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How direct mail can enhance your marketing strategy

While marketers increasingly rely on digital marketing methods, don't overlook direct mail. When used correctly, it can foster customer engagement.

Many organizations are relying on the Web to reach new customers, banking on its enormous reach in an increasingly...

multichannel world. Tactics such as inbound marketing aim to bring customers to the company by providing them with useful content. Marketing departments strive to use advanced analytical tools to provide personalized experiences to their customers. Traditional ways of marketing, such as outbound marketing, are still prevalent but companies know that it takes a mix of approaches to succeed.

Sometimes, traditional marketing methods -- such as the overlooked method of direct mail -- can still make sense for a business. Despite increasing reliance on digital methods, marketers are seeing the value of direct mail and are integrating it into their marketing mixes.

How direct mail can enrich the customer experience

Voice of the Customer (VoC) research by Ernan Roman Direct Marketing Corp. indicates that direct mail is uniquely 'shareable,' making it easier for B2B and B2C buyers to make decisions when discussing its content with colleagues. Research respondents preferred the tangible, physical nature of mailers over the impersonal nature of a forwarded email or the hassle of printing out digital messages. Receiving content through "snail mail" eliminated those frictions, a business representative said in the report.

Using direct mail as a part of a multi-faceted marketing campaign gives recipients multiple opportunities to engage with the company. For History (formerly known as The History Channel), direct mail provided a valuable collectible to its customers that further advanced engagement.

Using direct mail as a part of a multi-faceted marketing campaign gives recipients multiple opportunities to engage with the company.

As part of its marketing strategy for the program "Photo Face-Off" on HistoryAsia, the company's Asian station, History sent a series of photo postcards twice a week to media members, clients and affiliates. The campaign, which capitalized on the notion of "a picture speaking a thousand words," generated excitement for the show but also for the art itself. Each mailing featured photos and a description of the series, touting its premiere. The photos were so well-received that the network got requests from people who wanted to buy the images themselves.

History said the campaign generated $1.2 million in public relations value through interest in the series, social media mentions and requests for the photos.

"For many brands, catalogs are the single most effective driver of online and in-store sales, according to analysts and retailers," said a recent New York Times article. "Some stores, like Anthropologie, rely so heavily on catalogs that they make them their principal form of advertising. 'We don't call it a catalog; we call it a journal,' said Susy Korb, chief marketing officer of Anthropologie…'Of course we're trying to sell clothes and accessories, but it's more to inspire and engage.'"

Direct mail as part of the purchase journey

In a recent study by Econsultancy, one-fifth of respondents said an understanding of the customer journey is a key multichannel success factor. However, 57% said that they don't understand customer journeys and can't adapt their marketing mixes accordingly.

In 2013, online men's retailer Bonobos ran a small test to evaluate the impact a print catalog would have on its traditionally online-leaning customer base. The results were so promising that the company tried several more tests. It found that online tools designed to attract new customers, like display ads and emails, often have just one image or text line, while a direct mail catalog can grab consumer attention with a fuller brand story.

Now, 20% of Bonobos' first-time customers are placing their orders after receiving a catalog and those customers spend 1.5 times more than first-time online customers.

Helping build long-term brand engagement, loyalty

Homebase, a U.K.-based online home and gardening retailer, had a problem. Most of its income was generated during the spring gardening season and it needed a way to entice customers to shop earlier in the year and spend more. The company decided to try a direct mail campaign.

The campaign, called "Let's Get Gardening," contained 500,000 pieces of mail aimed at motivating potential customers to go to the company's website with a strategy that included ideas, hints, tips, tools, and checklists. The offers were valid throughout the season, making the mailer even more appealing to consumers. Homebase also created an online community for prospective customers to engage with other gardening enthusiasts.

Website traffic increased by 33% as a result of the campaign and customers spent, on average, 20% more. In addition, more than 27,000 customers completed a survey which Homebase uses to personalize its communications to customers.

Key takeaways

Promote online avenues through direct mail. VoC research shows that direct mail can help promote a company's online and social media presence. Direct mail should include the company's website address as well as references to its social media pages. "The first thing I do, if I'm looking to respond to a mailing, is look for a website to go to and do it online versus mailing back my order. I hate mailing stuff back," said a research respondent.

Timing is everything. Understand your customers' buying patterns so that you can synchronize mailings to the times they are most likely to make a purchase. Since direct mail costs more than email, choose your message frequency wisely.

