To Click With Your Direct Mail, Look Online
The premise in the direct marketing industry in the late '90s was that the Internet was going to wipe out direct mail. Over the past five years, we've seen that prediction proven as false as the other great lie, "2 percent is a good response to a mailing." What we've experienced instead is (no surprise) media convergence and synergism: direct mail helping online marketing and online marketing helping direct mail.
Direct mail helps online marketers get serious prospects to visit sites and register. Paid search engine marketing doesn't capture all prospects. Because of all the online clutter, direct mail has been reborn as almost an under-the-radar way to motivate recipients to log on. By using personalized URLs and digital printing, today's mailings get significant results for marketers, particularly B-to-B marketers. And, of course, online marketers, after burning through billions in the dot-com collapse, have learned they need to take a direct response approach to sell their products and services ... and not worry about eyeballs and branding.
How the Internet Is Shaping Direct Mail
For those of us who spend our time creating and managing direct mail campaigns, there are lessons to learn from our online brothers and sisters. Follow these guidelines and watch your response rates soar.
1. Put more emphasis on the offer. Online marketing is all about strong offers and trials. Recently, I worked on a direct mail package for an online marketer of business printing services. The company's strongest offer is giving away the first 25 of the item it is selling. This "giving away what you sell" offer always has been anathema to mailers, but now they should consider it. In your direct mail, you must at least test those offers working online, and particularly offers that generate customers with a high lifetime value.
2. Think differently about the components in your package. The classic direct mail packageouter envelope, letter, brochure, response form and BREmay be dead for all but a few mail categories. Why? First, if your objective is to drive consumers to your Web sitepure traffic buildingthen self-mailers and postcards may be your best formats. Second, many mailers (consumer and B-to-B) are dispensing with both the reply form and the brochure. In B-to-B applications, what is working well right now is just a personalized letter in a #10 envelope. The letter contains a personalized URL (often first initial/first name and last name), and this device has been known to lift response by 50 percent or more. More and more companies obviously want the transaction to take place online, but most offer a toll-free number as well. What replaces the brochure frequently is a buck slip. In many cases, the buck slip merchandises the offer, but some mailers effectively use it as a preview of their microsite.
3. Simulate landing pages. A landing page is a surface that offers traction, and we've always had those in direct mail. The fronts and backs of envelopes, the top of the letter, the front cover and perhaps the overleaf on the brochure, all are places where the reader can gain traction and get into the rest of the package. Online, the landing page is a means of bridging the gap between the original motivator (SEM copy, e-mail, banner ad) and the marketer's site. It presents the reason why the clicker should keep going. What's closest to this concept in direct mail? It's the Johnson box. Think of it as your landing page for the package, and your letter will work better.
4. Shorten your copy. Long copy still works ... but only in certain applications: investment newsletters, health newsletters and vitamin supplements, to name a few. Most direct mail copy has been on a diet over the past 10 years. Consumers, shaped by their time online and with text messaging, don't have the patience to read longer. Interestingly, if you send out a package on a high-ticket item, consumers often will visit your site after they finish looking at the direct mail. They want to be able to delve deeper on particular points.
5. Pump up immediacy. Online is all about the now. On certain sites, sale prices expire in minutes or hours. E-mail subject lines talk about offers expiring in just days. And offers like the following abound: "If you want Product A, but take Product B at the same time, you save more." Pop-ups also make the most of the moment. Think about shortening the deadlines in your mail piecesnot four or six weeks from the mail date, but 10 days on First Class mail and under three weeks on Standard mail. Place "pop-up-like ads" on response forms, buck slips, sticky notes, etc.
6. Improve your direct mail "shopping cart." It was perhaps five years ago that online marketers found the abandon rates for their shopping carts were horrifying. They were spending a fortune to get people to and through their site only to flop at the moment of truth. So the smart marketers fixed the cart abandonment problem and survived. Offline catalogers have had great shopping carts (i.e., ordering options and directions) for years, but the rest of us need to improve.
For example: I recently completed a membership package for a professional association. The key membership benefits are a magazine and very strong Web site. But the association didn't want joining online to be a response option. Huh? Nor would it allow prospects to respond by fax or toll-free number. "You will shop my way or not at all" tactics just don't cut it offline anymore.
7. Consider multiple efforts. E-mail marketers will think nothing of releasing blasts to high-potential prospects and customers three times a week or more. Obviously there's a big cost differential between their use of multiple efforts and ours, but we are not mailing to our top segments frequently enough. Fundraisers, in particular, think they are hitting donors too often, but surveys of their donors do not indicate this.
Early in my career, I would go to the post office and watch how people opened their mailwhich envelopes they discarded, what they looked at first and longest in the envelopes they opened. As Yogi Berra said, "You can observe a lot just by watching." Now I observe what people do onlineand you should, too.
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.