A Short Lesson from the Classified Ad World: An Easy Approach for you to Drastically Improve Your Response Rates.


Have you ever read the classified ads at the back of a big magazine? Of course you have. Have you ever wondered how some of these small, obscure companies could afford to advertise in such publications – the ad rates are astronomical! Now wouldn’t you like to take a glimpse into the systems that these successful classified ad writers employ? This short read will have you asking yourself 2 questions – ‘Why wouldn’t I do that too?’ and ‘How can I get started, today?’

Everything from weight loss formulas to charm necklaces to culinary knife sets can be found vying for your dollar in the classified sections of nearly every major magazine. All of this found in the very same publications alongside very well known retail, electronics and health & beauty companies. There is no way these guys have the same advertising budget to spend – so how do they do it? More often than not – these ads have been running there for years. The answer is simple. They use these small ads because they are tested, they are targeted, they are measurable, and they have proven results.

These self-confident marketers play a slightly different game than the direct mail marketer, but the lessons they can teach you are immeasurable. These folks know to a penny what each ad costs them to run. They factor in things like; size of ad, number of characters available, page placement, demographic information and circulation costs. They then balance that with their message – tailoring the special product or offer to the general demographic that they hope to reach. Their copy is sharp. It is to the point. It has appeal. It evokes a response. And it has a tracking mechanism. This almost sounds like direct mail doesn’t it?

These advertisers start small and slowly cultivate their ads. They grow their circulation & periodical ad placements while they refine their ads - all while the sales come in. They are careful not to bite off more than they can chew – keeping the ad the same size, the message consistent. They are employing a formula to a system that works.  As soon as the ad pays for itself, the rest is gravy. They therefore can continue to place ads week after week, month after month with high confidence that there will always be a return on their investment and room for growth.

These folks achieve this by testing. They know that any ad which is successful can be made better. They know that just one word – can make or break a response rate.

These diehard believers in testing know that no ad goes to print on a large scale unless it has been well thought out. The message tailored, tweaked, dissected, reconfigured, disassembled, transformed and massaged over and over until a final product is ready. Ready to test that is. At that point, a second (and some times a third and fourth) variation of the same ad are created. These ads are rolled out on a small scale – maybe regionally, maybe in a split run. And then they analyze what the response is for each. Only the strongest will survive to be rolled out to a wider target audience.

The basic premise is A/B testing or bucket testing. They test an offer in which a baseline control sample is compared to a variety of single-variable test samples in order to improve response rates. When they know which one generates a stronger response – they invest heavily into promoting it on a large scale. They do this over and over again. For every 20 ads written, only one might have the desired effect. That one – while the best of the group – can still be made better. So while that one ‘good’ ad is rolled out – work has already begun on the next test batch. This is the system that allows for profits to be made and ads to be run. Even after the ‘big advertising guys’ quietly disappear from the same magazine, the classified ad marketer’s next ad iteration can be found in pretty much the same spot it was last issue.

For direct mail marketers – the lesson is simple. Through testing your mailer to at least two segment sets of your list – huge discoveries can be made, and potential pitfalls avoided before rolling a piece out to the whole list.

If you are thinking about prospect mailing, you know that you can’t afford to blindly mail an offer ‘in the hopes that’ you’ll generate response. Like the classified advertiser, you know to a penny what each piece of mail costs you to send. You also put a lot of effort into design, layout and the copy. But ask yourself – ‘Could it be better?’ Should I be saying ‘A Gift for You’ when ‘FREE GIFT!’ will generate more response.

As a direct mail marketer with a house list, you know that your list is worth its weight in gold. You know that your customers need to, and often want to be communicated with. You need to make sure that your message is appealing for all of the right reasons. You may, or may not have history to draw from – but if you do what you have always done, will always get you what you have always received. Imagine if 10% off worked 5x better than 15% off? Only testing can tell.

At Honeycomb Direct Mail, we are big proponents of testing. We believe that your past results can be made better. We believe that your current mailing should be given the best chance at success. We believe in data, and that numbers don’t lie. If you would like to learn more about how easy it is for us to get you on the A/B path, contact a Direct Marketing Advisor today. We are here to help you get the targeted, measurable results that you are looking for.

At the end of the day, it is you that are accountable to your business. Unless you are playing with a multimillion dollar, disposable marketing budget – consider the benefits of simple testing. Your results will speak for itself.

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