Strategy Session: Say "When"
The "When" question is one of the most important in planning and executing successful direct mail programs. Only, there are a handful of "When" questions, not just one.
When Am I Mailing Too Much?
Actually, this question needs to be broken down into two questions: "When am I mailing to too many people?" versus "When am I mailing too many times to the same people?" Given a budget that allows a particular number of pieces, I'd much rather mail to a more defined prospect universe twice than to a wider universe once.
In either case, you're mailing too much when response starts dropping below acceptable limits. In magazine renewals, you keep mailing efforts as long as you get more response than you would from new business efforts. In the catalog/retail arena, you may want to keep mailing even though you're not getting acceptable response in the mail or on the phone. Your catalog probably is driving more people online or to your stores than you can
The word among mortgage lenders is that they do better when they keep mail quantities up. In this case, direct mail may be serving an awareness/ branding function in addition to its usual roles.
Sometimes nonprofits feel they are mailing too much to their donors. However, when donors are surveyed, the number of pieces they estimate receiving is always below what they actually receive. This indicates saturation has not yet been reached.
When Can I Cut Some of My Direct Mail Budget and Substitute E-mail?
In prospecting, you don't want to replace direct mail with e-mail efforts unless you've built your own opt-in e-mail database. In most cases, the math just doesn't work, even with the better e-mail lists available for rental. Even with your own e-mail base, you cannot depend on the e-mail being seen or read. Direct marketing consultant Ernan Roman, in talking about a study done for IBM, said that the consensus among IT directors/managers is, "If you have something important to tell me, mail it to me, don't e-mail it."
Instead of substituting e-mail, you may, however, want to cut your direct mail and put some of the money into online promotionboth advertising and search engine optimization. That gets to prospects WHEN they're ready to research, evaluate, buy, etc. From what I'm hearing, in lead generation situations, these online expenditures not only cut lead costs, but produce conversions that are just slightly below direct mail.
With customers, you can cut direct mail quantities and save money without losing any revenue. Catalogers, for example, are beginning to cut the lower deciles from direct mail schedules and switch to e-mail with very positive bottom-line results. In the magazine arena, B-to-B publishers especially are able to use e-mail instead of direct mail to secure renewals; however, many simply are adding e-mail to their normal mail renewal series for extra results.
Why Should I Use Direct Mail at All if I Don't Know the "When"?
Let's say you are trying to generate leads for a copier manufacturer. If prospects have copiers that are working well, when the mail piece arrives, they may tend to throw it away. However, if you put some kind of "keeper" in the mailingsuch as a magnet or mini-calendarwhen their copiers go on the fritz, they will call you. Also, as indicated above, if you mail to the same defined group a second time, you will catch the eye of those who have become unhappy with their copiers since the first mailing.
Direct mail has, of course, a greater ability to educate and differentiate than other ways of communicating with prospects. It also has a tangibility asset. Prospects actually may file pieces, particularly response forms, away. That's why I've seen completed forms come back up to two years after they were originally mailed.
When in the Year, Month, Week Should I Mail?
Decades ago, list firm The Kleid Co. established seasonality patterns by category of mailer. These were based not on differences in response, but by how many pieces went out in a particular month. Many of these patterns still hold. Fundraisers, for example, do very well mailing in November and early December, while almost no one else does. But all mailers need to do their own seasonality testing. This may come down to testing weeks, not just months.
For example, a company selling renter's insurance found that January prospect mailings would index 150, February mailings 120, April mailings
90, September mailings 120, October mailings 90 and November mailings 80. What's more, mailings that arrived slightly before Social Security checks were deposited by prospects did significantly better than mailings arriving a week or two after checks were deposited.
Looking at the above, a key question is "Why wouldn't you load up all your mail into January?" The answer is that you would have to mail too deep and response would drop significantly.
Here's another insurance examplethis one in the health care arena. If you're marketing a Medicare supplement, when should your first mailing to prospects be? Ten months before they turn 65, or will six months pull better? When should the follow-up mailings take place? You don't guess at the answers; you
engage in serious testing.
Indeed, all four "When" questions need to be tested and carefully tracked.
Lee Marc Stein is an internationally known direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He has extensive experience in circulation, insurance and financial services, high-tech, and B-to-B marketing. He works with direct response agencies in addition to having his own clients. Read more of Stein's articles at www.leemarcstein.com.