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3 Tactics for Optimizing Direct Mail Campaigns

Though consumers don’t typically use the phrase “direct mail,” almost all of us remember watching a parent clip coupons from the weekend circulars or tearing through a holiday toy catalogue as a kid. And because it’s so nostalgic, it may be tempting to think of it as outdated — eclipsed by more modern marketing tactics — but marketers who overlook direct mail could be doing themselves a disservice.

According to a study by InfoTrends, 66 percent of direct mail is opened and 62 percent of consumers who responded to direct mail in the previous three months made a purchase. The same report states 82 percent of direct mail is read for a minute or more; in comparison, Chartbeat found 55 percent of all pageviews last less than 15 seconds. These are some compelling statistics that prove a tangible piece of mail goes a long way in the eyes of today’s shopper.

Still, the costs associated with direct mail (printing, packaging and postage) can be expensive, which means every send must be intentional. Modern direct mail strategies take costs into account, using a variety of tools and tactics to optimize their campaigns. The best direct mail pieces are integrated into meaningful, omni-channel experiences that incorporate multiple touch points.

Whether you’re jumping into the world of direct mail or fine-tuning your strategy, here are three tactics to execute for your next campaign.

1. Grab customers’ attention with personalization.

Personalization is a powerful tactic for any channel, but especially so for direct mail: in the same InfoTrends study, more than 80 percent of respondents said personalization made them more likely to open a piece of direct mail.

It’s relatively easy to personalize messaging with today’s tools, but modern personalization means more than just including the recipient’s name (though that is important).

First and foremost, the content in direct mail should be personalized to reflect each recipient’s unique needs and values. Modern personalization requires list segmentation that smartly integrates demographic data as well as customer behavior and custom events to ensure your mailers stay out of the junk pile.

In some applications, it may make sense to produce completely unique collateral for each segment, but many campaigns would benefit from a cost-saving tactic known as versioning, or tailoring different versions of one asset to specific customer groups.

L. L. Bean’s chief marketing officer told the Wall Street Journal that instead of sending every customer his brand’s largest catalog, he sends a condensed version to frequent online shoppers, which is a sufficient reminder to visit the website.

2. Reinforce messaging with an omni-channel experience.

One piece of mail may not be enough to sway customers, so the best direct mail campaigns are often components of a larger omni-channel messaging strategy. You can supplement direct mail with email offers, trigger social media retargeting ads and coordinate mobile messages to jog the memories of your subscribers along each step of their shopping experience.

Lawn care company TruGreen decided to highlight a new, more emotional message emphasizing the joy of owning a beautiful backyard over the practical benefits of lawn maintenance. The company targeted a “high-yield audience” with an integrated campaign including both email and direct mail that featured similar designs and matching offers. According to MarketingSherpa, this strategy helped save the company more than $800,000 in postage and reduced cost-per-sale by 20 percent.

Don’t stop there — you can use modern technology to integrate even more channels and help reduce wasted ad spend. TruGreen aligned their direct mail timing to reflect weather patterns in different regions of the United States, sending lawn care reminders to customers in Florida in January but waiting until later in the year to reach out to people in the Northeast.

With Iterable, you can automate direct mail to send at specific points in a campaign or even once someone completes an action that demonstrates interest in your brand. Automated behavioral triggers enable you to invest in mail only after a customer has been qualified.

Likewise, Iterable partners with Lob, an intelligent mail provider that can help ensure you’re working with a clean list. Arguably the most important step in any modern direct mail campaign is minimizing the number of incorrect mailing addresses, since mail that doesn’t make it to the recipient is always a waste of time and money.

3. Perfect the process with experimentation.

Last but not least, like any other marketing initiative, direct mail should be an iterative process. By testing many of the same variables you would in a digital marketing campaign, such as timing and offer types, you’ll learn what best motivates your customers and be able to improve ROI over time. A majority of marketers said data-driven marketing is more accurate (67 percent) and leads to faster decisions (59 percent).

The good news? Lots of tools exist to help you analyze the impact of each test. Vanity URLs are easy for recipients to remember while hiding unsightly UTM tracking parameters. You can also offer individual discount codes to monitor the response of each recipient or A/B test two discount codes to test one variable against another — for example, sending a postcard versus a letter.

Calls-to-action (CTAs) are particularly important for direct mail, since you can’t include a convenient hyperlink or pop-up box to encourage readers to act. Your CTA should clearly tell the recipient what you want subscribers to do and be compelling enough to get them to follow through. Try repeating the CTA more than once and setting it apart from the rest of the copy, since most readers will only skim for key information.

You may also want to test more than one way for a recipient to respond; this can include postage-paid return postcards, online or in-store discount codes, numbers for placing orders over the phone and again, memorable URLs that take recipients to a dedicated landing page. Of course, regardless of the channel, marketing copy should be customer-centric, describing the benefits of working with you, as opposed to the product or service itself.

The marketing team from the Evolve Vacation Rental Network carefully analyzes each aspect of their multi-channel marketing campaigns, including using unique telephone numbers tied to specific direct mail pieces and A/B headlines on campaign-specific landing pages. They have also pitted postcards against letters to determine which print format leads to more engagement. Evolve says experiments like these contributed to a 30 percent conversion rate in a recent campaign involving direct mail.

Experimentation requires additional forethought and coordination, but by measuring the impact of specific variables, marketers can design more efficient and effective direct mail campaigns.

Final Thoughts

Though direct mail has been in the marketer’s toolbox for hundreds of years, there is a reason today’s most well-known brands continue to invest in catalogues, brochures and postcards in addition to digital marketing. And it’s no wonder why: according to the Direct Marketing Association, customer response rates increased an impressive 43 percent last year.

The key to taking a modern approach to direct mail is building a strategy that incorporates personalization, integration and experimentation into the mix. Growth marketing platforms like Iterable and Lob provide the technology that makes those tactics easy to implement and increasingly more efficient.

Looking for more insights on omni-channel communication? Check out The Growth Marketer’s Playbook, a free resource for building seamless campaigns that span direct mail, email, mobile, web push and social media.

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