5 Ways to Get Your Website Up to Speed
Websites used to be an accessory for most direct mailers, functioning almost like electronic brochures. Sometimes they looked good, but they didn't have a lot to say and most fell well short of what should have been the ultimate goal-sell a product, get a donation and further the customer/donor relationship.
Times obviously have changed, radically. People now live part of their lives on the web; they read the news, pay their bills, correspond with friends, book their vacations and buy things, many things, there. They also waste a lot of time surfing, searching and scouring for anything remotely related to their interests at that moment.
Until recently, people used to spend considerable time with their direct mail, sifting through attractive offers from magazines and travel merchants, browsing retail catalogs and investment newsletters, choosing insurance plans and cable TV packages, etc. Now much of that time (and eventual money), even if it still starts in the mail, ends up being spent on the web. Today the website is an essential component for every direct mailer precisely because it does so many things well-in some cases complementing the best of direct mail and in other ways simply doing work that the mail cannot do.
"In 2009, I think you have to identify whether it's direct mail, or your website, that plays the starring role," asserts Gary Hennerberg, a copywriter and direct marketing consultant. Online is quickly becoming the new direct marketing leader with its unique ability to support inbound marketing efforts. "Not long ago, I would have said that a website supports direct mail. Today I think direct mail supports a website," says Hennerberg.
Either way, few direct mail pieces, no matter how brilliant or previously successful, and the companies behind them can afford to be without a comprehensive and, ideally, coordinated multichannel marketing plan-with the website being a major part of it all. "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," reveals Michael Bloom, vice president of direct marketing operations for Datran Media.
For many, that inevitably, usually sooner than later, involves the website, perhaps moments after prospects get the mail piece. Here are six ways to get ready.
1. Dig the Demographics
"Demographics of your customers must be considered," urges Hennerberg, who believes parents of baby boomers tend to be readers and will continue to read direct mail. Meanwhile, they aren't known to be web-savvy, so they rarely may consider using the web to conduct additional research and transact business.
Baby boomers and younger are a different story. "Boomers are more likely to blend direct mail and the online experience," says Hennerberg. When the web was just getting going, many marketers mistakenly bought into the belief that web shoppers and buyers were an entirely different group than direct mail shoppers and buyers. "That is certainly not the case anymore, as traditional direct mail buyers are clearly the very same consumers who are now also shopping online via websites," states Bloom.
"Meanwhile, the younger the individual, in their 20s and 30s, the more likely the web is where they go for community, social interaction, shopping and entertainment, and they do research before they buy something offline," notes Hennerberg.
2. Strive for Consistency
According to Bloom, direct mail works most effectively with websites when the offer, creative 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 website offers when the look and feel of the website experience is consistent with the look and feel of the direct mail experience.
In the nonprofit world, many prospective donors get a piece of direct mail, or even a telemarketing call, and go to the organization's website to check it out, see what work it does, look at the financials and the staff or board list, etc. Before they decide to give, the website often is visited carefully, almost vetted. "If you're doing a big acquisition mailing, it's good to have a graphic or news item on the homepage that deals with the same issue or positioning as the mail so that direct mail prospects see some continuity if they come to the site," suggests Mwosi Swenson, vice president of Donordigital, the online fundraising arm of Mal Warwick Associates.
The objective of a website must not be to compete with direct mail, agrees Bloom. "Rather, websites 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 website traffic is by including a specific source code or tracking number on the direct mail piece, which consumers then must type in to the website to "unlock" valuable rewards.
3. Go Beyond the URL Callout
Prominently calling out the URL multiple times in the direct mail piece is important, of course, but there are other strategies for promoting website traffic. "Offering desirable website-only ‘rewards' certainly captures everyone's attention," mentions Bloom, who says such rewards can be discounts, coupons or exclusive offers available only on the internet. "What's really happening here is that the companies are using their websites as a real draw to get consumers excited in coming to them and then reward them [for their visit]," he describes.
"The role of the website is to provide additional information that can't be condensed into a [direct mail] piece or, for example, to provide access to field visit reporting, emergency situations, etc.," states Nadine Rosenbaum-Lehrer, assistant director of direct marketing at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, which features its website address on all its direct mail pieces and designs all reply devices to promote a special donation form where donors can make secure gifts online.
For nonprofits, you can invite mail donors to make their gifts online. "More and more mail donors like to give online, at least some of the time," says Swenson. "Emergencies and disasters often drive mail donors to an organization's website to ‘put their money to work immediately.' You can create a special donation page for each direct mail letter so that you can track mail-to-web donors." But she does warn that many mail donors just search for the homepage rather than go to the specific URL that you sent, so your general website remains paramount.
Often that site features some of the same content as the direct mail package currently in play, according to Rosenbaum-Lehrer. But that doesn't mean that their looks should be identical. "One of the worst things you will see is the website that takes the same content from a direct mail piece and basically slams it onto a website without modifying anything-content, text, even the layout itself," says Bloom, who suggests teasing consumers with informative excerpts from website pages to promote interest and incorporating universal website icons-like the pointing finger, hourglass or other recognizable "moticons"-into the direct mail creative demonstrates that the company or organization is an internet-friendly multichannel marketer.
4. Coordinate Your Approach
"The old direct marketing adage of targeting the ‘right consumer with the right offer at the right time' must now be amended to include ‘via the right channel,'" argues Bloom, who mentions that 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 nonprofits, you simply can ask mail donors for their e-mail addresses and then contact them by both mail and e-mail, with integrated campaigns that involve messaging in both channels. "Some donors like the choice and will give via both channels," says Swenson. "The Target Analytics Internet Benchmarking data shows that dual channel donors are the most loyal and most valuable, especially because people give larger gifts online (credit card, urgency, spontaneous) than in the mail." She goes on to say that integrated work will have different payoffs for different organizations and different donor segments.
5. Optimize Your Website
The general aim of the website is to keep customers actively involved with your organization and expand their opportunities for engagement. So you have to move as quickly as your audience. "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.
Online search is where the marketing action is to find your website, insists Hennerberg. "If your website isn't optimized, you might as well not exist. If you're not capturing e-mail addresses for e-mail marketing, you're leaving money on the table. If you're not adding content every week, your organic website rankings will slowly sink. If you're not thinking mobile technology, you're missing lots of young people. If you want to keep your customer or donor plugged-in to your company, you need to do so with blogs and social media. And by all means, get Google Analytics tracking what's happening on your website so you can see your results. It's amazingly sophisticated and useful in its reporting, and it's free," he says.
Hennerberg also offers a cautionary note. "I think there should be a huge concern to anyone using direct mail who is pushing response to a website. When a consumer reads direct mail, and you point her to your website, she might research other offers for identical products using keywords and key phrases that organically bring up competitive offers," he warns. In other words, optimize your website to cut down on such a possibility.
Lastly, Bloom doesn't want you to think of your website 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. It's not like a direct mail piece when the changes might be three months out after creative."