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Commentary & Analysis

Five Things to Consider Before Your Direct Mail Campaign


By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: February 20, 2007

--- Special Feature Five Things to Consider Before Your Direct Mail Campaign By Mike Wesner February 20, 2006 -- I recently had a meeting similar with a marketing director who had an urgent need to create some sales activity in his organization. A saturation mail campaign was--hopefully-- going to save the day. Now, I love it when mail is used effectively as a business generation tool. It takes a lot of hard work and they can be very rewarding. But I also find myself frequently wishing such meetings with clients could happen sooner in their business cycle. I often joke about variable data publishing and direct mail execution by borrowing and adding to a quote from General Dwight D. Eisenhower "that history does not entrust [direct mail success] to the weak or timid." I'd really like to help you avoid some critical mistakes made my many. Direct mail can be very rewarding but it has to be done right. You need to understand the rules before you can know how to break them. The reality often is that there probably wasn't a strategy meeting held 6-9 months ago. So I've developed a short list of questions to consider before getting our team together with your team. These are things that a marketing director should consider before championing a direct response campaign in his organization. If marketing leaders would ask themselves these five questions, then your meetings with your digital printing or mail house partner can be more effective--and your mail campaigns more fruitful. Question 1: "What is my plan?" I worked for a Navy Captain once who thought that you first needed to understand warfare doctrine before you could deviate from the rules of warfare doctrine. He was saying that you need to understand the rules before you can know how to break them. I feel the same way about having a plan. You at least need to get one on paper so that you can know how to deviate from this planning. Just starting is often the hardest part, but having a documented plan allows you to start changing and modifying the plan. The way that I learn is often characterized by behaviorists as "visual spatial" learning. I need to draw things out to understand them and this is why my peers sometimes refer to me as "Marker Mike"--because of my need to grab the marker and stand in front of a white dry erase board during most brainstorming sessions. I like using a dry erase board or a software solution such as Microsoft Visio to map out the anatomy of my plan so that we know where we're going and what our next steps are. I'd highly recommend this time with your team as a first step to planning your direct mail strategy. Question 2: "Where am I going to get my data?" You really have only two choices here. Either you've mined it--meaning you have an internal process for collecting and maintaining your data. If you do this well, your organization is in the top 5 percent. Most companies have a difficulty time implementing an effective Customer Relationship Management (CRM) strategy and this is something that needs to be addressed long before you are ready to mail. Your team must be disciplined in recording and cleansing this data or you are going to have to purchase it from an outside source. In reality what I often see is companies that do a little of both. There is no better place to start with your direct mail strategy than to leverage data that you already have Mining your own data has advantages because it is good for understanding plus-sell and cross-sell opportunities. There is no better place to start with your direct mail strategy than to leverage data that you already have. A disadvantage of this type of data is that it often requires a lot of clean up effort both internally and externally--an expense that you need to plan for. Purchasing data is good if your focus is on finding new customers. To use this effectively you have to know what your current customers look like before you can go and find more that look like them by buying data from a list broker. Purchased data is usually clean and is ready for most postal requirements, but costs of the data and performing any data modeling need to be considered. Question 3: "Who is going to design the mail piece?" OK, now it's time to decide who is going to design your mail piece. If you have a creative department then your decision is often easier. One thing to consider is that many people without any professional training think they are good graphic designers. Most are not. Sally in the next cube, has a $79 new software program and told you how everyone was crazy about the design she did for the local book club, so you should use her design expertise for your next mail piece. Do you want to leave the success of your print campaign--that is going be responsible for you meeting next quarters sales forecast--in the hands of Sally? Maybe not. If you don't have a creative department, I'd highly recommend using a professional graphic design or marketing organization. You usually get what you pay for. It takes designers time to learn how to leverage the opportunity presented by variable data printing Even when using an outside professional, be wary of a designer who is more interested in winning an artistic award than helping you make money. It's also important to remember that it takes designers time to learn how to leverage the opportunity presented by variable data printing. Look for designers who have experience in using this business development tool. Question 4: "What is my budget for this marketing campaign?" It is critical to establish your budget early on. It has been my experience that mail campaigns benefit from redundancy. Some recent research in the financial industry shows that response rates often climb with each follow-on mailing for the first three mailings. It is not until a campaign's fourth mailing that the mail response rate percentage starts to drop. Unless you have the budget to do some smaller runs that can test different variables (something that digital printing makes possible) such as call to actions and offers, you may be wasting your time and money to do a mail campaign altogether. You may even want to reduce your mail list if it means you can mail more frequently to a smaller list. Three mailings to a mail list of 5,000 usually produces a better result than a one-time touch to a mail list of 15,000. If you are not going to be able to conduct multiple touches of your audience with mail you may benefit from integrating a personalized URL landing page. These dynamically generated websites are often used to expand your marketing message and capture and qualify mail recipients by integrating other channels such as e-mail or phone touches. Your budget is also going to impact your postage considerations, especially as postal rates rise. Do I mail automated first class or presorted standard? What if I reduce the size to reduce the weight of the mailer? Will a mailing that is combined with a personalized URL landing page give me enough added creative "real estate" where I can now afford to only mail a 4 x 6-inch postcard instead of a large mail piece? Knowing your budget at your initial planning meeting can help you tremendously in how you chart your marketing strategy. Question 5: "How will success be determined?" Never confuse activity with results Increasing mail response rates are good, but increasing sales for your organization is even better. It reminds me of a saying that an early printing industry leader told me, "Never confuse activity with results." A great tool for helping you understand this can be determined with a return on investment (ROI) calculator tool that can be easily created in Microsoft Excel. I enjoy showing a client what can happen to their bottom line if we can just take their current direct mail response rate from one percent to two percent. It's fun hitting the enter button on my laptop and watching their face light up as their eyes quickly look to the bottom of the spreadsheet where the ROI line is found. Use these tools to secure the type of budget you need so that you can effectively impact your bottom line and lead a "results" oriented campaign versus one mired in unproductive activity. Using these five questions will help make your initial meetings with your digital printing provider much more effective for all involved and help you rise above the weak and timid that did not plan for direct mail success.



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