Mike Gunderson, President, Gunderson Direct Inc.
Since I founded Gunderson Direct roughly 20 years ago, I’ve had a number of conversations where I’ve defended direct mail to digital marketers. It seems that our channel is just not as well understood as most others, so I’ve done my share of explaining.
Here is just some of what I say to help them understand how direct mail can help them.
• It has unique targeting capabilities: Cookie concerns? IP identification issues? A physical address is the most reliable contact information for prospecting. Direct mail datasets are appended with thousands of attributes—both demographic and behavioral—that are available for targeting. And you can apply AI and machine learning to model builds across numerous databases to constantly improve direct mail’s look-alike targeting capabilities.
• You can go bigger and cheaper (per impression): Scaling in digital typically means upping your bids to compete for a relatively fixed ad inventory. There is no bidding war to get into your prospect’s physical mailbox. In fact, the direct mail industry is set up to reward companies that scale, offering ever-improving manufacturing and data efficiencies as quantities increase. Scale a DM program, and your cost per impression typically drops.
• Omnichannel DM strategies can boost your response: The same data used to target a prospect’s mailbox can be used to target them digitally. Automated display (no cookies needed) and email touches, combined with the USPS’ free Informed Delivery program, can strategically surround the physical delivery of printed mailing withs additional impressions. We’ve found that these “digital surrounds” can improve overall campaign response by as much as 40%.
• Direct mail stands out: It’s often said that the average consumer encounters as many as 10,000 ads a day. Compare that to how many pieces of mail are delivered to your home each day. Importantly, ads in digital and traditional channels often interrupt your entertainment or information consumption, so they are often missed and easily dismissed. But direct mail consumption takes place away from a screen and can be reviewed at a prospect’s leisure.
• It makes an impression: People depend on physical mail to receive information from government and business institutions, making it a trusted source of communications. Furthermore, research shows that physical ads are remembered more quickly and elicit a stronger emotional response than digital ads.
• It’s a quality lead source: According to the Association of National Advertisers’ “Response Rate Report 2021,” direct mail has a higher ROI than email, social media, paid search, digital display and text messaging.
Getting Started With Direct Mail
Ready to test a channel that can help you grow and improve your marketing ROI? Here are some tips to help you.
Know Your Testing Goals And Your Dataset
A common first step is to take advantage of intent data with triggered mailings designed to move prospects down the sales funnel. Think about where an additional touch outside digital channels might make a difference in the prospect’s purchase journey. You can collect this data yourself from website visitors or add a pixel on your site to expressly generate an intent database of visitors.
Win-back and activation mailings can also be very effective to a target that has not responded to repeated emails. In these instances, you are mailing to those in your existing customer data file, so there is no need to purchase data. If your customer file has physical addresses, you have a leg up. Only have emails in your customer file? Compiled list owners can reverse append physical addresses to a good portion of that file.
Pure acquisition marketing, by contrast, requires purchasing prospect data. Data quality can be the No. 1 determinant of a DM acquisition effort’s success or failure, so compare options and add an additional layer of analysis before committing to data.
Use Strong Offers To Drive Response
Direct mail is very offer-driven. Offers need to be robust and easy to understand. Make your offer as rich as you can, especially if your goal is win-back or to move a customer through the funnel. And always give it an expiration date to add urgency—even something as vague as, “We’d like to hear from you by [date].” The same logic applies to your calls to action. Keep them simple and obvious, and show them multiple times. When you can, use QR codes for point-and-click responses that are 100% attributable to your DM effort.
Focus Content On Response
What you communicate to your prospects in your mailings should differ depending on your relationship with the customer and what you are asking them to do.
If the purpose of your direct mail is to drive a recipient to a landing page, then develop copy to motivate that action and design your landing page to promote the next step. In almost every case, your value proposition, your offer and your call to action are going to play a role in your creative. But how important are visuals to your sale? What about stats, comparisons, testimonials, rankings or other social proof? Direct mail is a physical medium. Take advantage of the prospect being able to hold and look over a mailing when they want to and at their own speed.
Avoid Missteps And Set Time Frame Expectations
Keep your first foray into the channel simple to keep costs down, but not so simple as to ignore learning opportunities. Test alternative approaches efficiently where you can. Different offers are a simple place to start. We have also seen testing a letter versus a postcard (same sales proposition and offer) perform very differently.
Direct mail’s last step is a manufacturing process. Rule No. 1 is to proofread your creative very carefully. Once it’s printed, it’s yours. You’ll also want to understand production timing before you set internal expectations. And the same goes for response times. The average delivery time for standard class mail is about a week, and we typically wait 30 days after delivery to do a topline response review. A full analysis is typically after 60 days and for long-tail sales can stretch to 90 days.
Testing a direct mail program can be a worthwhile part of every growing company’s marketing plan. Making sure you have a plan to do it right is the first step to success. Good luck and happy mailing!
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