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20 Jul

21st Century Solutions to Direct Mail Circulation Challenges

Author: Allen Abbott

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Direct Mail

21st Century Solutions to Direct Mail Circulation Challenges

Direct mail remains an effective, yet challenging marketing medium. American advertisers mail 80 billion pieces of direct mail each year, and spend more than $45 billion in the process. Some of the biggest challenges faced by direct mail professionals isn’t creating quality direct mail pieces but distributing those pieces to interested consumers at exactly the right time. If your direct mail circulation isn’t up to par, it doesn’t matter how good your mailing pieces are, because the audience you reach more than likely won’t be interested. And in an environment where direct mail is constantly being challenged due to its higher costs to deliver, it’s up to you to make sure your company’s direct mail pieces are received by people who are likely to act on your offers. As the direct marketing world is evolving via much improved personalization and data analytics options, you’re more than likely still facing similar challenges to those you faced a decade ago; finding unique prospects and re-engaging lapsed customers. But the solutions are changing in a way that can make direct mail even more effective in the coming years. Here are five of today’s most common direct marketing problems, along with ways to solve them with modern solutions.

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Finding Unique Prospect Names

Finding unique names for your prospecting program has always been a challenge. But it’s a simple fact — without expanding the size of your direct mail audience, you’ll never substantially increase your direct mail revenue. Distributing your content to abroad audience of potential new customers is ideal, but without proper audience development, you will surely waste time and money by sending your mail pieces to unreceptive segments.

Fortunately, there are now innovative ways you can find unique names for your prospecting efforts. One developing method is to access and better utilize the data from your own website visitors. With today’s advances in data analytics and tracking, you’re able to gain deeper insights into how customers interact with your company through your website.  Add to this the rapidly improving technology matching website visitors to postal addresses, and you have a highly effective way to identify new prospects.  And one of the major benefits is that no other company has this data or the insights it provides. These are prospects, unique to your site, who have expressed direct interest in your company’s products or services through their actions online. This is the best possible combination of genuine, relevant customer interest and customized direct mail strategy. Reach these people who have already shown interest before your competitors, and you’ll be ahead of the game.

Re-Engaging Lapsed Customers

When you’re looking for new customers, looking to your past is often a great way to start. The problem is you only have a limited look at each lapsed customer. Prior purchase history can be helpful, both when looking at purchase volume and frequency, but it only gets you so far. The quality and value of transactional history deteriorates over time, and re-engaging takes a little something extra to identify lapsed customers that may be ripe to return to your brand.

Yes, sending a “We Missed You” mailer along with a promo code will entice some customers to give you a second chance. But that doesn’t do much to personalize your mailing efforts or identify profitable pockets of opportunity in a large number of lapsed buyers.

Just as you can find new customers by using website traffic data, you can do the same with lapsed customers. Data can reveal which customers are visiting your website regularly or if they’re visiting specific pages of your site over and over. These clues can help you understand what’s motivating them or what may be stopping them from purchasing again. When lapsed customers are visiting your site, they are sending you a signal that they are ready to reengage, and you can then approach them with a personalized offer or mail piece, knowing exactly what each customer sought out.

Keeping Active Customers Happy

Of course, there’s more to direct mail circulation than finding new prospects and re-engaging lapsed customers. You also have to keep your current customers happy. Poor customer experience —  whether the customer is interacting with call center customer service, web support, in-store associates or through mail communication  —  is the top reason why consumers switch brands. And the majority of consumers don’t call to complain about the problems they’ve had; they just go to a new company.

Whether you realize it or not, direct mail is an important part of that customer experience. You control a major way your company communicates with its customers. Don’t take this influence for granted! There are countless ways to keep your current customers happy. Something as simple as a postcard with a discount code around the holidays can go a long way towards reminding people of why they chose you the first time around. You can also send out mailers celebrating the anniversary of a customer’s first purchase, or you may choose to send a letter with a general appreciation of the loyalty of a given consumer. Anything that combines your genuine affection for your customers with your knowledge of those customers is a can’t-miss proposition.

But you can also use website visitor behavior to make your customers’ experience even more gratifying.  Your active customers are often on your website, providing clues as to what they are looking for, and even why they are searching for it.  Use this data to personalize their direct mail offer, and you will see higher response rates and more loyal shoppers.

Timing

As is the case with virtually everything else in life, timing is everything. People can’t react to your Christmas sales promotion if they don’t know about the promotion until after the New Year. Once again, it’s not necessarily about the mailers themselves — it’s about who gets them and when those people receive them.

Timing affects companies in two ways. The first way is the one we just discussed. You want people to get the materials they need so they can respond in a timely manner. So if you’re sending out mail for a Christmas-themed promotion, you have to prepare months in advance to assure a quality experience for your customers.

The bigger issue, though, is the frequency of your mailers. There’s a fine line between keeping your customers in the loop and being a spammer (a term which is usually reserved for email, but there are direct mail campaigns that qualify). You don’t want to bombard your audience with daily reminders about your sales. Doing this will either alienate loyal customers, or numb them to your communications, while draining your budget in the process.

Because every business is different, there are no hard and fast rules for direct mail frequency. Each customer segment may warrant a different frequency strategy. The best way to zero in on what works for your company is to use A/B testing. Send the same mailers to two different groups of customers, but vary the frequency between the groups. Whichever group yields a better outcome — both in terms of profitability and in consumer feedback — is the way to go. Use this testing as often as necessary so you get the best possible handle on the most efficient and effective contact strategy for each customer segment.

Another modern solution is to look at your website traffic for clues about contact strategy. How frequently customers are visiting your site will help you understand the right direct mail cadence for different customer segments  So will the source of their visit and the device they are using to shop with you.  Intent data can give you the insight you need to develop the right balance and frequency for your mailings.

Staying Current

Direct mail is a changing industry. Think solely of the technological advances you’ve read about in this article. Many of these opportunities didn’t exist in their current form even five years ago. You can bet that five years from now, the entire industry will look completely different. And yet, your direct mail planning must remain as solid as ever.

How can you keep up with what’s new while still maintaining the productivity of your programs? Staying in touch with industry thought leaders can help keep you on the leading edge. Joining industry groups with other professionals on sites like LinkedIn is a great way to make those connections and stay up-to-date with the changes around you. There are a vast number of webinars and whitepapers now available on every imaginable topic. Following popular blogs and newsletters will also expose you to the latest trends, and social media can point you to some new and exciting ideas employed by innovative young companies. All of these opportunities are made possible by advances in digital technology that allow you to connect effortlessly or find answers with a simple search.

Modern Solutions for Direct Mail Challenges

In many ways, it’s easier than ever to reach the right people with your direct mail. The modern climate presents solutions never before available in direct mail circulation. Using the technology to identify frequent website visitors can help you reach out to new customers, reactivate lapsed ones, while simultaneously keeping your existing customers happy. By maintaining traditional circulation best practices, while at the same time taking advantage of advances in the gathering of intent data and the personalization of mail pieces, you’ll set yourself up quite nicely for prolonged direct mail success.

 

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