The Next Generation of Direct Mail Is Here

By David Henkel

Marketers have heard the call to build brand loyalty and engage customers with their direct mail activities through the use of multiple media channels. Combining traditional direct mail tactics with new, interactive capabilities is a cost-effective way for every business—particularly small and midsize businesses without large marketing departments—to produce a higher return on their investment and generate business leads. Employing a multi-touch direct marketing program also offers the opportunity to gain a closed-loop system that tracks, analyzes, and measures the value of a campaign.
The scenario used to go like this: John Smith receives a piece in the mail speaking to the masses who might be interested in the product or service being sold. There is, of course, a call to action with a phone number in the hopes that John is one out the many mailed to who is interested enough to make a call to get more information. This is often called “spray and pray” direct mail marketing, and rightly so. A prayer is the only thing that might spur action unless John really wants your product or service.
But let’s fast-forward. Today John Smith receives a piece via traditional mail, or another initial communication such as an e-mail, with a personalized URL (PURL) or a QR code he can scan with his smartphone leading him to a microsite that houses the information he is most interested in receiving. Once on his microsite, John may find anything from an invitation to sign up to receive monthly e-newsletters to an embedded video to downloadable coupons for a chance to win a relevant prize.

Shortly after visiting the microsite, John will receive an e-mail response thanking him for visiting the site. Based on information John chose to share while there, he may receive an additional letter, text, or social media notification as a follow-up to the product or service he expressed interest in. Now we have created a totally different experience for him—and for the business employing a direct mail campaign to engage him.
Integrating interactive technologies into traditional direct mail campaigns allows you to receive demographic information and data on consumer behavior in real time. Additionally, using intelligent mail tracking (such as USPS’s Confirm service) enables you to receive e-mail from the Postal Service confirming the drop date of your direct mail piece. Delivery alerts make it possible for you to notify customers via e-mail or SMS to expect a personalized package in the mail, sparking curiosity.
Another component involves PURLs, QR codes, and microsites designed to let customers choose how involved they want to become in the campaign and how much of their contact information they are willing to share. Providing the option to opt in or opt out of communications creates a stronger database of engaged customers for future campaigns.
This sort of permission-based marketing can, of course, also be a source for referrals. Customers may forward links to videos and articles on their personalized landing page to their family and friends, expanding a campaign’s reach and effectiveness.

Combining direct mail and interactive strategies also saves time and money. Rather than having to pay 47 cents for a business reply card and waiting for the post office to return the information, you can direct customers to respond online, through social media outlets, or via mail depending on their preference. With so many choices to efficiently communicate and participate in a campaign, customers are more likely to say yes to the offer.
More good news is that smart direct mail campaigns just keep getting smarter. An integrated marketing program also provides the ability to populate CRM systems with information collected throughout the campaign. This intelligence indicates which calls to action and packaging drew the greatest response, information that is vital for refining future campaigns as well as helping to educate sales teams on business leads and development.
Direct mail has always been an effective form of influencing consumer behaviors and strengthening brand identity. But times have changed, and consumer behavior has definitely changed with them. Now, with the advent of easy-to-implement, affordable interactive technologies—and the intelligence we can gain from them—your direct mail campaign can be more powerful and influential than ever before.

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PURLs of Wisdom

by Beth Negus Viveiros
Why personalized URLs might be a good addition to your next mailing.

It’s common sense to include a URL as a response mechanism in any direct mail piece to give recipients a quick and easy way to get more information or make a purchase.

Increasingly, mailers are turning their plain vanilla Web addresses into URLs personalized to the recipient. “They add relevance, and they engage the customer across multiple media for a longer period of time,” says Jesse Himsworth, channel marketing manager of AlphaGraphics Inc.

Himsworth shares a few reasons you might want to dress up your next mailing with PURLs:

The Wow Factor: Having their name in the URL is a great way to grab a prospect’s attention. Combine this with customized variable text and images, and your piece just might get read, rather than immediately tossed into the recycling bin.

