Using Direct Mail to Reach Students

direct mail

Over the years, you’ve likely heard the phrase, “Direct mail is dead.” But is it really? According to the latest stats from the Data & Marketing Association (DMA), you should hold off on saying “RIP” to direct mail for the time being.

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Direct Mail or Email? Stamp or Swoosh?


Remember that “swoosh” sound emails used to make when you sent them? It has enduring appeal to fans of all things vintage. But wait? When did emails become vintage? Vintage is folding up a piece of paper, putting in an envelople, stamping the envelope, and asking the postal service to deliver it.

The truth is, even in these days of machine learning, predictive analytics, and programmatic, email remains one of the most important channels for B2C and B2B marketers; and direct mail hasn’t gone anywhere either. What’s the state of play with these two standbys, and how do they measure up?

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Multichannel Campaign Delivers $10M in Sales Opportunities

Have you ever received direct mail that impressed you so much, you took to social media to share the piece? Well, Carestream produced a 10-inch paper model of its Touch Prime Ultrasound System and sent it to 1,400 radiology administrators in North America as the company was trying to break into the ultrasound market. In the video linked below, check out the mini model and hear more about the multichannel campaign that delivered sales opportunities worth more than $10 million.

Multichannel Campaign Delivers $10M in Sales Opportunities for Carestream

How to Execute A Direct Mail Campaign

Many marketers are great at generating direct mail ideas and building creative and strategy, but when it comes to execution, it fails. Why is that? For the most part it is because there are no educational opportunities for execution, only for strategy. So how can you combat that to execute an excellent direct mail campaign?

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Is Your Direct Mail Misunderstood?

Are your direct mail pieces engaging with your audience or are you talking over the audience? Do you use lingo that only people in the industry understand?

Acronyms can quickly get you into trouble when people do not know them; especially in the age of texting, your acronym may be misinterpreted. What is obvious to you will not necessarily be obvious to them. This is a big problem if your audience is confused; the chances of you getting your important message across are significantly decreased. Basically, you have turned your direct mail piece into trash.

For the best results, create direct mail that is clear and concise. You have just a few seconds to be understood and engage them to read more rather than toss your mail piece in the trash.

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9 Promotional Items to Use in Your Next Direct Mail Campaign

If you feel like your mailing results are on a downhill slide, you may need mix things up a little bit. Now is the time to send out a mailing that is really different.

One of the most critical aspects of your direct mail campaign is getting prospects to open and read your message. Unlike email campaigns, where you can actually track the number of people who open your message, it’s impossible to determine exactly how many times your direct mail piece is opened. However, there are proven ways to make your letter or package more attractive. Using a creative piece that stands out and attracts your prospects is one of them.

It’s surprising what the post office will let you to mail. Really, you can mail things like coconuts and bottles without putting them in a box! Just slap a mailing label and stamps on them. And when it comes to things that you do put in a box or envelope, the sky’s the limit. (I’m not kidding, you can even mail bees!) Use the right messaging on the outside of the package, and people will eagerly open it to get what’s inside.

Of course, there are postal restrictions on things like harmful materials, firearms, tobacco products, and alcohol. But if you’re just mailing some fun items you shouldn’t have a problem. Still, it’s always a good idea to check with the post office while you’re still in the planning stages of your direct mail campaign to avoid any nasty (and expensive) surprises.

There are companies that specialize in producing imprinted promotional products that you can easily incorporate into your direct mail campaigns. If they are useful and clever, people will keep them long after they toss the original letter, and will be reminded of you every time they use the product. If you can somehow tie in the gift item with your business or the theme of your campaign, all the better.

Consider using promotional items in your next direct mail campaign.

1. Imprinted objects. You can imprint your logo and contact information on a variety of everyday objects. For example, you can send printed magnet cards with some kind of useful reference information(like measurement converters). And people can always use bookmarks. You can make the bookmark even more valuable by putting a ruler on the edge, and making the whole thing a magnifier. Imprinted pens are another very popular promotional item. Even with all of today’s technology, people always use pens and like getting them free. If you’re a dentist you can send a toothbrush. A dry cleaner can send a lint brush. You can use copy like “make customers stick to you,” or “measure your success,” or “make your mark,” or “clean up your act” to tie in the gift with your business.

