March 28, 2005

Direct Mail 101, part II :: 22:08

So there are five of us on the Creative Team, and we're pretty much novices when it comes to Direct Mail. One of my first thoughts when I got there was how helpful it would be to have a library of their past efforts, along with test results, so we'd see with our own eyes what pieces had succeeded or failed, and try to learn from that. It took six weeks for them to assemble it, but lo and behold, we were finally sent a gigantic Power Point presentation that included their top 40 "winners and losers" of the last two years, along with their test results.

I was ecstatic, until I saw that the file came with a scheduled meeting, in which we were to present OUR thoughts on why all these mailings might have succeeded or failed, in a week.


Seriously, what do you do? You have 40 pieces of mail, various in so many ways that I just deleted a whole paragraph outlining the mind-numbing details. Think colors, sizes, phrases, tone, response vehicles, envelopes.... damn, here I go writing the same paragraph over again.

I took a breath, and decided the only way I could make sense of any of it was to use the strictest analytical approach. If any meaningful trends could be squeezed out of these things, it would be using my all-time favorite sense-making, chaos-reducing tool: pure logic.

So I drew up a chart. I went into it with a vengeance. The thing became an entity. People would drop by, especially the other four in the creative team, to see how The Chart was coming along. It soon became clear that whatever methods they'd been using so far, their puny gleanings were going to be hurled back onto the astral plane where they came from by the incontrovertible logic of my monster chart.

I was pretty far into it, when... suddenly.... a new question popped into my smoking head. A 19% lift in response is a great thing, but what numbers are we actually looking at here? 19% doesn't mean much if you can't see the actual numbers, plus, I'm nosy. Ever so helpful, the powers-that-be gave me access to the business analysts' data.

Looking at this stuff made me feel like an industrial spy. I sailed through their monster charts, searching for the 19% lift results, looking over my shoulder all the while. And then I found them. And then there was a loud sound in our cubicle: CLUNK, which was the sound of my jaw hitting the floor.

They sent 45,000 mailings of Control. They sent 45,000 of this piece to test against Control. The results? 436 people responded altogether, 38 more for the "winning" piece than the other. In the end, 6 more people bought the loan from the winning piece.

Six people, out of 90,000. And here I was feeling intelligent because of the brilliant deductions I was making from my exquisite chart, the one that a marketing manager was so impressed with she emailed me asking for a copy of it when I was done.

I tried, after that. I tried to make various people come to their senses, especially the managers. The best I got was, "Look at it this way, your job is only to convince six more people than the other." I crown that the most inane comment I've heard this year so far, and good luck beating that by 2006. The only sisterly reaction was from my lovely (and sane) coworker Bronwen, who saw the numbers, then brought her hands to her face in the same way that gal did in the movie Psycho.

We all referred to my chart in the meeting. It was tidy. It made things appear meaningful.

March 23, 2005

Direct Mail 101 :: 21:18

What — blog entries two days in a row? No... no! It can't be!

Achoo! —Wipe.

So I've been doing direct mail for the last six weeks. They have things down to a science. You wouldn't believe it. This is what they do:

They put a package together (envelope, letter, brochure, whatever crap it is you get in a junk mail envelope), and they send a mountain of them to poor unsuspecting prospects. Then they measure the response rate, based on various tracking methods, to see how well that one piece did.

If a piece does consistently well, it becomes their "control". (Think scientific control, something "neutral" or known to test against.) On their subsequent mailings, they send out the Control and the new piece in equal numbers, and measure the response rate for each. So this is my job: to understand why Control works and to design something that will beat it, so IT can become Control. And then some new sop of a designer can try and beat that, because everybody else has quit their job.

Let me get you an idea of the numbers: a tiny stupid test is 12,000 pieces. A normal, statistically significant test is about 45,000 pieces. The standard Control rollout is a million.

In my measly design experience, before this, a "big" run for a company brochure, letterhead, etc, is about 5,000.