Better Integration: If you time your mailing to sync up with efforts in other media, a PURL can help you better integrate campaigns across multiple channels.

Measurability: You can tell if someone has visited “their” site and set up a trigger-based e-mail blast to hit right after that visit.

But remember, while PURLs are great to have in your arsenal, they’re not a silver bullet. “When PURLs first came out, people thought that the prospect’s name [in the URL] was enough to drive someone to a site,” says Himsworth. “Now, the offer is critical. It needs to be part of a strong strategy.

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Don’t Abandon Your Outbound Tactics Just Yet

by Mike Schultz and Michelle Davidson on June 2, 2010

When it comes to cost per sales lead, inbound marketing channels continue to deliver dramatically lower costs over outbound channels. In fact, organizations that primarily use inbound channels experience a 60% lower cost per lead than those that mainly use outbound channels, according to HubSpot’s The State of Inbound Marketing 2010.

Indeed, three out of the four inbound channels analyzed have lower costs than any outbound channel, the report finds. Topping the list is social media and blogs, with 63% of the 231 marketing professionals surveyed saying those channels had below-average costs. Twenty-seven percent said they had near-average costs. That’s followed by organic search engine optimization (SEO) with 43% saying it had below-average costs.

Firms save money using inbound marketing channels to acquire leads by:

  • Spending less to produce such content;
  • Generating leads long after the content is published;
  • Improving their online visibility as they build a reputation within social media networks and in the eyes of search engines.

That doesn’t mean, however, that firms should abandon all outbound marketing tactics (direct mail, email, etc.). They might cost more, but they can be incredibly effective. Some prospects and clients respond better to those and don’t even have social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook on their radar.

The best approach is to apply a mix of both. Continue to use your preferred outbound, or push, tactics—tactics that have traditionally performed well for you—but also make sure you have a strong website with quality content that is optimized for search engines.

The key is to measurably test different tactics, analyze the results, and determine which work best for you.

Combine your marketing efforts utilizing Variable Data Printing (VDP)
VDP enables customization via digital print technology. Instead of producing 10,000 copies of a single document, variable data printing delivers 10,000 unique documents with customized images and messages for each recipient. This technique is a valuable tool for increasing ROI of your marketing campaigns. Visit us online at to learn more about the VDP.

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10 Tips for Mailing in 2010

Jun 7, 2010 12:17 PM, By Bob Stein and Jennifer Deerr

Looking for ways to boost your direct mail response rates? Here’s some ideas on how to do just that, originally presented at the Direct Marketing Association of Washington List Bazaar.

1. Test an appropriate quantity.

Understand your response rate and make sure you are testing enough names to have statistically valid results. The more you’re able to test, the more valid the sample. If your offers are regional, please keep in mind the number of names available in your desired area when testing. Be sure to retest in order to ensure validity of your response results.

2. Try former buyers and expires.

If you are getting good results with active subscribers/donors/etc. on a particular list, test the formers or expires. You may have to tweak the offer, but it could open up a whole new pool of names. (And if a list has refused to let you use active names, ask for the expires—many mailers will release older names.)

3. Look beyond the datacards.

Ask to see if any special selects are available, especially if you are starting to see a drop off in results from your tried and true files. There may be a higher dollar, a tighter hotline or special source selects that may not be advertised but can still be made available. You may not get what you want or need but without asking you’ll never know.

4. Reactivate old files.

Retest a file you have not tested in a while. There are so many variables that can affect results that taking a second glance is always worth exploring.

5. Explore your merge/purge options.

Look at what your service bureau can do in the merge. Do you want to combine mail dates for a mega-merge, or can you separate the lists used by source (e.g. consumer vs. donor sourced)? What are you doing with the multis? Do you understand your merge reports?

6. When negotiating a deal, be prepared with documentation.

Do not blindly ask for discounts—be prepared to share results. Have, share and understand your mailer’s history with that list. This will equip the list manager with the hard facts that he would be able to use in negotiations. The list manager is not a Walmart employee…everything is NOT necessarily on sale.

