Direct mail is deceiving. Marketers often write it off as too expensive to create, produce and deliver, compared to digital advertising. But then there’s cost vs. value, the latter being a balance of cost and benefit. What marketing benefits do you value to help you reach your business goals?
For example, based on reports from my B2B and B2C clients using both digital and direct mail, successful direct mail produces higher response rates and higher close rates than digital. Direct mail also has a longer shelf life in the hands of recipients, resulting in a longer response tail. And it can produce customers with a higher lifetime value. The only way to know if direct mail will work for you is to test it.
While you’re testing, remember small details can make a big difference. I learned this from writing direct mail copy that sold or generated leads for everything from hog sperm, burial insurance and blood-letting chairs to PVC piping, designer sweaters knit in Peru and toilet tune-ups. Here are some details to test.
• Stretch It. Add a peel-off magnet, static-cling decal or other retention device to maximize the length of your direct mail response cycle. Retailers, healthcare providers and event planners understand that while this typically adds cost, it can more than pay for itself in profitable response … for months.
• Go Cross-Channel. Generate more web traffic by showcasing your URL on every piece you mail — letters, order forms, brochures, postcards, shipping boxes, etc. Give a specific reason to visit the site, then make sure you have a way to track traffic.
• Get Informed. USPS Informed Delivery is a free-to-consumer notification service that provides residential consumers with a digital preview of their household’s daily mail. For marketers (AKA business mailers), it allows you to enhance the impact of a direct mail piece with interactive elements that generate digital response.
• Time It. Check out IP targeting, reverse appending and other tools for timing the direct mail and digital delivery of reinforcing messages to the same recipient. For example, within days of clicking on an Away luggage Facebook ad, I received a postcard from them with a 20 percent discount not found on their website. According to Joel Hornbostel with NextPage, “When IP targeting is paired with direct mail, conversions can significantly increase.” It can lift campaign response rates as much as 30 percent, 75 percent, even 200 percent.
• Ramp Up Relevancy (and Response). Whether you call it personalization, customization or variable data printing (VDP), the impact of individualized direct mail is more conversions. Just keep it relevant to the recipient. Not creepy.
• Request Referrals. Referral programs work for both B2B and B2C marketers, because customer-referred prospects convert at a higher rate and lower cost than other prospects. Ask for referrals in letters, as well as on order forms, blow-in response cards, statement stuffers and bounce-back package inserts.
• “Try It, You’ll Like It.” Direct mail enables you to address head-on one of the biggest buying objections, “I don’t believe it!” It allows you to put a free product sample or swatch in your prospect’s hands. Over the years, I’ve seen this tactic successfully used to sell everything from financial newsletters, consumer magazines and Asian skin care products to veterinary syringes, alpaca sweaters, cardboard shelving and faux leather jackets.
• Put a Dot on It. Inexpensive dot-whack stickers allow you to test offers, draw attention to deadlines, drive website traffic, even correct typos already in print. Use them on outer envelopes, letters, order forms, catalog covers, statements, packing slips and shipping boxes.
• Encourage Sharing. Increase the impact (and impressions) of a mail piece by attaching a repositionable routing slip to encourage pass-along sharing. Or add an insert addressed to a decision-influencer who isn’t on your mailing list. Tactile sharing not only stretches the value of your investment in postage, it also has higher impact than digital sharing. NOTE: Studies show people retain what they read on paper better than on a screen, because: 1) content on paper is more intuitively navigable, 2) it facilitates better mental mapping of information, and 3) reading on paper drains fewer cognitive resources, making retention easier.
• Transform Transactions. With many consumers still preferring ink-on-paper account statements and invoices, use them as opportunities to build customer loyalty and get more for your postage dollar. Say thank you, extend preferred customer offers, cross-sell relevant products and services.
• Mail More for Less. Work with mailing service providers who have postal expertise to get the best discounts. (At the same time, don’t overlook the value of something like live postage — even First Class postage — if it can cost-effectively help reach your marketing objectives.)
So take my advice and don’t let the cost of direct mail deceive you. Test it. Used strategically, direct mail can be a solid marketing investment.
Final Note: After 20 years of writing for Target Marketing, this is my last column. I’m grateful for the many readers I’ve met along the way and for my 20-years-worth of awesome editors including Melissa Ward, Thorin McGee, Alicia Orr, Hallie Mummert, Lisa Yorgey Lester, Ethan Boldt and, of course, Peggy and Denny Hatch. Keep reading (and writing)!