Friday, September 23, 2011

A Case for Direct Mail

Why would anyone still use direct mail when email is cheap and plentiful?

The following is an outgrowth of a Q&A session about our business where it was suggested by some that ‘we didn’t get it’ because we discussed direct mail.    

Our clients chose to use direct mail for one or more of the following reasons:
  1. Not everyone has or provided an email address – it is typical to see 30% or less  – meaning an email only strategy would leave millions of customers out of the loop.   For one CMO, this would exclude just under 50% of her “Best” customers.
  2. Some communications, like immunization reminders, are required to be sent to all customers.
  3. Print response rates are higher than email; and using both together is synergistic resulting in higher rates still.  This makes the absolute incremental financial return greater, even if ROI as a percentage is lower.
  4. Certain campaigns need the branding, imagery that only print (and TV) can deliver.   Announcing a new look that reflects a brand’s essence requires impact.  Even saying ‘thank you’ has more impact in a note than a text.
  5. Digital direct-to-consumer communication requires them to have taking the first step of opting in or activating the communication.   For acquisition programs better and less regulated prospecting lists are available for direct mail than email.
To be clear, I am not advocating that email has no value – it clearly does.  In fact, the mere presence of it on a customer record can be used as a financial measure of brand engagement.   An analysis of a direct mail only campaign broken out by those with vs. those without an email address showed that those who had provided one were more likely to respond as well as spend more.   So collect them, use them – but don't be lulled into a false sense of security because 'blasting is cheap' or it will end up like TV – easy to filter out. 

Technology continues to change the marketing landscape; simple ideas like QR codes have eroded the boundaries between direct mail and digital information.  Imagine being able to enable near field communications (NFC) in printed pieces. This would allow us to go from a fully tactile experience to purchase or information without ever involving 'the Internet.'   Been done with posters already; direct mail can't be far behind as technology costs fall. 

An implication of ZMOT is that we shouldn't be leading with channel specific thinking at all but rather a holistic or 'job to be done' approach.  Targeted contact, either direct mail or email from brand or retailer, remains a good method for getting a product into the consideration set in the first place.  Such 'stimuli’ (advertising, targeted communications) are used by consumers 76% of the time and ‘ZMOT’ activities (search, social, share) are used 84% of the time meaning that it isn’t an ‘either or’ scenario of direct communication vs. social interaction but one of simultaneously leveraging both forms.

All this leads us to a new generation of direct-to-consumer challenges:
  • How do we follow and facilitate the path to purchase after we communicate? 
  • How do we ensure consistency across all possible touch points when we use heavily personalized and customized messages?
  • Since content helps consumers choose, what is the financial impact of different types of content?
For example of something concrete we're wrestling with.   We know consumers search for information about new products, so how do we coordinate our search strategy with the timing of product announcements?   Why couldn't we add 'ad groups' to our campaign management system as a channel?

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