Test Your Advertising for Bigger Profits

ď"Does it present a strong benefit? Or does it just try to be cute?"

by Michael Cooney

How can you get more sales without spending more on advertising? Make your present advertising work harder! Too often I've heard the comment "well, I ran an ad and it didn't work." Now you can learn how to make it work.

Effective advertising in all forms, and in every media, requires refinement through testing. In fact, testing is a process that once begun, should never end! For maximum profits, you'll want to continue testing even when you have advertising that is profitable. That's because if you always keep trying to beat your best advertising, you'll always be improving your advertising's profitability. Sound good? Let's begin.

First, an important principle: test just one variable at a time. If you try to test two variables, such as the headline and the offer, and you get a bump in sales, you won't know which change produced the bump.

Start with the headline

In print advertising, start with the headline. Your headline is the ad for the ad. The more compelling your headline, the more your prospects will want to read your ad. The logical place to begin creating a compelling headline is simply to ask yourself what is the greatest benefit your product or service provides. Use that benefit as the basis for your headline.

Next, there are a few ways you can begin testing your headline. One is to ask your contact at the publication if they can do an A-B Split. This simply means that as the newspapers or magazines are printed, half will contain your ad version A, and half version B. Otherwise you can alternate versions A and B with successive issues of the publication.

You also need a separate identifier for versions A and B. As calls or orders come in, the identifier will let you know if the response is from version A or B. You can use different phone numbers, or different contact names, or different department numbers in the return address, and so on.

Does this kind of testing work? Absolutely! It is common to find that, all else being equal, one headline will out-pull another by 20 percent, 50 percent, 100 percent or more. Occasionally much more.

In the next run of advertising, you would drop the loser, and test the winner against a new headline. If you keep trying to beat your previous best, the payoff will come. It does, however, take diligence in tracking the results.

Other variables and media

After you have created a winning headline that is tough for you to beat, itís time to move your attention to other variables. Here are some you can test: long copy vs. short copy; the offer (buy five, get one free, etc.); payment methods; price and pricing structure; photo vs. no photo with more text; two color vs. black and white; four color vs. black and white; ad size (quarter page, half page, etc.); and ad position (above the fold in newspapers, inside or back cover in magazines.

Usually, color out-pulls black and white. It also costs more. Therefore, depending on your product or service, it still pays to test and make sure the added profits outweigh the added expense. The same applies to the other variables mentioned. It may seem obvious that one choice is better than another, yet you wonít know for sure until you test and track the results. Additionally, youíll learn a great deal by testing that will serve you well in the years to come.

In radio and television, testing principles are similar. However in those media, you have additional decisions to make and variables you can test such as time of day, frequency, and talent (who does the voice?).

One way you can start is by paying close attention to the ads you see every day. As you look through your newspaper or magazine advertisements, ask yourself if the headline is compelling. Does it present a strong benefit? Or does it just try to be cute? Look at the offer. Can you think of a better way to phrase or structure it? If you take notice of what is around you everywhere in the media, you'll soon develop a sense of what probably works and what doesn't. Those observations, in turn, can help you get off to a stronger start when you begin testing your advertising. And you will be testing your advertising, wonít you?