The Natural Marriage of Web and Direct Mail
Now that the dust has settled in the Web world, the survivors and newcomers are finally past the "trying to stay alive" phase and seeking ways to grow.
The ultimate survivors have been catalogers, who have mailed aggressively for years and utilize their catalogs to draw the great majority of their online traffic. They also utilize their print catalogs to remind customers of the products on the Web.
For the past few years, the catalog's close cousins, e-commerce sites (without a printed catalog), have depended on e-mail as one growth option, in addition to the various search engines, banners and technologies that drive prospects to their sites. But the truth is, once these online merchants turn to direct mail (and printed catalogs), that's when their numbers start growing profitably.
We all know what has happened to unsolicited e-mails. But, aside from that, what makes direct mail so appealing, even with those other alternatives? It's the power of today's mailing lists.
With the ability to dig through databases to identify prospects that match the profiles of your best customers, direct mail can deliver more hits to
e-commerce sites out of sheer volumedirect mail lists are deep and can be very accurate. While your average order sizes typically will be higher for Web-generated hits, both direct mail and Web-generated prospecting can be part of a healthy marketing mix.
Seduction by Hot Buttons
Nearly any company with a Web site can benefit from using well-executed direct mail to draw attention to the site. Take for example DMB Realty, a real
estate developer with a strong online presence. DMB developed a program that includes direct mail and space advertising to draw prospects to the Web site for its residential community, Silverleaf, in Scottsdale, Ariz. The mailing lists it uses weed out all but the highest-level prospects who might be interested in, and able to afford, a multimillion dollar property.
When the mail drops, DMB sees a surge of activity on its sitealthough out of the need for privacy, many prospects won't actually register at the site until they feel they are ready to look at properties. On the Web, prospects can gain in-depth knowledge about the progress on the properties, the golf course and the clubhouse, and even get a sense of who their neighbors might be. Direct mail with this much information would be unwieldy and inappropriate for lead-generation, but the Web is a perfect place for all those details.
One of the key ingredients to the suc-cess of this combination is that the brand is apparent in all of them. Through careful consideration and development of brand standards, DMB has set the stage for cohesive branding across direct mail, space advertising and Web media. While those standards must be adjusted here and there, the outcome still has that strong, branded look.
For example, the brand called for some paper choices that were luxurious, but expensive. Manufactured envelopes of the smooth-coated paper would have been difficult to address without smearing, and the smooth surface might have looked uninteresting in the mail. Instead, DMB chose to manufacture the outer envelope, letter and reply form from a classic columns paper that rarely is seen in the mailboxand would likely get the attention of a high-level prospect.
This was a necessary break from brand standards. However, in the long run, what really mattered the most was the act of seduction that took place when the direct mail landed in the prospect's mailbox. Images of the golf course, the privacy the property affords, and the unspoiled beauty of the area were just the hot buttons needed to generate acceptance by the prospect. The repetition of those hot buttons at the site increased the prospect's comfort level when he ventured from the printed piece to the Web.
Another example of using brand and hot buttons to drive activity to the Web using direct mail is Terra Lycos and its online financial/ investment service, QCharts. QCharts consistently levies the look and feel of its brand in its direct mail pieces, so that when a prospect arrives at the Web, he knows he is in the right place and will likely stay and look around.
However, because of the nature of direct mail as a medium, certain diversions from the brand needed to be made in the actual copy/concept. In order for direct mail to be responsive, it needs to address the hot buttons of the prospect as soon as possible. This particular package confirms the fact that making money is, for this prospect, what it's all about, and that QCharts is just the tool he needs to make more of it. Since it was designed to drive prospects to the Web, QCharts' direct mail package focuses on the prospect's needs and motivations and is far more conceptual and hard-hitting than its Web site, which focuses more on the technology of the product.
It Doesn't Have to Be Complicated ... But It Had Better Be Good
While direct mail is at its most trustworthy as a full envelope package, the postcard or self-mailer can be an effective way to draw prospects to your site. Again, the most important elements of this format are addressing your prospects' needs and seducing them with the promise your product or service can deliver, in a compelling way.