7. Match back your results to the Web.

If your direct mail has dropped off as Web sales increased, was there a correlation? Perhaps your mail piece is sending your prospect to a new response vehicle?

8. Keep an eye on your packages.

If your sample is denied, find out why. With a little tweaking or a variation in premium, you may be approved. If there is a mail date conflict, suggest an alternate. Explore your options, especially if you have flexibility.

9. Practice reciprocity.

Be prepared to offer back similar selects on your list to mailers with whom you are currently renting and/or exchanging. They may not want or need those selects, but be prepared to make them available. If you are not currently renting or exchanging your own names, be prepared to possibly pay a non-reciprocal surcharge.

10. Have a Kum-ba-ya moment.

Cooperate with each other and help each other out. Managers and brokers can only work together if they know and understand what their final goal is. Call each other on the phone if e-mail does not get what you want accomplished. It’s quicker, it builds relationships, and you can accomplish more. There are no adversaries, only allies working together to do the best job in the best interest for their mailers and list owners.

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Talbots sees a 26.7% increase in direct marketing sales for Q1 2010

June 09, 2010

Direct marketing sales at women’s apparel retailer Talbots rose 26.7% in the first quarter to $63.1 million, which includes catalogs and Internet, compared with the same period last year. A total of $6.7 million of direct marketing sales were due to in-store phone orders. Another reason for this surge was the timing of the May catalog, which was released a week earlier this year as opposed to last year.

Talbots showed a significant turnaround in overall performance compared with the first quarter of 2009. Net sales rose 4.7% to $320.7 million.  The company’s operating income was $2.9 million, an increase of $25.1 million compared to the previous year’s operating loss of $22.2 million.

Store sales inched 0.5% to $257.6 million.

Talbots’ improvements in the quality of merchandise, coupled with customers’ willingness to buy at full price, were cited by the merchant as reasons for its strong performance.

Roxanne Meyer, an analyst at UBS, also attributed Talbots’ phoenix-like rise to marketing, an element sacrificed by many financially-pinched retailers in the early days of the recession.

“The big thing they’ve done this year is invest in marketing to support sales growth,” she noted. “It’s been a catalyst that has been absent for the last one to two years. Talbots hasn’t been in a position to spend money on marketing until now.”

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USPS' Summer Fun: The Sequel

Apr 1, 2010 12:00 PM, Larry Riggs

As it did last year, the U.S. Postal Service is looking to try discounts on standard mail postage between July and September to coax more companies into using direct mail during the slow summer months.

  • At deadline, the Postal Service was still expecting the Postal Regulatory Commission to approve this year’s summer sale by mid-April, says Tom Foti, USPS manager of marketing mail.
  • “We hope we set a good example with the first summer sale,” says Foti.
  • Specifically, the USPS will provide a 30% rebate to eligible mailers on standard mail letters and flats postage.
  • To qualify to participate in this year’s summer sale, a company must have mailed 350,000 or more standard mail letters and flats between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2009.
  • For last year’s sale, the USPS identified about 3,200 mailers that would qualify. This year, the eligible number has risen to more than 3,500.
  • In all, approximately 960 mailers took part in the program last year. They included a number of catalogers, retailers and some financial institutions.
  • “I would say catalogers and retailers were the strongest players,” says Foti. “We have heard from some customers that they saw increased response during that time period. They saw the payback from mailing additional pieces.”
  • The USPS said last year’s summer discount program generated about 1 billion mail pieces, which yielded $24 million in net revenue.

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Follow Up the Right Way

All forms of prospecting should include a follow-up process as part of the strategy. Mailings, trade shows, and networking are wonderful tactics to uncover prospects, but they will perform better when follow up is added to the process.

The average executive encounters 128 unscheduled interruptions a day. Even the most organized person is going to have trouble incorporating these things into an already hectic agenda. As a professional salesperson trying to reach one of these individuals, you must demonstrate what is in it for the recipient so he/she continues to talk to you.

