January 9, 2015

One of the most important lessons I learned from Dick Benson, maybe the smartest man who ever lived about the science (and art) of direct mail, was to spend more time on lists.

And to this day, I teach about the importance of list research and segmentation as a cornerstone to direct response marketing success, online or offline.

But another maxim that Dick drilled into me was the notion that “no mailer (marketer) tests enough.”

I think if Dick were alive today he would be excited by the fact that many of the most common online marketing techniques have enabled all of us to test like crazy…and inexpensively.

I think he would see a new problem…one that I see a lot…

He would ask:

“Do you understand statistical significance enough to call the winners of your tests accurately?”

“Statistical significance” is not the topic I want to talk about today…I’ll just get agitated if I share the story of the marketer who told me that “12 orders vs. 8 orders on an A/B split on a $97 offer gave us a winner.”

Oops… just told you the story…better talk about something else now…

What I really want to talk about today is making sure we are testing enough AND testing the right things.

I like to combine Dick Benson’s “no mailer/marketer tests enough” with Gordon Grossman’s “don’t make tiny tests.”

Gordon was another mentor of mine…the architect of Reader’s Digest in the 1960’s and one of the originators of the sweepstakes (Groupon and others owe a debt of gratitude to Gordon).

Testing a lot…AND testing the things that can give us significant lifts in response, revenue or profit (or a combination of all of those)…is what it is all about.

I talked about this critical concept at the “Titans of Direct Response” (BTW – be sure to see my special announcement in the P.S.).

In my opening session at “Titans” while discussing one of the key pillars to becoming extraordinary (“Always Have Insatiable Curiosity”), I put this cartoon up on the screen:

While it looks like I am in favor of putting marketing people in weighted sacks at the bottom of a polluted river, it is quite the opposite.

I used the three marketing geniuses in those sacks to create my “Direct Marketing Success Formula”:

“I could sell this” is curiosity (and the importance of dreaming)…

“It could work” is optimism…

“Numbers. I need numbers” is measurement

Without this formula, companies like the one I helped build (and so many others in direct marketing) would spend more time strategizing than doing.

Thank goodness that is not the case.

Failing fast and moving on to the next test is my preference over not testing because “it’s not ready.”

Of course you always have to assess the downside risks of faster tests (and more tests); but when there is a chance for a big winner (i.e. it’s NOT a “tiny test”), get it out there.

I believe people who tell you they are perfectionists are really people who are afraid to fail.

In direct marketing, where everything is measurable and containing costs is always part of the equation anyway (since everything has to eventually pay out), there is no such thing as “failure.”

It’s either education…or breakthrough…

My experience has taught me that you can often have one success out of ten and that one winner pays for the nine failures many times over.

And I promise to tell you about my biggest blunders of the last 30 years in a future post…they were doozies…and I am so proud of all of them!

In your marketing brainstorming meetings, always have a spirit of “there is no ‘no’” when it comes to new ideas and keep the beach ball in the air as long as possible when deciding what to test.


Curiosity (dream) + optimism + measurement = Direct Marketing Success

Since you know you aren’t going too far down the road without numbers that make sense, risks might be lower than you think…that’s why I love direct marketing so much.

Let me give you three examples.

Example 1

If we stopped testing magalogs in direct mail after our first dismal failure, we never would have figured out how to make the format work.

Now they’re one of the most successful formats in direct mail…a format we have mailed in the hundreds of millions.

In fact, Dick Benson said to me after that first terrible mailing:

“Self-mailers (like magalogs) don’t work in direct mail…but you, Brian, should keep testing magalogs. You have a longer story to tell about an unknown (non-household) brand so it’s a logical format. It may be high risk but it is also high reward .”

And if Gordon was part of that conversation, he would have said, “Those are not tiny tests…”

Example 2

If we thought direct response television wasn’t for us after multiple failures on TV, we would have missed out on creating an incredibly lucrative  infomercial business which was one of our greatest success stories ever…I chronicled that entire process in a previous post entitled,  “How my insomnia led to over $200 million in sales.

Example 3

If we continued to only create books from our own content, we would have run out of content…and lost an opportunity to create one of the most successful book marketing operations in the history of direct mail. That story is detailed in, “Hanging out at Barnes and Noble with a hand truck.

While these examples seemed logical at the time (and even today!), they also had all of the elements that create direct marketing success:


Another way to express it:

“Throwing spaghetti up against the wall” (which sounds a bit negative and random) is another way of saying,  “how can we test a lot of new things quickly and intelligently… with an eye on hitting a home run every time…but being happy with singles and doubles too.”

It drives me crazy when I see companies spend too much time on planning and not enough time on doing.

Using the disciplines and eternal truths of direct marketing, where everything is testable and measurable, testing aggressively (and not stupidly) is the only game worth playing.

Spaghetti against the wall can get messy…but keeping it in the pot waiting for the water to boil when there’s no fire under it kinda sucks.

And it’s not much fun either.

And you may also go hungry…

When testing, think education (“what will we learn”)…or breakthrough (“what will we create that’s big, beautiful and profitable”)…or both.

Now that’s fun.

Until next week,


P.S. Many of you who weren’t able to make it to my Titans event have been asking when you can buy DVD’s. Well, next week I will be giving you the first chance since the actual event to order “The Titans of Direct Response” DVD’s…with a package of bonuses that will blow you away. It took me longer than I thought to create the full package since I wanted to reprint/re-create as many of the giveaways from the event as I possibly could.

And because you’re on my list, I’m going to give you a nice discount on the price…just like I promised.

Please keep an eye out for the offer in next week’s e-mail. The special pricing will only be available for a limited time – then I will offer it to the outside world at a FULL price. Those of you on this list will get the best price for this incredible package as promised.

About the author 

Brian Kurtz

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