Making the Marriage of E-Commerce and Direct Mail a Profitable One
Take a scroll on your Facebook or Instagram feed and you’ll be surprised at the number of Shopify stores that tout themselves as e-commerce retailers.
Selling everything from drop-shipped T-shirts sourced on AliBaba, to hats, pop-cultural tchotchkes and even sweaters with a pouch to hold your cat, the age of digital has given way to the age of e-commerce. So maybe you’re already well-versed in the world of e-commerce, being a retailer yourself. Maybe the flashmob of a dozen or more digital platforms supporting the delivery of products is not a surprise to you.
But, you may be surprised to know that in this era of digital-everything, the key to breaking through the ceiling of online leads (and your subsequent sales) doesn’t have to be as complex as AI, Big Data or learning platforms.
Would it surprise you to learn that the answer to scaling up your e-commerce offerings can be as simple as direct mail?
There’s a caveat here, obviously. The marriage between direct mail or catalog mailings and e-commerce only works when it’s strategic. So let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the useful parts of making this a profitable, long-term union.
There are a couple of “obstacles” e-commerce retailers are facing. Here’s what they look like.
You probably know this already from personal experience — but maybe the consequence of ad blockers in the context of your ad efforts hasn’t sunk in yet.
It’s something a PageFair report calls “The state of the blocked web.” And the numbers are severely affecting digital-only campaigns:
- 615 million devices now use Adblock
- 11% of the global internet population is blocking ads on the web
- Adblock usage grew 30% globally in 2016
- Mobile Adblock usage grew by 108 million to reach 380 million devices
- Desktop Adblock usage grew by 34 million to reach 236 million devices
- 74% of American Adblock users say they leave sites with Adblock walls
- 77% of American Adblock users are willing to view some ad formats
- Adblock usage is now mainstream across all ages
- Adblock users prefer standard display ads
Consumers are everywhere…and so are ads
The growing use of Adblock extensions begs the question: Why are users choosing Adblocks? During the early 2000s, spam and malware was a big consideration. But, today, the use of adblock is far simpler:
Interruptive ads are the main frustration for users and the main motivation for the use of adblock.
Yes, consumers are absolutely everywhere. Yes, using digital marketing techniques helps you cull a significant number of leads, reaching, demonstrably, a larger crop of potential customers than “traditional” marketing methods.
But, if a large number of these “potential customers” are using adblock, why are we relying on digital only? Instead, we should be questioning the conventional wisdom that says digital always trumps traditional.
Can we entertain the notion that, perhaps, digital can work symbiotically with traditional, instead?
When digital marketers say, “consumers are everywhere!” what they’re really saying is that consumers are everywhere…online. These consumers “see” and come into digital contact with a brand or a business’s product/service on multiple platforms, such as LinkedIn, YouTube, Facebook, and Instagram (social) and paid search campaigns.
But there is too much of a good thing, a threshold at which digital ads start to reach a point of diminishing returns. According to FireSnap, the average person receives more than 2,900 marketing messages a day, so this point is approaching faster than you realize.
Instead of populating and then over-saturating every online platform, being everywhere should mean both online and offline.
Local is left out
You can thank tools like Facebook Ads Manager for this one. The magical effectiveness of Facebook Ads is the ability to target and retarget audiences with progressive granularity. Suddenly, vistas of “friends of friends of friends,” and “friends who like this page,” and even “people who display x behavior” are open — across the world, no exceptions.
“Lookalike” audiences, coupled with the Facebook Pixel for tracking clicks helps businesses build a seemingly endless crop of leads. But, while online retailers are busy plugging away on digital interactions, there’s an important group of leads right in their backyards, waiting to be capitalized on and catered to:
While many experts say SEO strategy is the key to capturing local leads, this still assumes that major interactions with a brand and business are only occurring online. But consumers don’t operate in a silo, nor do they shop in one. If it takes the “Rule of Seven” interactions for a potential customer to build a relationship of trust and eventually convert into a purchaser, shouldn’t one of those touch points occur offline?
And, oh, P.S., that number “7” is actually closer to 18-20 instances.
The good news is that e-commerce has an opportunity to integrate the missing piece of the marketing puzzle: direct mail.
The ROI of direct mail
You already know about the ROI of email marketing. Welcome emails net up to 320% more revenue than promo emails and customers who purchase products through email spend up to 138% more than those who don’t.
What about direct mail’s ROI in relation to email marketing?
- Direct mail household response rate is 5.1%, compared to .6% email, .6% paid search, .2% online display, .4% social media.