Foster retention and loyalty. Analyze your customer's lifetime value to the organization. This will enable you to develop personalized mailings for specific points in the journey, thus building loyalty and increasing the number of purchases throughout the lifecycle.

Use direct mail as part of a diverse strategy. Direct mail should be used as one component of a larger customer experience to increase brand excitement and awareness. Give customers coupons at specific times of the year or during special events to stimulate purchases.

Employ analytics to track success. Establish which metrics mean the most to your company when tracking direct mail performance and its impact on other elements of your media mix.

It's time for marketers to re-examine the role, relevance and return on investment of direct mail within today's multichannel mix. Test direct mail at different points in the customer journey. If you test different mail package formats, they should be based on impact and value, not just cost.

Next Steps

Knowing your customer is the key to mobile marketing

Your old sales strategy just won't cut it today

Personalization leads to customer engagement

Is it time to revamp your digital content strategy?

Discover more about show-me marketing

This was last published in March 2015

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Has your company had success with direct mail marketing?
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Believe it or not, yes. Mind you, the mail we sent out isn't mass marketing - in fact, we rarely print more than a limited number of messages, each one customized for the person we're sending it to, and even then they're only sent to existing customers.

We've found that direct mail works best for encouraging customers to become promoters and informing them of certain new offers and opportunities. Beyond that, though, there isn't much value.
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Mass...? No. Targeted...? Mostly yes, depending on how well we've been able to target the mailing. We try to build OPT-IN lists of potential clients, people who've expressed some interest in knowing more. Some value-added is a huge help, too.

Mind you, that still returns an abysmal success rate for us - our best was 7.5% and that was a one-time event - but that's infinitely better than mass marketing where we've seen as little as a fraction of one percent. Less hate mail, too. And even then, very few OPT-OUT and those that remain are still available for an additional mailing.


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Entirely. We've instituted a year-long direct mail campaign that is driving the bulk of our business and we couldn't be happier.
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I have a bit more time to comment today as a follow-up. Our campaign is one that's based on the belief that it takes six months for a direct-mail strategy to start to pay dividends. We have just sent out our sixth card to a selected audience and the response is actually eye-opening. The phone calls and contact emails generated by the postcards - and that's all the campaign is, one postcard a month sent to 5000 qualified addresses - are picking up and we're converting them at a rate better than the regular 1-2%. In fact, if you average the response, you probably get the 2% figure because we didn't have any bites for the first couple months, but now they're coming in. The real challenge has been making the creative on the card compelling, memorable and motivational. We do a different theme and change the copy and images each month. I'm in charge of that which is a nice project. But the important thing is to always remember who the audience is and what we'd like them to do. Ultimately, for this client, we want folks to list their homes for sale with us. We are PlanterHill.com a residential brokerage in Hingham, MA. Beyond that, the added responses could be people looking to buy a property, lease an office or rent some space. It seems simple, and the payoff has been measurable, but the real challenge is putting up the resources at first and understanding you might not get anything to happen for five or six months of throwing stuff at the wall. It's been a learning experience.
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Here's what I put on another question along these lines... "Our campaign is one that's based on the belief that it takes six months for a direct-mail strategy to start to pay dividends. We have just sent out our sixth card to a selected audience and the response is actually eye-opening. The phone calls and contact emails generated by the postcards - and that's all the campaign is, one postcard a month sent to 5000 qualified addresses - are picking up and we're converting them at a rate better than the regular 1-2%. In fact, if you average the response, you probably get the 2% figure because we didn't have any bites for the first couple months, but now they're coming in. The real challenge has been making the creative on the card compelling, memorable and motivational. We do a different theme and change the copy and images each month. I'm in charge of that which is a nice project. But the important thing is to always remember who the audience is and what we'd like them to do. Ultimately, for this client, we want folks to list their homes for sale with us. We are PlanterHill.com a residential brokerage in Hingham, MA. Beyond that, the added responses could be people looking to buy a property, lease an office or rent some space. It seems simple, and the payoff has been measurable, but the real challenge is putting up the resources at first and understanding you might not get anything to happen for five or six months of throwing stuff at the wall. It's been a learning experience."
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We use our direct mail to inform, not sell. Oh sure, it's all selling,but that's not the apparent approach. We give away as much knowhow and technique as possible, leaving only one more door to approach, the final place where our sales lie. Once readers trust our knowhow, they're far more likely to accept our products.
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