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Why a Control Is Crucial

Posted by Brian Jones on September 6, 2022

Your control.
The unique marketing juggernaut that delivers consistent results, more sales, and higher revenue time and time again.

In other words, it's one of the highest-performing campaigns you've produced to date.

That's precisely why...

That's why you want to take great care to keep this killer combination of elements (the images, the art, the copy, offer, format, etc.) intact. And to be clear, the word "control" can apply to any channel that generates response, from direct mail, to print, to radio to digital.

A Control Is Like the Best-selling Dish at a Restaurant
Say you're a restaurant owner. On your menu, you have a best-selling pasta dish. A dish that you came up with after years of testing and experimenting. This dish outsells everything else on your menu. And every month or so, based on customer feedback and Yelp write-ups, you make minor tweaks and adjustments to continually refine and improve the taste, consistency, and presentation - making it even better than before.

But then a chef in your kitchen decides he wants to make something else. He wants to stop serving your popular pasta dish and replace it on the dinner menu with an exotic sushi entrée. Crazy, right?

Well, you should have the same mindset when it comes to your marketing. You want to keep a control as your benchmark creative. You've invested time and resources on market research, strategy, and creative and you've perfected your "recipe" - so why would you swap it out for an unproven "sushi" dish - or rather a new untested campaign? Just because it's new? That's not a great reason.

Fresh and new is good - but you must test vs. the control

Test and learn.
Test and learn.
Test and learn.

If you want to try something new, great. But you need to test it against your control. And you want to make sure the new concept uses the same offer and components as your control. Or you can use the same creative and change up the offer or copy. Or you can keep all the components as is and just try to upsell consumers on a buckslip or insert.

The point of all this is to see what moves the needle. What change or modification generates a higher response rate... more leads... more conversions, etc. Many times, the control will remain the control. But, on those glorious occasions when you do find a new way to make the package better, stronger, and faster at generating sales, then, of course, roll out the winner.

The reason you establish a control in the first place is to garner consistent and verifiable results. But you have to continue to test against it. That means testing copy, messaging, photography, and art, or your offer. The ultimate goal is to keep improving it.

2022_08_01CAUTION: If you change too many elements of the control, you make it almost impossible to tell exactly what made the difference. When you look at your results, you're simply guessing what it was that made the difference. That's a tough way to generate the best return on your marketing investment (ROMI). In short: smart, strategic testing tells you what's working and what isn't.

Freestyle Marketing
What happens when you test without establishing a control first (i.e., freestyle marketing)? Well, you're left wondering:

  • What if we had a solid benchmark to test against - and refined it from there?
  • What learnings and insights would we have gotten from each test?
  • How much higher could the sales numbers have gone?

Sadly, you would never know.

Disciplined Marketing
Controls are crucial to your marketing success. A control sets you up for the best possible response rates, sales numbers, and gross revenue. Because as you test, learn, and refine, the control grows into a super control that outperforms all other creatives. Best of all, you know for sure what copy resonates more... what photos or icons attract more... which offer works better... which format consumers prefer... and more.

And that's what we're striving for: Better response, better conversions, better sales, and more revenue - over the long run.

Should You Ever Retire a Control?
Well, like everything else, eventually a control simply gets stale. At some point, your KPIs start slumping and response rates begin to dip, qualified leads slow down, and sales are no longer streaming in. That's when it's time to retire a control.

But hopefully, you've been A/B testing all along the way, so you should have at least one winning creative in the mix that stands poised to become your new control.

Stick With a Winner. Continue to Test and Learn.
The old adage is true, "if you ignore the past, you'll be forced to repeat it."
So, sticking with your control and constantly testing new creative against it will yield valuable insights that serve to make your marketing even better. Compare that to acting impulsively and rolling out a new campaign for the sake of having something new out there. You'll be spending money on new creatives that may or may not generate results - and worst of all, you won't know why.

At J&C, we've been creating controls using rock-solid strategy and creative techniques built on proven direct marketing principles for over 40 years. To us, the control lays the groundwork for our client's future success.

When you need that kind of thinking, when you need to generate immediate, measurable, and improved response, turn to the experts who have been using proven direct mail techniques to drive response, revenue, and ROI for clients for over 40 years. Contact J&C 

Topics: Direct Marketing, Direct Mail, Creative

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