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17 Aug

Integrate. Customize. Refine: 3 Steps to Driving Higher Direct Mail Response Rates

Author: Allen Abbott

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Direct Mail

 Integrate. Customize. Refine: Three Steps to Driving Higher Response Rates

Although many retailers shy away from print catalogs, citing the higher costs of that medium, evidence shows printed direct mail is highly effective. The Direct Marketing Association states that catalogs yield a 3.7 percent response rate, productivity that blows away those of paid search and email marketing. And if you compare the cost and ROA of direct mail to paid search, you will see that direct mail is really not “too expensive.”

Part of the success of direct mail lies in the science behind direct mail circulation strategy, a science that has only become more effective as the quantity and quality of available data has improved. Yet, direct mail today is considerably undervalued in a digital world that often lacks an understanding of how direct mail works, and views it as outdated and costly.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

Distributing your catalogs and other direct mail the right way will not only save your company money, but you’ll reach the right customers at the time when they’re most likely to make a purchase. So how do you avoid being left behind in a digital world?

Integrated Marketing Efforts

It’s foolish to believe that one particular medium is wholly responsible for attracting and converting a customer. An email marketing campaign may be successful in getting an individual to subscribe to your blog, newsletter or flyer, but they may have been inspired by seeing your product in stores. Just the same, a conversion on a direct mail piece doesn’t mean your direct mail team is wholly responsible for the purchase.

In today’s world, no one marketing channel does it all. Consumers are moved by many different factors, and it is senseless to pit one unit of your marketing team against another in the name of competition-driven revenue. Instead, the better approach is to identify ways in which your marketing team can work together to optimize your overall advertising spend.

Consider the aforementioned case of direct mail. Its response rates are high, but obviously the people who respond don’t live in a bubble. They’ve seen your products on shelves. They’ve read independent online reviews. They’ve talked to friends and family. They’ve read the content on your website. It’s only after doing all of this research that they feel comfortable responding to your direct mail offer. And this is actually a good thing for your company, because this customer is both engaged and informed. They can now become an enthusiastic advocate for your brand who will be glad to rave about their experience to the people in their life.

This isn’t to say you need to throw a variety of marketing messages at the wall and see what sticks. But to reach today’s consumer, you need to have a marketing plan that works together, not one that creates competition between your various marketing channels in a never ending fight for budget dollars. Integrating your marketing plan — for instance, a catalog followed up by an email highlighting the best parts of that catalog — is a great way to reach your entire customer base, no matter what marketing medium each individual may prefer.

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A Customized Marketing Approach

A one-size-fits-all marketing strategy doesn’t work in today’s marketing climate, and hasn’t for some time. Modern customers demand customization and personalization, and they want to receive marketing messages in their own preferred channels. Using an integrated approach can help you achieve this goal. But by itself, simply utilizing a variety of marketing channels doesn’t automatically accomplish anything.

The real challenge is tailoring every step of your approach not only to the desired media of your prospect but also to their place in the buyer’s journey. Needless to say, someone who’s just started gathering information about your products or services doesn’t need a high-pressure pitch. Going the extra mile to match your marketing with the customer’s frame of mind is a mutually beneficial exercise. Not only are you putting your company in a position where it’s more likely to make a sale, but you’re showing the customer you understand them. That goes a long way in modern-day marketing.

It’s common for catalogs to be issued to people towards the bottom of the sales funnel. That is, people who have bought from you, or companies like yours, before receive catalogs because they represent your ideal and best customers. However, using intent data from your website can help you identify prospects who are moving down the sales funnel, but ordinarily wouldn’t be on the radar of your direct mail team. Sending a catalog to people who otherwise might not receive it, but have recently been “raising their hands” by browsing on your site, is a great way to boost your direct mail catalog circulation results without incurring excessive amounts of risk.

By planning for multiple covers for the various recipients of your catalog or including wrap-around sections that feature items in the categories most valued by that particular customer, you can personalize and create a more effective mail piece. Provide promo codes to former customers, and include a page or two of category-specific content for potential customers who haven’t taken the plunge just yet. Modern technology makes it easy to send different versions of your catalog to customers. As long as your data collection and data mining strategies are on point, you’ve got a great chance of converting prospects into active buyers.

Test and Refine

Even if you have great data, you might not hit your circulation strategies out of the park right away. That’s okay.  Direct mail was built on a “test and deploy” foundation that is as valid today as it was 30 years ago.

As important as customization is in direct marketing, it’s possible to go overboard with custom catalogs. It’s just as possible to not make your catalogs unique enough to resonate with your audience. Finding a happy medium isn’t easy, and it takes time. But with greater insights into your audience regarding what motivates them to purchase, you’ll find the balance that strikes the right chord. Over time, this will drive down your costs while increasing response rates.

Testing isn’t just limited to customization. Virtually every aspect of your catalog process — catalog frequency, lead time, page count, scope of distribution — is a work in progress. Take note of the performance of each catalog you distribute and prepare to make changes along the way. Even if things are going well right now, there’s no guarantee that will always be the case. Constant testing is the only way to truly be sure you’re reaching your audience in the most effective way.  And be sure to employ your testing strategies in a manner that measures the effectiveness of entire campaigns, not just individual events.

Additionally, the science behind your segmentation and data usage should be tested frequently. This is an area where you definitely don’t want to merely rely on the way you’ve always done things. The world is constantly changing, and so are your customers. People move. People begin to utilize different means of gathering information online. The modern customer is more likely to complain via social media than by telephone. Make sure your strategies incorporate these changes or else risk being left behind.

Increase Your Direct Mail Effectiveness

Direct mail catalog circulation isn’t an easy job, but it’s one that’s becoming easier as technology continues to work in its favor, providing more data for the circulation professional to use in their planning. Including catalogs in an integrated marketing plan that features multiple customer touchpoints is a great way to ensure the customer’s needs are being met each step of the way. Using intent data and customized catalogs can help you to reach areas of the marketplace you might otherwise be unable to tap into. Frequent testing and refining of your approach will help you find continued success in your catalog’s circulation plan. Incorporating these best practices will unlock the doors to an increased reach and an enhanced conversion rate that will help your entire company to prosper.

How to Get Ready for the Digital to Print Revolution eBook

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