Message & Media: Mind Your Message
As a direct marketer, what’s on your mind as the new year begins? Response rates? Rising costs? Customer reaction to changes ahead?
Most agree that 2009 is going to be a year of changing opportunities—personal and professional, political and economic. So buckle up for the adventure ahead.
For me, the start of 2009 is a time to rethink, regroup and refocus. And that includes this column. You’ve probably noticed it has a new title—Message & Media.
First, I want to thank the faithful readers of Direct Mail Strategy, the column I wrote for five years. Your e-mails, phone calls and letters have proven you are a very responsive group. And I promise I am not forsaking direct mail.
Instead, this new column will broaden our conversation of how to use direct response media to target and deliver your marketing messages. With more media options than ever, this column will provide tips, techniques and examples of how to maximize readership, relevancy and response.
How New Media Fit Into Direct Marketing
According to Direct Marketing Hall of Famers Martin Baier, Bob Stone and Pete Hoke, direct marketing is an interactive system of marketing that uses one or more types of media to generate a measurable transaction at any location, with this activity stored on a database. Their definition sums up what makes the discipline so attractive to marketers focused on ROI.
Keep in mind, some newly emerging media may not fit this definition because they currently lack a way to track individual transactions back to original media sources. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use nontrackable media. Think of it as another tool in your marketing toolbox similar to PR and special events. Just realize you won’t be able to analyze your ROI as you do in direct marketing.
Tracking Is Golden
The beauty of direct marketing is it’s trackable, measurable and accountable. Being able to analyze results allows marketers to identify successes and failures, making adjustments to test, retest and roll out.
Several months ago, I wrote a subscription renewal e-mail for the consumer magazine The Washingtonian. The goal was to test adding a lower cost, nonpaper renewal effort to precede its traditional direct mail renewal series. Sent four to five months prior to lapse, this e-mail currently has a 2 percent to 3 percent open rate with 1 percent to 2 percent of subscribers renewing. While these rates match or exceed industry standards, The Washingtonian continues to test subject lines, offers, timing and other key variables. As a direct marketer, the magazine’s goal is to beat the e-mail control by increasing both open and renewal rates.
Here’s another scenario with a different publication. In a lapsed subscriber reactivation effort, e-mail was tested against direct mail and won 4 to 1. Closer analysis showed 12-month-and-under lapses performed equally well with a significant drop in response at 12-plus months. Consequently, the next round of testing included offer, message and subject line tests to these 12-plus month segments. The goal was to find the right mix of media, message and offer to regain 12-plus-month lapsed subscribers as profitable subscribers. Testing over time will show if this goal is attainable.
Will e-mail always outperform direct mail? Is it always a better alternative because it’s less expensive? Not necessarily. For example, many marketers currently don’t have customer e-mail addresses—especially inactives or lapses—so e-mail isn’t an option. In the cases discussed above, those publications have e-mail addresses for most subscribers, but not all. This will change with time.
Another important influencer is your audience. How do your prospects or customers prefer hearing from you? What is their comfort level with the media you’re considering? Here’s an example of how important this is.
I write for an agency specializing in retirement community marketing. The targeted audience for retirement living is females age 70 and older. They may not always sign the check, but they definitely are decision influencers. Consider these two points:
- This prospect looks forward to receiving and reading direct mail. She spends time scrutinizing each piece, deciding whether or not it’s important enough to keep and read.
- She is a reader, not a scanner. She expects complete sentences—not fragments or extensive bulleted copy. The P.S. is the first thing she reads 30 percent of the time. Even if she has a computer and an e-mail address, she still prefers hearing about products and services by direct mail. E-mail is for her grandchildren. Google is not in her vocabulary. Ignore her preferences and it will cost you in response and sales.
At the same time, as a direct marketer, you know the value of testing and tracking over time. Today’s 70-year-old is not the same 70-year-old you will market to in the future. Even three or four years from now your choice of media and messages will change. But you’ll know, because you’ll be testing and tracking response trends.
Support Your Message
One more thing: Message, media and format must support your marketing objective. When they don’t, it’s a very expensive branding effort.
For example, I recently received a 14-page self-mailer from my wireless provider. Being kind, I’ll say the objective was unclear. Muddled.
The teaser on the front panel read, “Now’s the time to show you our appreciation.” (Copy tip: “You” is one of the most powerful words in the English language. Never bury it in the middle of a sentence. “Thank you for being a loyal customer” would have been stronger and more engaging.)
After forcing myself to open and read the page-two fold-out (I’m always looking for samples of what NOT to do for this column), I finally realized this effort was a member newsletter. I also found mouse-type copy that said, “Patricia Friesen, Can you believe you’ve been with us since 10/17/1998?” I now understood why Sprint wanted to show me appreciation but was surprised at how hard it was to find this connection.
Needless to say, the objective was obscure, the message confusing and the 14-page format overwhelming. Sprint even hid the offer (up to $150 instant savings on a new phone) under a gatefold and used the letter’s P.S. to send me to a Web site landing page to watch a video starring a Sprint VP.
Here’s the real killer. There’s no way to track response. There’s a locator map for the closest store but no gift certificate or coupon. The mailing mentions at least 13 different landing pages, but none I visited required registration for tracking.
So, here’s the question: While Sprint used its database to send me a quasi-relevant message in a direct mail format, is this direct marketing?