Ok more numbers: I've heard before that a decent GRR (gross response rate) for direct mail is about 3%. Yes, that means that if 3 out of 100 people respond to a piece of junk mail, they are responsible for the success of a campaign in which 97 of the rest of us threw it straight into the trash. To make things worse, we then have NRR (net response rate), and those are the people that not only responded, but actually bought whatever the product is. I don't know what the standard success rate is on that. Let's just say it's dismal enough that I've never even heard that number. And remember, they do this because printing a million pieces and getting the standard NRR is profitable in the end (or so you hope.)

Got it? You need to study and get this so you'll understand my next blog entry. =)

OooOOOoooh, suspense.

March 22, 2005

Titles are so passé. :: 21:54

Very odd time at work right now. Especially since I announced to my boss' boss last week that I'd decided to quit (pretty much because I can't stand my boss).

I wish I could put the last 6 days in a juicer and write the concentrated version, with a little bit of yummy pulp, but the pieces are just too large. Clunk, clack, broken juicer. And anyway: I'm pulp. Too much to say that in the end means not much more than "He said, she said," and on top of it I'm coming down with a cold.

I need to squeeze some orange juice, by hand.

Anyway, I've offered to stay until the end of the project I'm working on, because the learning curve is pretty horrendous there, and I'm not evil. So that means another week or so, and then... it's back to independence and poverty. I'm really looking forward to the independence part.

By the way if you're one of the people who want tort reform, but bring up the infamous spilled McDonald's coffee incident as an example of why the system's screwed, please download this pdf, search for "coffee", and understand why you need to stop using that one. K thanks.


March 11, 2005

Body? Mind? :: 00:49

I've often thought that who you are — your personality and behavior — are mostly driven by your psychology. I'm beginning to believe that body structure may have a lot more to do with it than I thought.

I'm not saying it's either/or, just that I probably haven't given enough weight to how much your body can drive your life, in instances when you think it's your mind.

Here's where I'm coming from. I was having a discussion about depression tonight with someone who often suffers from it. I happen to know they haven't had the easiest childhood. So far, nothing new, as that cause and effect is fairly well documented. Right?

But there was something in their vivid and authentic description of what it feels like that jogged something for me. It was the detailing of the cycle, the worst part being the lack of it matching with life events. What if it IS a chemical imbalance, or something wired a bit too strongly in their physical structure, that creates the depression? I've cringed from this point of view before, thinking that psychiatrists are way too ready to prescribe drugs for problems that stem from bad life events, which doesn't address the root of the problem. I'm not saying that cause and effect never happen, but what if, in a significant amount of cases, it's the other way around? Depression tends to run in families. Does depression arise because people treat each other badly from one generation to the next, or could it also be something passed on in the genes that sets them up to be depressed, and makes them treat each other badly?

I'm giving that some serious thought now, because in fact I've found a lot of relief from attributing certain traits in myself to my body make-up, after years of blaming my mentality instead. I don't get depressed like that, but I'm the "nervous" type in every which way you can be, and have always had a hard time accepting that. A friend of mine once said about it that my body's just "hot-wired", and it was a release for me to think of it that way. I actually think my being super-ultra-mega-ticklish has something to do with it now. Too many nerves throughout. :)

The other supporting example it makes me think of is heart-rate. I've known people who have unusually slow heartbeats, and they also happen to be people who are extraordinarily relaxed. A good friend of mine told me that when he was a kid, a trip to the doctor always ended up with a battery of tests, once they listened to his resting pulse of 42 beats a minute. This man's entire personality is centered around the fact that with him, there's never a problem. I've known several people like this!

President Clinton (no, I don't know him) had the heart-rate of an athlete, but obviously his heart isn't the healthiest. Still, takes a certain calm to even conceive of being president, no?

George W. Bush's is 45.

Mine is slightly under that of a hummingbird. Now if only I could get people to stop telling me to relax.

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