What does a top executive care about? Not digital printing, variable data, Purls, aqueous coating, smart inserting, or any of the other value adds we love to talk about. VITOs, as Anthony Parinello calls them in his book, “Selling to VITO (Very Important Top Officers),” care about strategic objectives, like increasing profits, opening new markets, capturing market share, improving productivity, and reducing costs. Talk to them about those things, not about your equipment or what it does.

A VITO is a bottom line kind of person. He/she did not get to be a senior officer by wasting time. If you get a VITO on the phone, you have a very short period of time to get your point across. It should be a simple message: You and your company understand business challenges and have had success helping others solve them. A salesperson who guarantees help without a full understanding of the situation will not ring true to a VITO.

The Art of Voice Mail

I get a lot of voice mails. Most of them sound something like this: “My name is Bob Smith from XYZ Co. My number is… Please call me back to talk about using the Web more effectively.”

Suppose I think we use the Web pretty effectively already. Suppose I received 128 unscheduled interruptions that day. Suppose I have all of the activities associated with running two companies piling up on my desk. Suppose I have 16 messages in my mailbox ahead of that one. Does that voice mail tell me what is in it for me if I return the call? Stop talking about your company and speak to VITOs about what is important to them. Here is how:

“Mr. VITO, I was reading some industry press recently and noted that furniture retailers are expecting only a 0.6-percent increase in revenues in 2007. My company has been working with several other large retailers in our area and we helped them increase sales to their existing customers by 40 percent so far in 2007. Are you interested in exploring opportunities for your firm to achieve similar results in the fourth quarter? My name is… and I can be reached at… usually each morning until 9:30.”

Here are a few other tips:

  • Say the VITO’s name once, not 10 times in the voice mail. Once is enough and it should come at the beginning of the call.
  • Speak clearly and slowly, especially when you get to the phone number. Your recipient should not have to listen to the message over and over. Make it easy for them to call you back.
  • Use the number where your voice mail is located to make your calls. I often listen to voice mails on the way home from work. If I need to call someone back, the easiest thing to do is hit redial. If it goes back to your voice mail, a VITO can call back even at 10:30 p.m. and say, “I’m intrigued, call me back on my cell phone.”
  • Do not use the name of your company. If you do, the VITO is going to assume it is something he does not care about.
  • Write your talk track down, and practice it until you are comfortable with the message you plan to leave. It should not sound rehearsed, just conversational and genuine.

Kate Dunn is president and founder of Digital Innovations Group (DIG) in Richmond, Va. DIG is an award-winning marketing firm that specializes in targeted, personalized sales campaigns and collateral.

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Digital printing is smart, cost-effective

Jan Riecher, VP and GM, Americas Graphics Solutions Business, HP

Digital print production can be a turning point for marketers to increase their competitiveness and grow even while gaining cost savings and a faster ROI on campaigns. There are real, winning applications based on the tremendous benefits possible only with printing. Despite an economic forecast from NAPL, a leading printing industry association, that the overall US printing industry will suffer a decline this year, predictions from myriad sources indicate that digital color printing will see double digit growth in many market sectors, including direct mail.

Much of the momentum and opportunity is based on advanced digital press imaging and data management. Direct marketers and their printing company partners can thrive by offering direct mail that goes beyond putting ink on paper.

In one example, Presentech Digital Printing partnered with marketing firm Edifice Group to take postcard mailing applications to a new level. The “pay per sale” personalized postcards rapidly increased the automotive dealerships’ sales. Auto dealer customers pay a commission based on each car sale generated from the campaign, incurring a cost only when the campaign bears fruit.

Last year, Presentech printed one million automotive dealership postcards for the program. And the summer, typically the slowest time of the year for the firm many printing companies, was busier than ever last year because summer is when most new-car models are released.

Each card is printed four-over-four with a total of 10 or more variable text or graphic images changed on each card. The fields are based on any number of data trigger points — examples include the lease expiration, mileage or service data on a recipient’s current car, or prior sales enquiries a recipient has made to dealerships in the area. Each card also has an individual Web code that leads the recipient to a personalized Web page.

