Direct Mail in the Digital Communication Era

Posted on by Grant Johnson

With increased efficiencies in manufacturing, along with the ability to hold ever-increasing content due to technology (think video chips that can hold hours of content used within the mail piece), direct mail is still a viable and critical component in multi-channel campaigns.

However, with the advent of these advances, keep in mind direct mail basics in order for you to garner the greatest ROI possible.

1.    Understanding your data will prove most beneficial.

You can have the coolest, most innovative mail piece, but if it goes to the wrong audience, it is just wasted money. Data needs to be the driver of your marketing decisions when you use direct mail. Lose the mass media mindset and know that all segments are not created equal, and vary your communication accordingly. Big data today means more opportunities tomorrow for direct mail.  Work with a list broker to help you discover your data universe. Profile and model your customer data. Many spreadsheet programs/ direct mail software are a great start, or call up direct mail folks, data processing firms, or even printers who specialize in mail, they are almost always happy to help.

2. Copy is paramount.           

Know that direct mail is a copy driven medium. Copy creates the emotion. We all know that emotion outsells logic. Invest in great copy. It will pay you back. If you want to succeed, after you have figured out your data—both for customers and prospects—test copy messaging to help improve results. Do people prefer long copy or short copy? They prefer well-written copy that speaks to them and creates relevance. Your copy needs to be as long as needed in order to tell your story effectively and elicit a response.

3. Vary your copy to the segments you find.

Segmentation is here to stay and it will only become more critical to your marketing success. Thus, lose the mass media mindset and understand your prospects and, even your customers, are broken into distinct categories. The key is marketing relevancy, and data + copy that speaks to each segment wins the sale. Digital printing and more sophisticated software and printing personalization capabilities make hyper-segmentation much easier today. Work with your data processing firm and printer to figure out segments and variable data capabilities.

4.What’s your offer?

If you can, make an offer and always test your offers. Most people assume that their best offer is the most successful. This is seldom the case. Your offer must be credible, believable and compelling enough to get the reader to react and respond. Offer tests are interesting because they allow us insights into what will motivate someone to respond. If your offer is too good to be true, people will not respond. The key is to find the best offer with a balance between credibility and response; and that means good, legitimate prospects from your mail. A great offer that produces poor prospects is often more costly than no response at all.

5.    Timing

Keep in mind the timing of your mail piece and if what you are selling has any seasonality to it as far as sales trends based on history. If all your competitors’ mail at the same time, can you mail sooner or later to stand out? Have you tried a multi-tiered mailing approach?

6.    Competitive factors

Know what your completion is doing. Check out their website(s), blogs, search for their digital ads and position yourself for success by differentiating your company, product or service from them. If you want someone to switch to you and you are offering up the same incentive, or less, they are not likely to buy what you are selling.

7.    What format is best?

As a rule of thumb, letter packages tend to work better for prospecting. You can use self-mailers and post cards with more confidence to customers and past customers as they already know you and you have likely established credibility with them. The old wisdom is that the letter sells and the brochure tells in direct mail. Keep that in mind. If in doubt, test formats after you have tested data, copy and messaging/offers.

8.    Multi-channel approach and testing

Increasingly direct mail works best as part of an integrated, multi-channel measurable marketing campaign. Use your digital work to help define what’s working and what is not. Then, use that data to test in direct mail and determine if it translates well—into more business—for you on the printed side of things with direct mail. That’s an intelligent approach to follow.

Direct mail has seen up and downs in the marketing planning process. Understanding its power to help close the sale, differentiate yourself and contact folks in an old, effective channel that your competition may have overlooked is reason enough to add this time-tested strategy to your marketing mix today.

Grant A. Johnson is president and CEO of Brookfield, WI-based Johnson Direct & Digital.


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