Hughes Network Systems’ Peter Gulla on Mail Tracking
Because so much of the direct marketing process is based on the probability of whether a prospect will take certain actions, marketers put significant stock in gathering as much information as possible about their contact with the target audience. For Germantown, Md.-based Hughes Network Systems, a provider of broadband satellite networks and services, mail delivery dates are an important factor in running an efficient prospecting program.
The marketer’s target audience is households located in areas that are not served by DSL or cable Internet providers but that would like high-speed Internet access. The HughesNet service is a high-end item—plans start at $59.99 a month, depending on whether you pay for equipment installation upfront—and so it requires consideration before a purchase is made. Hughes Network Systems uses an outsourced call center to handle prospect inquiries and sales orders.
According to Peter Gulla, Hughes Network Systems’ vice president, testing has proven that multiple mailings to prospects work best to build awareness, motivate the customer to research the service and then convert. The firm uses a mix of postcards (produced and mailed by Modern Postcard) and other self-mailer formats, but relies primarily on the former since “they produce a yield that’s better on a cost-per-sale basis,” Gulla says. Regardless of mailing format, Hughes Network Systems applies the U.S. Postal Service’s PLANET Code to all its campaigns; the PLANET Code is a special barcode that allows the USPS to track mail as it travels through the mailstream.
Gulla spoke with Target Marketing to explain how mail tracking has become an integral part of his firm’s direct marketing success.
Target Marketing: When did your firm start using PLANET Codes in its direct mail efforts, and what led you to implement this solution?
Peter Gulla: I think we started in 2003, so we’ve been doing it for about four years.
We had two issues that drove adoption. One, with bulk rate mailing you have 10 days for the mail to arrive. At first, it was hard to predict how long it would take a national mailing to arrive in our target markets. So for us, the PLANET Coding laid down the baseline of if I mail, this is what I can expect in volumes and how [mail] hits, and then we use that to project our call center volumes. We pretty much have a curve of where we can predict when the call volumes will peak, and we use it for planning drop dates, staffing and more.
The other reason that initially got us to [use PLANET Codes] was we had a mailing and the results were less than what we had expected. And it was hard for us to diagnose what had happened. So the PLANET Coding helped us be able to find out … it’s sort of like an insurance policy to some extent, in that when something does go wrong, you’re able to track it down quickly and figure out if there was a [delivery] problem.
It gives you the visibility of what happened.
TM: How does mail tracking help Hughes Network Systems with its marketing goals?
PG: It helps with tracking the delivery timing and sequence planning for our mailings and then doing the postal analysis to make sure the different areas that we go to all are being delivered. We started shipping mail directly to the BMCs [Bulk Mail Centers], so we can measure the impact of that, which has been to improve delivery.
Also, we know that it takes people between two and three calls to our call center to make a decision. And we have deadlines sometimes for special offers and rebates. So you don’t want to mail to close to the end of the special offer or rebate; you want to give people time to read the material go online, research and call. But you don’t want to leave big periods without a promotion going in the market, either. So PLANET Coding helps us keep a constant flow of mail in the marketplace and know that if we mail, we generally can make sure it arrives within this kind of time period at this time of year. And while we haven’t seen any cost savings on our call center activities, it has helped our call center improve its answer rates for our campaigns.
TM: Have you made any changes to your marketing program based on delivery performance norms you’ve tracked?
PG: We drop earlier during holiday times and leave a little more time for mailings to arrive. We had a slowdown last year, and it helped us to understand why the phones weren’t ringing [right away]. The nicest thing to find out is has the mail hit yet, and [PLANET Coding] always answers that question. Is it something we did in the mail, such as when we’re testing? Maybe the challenger isn’t performing or the mail just hasn’t hit yet. PLANET coding takes the mail delivery variable out of the equation.
I think we could do a better job of timing those BMC drops, making sure we mail them in advance and don’t put them at the end of the list. When you have 100,000 pieces of mail and know that this BMC is slower than this one, and if you’re trying to meet a timetable, you drop them on the early part of it.
TM: Any advice for marketers considering the use of PLANET Codes for their mail campaigns?
PG: If you’re in direct marketing, you live and die by data. And it’s one piece of information that helps you become more efficient. You might not have to do it on every single mailing or every bin that you send out; there are different levels of it that you can do. But if delivery timing is important, and you have questions about whether your mail is arriving on time, then it’s an important piece of the puzzle in your planning.