The Ultimate Guide to Direct Mail
Why Direct Mail?
This our attempt to create the ultimate guide to direct mail marketing and it is designed to give a comprehensive overview of direct mail as an advertising medium and how it can be used by businesses to maximize their company's profit potential. In it we outline what direct mail marketing is, how to successfully deploy mail as part of an integrated marketing campaign and what the future holds for direct mail and marketing as a whole.
Marketing and advertising is one of the oldest institutions in the world and, without it, the world would be entirely different place. Direct mail is one of the most integral pieces in the wider marketing puzzle and is seeing a renaissance of relevance and effectiveness in an otherwise increasingly digital world.
If you're unsure, proof of the importance of direct mail marketing to the advertising world is in the millions of dollars spent each year on direct mail campaigns and moving forward, advertising budgets are only expected to increase as brands see positive results of modern direct mail technology in their marketing mix.
For any marketer looking to maximize his efforts in 2016, this guide will hopefully serve as the a resource for seeing his campaigns exceed expectations and realize the full potential of what is one of the most valuable and relevant forms of marketing currently in existence.
What is Direct Mail Marketing?
The answer to this question defines a company's ability to use direct mail effectively. Understanding what direct mail marketing is today as opposed to what direct mail was when it rose to prominence in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Sears and Montgomery Ward is vital to understanding how it can now be used to boost brand awareness, generate leads and grow revenue. All competitive companies should be using this medium as a cornerstone of their marketing campaigns and to reinforce their online efforts.
Direct mail has many forms and options depending on the needs of the marketer - is it to generate first-time customers or maintain relationships with current customers? The most common forms of direct mail utilized are printed postcards, brochures, flyers, catalogues, envelopes and newsletters. Just look at what direct mail you're likely receive in your mailbox today and notice the multiple pieces and their variations.
The forms of direct mail marketing outlined above are century-old traditionalistic uses of the medium and have been fantastic at driving sales and brand awareness, but they also serve to strengthen modern online and offline advertising in many ways. So yes, direct mail marketing is one of the most traditional forms of marketing, but what often gets overlooked is that direct mail has been constantly adapting and evolving to incorporate new advancements in the world of technology and marketing connectedness. Its versatility and tangibility are what set this medium apart in the world of advertising and continues to make it relevant in a personalized, digital age.
Most of us interact with direct mail on a daily basis and it really can be one of the most compelling and effective forms of marketing when done right, especially to the millennial generation which is more responsive to direct mail than any other form of marketing and their purchasing power is growing! Direct mail needs to be a part of any brand's marketing endeavors and we will explain exactly why throughout this Ultimate Guide to Direct Mail.
History of Direct Mail Marketing
Direct mail marketing might just be considerably older than you might have thought. There are some suggestions that the first example of it could date back to 1000BC when an Egyptian landowner wrote out a reward of gold on papyrus in exchange for the return of a runaway slave. That papyrus is now on display in the British Museum in London.
Despite dating back to biblical times, it wasn't until the dawn of the printing press that direct mail really saw its first potential and began to resemble how we have come to understand it today. The printing press emerged in the mid 15th century and the technology behind it rapidly spread across Europe to make the concept of direct mail marketing that much more feasible - although that clearly isn't why the press was originally designed.
In the U.S., Benjamin Franklin, one of our founding fathers used the direct mail concept in the proliferation is Poor Richard's Almanack which quickly became a nationwide success. However, it was in the 19th century that a clearly identifiable form of direct mail marketing came to light as the driving marketing practice of successful companies. The two men largely responsible for this were Aaron Montgomery Ward and Richard Warren Sears with production of the Sears catalog. These two men accelerated the progress of direct mail marketing as we know it today and by 1896, the Sears catalog was one of the most recognizable forms of direct mail marketing in America, being sent to over 300,000 homes and consisting of over 500 pages.
Skipping forward about seventy years takes us to a period of direct mail when companies began to specifically target customer segments as opposed to mass direct mail marketing of Sears and others. Marketers began infusing their catalogs and newsletters with an abundance of color and images to attract specific types of customers.
One product in particular that became the catalyst for the rise of direct mail marketing in the 1960's and 1970's were bank cards which were revolutionizing the way people had access to their money. Direct mail campaigns were the perfect means for banks to deliver marketing messages to their customers about the benefits of owning a bank card.
