We need to talk about the “D” word.
How about, “all of the above”, plus one you may not have expected: Direct mail.
If you’ve been drinking the “Kool-Aid” served up by industry bigwigs, you might think that direct mail is not only a relic of yesteryear, it’s actually a casualty of digital. But that’s where you’d be wrong.
Direct mail is far from dead. In fact, it’s an integral piece of a larger marketing ecosystem. See, digital hasn’t killed anything — it has simply enhanced functionality and cut the fat, asking marketers to get more creative.
So while direct mail works exactly the same as it did before, it looks and feels completely different to the consumer. And it’s clearly working.
The same marketers who will tell you that email open rates are down will also fail to mention that the response rate for direct mail is 37 times higher than that of email. Or, that the ROI on direct mail campaigns are almost the same as well-crafted social media campaigns but with a higher response rate.
In other words, direct mail, as part of an arsenal of marketing tools, is still very relevant.
So, what does direct mail look like in the digital age? And why does it work?
Workfront Case Study
A management software company, Workfront decided to create a nifty campaign around the idea of romantic relationship break-ups and finding a partner who was a “perfect match”.
Its direct mail segment kicked off the campaign by sending 500 “premium” prospects a bouquet of flowers along with a handwritten card. The messaging on the card included a personalized URL.
Another 1500 were sent Valentine’s cards, also directing them to a personalized landing page. Once each individual received their “mailed” component, the company followed up with an email marketing segment that referenced the mailed flowers and card.
Here are the numbers: Out of the 2,000 follow-up emails, 465 individuals responded and the software company pulled, through its lead pipeline, a total of $370,000.
***What are the key takeaways here?***
• Direct mail, when done as part of a larger marketing strategy, creates a situation that simply cannot be ignored
• However, direct mail requires support, as part of a larger framework, from other forms of digital marketing
The buyer’s journey is still present but the touchpoints along the way have changed. Interactions are multiplying and, on their path to purchase, direct mail marketing is a highly effective moment of engagement. But if there’s one thing Workfront’s example makes clear, it’s this: in order to get where it’s going and make a mark, a successful direct mail strategy requires data-driven marketing.
Harnessing Data in a Direct Mail World
To personalize its message and to narrow in on its “premium” prospects — creating a set of individuals who matched certain criteria (and so would be most likely to respond) — Workfront required the other “D” word.
The reason that digital is an enhancement rather than a death knell is because of the presence of data-driven strategies. This means, above all else, collecting data on customer demographics as well as behaviors is what should be driving marketing strategy.
Data is what informs the content of direct mail. Which messages will evoke a response from a customer, based on where he or she is in the buying journey? What should this creative try to communicate? And, what behaviors and values does a segment of customers display?
This all hooks into messaging. And targeted messages allow for a high degree of precision, giving a sense of personalization.
Today, it’s called “conversion copywriting” but, make no mistake; the techniques are still a part of what used to be known as “direct response” copywriting. Which required a lot of background market research. But the cost of these analytical tools has been greatly reduced, making them more accessible than ever. Marketers now have the opportunity to test and watch, often in “real-time”, how a targeted campaign is working.
Notice how, in the above Workfront example, there were two distinct groups who each received something, though at a different price point.
The first group was marked as “premium” and received more than just a card: They also got a bouquet of flowers. The second group, no less important, was targeted with just the card. The differentiation came not from an arbitrary pick-and-choose activity but from a segment of the population being recognized as a “warm” versus a “hot” qualified lead. In other words, one group is tagged as more likely to buy because they’re further down the buyer’s journey. In this case, their direct mail message is far more complimentary (meant to evoke feelings of goodwill) and data is what helps determine versioning among customer or prospect segments.
At first glance, automation might seem to be the one thing reserved for digital. Isn’t the whole point of direct mail to “personalize” a brand’s interaction with a customer? That’s true. But digital automation doesn’t de-personalize — in fact, with the help of direct mail, it streamlines interactions. There’s no reason a marketer has to keep tabs on several aspects of a campaign at once. In the context of a direct mail campaign, data-driven principles, hooked into automation software, would trigger a workflow.
Consider, for example, a credit card company with a lucrative offer on a rewards points system. Data would tell marketers which individuals need to be targeted, what the cost would be, what an expected ROI might be and so on. Pre-stuffed and prepared packages consisting of branded envelopes and special, personalized offers and messaging within would be then sent out to these customers. Data tells marketers this population is most likely to respond to this offer. Automation relies on this data, triggering the sending of programmatic cards or packages so a marketer doesn’t have to worry. It’s a “set it and forget it” technique.
Multiple Points of Engagement
It all comes down to this: digital marketing works in an integrated landscape.
Consider shopping at your favorite retail store. The entire action of “shopping” is not limited to either in-store or online. Customers are being primed in-store and online.
This makes the going in to shop — or staying on your mobile device to do to the same — an experience.
Through multiple points of interaction and using specific tools like user accounts, shipping discounts, loyalty rewards points, historical purchase data and more, marketers can align digital offers with direct mail incentives to act on these offers. Data collected regarding these transactions and interactions can then be analyzed and articulate the way to keep direct mail messaging and offers in alignment with digital offers.
Supporting Micro & Macro Decisions
Ever heard of a “HiPPO”?
It’s a new-fangled management term for the “Highest Paid Person’s Opinion”.
Data-driven marketing eliminates the need for guesswork. Instead, it is, by its very nature, responsive to the needs and preferences of a customer. But it also largely eliminates the need for an “opinion”. Usually, these opinions, regardless of where they come front, remain uninformed about the landscape the customer is in. In this way, a senior “expert” on a marketing team may have a conjecture. But, the only reason to follow it would be if there’s data to back up the “opinion”.
In essence, the presence of data transforms an “opinion” of what to say or how to say it through direct mail into a “decision”.
There’s a saying that feels particularly relevant here: “What goes up must come down”.
In other words, we humans are fickle creatures. We love novelty. Sometimes, the over-saturation of one thing makes it too common. But take it away and make it less common and, even if it’s familiar, we’ll view it positively.
The same is true for direct mail. What once used to be a staple is now regarded as an occasional campaign. Who doesn’t love to get mail? Clearly, this is direct mail’s opportunity to “rise” once more. And, this time, its rise is marked with less of a bombardment or over-reliance on just one technique.
Instead, direct mail is a crucial part of an integrated strategy that will soon, through the use of Big Data analytics, be able to become even more granular and global, with learning and deep insights that make for even more tailored offers.