Wow, times have changed. In the two-plus years in my job as editor of Inside Direct Mail, the multichannel universe has exploded. Few direct mail pieces—no matter how brilliant and previously successful—and the companies behind them can afford to be without a comprehensive and, ideally, coordinated multichannel marketing plan—and the Web site as a major part of it all.
"It is more important today than ever that direct mail campaigns be integrated with multichannel online campaigns," declares Michael Bloom, general manager of direct marketing operations for New York-based Datran Media. "The goal of every marketer in our rapidly evolving direct marketing landscape must be to deliver speed and convenience to consumers by enabling them to engage and transact easily via the channel they are most comfortable with."
For many, usually sooner than later, that inevitably involves their Web sites, perhaps moments after prospects get the mail pieces. Here's how your Web site can best support your direct mail (and vice versa).
1. Be very consistent.
According to Bloom, direct mail works most effectively with Web sites when the offers, creatives and engagement processes are consistent across the multiple channels. In some ways, it's remarkably simple: Consumers driven online by direct mail are most likely to convert on Web site offers when the look and feel of their Web site experiences are consistent with the look and feel of their direct mail experiences.
"The objective of a Web site must not be to compete with direct mail," Bloom points out. "Rather, Web sites must enhance the consumer's multichannel experience." He mentions that while the golden ticket for each company always should be to increase the consumer's total engagement across all marketing channels, it's vital for companies to track the performance of each channel in contributing to that engagement. One easy way to track the impact of direct mail on Web site traffic is by including a specific source code or tracking number on the direct mail piece, which consumers must then type into the Web site to "unlock" valuable rewards.
But consistency must not be confused with replication. Bloom mentions that one of the worst things you will see is the marketer that takes the same content from a direct mail piece and basically slams it onto a Web site without modifying anything—content, text, even the layout itself.
2. Go beyond simply calling out the URL in the mail piece.
In addition to prominently calling out the URL multiple times in the direct mail piece, Bloom mentions that there are many effective strategies for promoting Web site traffic. "Offering desirable Web site-only 'rewards' certainly captures everyone's attention," he says. Such rewards could be discounts, coupons or exclusive offers available only on the Internet. "What's really happening here is that the companies are using their Web sites as a real draw to get consumers excited in coming to them and then reward them [for their visit]," he describes.
Also, Bloom suggests teasing consumers with informative excerpts from Web site pages to promote interest and incorporating universal Web site icons—like the pointing finger, hourglass or other recognizable "moticons"—into the direct mail creative to demonstrate that you are an Internet-friendly multichannel marketer.
3. Understand the growing and vital role of the Web site in direct mail.
"Not long ago, I would have said that a Web site supports direct mail," says Gary Hennerberg, a copywriter and direct marketing consultant based in Colleyville, Texas. "Today, I think direct mail supports a Web site. I'm not sure you can 'integrate' direct mail and your Web site, but there certainly must be continuity and consistency of offers."
Bloom agrees and states that Web sites at the very least should deliver an additional and convenient channel for consumers to engage with companies. "It was a common misconception in the early years of the Internet that the consumers who shopped and purchased via the Internet were a completely disparate group from the consumers who shopped and purchased via direct mail. That is certainly not the case anymore, and traditional direct mail buyers are clearly the very same consumers who are now also shopping online via Web sites," he explains.
4. Approach your customers in a very coordinated fashion.
With so many tools at a marketer's disposal, it's easy to overdo it and be inconsistent with messaging as well as not maintain a good frequency of touches. For Datran, Bloom has found good contact sequencing to be sending an e-mail one week short of an in-home date for the direct mail piece, and then following up that direct mail piece a week later with an e-mail. "What you want to avoid is a mail piece showing up in the consumer's home with no regard to any of the other offers they are getting via other channels," he reminds.
5. Instill their confidence with the Web site.
Many direct mail buyers still approach Web sites with caution, so you must reassure them immediately about the security of your Web site. "One of the most critical aspects of any Web site are the corporate branding elements—logos, taglines, images, etc.—which convey to consumers a consistent and reputable experience that builds their confidence and assures them that by transacting online they will enjoy the same quality buying experience as they have always enjoyed via direct mail," states Bloom, who says that other strategies to build consumer confidence online are to include logos reflecting transactional security, prime credit cards accepted, Good Housekeeping seals, industry awards, etc.
6. Optimize your Web site, and keep it evolving!
The general aim of the Web site is to keep customers actively involved with your company and expand their opportunities for engagement. "The best ways to do that are by providing the latest information about your company and by delivering a logical, intuitive, relevant and rewarding experience," says Bloom.
Hennerberg offers a cautionary note, however. "I think there should be a huge concern to anyone using direct mail who is pushing response to a Web site. When a consumer reads direct mail, and you point her to your Web site, she might research other offers for identical products using keywords and key phrases that organically bring up competitive offers. If the direct mail offer didn't sell her on doing business with you, she might find a competitor online, who has optimized their Web site, and get a better deal than you were offering," he warns. In other words, optimize your Web site to cut down on such a possibility.
Lastly, Bloom doesn't want you to think of your Web site as a static tool in your marketing arsenal. "This is an ongoing, evolutionary vehicle. The beauty of it is that there are very short lead times to make improvements."