Like other misunderstood newcomers, the use of URLs in direct mail was not too long ago a novelty item that companies liked to trot out with pride for their customers, but had yet to figure out its intrinsic value.
“I started seeing [URLs] in direct mail in the mid-90s. It was before the bubble, so everyone was so enamored of the idea of having a Web site, but didn’t quite know where they were going with it,” says Neil Feinstein, director of creative strategy at New York City–based True North Inc., an advertising agency that specializes in direct marketing, print and Web design. He explains that the metrics, tools, capabilities and technology behind these Web sites had not been developed yet.
Now, of course, URLs are a major player in the direct mail game. “It has only been over the last year that including them in direct mail pieces has become a best practice,” comments Peter Figueredo, CEO and co-Founder of NETexponent, a New York City–based online performance marketing agency that focuses on search and affiliate marketing.
Here are the three principal ways in which URLs can score in direct mail.
#1: Fulfill the Original Purpose: Drive Traffic
“As the Internet started to take off, leading-edge marketers knew they wanted to drive traffic only,” says Russell Kern, president of The Kern Organization, a fully integrated offline and online direct marketing agency in Woodland Hills, Calif. This main intention remains the same, according to Kern, who says such marketers seek to drive response from their mail packages to the Internet to allow for more education, as well as to reduce the cost of paper fulfillment and speed up lead capture.
Rather than using URLs to convert these leads into sales, the original purpose was to provide a resource for additional information. “Direct mail pieces usually offer limited real estate to convey product selling points, so a URL gave the advertiser the ability to have pages and pages of Web content that promotes the product/service,” illustrates Figueredo, who also mentions that at a very basic level the purpose of including a URL in a direct mail package was to ensure ad dollars spent on TV, print, etc. were getting full credit as many users trolled the Web after viewing an ad.
#2: Continue “the Conversation” With Customers
Over the years, URLs evolved in direct mail packages; they began to include a more sophisticated use of microsites and improved the pre-population of data on these sites to optimize conversion rates, while allowing for an increase of behavior tracking to drive content delivery, according to Kern.
“Today, advertisers are much more savvy and use URLs in direct mail pieces to start a conversation with potential customers,” says Figueredo. Indeed, the power of the direct mail/Web-to-market combination is only beginning to be tapped.
Feinstein relates that the first company for which he used URLs in direct mail was Prudential Securities. The company was proud of the fact it was so “progressive” that it had a Web site, and it was making it easy for customers to get information. Now, URL usage must go way beyond information supply.
Simply dumping the prospect onto a Web site or homepage is not enough. “It doesn’t answer anything. You need to realize that whatever driver you’re using to the Web site, like an event, direct mail or TV, it’s going to set up some kind of mindset in the prospect. You need to deliver on that when they get to that Web page,” says Feinstein, who helped Hachette Filipacchi build its first renewal program using URLs in its control packages, which lifted response.
Using a URL in a direct mail package also allows the marketer to further the sales message. Feinstein gives an illustration of a B-to-B lead generation package that asks the prospect to spend thousands of dollars on a piece of equipment. “They’re not going to make a decision on a direct mail package; they’re going to decide they want more and typically they’re going online. If I can send them to a Web site or I’ve established a microsite that I know will answer their questions, I’m more likely to get that lead and ultimately close the sale,” he asserts.
#3 Make the Internet Equal Interaction
Rather than making the issue the URL, focus on the content of that URL and how it directs the reader, urges Kern. “We like to make [URLs] an important call to action … and create microsites with unique and exclusive content that makes readers want to respond,” he says. For example, his company uses personalized URLs (pURLs) for a client called Wired Red; when direct mail recipients type in their personalized URL, they are directed to a personalized landing page and their lead data already is populated on the Web site.
URLs now provide prospects with a forum in which they can interact with advertisers through e-mail, message boards, user forums and even blogs. For example, rather than posting a FAQ section that doesn’t require interaction, Feinstein suggests a click-to-chat section where prospects can ask their questions to a live person.
This is all in addition to giving advertisers a venue to provide more product information and the ability to purchase. “We advise our clients to include URLs in all direct mail materials so they can track the full ROI of their marketing spend, but more importantly, so that they can offer consumers a myriad of ways to purchase their products/services,” says Figueredo.