by Margie Dana

For the longest time, I've been curious about PURLs --those personalized web sites that are part of direct mail campaigns. Now, since writing a Print Tip about PURLs, I've received dozens of them in the mail. Colorful postcards, every one. Each had my name as part of a URL.

"Margie," they beckoned, "come take a look at what we have for you at this special link." OK, this isn't exactly what they said, but you get the idea. So I clicked on the MargieDana links. They offered discounts or gifts --something that hopefully motivated me to click through to more pages on my personalized site.

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PURLs are used to establish relationships with your target market. You're asking people to confirm or add their contact information, including emails. Yet, in my mind, a PURL will only work if recipients are interested in what you have to offer them, or if they are generally in the market for your products and services. The offer itself has to motivate them, but I don't believe it can work on its own. Your PURL needs compelling visuals and flawless execution (web functionality).

That's where the challenge lies.

Since PURL campaigns are fairly new and much more cutting edge than a static DM campaign (which can't track who reacts to your offer), I figured it was high time for me, of all people, to jump feet-first into the PURL pool.

It was pretty deep. Thankfully, I had a PURL professional swimming right next to me. When you're contemplating your own PURL campaign, find a partner who's been there and done that. In my case, it was Mary Kay Galle of Vermillion, Inc.

To be honest, I wasn't prepared for the work involved in my PURL postcard campaign. I didn't realize how many decisions had to be made. I figured my own experience might help people who haven't been there yet, which led to today's Print Tip.

I can tell you this much:

A PURL really is a campaign, not just something cool. Webster's dictionary defines a campaign as "a series of organized, planned actions for a particular purpose." Ask yourself, what do I want to happen? Think it through carefully before you begin. Develop a strategy.
Find a company that's done a lot of PURLs. Meet with them, look at samples, and ask about results. Do they create your entire campaign, including HTML-ing of your site pages? Do they have a guide for you to follow? Is there a logical procedure? That would have helped me.
Pay VERY close attention to your database. How clean is it? How accurate? How current?
Ask them: what can I expect from this? How long will it take? How much work on my part is involved? How much time will it add to the schedule?
Have your PURL expert take a look at your database before you start. Ask for her professional opinion. Find out how you should format your database. This meeting was enormously helpful for me.
Price out a static DM campaign vs. a PURL campaign. PURLs do cost more.
PURL campaigns can be just email campaigns, but mine is being done with a postcard and will be followed up with emails. The printing part is being done digitally - of course, it's a VDP job (variable data printing).
Consider splitting the mailing --half with PURLs, half without. You will be able to track the results, if you've set up your database properly.
Be prepared for doing a lot of work you didn't plan for. Once you decide on this type of campaign, someone has to develop each landing page --there can be one page or multiple pages.
Test. Make sure your PURL partner sends you tests so you can experience the site as your recipients will. Have a few people outside of your company take the test to see if it makes sense to them.
Doing a PURL involves a lot of decision making at every step along the way. Again, it is a strategic campaign. Everything has to be in order: your database, the offer, the site pages and all the links, and, of course, the merging of the data into the print campaign itself.
You'll learn firsthand why data is so important.

A PURL campaign demands your attention to detail. It starts with a strategy, and from there it develops into a synchronized combination of a database, clever creative, a compelling offer, direct mail, great printing, and perfect timing.

My goal with my PURL campaign is to identify people who want to remain in my database. I want them to register for our upcoming Print Buyers Conference in November. I want them to give me permission to keep in touch with them. The powerful PURL software will let me track site visitors. Will they accept my offer of free products? Will they abandon the campaign before clicking through to the offer? Time will tell.

When it's over I'll know how successful my first PURL was. It's been an educational experience I'll never forget.