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A Marketer’s Guide for Evaluating and Launching Direct Mail

10 January 2022

A marketer’s guide to evaluating and launching Direct mail, including channel insights, execution strategies, top agencies, and vendors.

Three-quarters of U.S. adults say they ‘tune out’ digital ads due to the increased amount of time they’ve been spending on computers, mobile devices, and TV sets according to findings of a recent Harris Poll.  Considering rising advertising costs on Facebook, Google, and Apple (cited by Forbes rising as much as +89% in April 2021 alone), marketers are hard-pressed to find affordable and effective channel alternatives.

Enter Direct Mail. Direct Mail volume in the US has dropped almost in half in the last 15 years, yet according to Forbes, a substantial 42% of recipients read, or scan, the advertising mailers they receive.  Compare that to the open rates of your last email campaign, and you can see why Direct Mail can be a logical and effective channel for many B2C and B2B businesses to consider.  

Advancements in Data and Technology

Direct mail has often struggled for adoption, typically due to its cumbersome and multi-step/multi-vendor executional properties and lack of targeting, integration into larger marketing efforts, and 1:1 tracking.  But recent advancements in data and technology have changed all of this, making Direct Mail a seamless, integrated, and trackable marketing channel. 

Enhanced customer data owned and aggregated by third party data providers has made it possible for any business (B2C or B2B) to connect the dots between online prospects and customers and offline data points.  For example, “Reverse IP Append” is a service offered by a number of data providers where the IP address of a company’s website visitors can be matched to a home or business address.  Data providers can also translate a customer’s email address to their corresponding physical address.  Couple these two data strategies with the ability for Direct Mail vendors to integrate with your CRM, Marketing Automation, Meeting software, eCommerce Platforms, and the third party data providers mentioned above, and you are able to seamlessly and immediately trigger a variety of retargeting, integrated marketing, or win-back campaigns through Direct Mail – trackable and transparent.

AI and predictive modeling are also now being applied to Direct Mail.  As many companies continue to find success through Look-a-like modeling on platforms like Facebook and Linkedin, they can now more effectively apply this same approach to prospect list development.  Data and Direct Mail list providers can develop segmented profiles based on your highest value customers, create look-a-like Direct Mail lists for prospecting, they can even create models to predict attitudes and behavior towards your offering based on past direct mail (or other tracked) interactions.

Where Direct Mail is Most Effective

Direct Mail has long since been a prominent channel for credit card companies sending offers to large lists of credit-worthy prospects, for local businesses offering services to prospects who just moved into town, or for B2B enterprise companies sending swag to their top 1000 client prospects.  Direct Mail can also work for a wide range of B2C and B2B businesses.  For B2C companies with mass appeal and mass adoption (like our credit card example), or for local businesses unable to compete for eyeballs or execute via digital advertising, Direct Mail can be an effective stand-alone prospecting tool due to its high “open rates.”   

However, integrating Direct Mail into your customer journey touchpoint strategy and personalizing it (based on customers’ or prospects’ past interactions with you or information garnered from third-party data providers) is often the most effective way to incorporate Direct Mail into your overall marketing efforts.  For example, for B2B businesses, triggering a customized company branded gift or a personalized informational mailer is most effective when sending after prospects have qualified themselves as an interested lead (e.g. attending a webinar, or even talking to a salesperson).  For B2C businesses, this might mean triggering a personalized offer to a prospect who abandoned their cart (including the images of those products on the mailer) or triggering a personalized win back mailer after a loyal customer has gone dark.

Testing Direct Mail

Identifying and mapping out your use cases for Direct Mail is a great first step to evaluating where and how it can fit into your overall marketing strategy.  However, Direct Mail takes time to test.  Variables like target segment, use case, timing within the customer journey, type of mailer, creative, and offer, all need to be tested and optimized.  It takes time to design and execute these tests, typically executed as A/B tests with different variables or hold out-groups.  Responses to mailers also typically happen between 7-14 days but can take up to 30 days, so time is needed to both see the results and analyze them.  Because of these complexities, Direct mail is often best tested over a 3 to 6 month period, and large quantities of mailers (e.g.  30,000 or more) can be required to gather a big enough data set to evaluate.

Gifting as Direct Mail

Customized gifts or branded products are often a popular Direct mail tool for B2B businesses when used in conjunction with ABM efforts or other strategic account and prospect strategies.  Gifting as Direct mail can also be used for employee holiday mailings, or for engaging or retaining strategic partnerships.  Gifting is a specialized function within Direct Mail and includes anything from sending personalized gifts, eGifts, company swag, offering virtual experiences, even the option to donate to charity.  The leader in the space is Sendoso because of their full-service offering, as well as their breadth of available products and mailers, their integrations with key CRM and sales technologies, their ability to trigger real-time mailings, and their user-friendly option for gift recipients to donate their gifts or money to charity.  

Executing Direct Mail

Unlike social media specialists, analytics managers, or SEM experts, in-house marketers who specialize in Direct Mail are tough to find.  Plus, even in-house experts require the help of outside vendors for data and execution.

Direct mail “vendors” are somewhat fragmented as there are gifting-focused solutions, legacy providers (like printers) who have recently evolved, new full-service technology platforms, agencies, general direct mail vendors, and third-party data providers who offer services both direct to brands and to other providers.  Most solutions have grown to include marketer-friendly design tools or integrated design partnerships to deliver creative, while pricing typically includes a base fee, plus a variable cost per mailing.  

Printers: Brands like credit card companies that use Direct mail for mass prospecting are more likely to use printers like IWCO Direct or ICS Corporation.

Agencies: For eCommerce companies looking to be totally hands-off, Share Local is a popular full-service direct mail agency focused exclusively on e-commerce. Founded by direct marketers for direct marketers, they focus on CPA-efficient outcomes for clients.

General Direct Mail Vendors: Postalytic’s recent integration with Hubspot has helped in increasing its popularity as a direct mail vendor.  While Postal.io leans more heavily into e-gifting products, virtual events offerings, and corporate swag options, they offer general direct mail as well and have integrations with key CRM technologies.  

Full-service Technology Platforms: For B2B and B2C companies alike looking for a one-stop-shop technology platform to execute and track direct mail campaigns, Lob is the leader in direct mail innovation.  Their single platform is fully integrated with local printers, gifting-focused direct mailers, third-party data providers, as well as leading marketing automation, CRM, and sales technologies which allow them to provide a single place to easily design, execute and track all of your direct mail efforts.

If you are considering Direct Mail, or are looking for more insights on which marketing channels you should be investing in, or how best to execute them, contact us at marketingteam@revel-one and we will be happy to help.

 About RevelOne

RevelOne is a leading marketing advisory and recruiting firm.  We do 300+ searches a year in Marketing and Go-to-Market roles from C-level on down for some of the most recognized names in tech.  For custom org design, role scoping, and retained search, contact us.

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