In defence of direct mail (and 5 ways to make it work for you)

Physical doesn’t mean obsolete; DM isn't dead. Oliver Matejka spoke with Molly Koernke, head of SMB Marketing at Insight, in defence of direct marketing

Once we accept that ‘digital marketing’ is ubiquitous, we realise the challenge for marketers is to engage with customers and prospects in the physical world through digital technologies. In doing so, we’re able to create more interesting and congruous customer experiences across – in theory – all touchpoints. That’s the nub of it, and it’s where the ol’ faithful direct marketing can assist. So why has the practice had a hard time of it recently?

“Direct marketing is occasionally dubbed an old-school technique,” says Molly Koernke, head of SMB Marketing at Insight. “But that's because companies have done a poor job of properly tracking ROI or are still using boring techniques like sending out a plain postcard without anything creative or unique to connect with their target audience.” 

Direct marketing stakes are often high; higher than your run-of-the-mill email blast. With technology, though, we can not only reduce risk but also offer something a tad more racy than a plain postcard. Using unique URLs to personalised landing pages, marketers can convert an offline campaign into a more familiar (and measurable) online one. 

“I have a feeling augmented reality (AR) will play a big part in direct mail in 2017,” says Molly. “Brands can enhance the offline experience by offering additional content and information through AR.” Indeed AR technology is a prime example of how DM can merge the digital and physical, enabling marketers to tell complex and visual stories in new ways.

“No matter what happens though,” says Molly, “the basics of marketing will continue to stick for direct marketing.” So whether you’re going all out on an augmented reality DM, or plumping for something a little more conservative, here are the five things you need to bear in mind:

1. Know who it's going to

Even if the DM isn’t part of an ABM campaign, act as if it is. Knowing your audience isn’t just about mailing lists, it's about understanding what they want and whether they have the propensity to buy in the first place. For instance, if third-party data tells you that your prospect is recruiting for new IT roles, the chances are they'll shortly be investing in new technology. You can then tailor the campaign accordingly. 

2. Track the results

Unique URLs and codes will allow the tracking of all basic metrics. But if you’re not using digitally measurable methods, don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater – there are three good traditional DM measures that anyone can use:

  1. Cost per acquisition: total cost of mail/no. of responses
  2. Cost per piece: cost of mailing/total piece sent
  3. Response rate: no. of responses/no. of people sent DM  

3. Make it easy to respond to

Regardless of the format, providing a clear call to action is a DM pre-requisite. Beyond its visibility, you also need to ensure the CTA outlines the result you want – an in-bound call, a download, or whatever else you’ve planned in.

4. Be interesting

As mentioned above, engaging with prospects in the physical world is an opportunity to make your messages resonate. We all receive junk mail every day and know where it often ends up: do something creative with it and avoid such a fate.

5. Test it

The potential for variables in direct marketing campaigns is huge, so testing is paramount. A/B split tests provide the opportunity to scrutinise everything from copy to creative. Testing takes thorough planning – it’s important to scale your numbers accordingly and to send out a large enough sample to give statistically sound results.