Direct mail has played an important role throughout the history of advertising from its unusual beginnings in ancient Egypt to modern day technology-led campaigns and it has shown time and again its effectiveness in compelling action and building awareness for companies and their products.
History is full of direct mail success stories and each of these instances have in some way formed the structure of direct mail marketing as we know it today. The fact that it has been around, in some form or another, for thousands of years really is testament to its longevity and explains why it typically underpins marketing efforts that today's brands engage in.
Fundamentals of Direct Mail Marketing
As with all forms of marketing, the fundamentals of direct mail aren't necessarily set in stone. There is always room for them to change and evolve with time and circumstance - most notably in terms of new technologies that are introduced. However, there are some elements of direct mail which have formed the tenets of advertising for many years and which will be crucial to any successful campaign.
Ed Mayer, a titan of the direct marketing world, came up with a formula for a successful direct mail campaign, the 40/40/20 Rule, which essentially says a direct mail campaign's success is 40% attributed to targeting the correct audience, 40% making the correct offer, and 20% designing a mail piece that resonates with that audience..
Source: D + B
This strategy devised by Mayer is deployed across the vast majority of successful direct mail campaigns today but it is imperative to get the order and ratios of this concept right, or at least close to it. If not implemented properly in one element, it will have a negative impact on the successfulness of the other components of the strategy.
Direct mail is something of a fine art in which one can always improve, but having the 40/40/20 concept as a foundational guideline will get your campaign off to a strong start as its usage is widespread amongst advertising and marketing departments.
It is abundantly clear with direct mail, as with most forms of marketing, that the success of a campaign is directly related to the quality of your customer data for targeting the right customers with the right offer presented with the right design. That's why one of the chief fundamentals of direct mail is to ensure you have a well-managed customer database which can be effectively segmented and managed to make targeted, personalized postcards, brochures, newsletters and other sales incentives.
The quality of a company's customer database will depend on you or your team's effort to ensure the data is as accurate and up-to-date as possible. Also, your ability to legally and honestly gather details about your customer's preferences, likes and dislikes will definitely yield dividends in the long run to create a complete customer profile and generate more personalized direct mail campaigns to resonate with the recipient.
There are many organic ("opt-in") methods and systems you can use to acquire data about yours customers, such as sign up forms, email campaigns, in-store POS sign-ups, surveys and events to name but a few. If patiently awaiting organic data isn't your style, you need to start from scratch or really want to increase the number of recipients for your direct mail campaigns, it is also possible to purchase consumer or business lists with specific demographic data. However, this can quickly get expensive since conversion rates are likely to be lower than those who have opted-into communications with your business.
The accuracy and quality of the database list cannot be understated in terms of positively impacting your campaign return on investment (ROI). If any of the data you hold on your customers is inaccurate, then you run the risk of not resonating with or, worse still, alienating potential customers with the pieces that you are sending out. There's nothing worse than receiving a piece of mail meant for Jim about a hunting gear sale when your name is actually Alice, a vegan yoga instructor - you know that goes straight to the recycling and perhaps a negative online review as a bonus. Ouch.
"One of the biggest advantages of personalized direct mail is that it makes customers feel valued." - Barb Pellow, InfoTrends
Nothing makes a person feel more valued than when you've taken the effort to know that customer's likes, dislikes, beliefs and desires. Not to say that you need to be perfect or have all of this personal data 100% of the time - that could get creepy, but make an effort to know your customer segment and you'll see results.
A wide variety of factors can have an impact on the accuracy of the mailing list data you hold but, most notable, is the fact that as many as 40 million Americans will change their address in any given year. Making sure that your database stays up-to-date will ensure that you don't lose a customer when they move to a new home.
Maintaining a marketing database is no small task and will require a dedicated effort or process over time. A lot of brands choose to use professional services to check the accuracy of their data and then update it when necessary. (Luckily, QuantumDigital automatically and freely checks data accuracy so you don't have to!!)
