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Don’t Test This … Test That!

by Stephen Godbout

Just as last week’s torrential rains gave way to brilliant sunshine, Tiffany Neill of Lautman Maska Neill & Company broke through the morning clouds with none other than Tom Gaffny, copywriter and consultant extraordinaire for DMAW’s first Wake Up and Learn of the year.

It was a who’s who of direct marketing gathered when Tiffany took the helm—and I have to tell you, if you’re looking for a morning show host for your direct marketing program, Tiffany is your go-to person. Bright, cheerful, funny and engaging—all before her first cup of coffee.

Tiffany suggested three simple ways to make sure you have a “good” test:

  1. Have a stated goal or hypothesis.
  2. Make sure your results can be repeated.
  3. Create statistically measurable segments—(Think bell curve, or ask a data nerd. They love helping the rest of make sense of what we’re doing.)

Then Tiffany shared what NOT to test. Remember, when testing you are spending money and impacting your relationship with your donors so you want to be smart about what you test.

Don’t test:

  • Script copy. Well, you can test it, but it’s tricky. Why? Because (copywriters: close your eyes), script copy doesn’t matter. What happens on a call is a unique, one on one relationship that is impossible to duplicate.
  • Seasonal Tests. If you can’t replicate it or roll out with it year-round, why test it?

Tiffany also offered ideas of what you “don’t want to NOT test.” Following me here? Among them, do test:

  • Price points. Give your donor or customer the opportunity to buy into your organization at a level that is comfortable for them. At the end of the ask string on the reply, try testing “your best gift” versus “other.”
  • When your board chair wants to change the ask language on page one of your control to include allllllll the other great things your organization does besides the one that your donors know and contribute to. Then, show your board chair the results of the tests and ask if she or he still wants to change the copy.

Biggest takeaway from Tiffany’s segment:

Follow the results of your tests long-term. So you gain a winning control in prospecting. Follow those donors and compare them to your existing donors. Are they performing better? Worse? The same? Keep in mind with any tests, if it wins and you roll out with it, you have changed the relationship you are having with your donors, not just now, but down the line as well. Follow it to make sure you have changed things for the better.


And then came Tom Gaffny, who according to some witnesses, actually parted any waters that had yet to recede.

Tom opened up with his observation of the tests that make the most difference are the ones that benefit the recipient. Which led to Tom introduce the one test that always works

… multiple live stamps on the outer envelope, even if it’s for non-profit rate postage.

Don’t believe him? Look at his test results:

  • One charity lifted net revenue 92%. Another 51%. And another 44%.

Then Tom shared 5 Testing Ideas YOU Should Explore:

  1. Outer Envelope Test: When designing these tests think, “What would your outer carrier look like if your life depended on it getting opened?” In Tom’s extensive experience, blind or simple outer carriers that look like they came from your Aunt Pauline work best. And handwritten fonts are good, but make them realistic—e.g., 26 point font.
  2. The Message Device: As a copywriter, I had to agree with Tom when he said, “On the first day, God created the letter.” But even the sun shines in many different ways all over the world. Your appeal doesn’t have to be a letter. Try testing a billing statement, greeting card, index card, e-mail, etc.
  3. Bigger Offers: If you got it, flaunt it. Are you including a first class stamp on the reply? Show it on or through the outer carrier. If you’re making an amazing offer no one could pass up, put it on the carrier. Play with match language. Instead of doubling a donor’s gift, what if it quadrupled?
  4. Strategic Tests: Not all tests involve creative. Consider price point testing. And instead of offering a standard premium, try testing a “Free Surprise Gift.” Who doesn’t like free (pleasant) surprises?
  5. Making Your  Mail More User Friendly: Try a larger font on your control, going from 4 to 6 pages and adding photos. Anything you can do to make it simple and clear for the donor or customer to respond and engage with your organization.

Biggest takeaway from Tom’s part of the show: Make sure your tests are donor centric. Ask yourself, “Is test for the donor? Or me?” If the donor’s not involved, you’re wasting time and money.


StephenStephen Godbout is a freelance copywriter with fourteen years direct marketing experience.  He can be reached at