Mastering the Art of Direct Mail Production: Insights from Industry Experts

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While many marketers recognize the potential of direct mail, mastering the art of its production is a different endeavor altogether. It's a realm where creativity meets precision, where the physical meets the strategic, and where every detail matters. To truly understand the inner workings of this marketing discipline, we turn to our two very own industry experts, Nicole Baker and Tonya Johnson, who have not just observed but actively shaped the trajectory in direct mail operation.

Can you describe the key steps involved in the production and fulfillment of a direct mail campaign?

Tonya: The initial phase of the direct mail campaign begins with the onboarding process, during which we set up all the necessary components for the program. This includes preparing creative assets, handling suppression files, and addressing any backend requirements essential for the program's smooth operation. Following this, we proceed to the proofing stage, a crucial step in ensuring the accuracy of every element. This proofing phase encompasses creative scrutiny and may involve the examination of test files to guarantee precision and correctness.

And from there we go into our program setup. So that's all the little details like, how many postcards are they going to mail? What's their audience? Who are they reaching out to? And of course, throughout this entire process, we maintain constant communication with the client. So all of those are the big key steps to in key themes that we try to keep up with during onboarding.

What quality control measures do you implement to ensure the accuracy and consistency of the programs?

Nicole: To maintain rigorous quality standards, we send the creative content through the print provider for thorough proofing. During this phase, we meticulously review the creative materials to ensure precision and correctness. After our print partner sends us back a digital proof, we send to the client to approve before anything moves forward from there. The proofing process serves as both a quality control measure and an accuracy assessment.

Tonya: During the program setup phase, as previously mentioned, we'll conduct thorough testing with sample files to verify the accuracy of all components and ensure the mail file gets delivered to the right place and to its intended recipients.  We implement a multi-faceted approach to data management by collaborating with several data partners instead of relying solely on a single provider. 

 What are some best practices for selecting and working with vendors, such as printers and mailing houses, to ensure a smooth campaign execution?

Nicole: When it comes to choosing a good vendor, a lot of it comes down to what capabilities you need, the pricing that you're looking for, and if there are going to be any integrations with our current software. 

I would say the best practice for this, is to just bring exactly what you need to the table and then figuring out what capabilities each vendor has to make sure that they are a good fit.

What metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) do you track to assess the success of a direct mail campaign from an operational perspective?

Tonya: The choice of key performance indicators (KPIs) is highly client-specific, as each client possesses unique objectives and defines success metrics accordingly. We do have a lot of similar KPIs from a client-to-client basis.

Nicole: To add to that, the main indicators that we track on the agency side and probably some with enterprise as well is, their engagement rate, and if it's going to be an eCommerce campaign, then we also love to look at revenue.

However, regardless of lead generation or eCommerce campaigns, we always look at ROAS. We always look at response and engagement rates. We always look at conversion rates to really show that a campaign is working or not.

How do you stay updated on the latest trends and technologies in data management and analytics to remain competitive in the field?

Tonya: I personally look at a couple of different sources. So the news, obviously, just to see what's trending. And then I'll also pull things from what's trending on social media and see what I can find. AI is a big one, for example, that's all over social media or all over the news. But I don't always trust that stuff, because it's just social media. So you have to go digging. 

Nicole: I say I do the same exact thing. But I'll also add to that list. A lot of LinkedIn. I follow a lot of people on LinkedIn. And I like to follow a lot of forum pages there as well to keep up with some industry people I'm interested in and just to see what is trending lately.

Tonya: And then on the flipside, there's also things like Google Analytics, Power, BI, Better Data - they'll sometimes put out releases that we can read and get more information about. So it's great to have those in place, too.

(Interview ends)

As our conversation with industry experts, Nicole Baker and Tonya Johnson, draws to a close, we have covered the intricate world of direct mail production and operational excellence. Their insights have illuminated the path to mastering the art of direct mail campaigns, from meticulous onboarding and quality control to effective vendor partnerships and performance metrics.

One key takeaway from our discussion is the importance of precision and attention to detail in every step of the direct mail journey. From creative proofing to program setup, the commitment to accuracy ensures that each piece of direct mail meets its mark, making a lasting impression on recipients.

We extend our gratitude to Nicole and Tonya for sharing their wisdom and experiences in direct mail operations. Their insights serve as a valuable resource for marketers and industry professionals looking to master the art of direct mail and elevate their operational excellence in this marketing discipline.