The channels you use to deliver direct mail campaigns and how well they integrate with each other can provide a strong, cohesive strategy on which to build your company brand. Integrating offline marketing (direct mail) with online tactics is an area where many, many companies fail to capitalize on its potential and can set your company up to have a competitive advantage. Companies that DO think of marketing channels as an integrated whole are companies we all recognize because of their success - i.e. AT&T, ADT Home Security, Lowes, Wayfair, etc. Wouldn't you want to emulate their success? Of course! So pay attention:
When marketers speak of "channels" in relation to direct marketing efforts, it refers to the various avenues or methods a marketing department can utilize to get their business message out to their audience and will usually consist of the below channels in unique combinations for their "marketing mix":
- Personalized URLs
- Mobile Marketing
- Content Marketing (Blogs, Videos, Podcasts, RSS, etc.)
- Social Media
- Display Advertising (Billboards, Posters, etc.)
- Digital Advertising (Google, Bing)
Each of these direct marketing channels will inevitably have different individual response rates and conversion rates, but the beauty of this is that, normally, each channel reaches a different type of customer. This is why it is so important to assess the demographics of your customers or intended recipients to create customer segments so that the two or three channels they interact with compounds the success of each channel's response/conversion rates so they become exponentially more likely to engage with your business. So even if you have meticulously crafted the "perfect message" for that segment, if you deliver it on a channel in which they don't interact often, you're effectively blowing your marketing budget and time! Burning the fat wad of cash would be easier.
"One of the great things about direct response marketing is that you will know how each and every dollar is doing—right down to the half-cent! Unlike ads that don't include a direct response element (such as many magazines and most broadcast ads), you will never have to be in the dark about where each part of your advertising dollar is going." Claude Hopkins, Scientific Advertising
How do you create this magic? Age is of course one of the most influential demographic factors in deciding which channels to use. Older generations are more likely to make purchase decisions based on tangible pieces of direct mail while younger, more tech-savvy demographics are likely to lean towards a more digitally-integrated direct mail campaign where the direct mail piece redirects them to specific webpages and social media campaigns to find more information about the offering. Can you see how this changes the messaging? Older demographic = more product specifications and features so they can make a purchase decision; younger demographic = more highlighted features with copy driving them online for a more specific sales pitch. Use this same mentality for each demographic factor and you'll begin to notice similarities in some of your customers. This becomes one of your customer segments!
It's crucial to properly strategize a direct mail campaign prior to investing in the launch. Start by analyzing your contact database's points of interaction with your company to decide which channels make sense for a successful marketing campaign.
A fully integrated multi-channel campaign that includes direct mail, digital (online) and social platforms takes a lot of planning and management to keep on track. But in the end, integrated campaigns with messaging intentionally crafted for the right audience will inevitably exceed expectations in terms of results (engagement, conversion, brand awareness, etc.). Each marketing impression (interaction or view of your brand) is like a feather and the customer is a scale. As more feathers are applied to a single scale, the scale will begin to tip in your favor and convert them to a sale.
The Hook: Another fundamental element that remains important regardless of the type of direct mail campaign that you're running is that of the hook or offer. If you don't get this right, the campaign is doomed to failure before its even had the chance to get off the ground.
Having a compelling offer is the perfect foundation for any direct mail campaign and it is now more important than ever. This aspect must be carefully thought through as the market is increasingly competitive and offering consumers something that genuinely stands out from the crowd is becoming more difficult.
The way in which your direct mail is structured and how you weave your hook into this layout will have a large bearing on how successful your direct mail endeavor is likely to be. This is where having skilled marketers in-house is beneficial because they will be able to ensure that any collateral you are putting together follows direct mail best practices.
Generally speaking, the main goal of a piece of direct mail will be to elicit a response from the recipient - whether this is to make a purchase, provide information, make a phone call or engage with your brand in some other way.
"Direct mail sweepstakes will increase the response (positive) by 50-100%." - Richard Benson, Author
It is crucial to present the offer to the recipient of your direct mail in the right way. This typically entails ensuring the benefit(s) of the offer are immediately obvious at a glance, providing a short but descriptive overview of why it is a benefit and having a simple and clear call to action. Additionally, providing time-sensitive sweeteners on top of the hook is a great way compel them to act quickly.
Many marketers know how to make an offer their customers can't refuse, but coaching on this is a challenge since the "know-how" is usually industry-specific. This is a skill developed with in-depth knowledge and relationships in your industry and the customers it services. It is essential to have this knowledge with direct marketing because it is key to resonate and make a significant impression in mere seconds of first seeing a direct mail piece.