2. Microfiber products. Microfiber cleaning cloths for electronics make a highly valued gift. Imprint your name on the item tag, and use copy about “clean up your competition.” Or what about a microfiber sunglass pouch? This is something your prospects will really use.

3. Seasonal items. Take advantage of the season. For example, in the spring send imprinted seed cards or sunflower-shaped jar openers. Near the holidays send collapsible bows or other gift packaging. Is football season coming up? Sports schedules make great gifts to the right group of prospects.

4. Calendars. Did you know that the average home has four calendars? Or that most business people have two to three calendars within easy reach of their work area? According to research people refer to calendars four or five times a day. That means they could potentially be reminded of your name and your contact information four times a day, for an entire year! And people will appreciate receiving them since otherwise they’d have to go out and pay money to buy calendars. Your imprinted calendar provides continuous, ongoing advertising for many times less than you’d pay for a daily newspaper ad (that your prospect might not even see).

5. USB Flash Drives. These are surprisingly inexpensive, and they are very impressive. Put your sales message on a flash drive, and just out of curiosity prospects will plug them in to see what you have to say. Or send a blank drive they can put whatever they want on, and if they send it to someone else, you’ll get double the mileage on your mailing.

6. CDs or DVDs. Even cheaper, but just as effective as a flash drive is a CD or DVD where you present your message.

7. Food gifts. A fun idea is to send some kind of food item, like a fortune cookie, some home made chocolate chip cookies, some jam, and so on. Make sure the item is professionally wrapped and labeled, and that you don’t send anything perishable.

8. Product Samples. Do you sell artificial turf? Send a sample. Do you do custom cabinetry? Send a sample of your high quality materials. Use your imagination.

9. 3-Dimensionals. If you’re willing to try something really new, you can follow marketers who mail out fun pieces that recipients have to assemble themselves, or can fold into a toy. How about a message card that changes color in the light? Or one where the message magically appears when you hold it under running water? You may have to do some research to find a vendor who can create something like this for you, but it will certainly get noticed.

Making sure your envelope gets opened. 

If you’re going to the expense of putting something appealing inside your direct mail package, make sure your prospect knows there’s something exciting inside. That means putting that message on the envelope:

  • The most obvious thing is to clearly state “Gift Inside!” or “Labor Saving Device Inside!” or “DVD Inside!”
  • Make sure the envelope feels bulky. Just that can make it irresistible to some people.
  • Use interesting, eye-catching postage stamps. First-class stamps give more legitimacy to your package. For “decoration” you can buy cancelled stamps and/or foreign stamps in bulk from a stamp dealer.
  • Put seals, official stamps and other interesting graphics on the envelope.

Putting together a direct mail campaign costs money. If you can do something to get your recipients from throwing your money in the trash before they even open the envelope, you can make the most of your investment. The ideas we talked about here should help. But do research your prospects so you know what will appeal to them. You don’t want to send something that will not be appealing, that doesn’t make sense, or worst of all, may be offensive.

Then, as always, test your results. Do the returns you get from your “creative” campaign justify the extra cost and effort? If they do, keep up with it. If they don’t, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on it altogether. Maybe you just haven’t found the right formula. Keep trying new ideas and testing the results.

Don’t be afraid to try some of these creative ideas. They could very well help create more business for you!

3 Reasons Paper Lives On

Direct mail used to be the way marketers looked for customers. But the advent of digital has empowered marketers to track every mouse click and find new ways to drive prospect down the funnel, from first look to final sale.

Still, none of this has fully displaced paper-based marketing — paper continues to linger. Here are three reasons why.

Slow decline

First, let’s look at the numbers. Yes, direct mail has declined; however, it’s been ambling down a gentle slope rather than falling off a cliff. According to the Data and Marketing Association (DMA), it’s been slipping by 1.9% annually since 2005.

The United States Postal Service (USPS) continues to move mountains of paper, too. There were 10.6 million catalogs mailed in 2015, according to the DMA, and 2.5 billion coupons were redeemed that same year.

Marketers also need to consider response. A 2016 DMA study found that 5.3% of house-list recipients respond to a direct mail piece; 2.9% of prospect-list recipients do the same. Compare this to an online display (0.9%), e-mail (0.6% for house/0.3% for prospect), social media (0.6%), and paid search (0.5%) and the results aren’t as enticing.

How touching

So, what makes paper so good?