The effort it takes to produce a great postcard is sorely underestimated. I frequently receive postcards that look carelessly designed with poor copy and so on. Just a little more effort could make these cards so much better as a site-activity generator. For example, a stock photo company sent me a postcard to announce the fact that it has a fantastic array of unusual photos, such as those from National Geographic. Its fatal flaw on the big picture side is in the design: It chose a very complicated photo, and the image is so confusing that it loses all appeal.
The other, huge error by many who send out postcards is remembering what the customer sees first. Yes, there are great deals on postcards with a process color on one side and black ink only on the other side. But considering that prospects see the address side facing up, most often they will be confronted with a boring, type-only card with their address on it. And the chances (statistically) that they'll turn it over are surprisingly small. So that savings (color on both sides typically doesn't even add 20 percent more to the printing cost) is penny wise and pound foolish, since response is depressed.
Let's be clear: You have something on your site that you want them to see. You want the site to look like a place they'd like to explore. Therefore, both sides of your card need to be glorious in color and show off your site and its offerings at their best. Your prospect needs to see variety. You can choose a hero for the big picture sideor one hero and three separate smaller insetsbut it must be absolutely clear what you're selling, and it needs to look really good, or you've wasted your money.
Make Me an Offer
One of the strongest tools in effective direct marketingmail includedis an offer. Yet most mailings meant to drive prospects to the Web completely miss out on that. An offer doesn't need to be expensive, it just needs to be something imaginative and something that sweetens the pot so your prospects will take those extra few minutes to visit your site. After all, this is their time you're asking for, and these days, time is an extremely valuable commodity.
If you're a site like QCharts, that offer could be a free "test drive" of your software or service site. If you're an automotive company looking to draw prospects to the Web to see your latest vehicle, you might try a monthly polo-shirt giveaway for all who register at your site and answer a few questions. If you're a restaurant chain trying to show people your new menu, posted on your site, you can offer a printable coupon for a free dessert when visitors register and look over your improved menu.
For example, one stock photo company has monthly drawings for gadgets like iPods, and every time you visit the site and check in, you get another entry into the drawing. If you're a wine merchant, you can't offer free wine (by law) but you can have a sweeps for a trip for two to wine country, or offer a colorful bottle stopper worth $12 retail when customers make their first purchase of $60 or more.
These offers cost very little money in the grand scheme of things, but they make your direct mailand your sitenewsworthy. And that's one of the ingredients needed to get prospects to visit your site.
Mail That Doesn't Ask Them to Do Anything ... Huh?
One of my favorite kinds of mailings is the well-timed "thank you" mailing. For a company like Southwest Airlines, who needs the majority of its prospects to visit the Web, it's a bold move to maintain a birthday card mailing for every customer in its database. Every year I get one, and it never, ever promotes the siteit just wishes me "plenty of birthday cheer to go around." And as hokey as this may sound, it just plain feels good. It reminds me of the nice individuals who make up Southwest, whose primary function it is to get us on planes quickly and efficiently, and deliver us safely home. No Web site address, free drink coupon, or even phone number are needed in this mailing. The sheer power of its sincerity pays off for Southwest time and again, making its customers visit its Web site to order tickets, again and again.
How Can I Tell if It's Working?
Of course, the key to measuring the ROI of your direct mail/Web initiatives is to monitor response and sales religiously and accurately. The Web makes this simple, through individualized landing pages, promotional codes and other technologies. Regular testing of various direct mail offers will allow you to determine which ones are right for you, attracting the best customers to your site. For some of you, you'll have that information in a matter of months. For lead-generation programs for expensive items such as real estate or automotives, it may take six months or a year. But be patient and keep testing and measuring.
If you've never tried using direct mail before to promote Web activity, or if you have, and it's been disappointing, now is the time to try this vibrant media out again. With the right list, eye-catching design, a targeted message and a sound offer, you'll discover how direct mail can help your site grow and flourish, with an ROI you can live with.
Carol Worthington-Levy is partner, Creative Services at LENSER, a direct marketing and catalog marketing agency in San Rafael, Calif. The winner of seven DMA Echo Awards and the world's first DMA Echo Digital Award, she's worked with clients such as Sundance/Jacuzzi Spas, The Republic of Tea catalog, Universal Music, BMW, American Isuzu, Terra Lycos, DMB Realty, Liberty Orchards, Air New Zealand and many others. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (408) 269-6871.