A wise man, Edward Eggleston, once said "Persistent people begin their success where others end in failure."
That's almost a definition of the marketing process. Put out your best effort. Wait for the result. Tweak. Relaunch. Wait. Tweak. Relaunch.
Testing helps speed up the launch-wait-tweak cycle. The goal of testing is to define and refine your materials until you have achieved the optimal presentation. The result of testing is that you get to that optimal presentation faster.
There are two philosophies to testing.
#1. Launch an almost identical package, but make one item different. Then you are testing that one element. For instance, if you mail some letters with a meter and some with a stamp, you are then testing if a meter or a stamp pulls better. Or you can test a personalized letter vs a generic letter; a closed face envelope vs a window envelope.
You can create one catalog with a blue cover and one with a red cover, but the internal content and presentation are the same. Then you're testing color vs color.
If one ad/email/billboard has a picture of a young girl and one has a picture of a young boy, but the content and presentation are the same, then you are testing the photos against each other.
You can test offers and price points to get the optimal mix of returns and ROI.
Got it? You can only test one element at a time to see if using that element enhances or detracts from your responses. If you test more than one element at a time you lose the pureness of the test and you won't be able to ascertain which change affected your results.
And of course, you need a head-to-head test to maintain accuracy. Both campaigns have to launch at the same time. Otherwise, time becomes an unknown variable, too.
If you want to move faster, launch three simultaneous tests (ie test stamp against meter against indicia). But the same rule holds: only one thing can be different from test to test to maintain your scientific honesty.
And of course, you have to maintain scrupulous records.
#2. On the other hand, you can create materials that are entirely different and test not just one specific design/copy feature but format against format.
For instance, in direct mail, you can test a #10 package against a 9x12 package or a Monarch. You can test copy about saving the whales against copy about saving polar bears.
You can test a tri-folded brochure against a bi-folded brochure, or a single sheet brochure against a multi-page brochure. You can test a 5.5x8.5 catalog against an 8.5x11 catalog.
You can test direct mail against email... or against radio, TV and cable, for that matter. You can test if ads or billboards or special events draw in more business... If an on-line catalog or a mailed catalog produces the best results... If electronic media workyou're your message... if social media has a place for you...if special events like golf tournaments or masked balls are worth the effort... if this trade-show giveaway is better than that give-away... if a PURL or an 800-number or a QR code produces the most results.
What you can test is virtually unlimited.
Why you test remains the same: to keep getting your message tighter, your presentation sharper, your ROI higher.
How you test is up to you. That's where marketing creativity — and persistence — comes to bear.
People who don't test, don't get it.
Greatness (and great marketing) is, as Edward Eggleston intimated, the performance of persistence.