“It’s tangible,” says Mary Cahalane, principal of Hands on Fundraising LLC — a direct mail consultancy for nonprofits. “You can feel it, fold it, even smell it.”

Cahlane says people are “drowning in e-mail” and that their attention spans have waned shorter. Against that backdrop, it seems like direct mail has another thing going for it: passive persistence.

“You can hold on to [paper] a little bit longer,” Cahalane notes.

Indeed, this lag time offers longer engagement and more time for a piece’s message to sink in and generate a response. A study by the USPS found that people who viewed paper mail ads were more likely to have an emotional response one week after receiving the materials.

Even a direct mail piece’s texture and quality can elicit a response. A separate study found that touching sandpaper can raise empathy and possibly prompt a donation. In addition, Cahalane says using a glossier, heavier stock can convey that the message, and the recipient, are important. Marketers can also take advantage of nicer paper to plug their wares commercially in upscale magazines that pitch higher-end products, as this article suggests.

One part of many

Despite all of this, paper-based direct mail is not a standalone approach. It works best within a system and can supplement or complement digital marketing. A piece of “snail mail” can prompt a consumer to check out a website or make an online donation. The best part? “You are not going to get a virus out of opening a piece of mail,” Cahalane says.

Whatever route a prospect takes to progress through the funnel, a piece of paper can act as a starting point.

Valued Walgreens Customer, Thank You…Signed Emily

Personalization is all the rage. Personalized emails; personalized web experiences; personalized direct TV ads, personalized direct mail…

But targeting a customer with a unique individual offer, based on a granular analysis of their digital footprint, isn’t the only way to bring a personal touch to marketing. With the assistance of Hallmark Business Connections, and some creative thinking, Walgreens were able to build on existing customer loyalty simply by sending a thank you card.

And the execution was simple, said Tressa Angell, President at Hallmark Business Connections. “It’s what we do. Emily had the data and she had the passion. She had the tone and the idea.”

A warm, human message

Emily is Emily Miller, category manager in the Consumables Division at Walgreens — at the time, managing the greeting cards category. Emily wanted to reach out to the very best buyers of Hallmark cards within the Walgreens Balance Rewards Program, and reward them further.

It all started with a “flip comment,” Miller told me. “I was really very thankful to our best customers, and I said ‘I wish I could write them a thank you card.'” Hallmark’s reaction, she said, was: “Wait a minute, I think we can do it.”

Loyalty program data allowed Miller to identify 1 million dedicated purchasers of Hallmark cards. Hallmark Business Connections worked with her to tailor the design of a card to her personal style, with a message reflecting — Angell said — “an authentic human touch and emotional value.”

Note: There was no attempt to direct unique messages to each of a million shoppers. There was one message, but, as Angell put it, “it was so well though-out and warm.” (Read it above.) The card also included 5,000 bonus loyalty points.

The most amazing thing

Miller was involved in the creative process, of course. “I like to write at least one card a week,” she told me, and for this message she looked for a card she would have chosen herself. Also — and Miller and Angell agree that this was key to their success — Miller used her own work return address. In other words, the card came from a human being, not from a major retailer. “That was the icing on the cake,” said Angell.

“The most amazing thing started to happen,” Miller said. She started receiving replies: “Thanking me for my thank you card.” Many of the responses were heartfelt, even moving, and Miller answered a number of them. She is still corresponding with some of the customers. She recalled that a senior executive had once told her that the brand’s job was to “create loyalty beyond reason.” And that’s what she feels she accomplished here.

Real results

Redemption of the bonus loyalty points exceeded forecast. The campaign generated an estimated $1 million in incremental sales. (Walgreens did not seek to measure results for total basket, only redemptions within the category promoted.) The success prompted campaign extensions; for example, a subsequent card featuring a spoken message from Miller on a sound chip, which played as the card was opened.

Within Walgreens, Miller has moved on. She’s now responsible for the beverage category, but hasn’t yet come up with personalization ideas specific to drinks. “I try to think of them every day,” she told me. “Authentic, meaningful ways to reach the customer. I’m sure I’ll find the right way to get there.

How to Execute a Direct Mail Campaign

Many marketers are great at generating direct mail ideas and building creative and strategy, but when it comes to execution, it fails. Why is that? For the most part it is because there are no educational opportunities for execution, only for strategy. So how can you combat that to execute an excellent direct mail campaign?

Read More