Direct Mail Design
Gone are the days when you could send massive amounts of direct mail to random recipients and get some of it to lead to a recipient's response. The world of direct mail today is more sophisticated than it was in the latter part of the 20th century.
Today's direct mail campaigns can't just be random acts of marketing postcards and brochures with no thought behind them ( this is true junk mail). Create a personal connection with your audience by having the right hook or offer for them, and use stunning design to get them to look at it. Seek out and utilize the services of talented creative and design agencies with direct mail experience to maximize visual engagement. Some things to consider for direct mail design best practices are outlined below:
- Be creative - One goal of direct mail should be to capture the recipient's attention long enough that they will read your offer. Often this is accomplished through creative and innovative design techniques utilizing form and color to draw attention to the headline or offer. Don't be afraid to try new designs and messaging!
- Keep Things Simple - It's tempting to include as much information and data as possible on any direct mail that you are sending out, yet it is more effective to keep your message "stupid simple" with just one or two core messages to the recipient. Bombarding them with an overwhelming amount of text, features, or offers on direct mail can severely alienate the recipient.
- Don't Be Afraid To Fail - It is unrealistic for every single design you do for a direct mail campaign to be a resounding success. However, it's often the failures that act as a catalyst for future success - so don't be afraid to try new things with your designs. Learn from the failures and launch a second, better campaign. Who knows perhaps your donut shaped calendar magnet will become one of your most successful campaigns!
There are a myriad of great design examples for direct mail campaigns and we'll take a look at a few of the best and most engaging designs we've recently come across:
Apple Direct Mail:
As you might expect, Apple typically hit bullseyes with their marketing campaigns, and their direct mail efforts (yes, hi-tech Apple uses direct mail) are no exception as proven with this excellent piece sent out to promote their wares in an inventive and engaging way. The uniqueness of this mailer sets it apart from the crowd and offers a simple but memorable design and copy which will likely resonate with their target demographic.
Krampus Defence Kit:
Krampus is a mythological creature that is particularly well known in Alpine countries. This excellent piece of direct mail by creative agency Swink was designed to protect their clients from the threat of Krampus - and showcase their considerable design talents, of course.
Blow Post Card:
With this postcard celebrating Blow's 1st anniversary, they opted for a bold black and white design that immediately catches the eye and moving parts to reveal the core inner message for the marketing campaign. A decidedly effective piece of design and lack of color showcases that you don't need to overload the senses with color when it comes to the direct mail marketing campaigns that you send out.
And our own personal favorite - this brilliantly inventive campaign:
Direct Mail Copywriting
Many of us have heard the line, "content is king" and due to the brevity of time people engage with mail, clarity and power of the prose it essential. Unless you are truly gifted in copywriting, you may need to employ the services of a copywriter in order to maximize your advertising campaign's potential with clarity, conciseness, and appeal.
There are key questions copywriters need to consider when formulating prose for any direct marketing campaign. When structuring your printed collateral, consider:
- The problem your offer solves - Ensuring that this is reflected in the copy is crucial. If your service offer is pointed at solving the recipient's problem, they are more likely to pay attention to the rest of the advertisement. Great copywriting starts with understanding the pain points of their audience to capture attention.
- Trust - How can you establish credibility with your prospective customer? Avoid overly-salesy pitches as this makes people feel defensive and instead appeal to their ethos, pathos, or logos - or language of persuasion. Can you use graphs, images, or specific trigger words to create the desired appeal and establish credibility?
- What action do you want them to take? - This is something that needs careful consideration because it will largely dictate how you write the copy for your direct mail campaign. Do you want the recipient to provide more info about themselves, drive them to your website to make a purchase, like you on social media or some other form of brand engagement? Make the call-to-action as harmless for the recipient as possible. People like to maintain their anonymity until the time they're ready to buy. Don't ask them to make a phone call when you can ask them to watch a short video online to deliver the same message.
- Think about the competitors - Differentiating your business from your competitors will be vitally important in achieving your marketing objectives. Collect competitor's advertising collateral to see how they appeal to the market. If they're using a Logos (logical) appeal perhaps you should try a pathos (emotional) appeal.
