I noticed today that PBS is going to pre-test three possible science series by streaming them first online on PBS.org and gauging audience reaction. Eventually one will make it into production.

This reminded me of a question I've wanted to ask our readers …

Has any nonprofit marketer out there actually pre-tested a direct mail theme, audience, offer or creative approach against specific alternatives by trying them online first, spotting a winner, then moving it successfully into the direct mail medium?

Commercial marketers claim they do it all the time.

I'm not talking about something as broad as: “Hey, we're raising a lot of money on the XX issue online, let's try a mail piece on the topic.” Rather, I'm talking about a structured online pre-test by a marketer looking to predict a direct mail winner.

E.g., the e-mail lead featuring the ocelot beat the lead featuring the bog turtle hands down. Let's go with the ocelot in the mail. Or, focusing on asthma worked better than focusing on more comprehensive health impacts in our clean air appeal. Or, a dollar string starting at $35 out performed one starting at $25 online, let's go with $35 and up in the mail. Or, assuming you have pertinent data appended, our online appeal bombed with males, but did great with females, therefore …

I can think of reasons an online “winner” might not succeed as well in the mail — different audience profile (even if targeting the house file), timeliness factors, different “histories” in terms of prior messaging to the audience. Still, it would seem intuitively that a clear “loser” online would not be likely to score big in the mail. Might the converse be true?

But theorizing aside, has anyone actually tried online pre-testing in practice? If so, we invite you to share your experience with The Agitator … and thereby the universe!

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