humorous piece was the best. If we had launched a 250,000-piece mailer based on that information alone, we would have missed a lot of sales."

Oglesby's most recent experience with testing reveals a quintessential truth about the direct marketing industry: You don't know until you wield the tools of the science. And you can't make informed decisions until you have real analysis in front of you.

Hot Data said it recently tested two different offers for database products using two different creative executions for a total of four different pieces. "We dropped 5,000 of each," said Oglesby. "That gave us a sizable sample. And based on the testing, we eventually dropped 250,000 mailers nationwide."

He said the simple, to-the-point "Fill-in-the-Blanks" mailer pulled more than twice as much as the funny but far less performing "Wrong Data" mailer showing everything from ex-convicts receiving credit cards, to Mary Kay representatives arriving at college fraternity houses.

"I think the lesson here is about humility, not humor. You're not smarter than the market. You have to remember the importance of coming up with the best ideas you can, and then let your prospects decide which ones you use."

Oglesby said the company now knows - based on facts, not opinion - who its best prospects are, where they are and what they want. He's also used the information to begin developing a new line of products that he's confident will be very popular.

Oglesby also confirmed something else in his research: Sales reps and sales managers generally make the purchase decision. It's not an IT or MIS decision, as one might expect.
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