Great copywriting is a skill that requires great command of language to create a simple message that appeals to your direct mail recipients. This makes me think of Steve Job's famous quotes,
"Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it's worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains."
It often pays to employ the services of a creative professional to work alongside you on your direct mail campaigns because getting the copy done correctly will pay great dividends in the long run.
"Using the best copywriters available is the cheapest money you'll spend." - Richard Benson, Author
Using Technology in Direct Mail
Direct mail is one of the oldest, most versatile and successful forms of marketing available, but the direct mail channel is increasingly marrying itself to new and emerging technologies, adapting with the digital times by embracing (and developing) powerful technological advancements. Marketing channel service providers for direct mail, telemarketing, inbound marketing, social media, display advertisers and others are starting to create "blended" solutions that incorporate many channels into their services for a synergistic bump to marketing investment returns. Gone are the days when marketers could dominate their industry by utilizing one or two marketing channels and instead they are being pushed to spread their budgets and manpower to conquer multiple channels.
Yet, given the pace at which technology industries typically move (and make no mistake - the marketing industry is a technology industry), there's little doubting more innovations are inbound that will further revolutionize the industry. However, don't look too far into the future because as things stand, there are already some fantastic ways to utilize technology in your direct mail campaigns. Some of the key areas to consider for a technologically driven direct mail campaign are outlined below:
- Augmented Reality - In terms of innovative direct mail marketing, it doesn't get much more eye-catching and engaging for the end user than that of augmented reality. This refers to a piece of direct mail printed with embedded technology to interact with recipient's smartphones or tablets to produce an augmented reality in front of your eyes. This type of marketing has proven very popular amongst companies in cutting edge industries and you can see a great example of an augmented reality direct mail campaign below:
There are still challenges with this technology, such as price and user-accessibility but expect to see great advances in the next few years to make this easily accessible for marketers and users alike.
- QR Codes - Similar to augmented reality, QR codes (or remembrance codes) are becoming an important part of direct mail marketing and they require only a small interaction with smart devices. These codes can redirect recipients to landing pages, play music, tell visual stories and track response rates! A few examples of a well-considered QR code use can be found in this article about Genius QR Codes.
- Customized URLs - When enhancing response rates for campaigns, introducing customized URLs is a good place to start. By creating personalized URLs (PURLS) it becomes possible to quantify and qualify your leads because you're able to properly track who is responding and how they interact with your direct mail campaigns to create a list of "warm leads" that can be used to target specific customer segments in future campaigns.
- Tech Orientated Giveaways - In order to make direct mail stand out from the crowd, more and more companies are opting to give away affordable pieces of technology with their direct mail, such as USB flash drives, which are preloaded with personalized, compelling company information that pushes recipients through to the company website. This is used to propel recipients into the company's sales funnel, but is also significantly more expensive to accomplish.
Technology is increasingly becoming a cornerstone of the direct mail marketing industry and staying up-to-date with the latest and greatest innovations in this sector is of paramount importance to create the most compelling and lucrative direct mail campaigns that resonate with prospective customers.
As the vast majority of people now own smartphone and tablet technology, it's important that any direct mail campaigns take a technological perspective into consideration as mobile devices are increasingly becoming the channel of choice for customers.
"With the rise in smartphone users, marketers are aggressively incorporating digital into their strategies. After all, a great marketing strategy will integrate direct mail and digital marketing. Direct mail marketing enhances customer engagement and response rates, whereas digital marketing enables an integrated marketing experience." Barb Pellow, InfoTrends
Of similar importance is unifying your online and offline marketing strategies. By creating a seamless offline to online and online to offline experience, you reduce the chance of losing customers with the intention of making a purchase. It takes time and effort (or the right marketing partner), but the rewards of delivering a fully integrated campaign speak for themselves in terms of the ROI and brand awareness.
Multi-touchpoint marketing refers to variety of channels or points at which you engage with a customer, such as in-store, phone calls, direct mail, email, webpage, or social media before they may be ready to make a purchase from you or provide more information about themselves.
Multi-touchpoint marketing is the customer journey experience and in order to be competitive in today's markets, it is important to maintain top-of-mind awareness through consistent messaging to prospective, new, and past customers.This fact alone makes it critically important to rely upon marketing fundamentals - of which direct mail is one - to form the backbone of any multi-touchpoint marketing campaign that you embark on, because it is a near-certainty that your biggest competitors are doing it in some way.
