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Direct mail still lives, but these 5 mistakes are deadly

Posted by Tom Power on January 19, 2016

I read the news today, oh boy
About a channel that had passed away
And though the news was rather sad
Well, I just had to laugh
I saw the epitaph:

Direct mail’s day had come and gone
It didn’t notice that the times had changed
A crowd of people stood and stared
They’d heard of print before
Nobody was really sure if it had ever worked at all…



OK, it’s a stretch, but you get the picture. There’s a bunch of folks out there who contend that direct mail’s heyday is over, that the Internet has made it as obsolete as stone carvings and town criers. The thing is, the facts don’t seem to agree.


Direct mail marketing spending in the United States was expected to total $45.7 billion in 2015, up from $44.9 billion in 2010, according to Statista, an online statistics portal. What’s more, in a 2014 survey, 22% of respondents said they would be likely to make a purchase in response to a direct mail promotion, compared with 16.2% who said they would be likely to make a purchase in response to an email. And according to the CMO Council, 79% of consumers said they would act on direct mail immediately, compared with 45% who said they would respond to an email straightaway.

That doesn’t sound to me like a marketing channel in decline. Having said that, it’s not hard to see how companies that fail to follow direct mail best practices might conclude it is the channel’s fault that response is poor, not their execution. But “execution” is the right word to use if you are literally just mailing it in with your direct mail efforts, because chances are those efforts will be dead on arrival.


Following are five common mistakes that companies make in their direct mail programs and how to make adjustments that can lead to successful campaigns.


1. Not providing enough information
One of the core direct marketing best practices is to make sure you provide all of the necessary information to get the target to “yes.” This is why a direct mail best practice is to include a letter and brochure in each package, presenting redundant information in different formats. Don’t assume that no one will read an entire direct mail letter, or that readers only review the brochure. The direct mail letter should also present the information in two different ways. The direct mail should include full content in paragraph form in the body, with key bullets called out in either the right-hand column or within the letter itself. This allows the audience to read the content however they prefer, either in-depth or by scanning.


2. Letting direct mail go it alone
While direct mail is growing annually, and overall response rates remain steady, it doesn’t perform on its own very often. According to ExactTarget, two out of three people who receive direct mail make a purchase or also engage in a different marketing channel. It is a best practice to run your direct mail campaign in concert with an email and landing page companion campaign.


3. Mailing to your entire universe
Targeting is the number-one driver in delivering a successful direct mail program. Many marketers still aren’t leveraging predictive modeling and other targeting techniques to ensure effective spending of marketing dollars. This is one of the key reasons that direct marketing programs fail. Predictive modeling allows you to target those most likely to respond, which include those who have engaged with your company previously, thus increasing efficiency and eliminating waste.


4. Failing to personalize direct mail communications
A study Jacobs & Clevenger conducted showed that personalized information, including personalized URLs (PURLs), empower and reinforce direct mail communications. A direct mail best practice is to leverage segmentation and targeting to improve relevancy. Generic direct mail packages without personalization have been proven to be not as effective and produce inferior results compared with packages with meaningful and accurate personalization.


5. Not providing enough ways to respond
There is a misconception among many marketers that most recipients prefer to respond through a landing page and therefore they don’t need to provide a phone number or printed response device. The fact is that users want and expect options on ways to respond. We still find that about 20% to 25% of target customers will respond using the printed response device, such as an enrollment form that they mail back. The printed response device in direct mail serves as both a physical and subliminal reminder to respond. A direct mail best practice is to provide a printed response mechanism, a phone number and a web link/URL.




Topics: Direct Marketing

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