- Direct mail median household return on investment is 29%, compared to 124% email, 23% paid search, 16% online display, 30% social media.
And if you think this is only confined to a certain (read: older) demographic, prepare to be debunked:
- The response rate for direct mail among people aged 18-21 years old is 12.4%
Print is tangible
When e-readers first came out, people liked to predict that books would be obsolete within the decade.
Either they misjudged just how fiercely loyal book-lovers truly are, or they completely missed the evocative and irreplaceable experience of holding the physical weight of a book in one’s hands.
Regardless, print media gives creative minds a real chance to align the brand with the message and create an unforgettable experience — one that makes the consumer sit up and take notice. Why? Because print media is a tangible good. And, with the influx of digital marketing experiences, it’s finally scarce enough to feel like a novelty.
Look at this great dimensional direct mail piece from IKEA:
Source: Leonardo Borges on Behance
In fact, direct mail’s efficacy owes a large debt to the way digital marketing has saturated the consumer: if it weren’t for this cacophony of online noises, consumers would not be thirsting for memorable in-person experiences the way they are now.
Delivering on this opportunity is the job of a direct mail and catalog consultant.
Marketing automation is coming full-circle
This should all paint a pretty obvious picture: Marketing is coming full-circle. What social media gurus and digital marketers used to pooh-pooh as a tactic from yesteryear — direct mail — turns out to be a major player in a successful marketing mix.
So you know the pitfalls and you’ve got a taste of direct mail potential. What’s next? That would be, “How to best harness one in service of the other?” To answer this, use these four direct mail strategies to keep e-commerce sales growing profitably.
Personalize direct mail
Personalization in emails and digital offers help create a curated experience that feels personal, tailored, geared towards the individual consumer. In direct mail campaigns, this feeling is heightened. There is a sense of being “chosen” to receive a piece of direct mail collateral. And it’s this perception that allows direct mail collateral to serve as a call-to-action.
There’s an instant connection that is formed between the receiver of the piece of creative (i.e. the mail) and the business itself. This connection relies on an understanding of where the potential customer is in their journey, what their history is with the brand and which offer appeals to them most.
Remember how one of the major pitfalls of online e-commerce was a tendency to overlook local leads?
Direct mail’s precision targeting helps businesses and brands fight the good fight, so to speak, on more than one turf. The key to local leads for direct mail strategies is the valuable customer information that can be leveraged from mailing lists gathered by local postal services.
This allows direct mail strategists to effectively capture the overlap of online and offline customers, and gain information on demographics such as age, culture, and income, mapped to postal codes for diversified and highly targeted campaigns.
Integrate direct mail and digital
Remember that the whole point of direct mail is to work in tandem with online marketing. In other words, email marketing and direct mail marketing are two sides of the same coin. Rather than favoring one over the other, choose to integrate the two in a supportive circuit, “pass-the-torch” sort of circuit.
Businesses that are already using email marketing, personalization, and segmentation as strategies to create highly personal, targeted product offers should then pull in direct mail as a way to enhance that experience and actually pull the customer closer to a buying decision.
This Sephora campaign relies on email marketing information to identify a customer and the offer to which they will best respond. It also calls for personalized URLs. However, the method of delivery — direct mail — serves as a direct call-to-action.
A creative TEAm
A campaign so good, with creative collateral so strong, you could consume it — in more ways than one!
That was the aim of the edible campaign set up by Hälssen & Lyon, a Germany-based importer of tea worldwide. The company produced a calendar made entirely from tea leaves and then mailed these creative pieces to partners, suppliers, and clients. Every recipient would be able to detach the calendar days (which were tea leaves), and steep them in hot water to enjoy a different tea blend each day of the year.
This innovative and creative campaign accomplished two things: First, it helped cement Hälssen & Lyon’s reputation and recognizability with something unforgettable. Secondly, it allowed receivers of the calendar to actually experience the quality of the product, firsthand. This sampling holds way more currency than simple “social proof” or being told.
Click the YouTube link to view the making-of video for this campaign.
The highly amusing and yet very sincere, positive comments viewers left for this incredibly innovative campaign are the “social proof”:
If you’re feeling inspired and fired up, great! Now is the moment to rethink your marketing mix and use these tips to turn that “ship” — that is to say, the relationship between e-commerce and direct mail — around.
But let us leave you with one last thought: Every good campaign, whether direct mail and catalog or digital, requires good, usable data upfront. This data also includes the metrics that come in from interaction and iterative testing.
While direct mail success (like any success, really) is not an overnight phenomenon, the returns for e-commerce retailers are clearly worth the time and effort.