A Penny-Wise Radio Test: A Strategic Guide to Allocating Your Test Dollars

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So many companies succeed on television and then apply their "DRTV Test Mentality" to testing radio. That generally means that they produce one spot, test it on one station for their usual TV test budget, usually $2,500 to $10,000. Then, if it fails (which is often the case with this method), the simple conclusion is "Radio doesn't work for me."

Very often, the reason for this "test failure" is very simple: their "test schedule" was managed by a radio station sales rep who knows nothing about the nuances of direct response advertising.

Every product or company has its own comfort level with radio test budgets. Products have worked with $5,000 tests and failed with $500,000 tests. But for most offers, the ideal dollar amount lies somewhere in between. Before determining, and spending your radio test budget, consider how to approach the needs of a radio test:

· Produce multiple creatives. One of radio's greatest assets is that spots are inexpensive and quick to produce. Spot costs usually range from free (not always a good thing, but stations will produce their own copy) to no more than $2,500 on the high end. With these economics, it is advisable to test at least three unique copy approaches.

There are two key reasons for this.

  1. Obviously, you want to find the optimum reason why people are motivated to call. Do they respond to testimonials? Straight feeds? Male or female voice-over talent? Celebrities? On-air personality reads? Not to mention the unique selling proposition and key sales points.
  2. You might be lucky enough to find one spot with universal appeal. Realistically, different spots will succeed on different formats. It is unlikely that the same spot will work on a Young Country (women 18-34); Rush Limbaugh (men 45-plus), FM Talk (men 18-49) and "Lite FM" Music (women 25-54). Testing different spots that skew towards each unique format can lead to wider-spread success in the long run.

· Test at least two stations and two dayparts. True story: Last year, nine different stations in Detroit were tested for a "middle-aged, female-targeted" cosmetic dentistry offer. Which format tested best? Sports. Second best? Classic rock. Had we stopped at the usual news or talk station, or tested traditional stations for that demo (such as country or soft rock), then immediately, we'd have written off radio as a failure.

Testing at least two different formats, day-parts and markets usually shows you a wider range of different results that you can learn from and expand upon. Either test an even amount of budget both places, or test a much less expensive second-tier station or network versus a more expensive top five-rated one. Remember, you only need to show that one format works. Once you do, you can then run your campaign on dozens or even hundreds of stations and networks that play that format nationwide.

· Test fire-sale rates when you can. For much of the past two years, radio has experienced a decrease in revenues. Accordingly, there have been unprecedented fire-sale deals on many top-rated stations, 20 percent to 50 percent of rate card. Obviously you can't expect to rollout consistently at these rates. For testing, however, there's never been a better time to play hardball and spread your dollars further.

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