The graphical image below showcases the customer journey as created by multiple touchpoints:
As you can see, there is a fairly even mix of physical and digital touchpoints in order to establish the right rapport and loyalty with consumers. While your product, service or industry might not necessitate that you engage in each of those outlined above, there is a good chance that several touchpoints will be directly relevant to your business and require careful management to fit your overall marketing strategy. The one problem with this image is that it only uses each channel once - most businesses will "double-dip" into a marketing channel for various parts of the customer journey in order to maximize their efficiency and unique marketing strengths. Experiment with this and find your team's strengths!
"The role of direct mail has changed. It has shifted from driving direct orders to setting the hook that drives prospects to an online forum where offers can be refined, more data can be gathered and the call to action finalized." - Pat McGrew, Hewlett-Packard
Direct mail is one of the few manageable physical touch points for consumers in the awareness or consideration phases of the customer journey because it is often the piece of marketing which compels consumers towards the next step in the customer journey or to take the final leap in making a purchase, perhaps because direct mail is usually accompanied by discount offers or other such value-added "hooks." This 2015 research report by the Direct Marketing Association shows how the response rate of direct mail marketing significantly outperforms digital channels by nearly 600%! This report is testament to why direct mail remains such an integral piece of the marketing puzzle.
It's never been more crucial than in today's marketing-competitive environment to make sure you make use of all the touchpoints at your disposal. You'll soon discover direct mail might just be one of the most instrumental channels in helping your brand achieve your business and sales objectives.
What Does the Future Hold for Direct Mail Marketing?
The future is bright. While it isn't always easy to guess what technological innovations are going to come along that will help make direct mail even more effective, it is clear that with the current speed of change that the future holds interesting innovations. It's important to keep an eye on these trends to consider ways to capitalizing on their introduction into the mainstream mail marketing.
We've outlined a few predictions / expectations for the world of direct mail marketing in 2016 which will likely influence how you choose to run your campaigns:
- Improved Mail Tracking Technology - The ability to properly qualify leads through direct mail is something which is likely to see considerable improvement. Innovations such as the Intelligent Mail Barcode help make it easier to track each piece through the mail stream and get a report of when it has been delivered. What this means in quantifiable terms is that it becomes much easier to test the timing of direct mail to analyze the effects of mail delivery speed on your campaign conversion rates. Previously, this was something that could only be calculated with a large margin of error.
- Personalization Will Be Even More Important - Now, don't get us wrong, it's imperative to make sure that your direct mail campaigns are personalized now but chances are the whole customer journey and personalization process will become even more integral in the future. Properly tracking and reporting upon how recipients have interacted with previous direct mail campaigns will be crucial in testing to provide prospects with the customer journey they crave.
- Increase in A/B Split Testing - Brands are getting increasingly savvy and clever about how they market to their customers. 2016 is likely to see an ever-increasing number of marketing departments deploying split testing procedures with their campaigns to increase ROI and determine the best conversion strategies with future campaigns.
- Digital and Direct Mail Marketing Will Become Even More Integrated - In the age of the internet where companies rushed to optimize email marketing and digital ad techniques, it was inevitable that digital marketing would over-saturate email inboxes and banner ads until users stopped paying attention. The digital realm is still vitally important to capturing data and providing convenience to purchasers, but it still hasn't managed to outperform the response rates of direct mail. To maximize the results of both, the seamless integration of these two channels will be heavily sought after for the foreseeable future, particularly in their ability to share data with one another to create a more complete customer profile.
- Better Segmentation - Segmentation is a crucial element of both direct and email marketing. Marketing departments are always coming up with new means of segmenting their databases to make them work as effectively as they can to achieve the best possible results for their campaigns. New technology is sure to arise to help narrow down on the important metrics and target consumers more efficiently.
Direct Mail - Use it.
Direct mail is looking stronger than ever and is only going to increase in its effectiveness for delivering a great ROI as new technologies arise. Inevitably, businesses and marketers will be sending out millions of pieces of direct mail this year - be it direct mail postcards, brochures, or catalogues. Hopefully some of the information outlined above will help you start direct mailings with some confidence or make your current marketing campaigns more successful and effective.