Presentech Digital Printing and Edifice originally produced the program for regional auto dealerships in the southeastern US. They are on the verge of going national as the partnership enters its second year, proof that digital print can garner real results.

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Variable Data (VDP) Makes Print Personal

Luke Teboul
VP, IWCO Direct

Our No. 1 critical recommendation for clients using variable data printing is that they must have a relevant message. Many marketers implement various kinds of geographic and demographic segmentation, but fail to make the message relevant to their audience. Second, while many people go to the Nth degree with segmentation, many of our customers tell us that this can bring the law of diminishing returns into effect. It’s possible to spend huge amounts on print by doing more segmentation and adding more revisions and controls and still not get the results you want.

Testing is the starting point and an indispensable part of using VDP, particularly with color digital print. The cost of testing is not as high as it used to be, so marketers should test as many different variables as they can to ensure that the message is accurate. Furthermore, it is the foundational elements of the project – the quality of the data, the offering, the timing and the creative – that will help you discern and establish success.

It also helps to know what you expect and to do some analysis up front to manage these expectations. Record the rate of response by phone, mail, e-mail and personalized URL to make sure the customer has the opportunity to respond with the best data. Give consumers a code they can reference when they call in to give them a sense that your offer is special and personal.

Going back to the basic elements, marketers should use a scientific cycle of testing, launching and constant refining, particularly if they have an ongoing or trigger campaign. Refine the message and alter the creative, as well as the offering and the timing. Ask yourself, “Was the piece persuasive? Did we miss our window or get the timing wrong? Did we address the pain points of the consumer?” Going through a constant cycle of multiwave mailings is a good way to check that your timing was right.

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Customer advocacy: Why do you need it? How do you get it?

Warren Hunter, chairman and CEO, DMW Worldwide LLC

When we think of customer advocacy, we often think of what we can do to be an advocate for our customers: how do we find ways to assist them? But what’s on my mind here is: What can we do to make our customers become advocates for us?

In today’s high-tech, high-touch environment, we have lost control of the dialog that takes place concerning our products, our service, our prices, our brand, and our image. Things like Twitter, “rate this” blogs and “hate you” Web sites all have given consumers the power to pretty much say whatever they want about you — sometimes bordering on slander. The question becomes, how do we turn this open conversation around so our customers become our advocates?

Remember the old pyramid of loyalty? Suspects become prospects who become customers who become clients who become advocates. A customer buys their first product from us. We then market to them or they shop on their own, buy a second product or service, and become clients. They are happy with their products, appreciate our service and value and the next thing you know they’re telling their friends. They have turned into advocates.

This couldn’t be more important than in today’s cyber world, where one or two dissatisfied customers can shout from the rooftops of cyberspace that we have somehow done them the greatest wrong. With just a few clicks of a mouse, we have become the Attila the Hun of the marketing world. While we need to monitor this and enter the dialog ourselves (more about that later), it is a very good thing if our advocates jump into the fray and become our defenders.

If you don’t think this is important or pervasive, take a few minutes to Google “I hate (fill in name of your company or industry).” You could end up spending considerable time reading about your own company on someone’s blog, watching a nasty parody about your company on YouTube, or learning how to follow the hate groups on Twitter. It can be both humbling and frustrating to see how your company or industry is being pilloried by someone who’s had a bad experience; real or perceived.

Here’s where your advocates come in. Imagine as you read those comments that you see someone take up your cause and, due to their good experience, start to turn the conversation in a positive vein. It could happen. Here’s where it pays for you to be monitoring what people are saying about you: You can actually enter the dialog — with full disclosure of who you are — and provide the cyber-whiner with a way to satisfy their problem. But be sincere. Your objective should be to actually fix what the complaint is about. It’s best to remember that the person went online with good reason, from their perspective. So you can’t just be defensive, you need to be a problem solver.

Once you have successfully solved the problem, the individual may even become your advocate. Remember, these are people who like to share their feelings and experiences. Nothing works so well as to help someone understand the issues and help them get their situation resolved in a satisfactory manner. So enter the dialog (with appropriate language for the medium), and help create advocates for your company.

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