Help Out the USPS—and Yourself—by Amping Up Your Direct Mail

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Henry Schuck, cofounder and CEO, DiscoverOrg
Henry Schuck, cofounder and CEO, DiscoverOrg

The recent decision of the Postal Regulatory Commission to increase postal rates by 4.3% to make up for recessionary losses—on top of a 1.7% inflationary spike—has been lambasted by direct mail organizations. But should we be sounding the death knell for direct mail as an effective marketing channel? Hardly. 

Businesses can actually help pull the struggling USPS out of the red and make a decent buck in the process by investing more, not less, in direct mail marketing during 2014. The key is designing clever, targeted direct mail campaigns that take advantage of some creative approaches—and technology.

The Direct Marketing Association found that while telemarketing has the highest response rate among existing customers (12.95%), direct mail still has a healthy 4.4% response rate. Compared to email (0.12%), a direct mail piece is 30 times more likely to receive a response. 

Therefore, every business should increase direct mail in their marketing mix this year. In the process we can all help pull the USPS back from the brink and make a pretty penny at the same time. 

Here are five steps that businesses can take to leverage the power of direct mail in 2014:

1) Targeting: You can't just spray and pray because people today engage with relevant content. Make sure the right message is going to the right recipient. While a system administrator wants to hear about how to his handle pain points, the CEO wants to know about lowering costs and improving productivity.

One high-tech company recently sent iPad covers to Fortune 100 IT middle managers to entice them to a lunch-and-learn meeting; those who actually attended received an iPad. They didn't reach out to CIOs because research indicated that they had an iPad and weren't interested in getting another. But those targeted liked the offer, and the company saw a 25% increase in attendance.

On a smaller scale, consider something like a campaign from Southwest Airlines, where one of our employees received a brightly colored mailer on her birthday with four free drink coupons—creating a customer for life.

The key is having good customer and prospect data. Without it you'll miss your targets and your campaign won't be nearly as effective.

2) Segment your list properly: You need to segment by categories like company size and industry, because pertinent issues vary from sector to sector and between companies of varying sizes. Also segment based on prospect behavior. Someone who views 10 Web pages needs to be approached differently than someone who's been to the site once—or never.

To segment effectively, make sure you're scrubbing your database and updating it regularly to cut down on returns and rejections.

3) Be creative: You need to get inventive if you want your direct mail campaign to be a winner.

A company I know sent a skateboard deck to recipients and told them that to get the wheels for the skateboard they had to visit a microsite and participate in a product demo.

A marketing firm sent our company what appeared to be a hotel napkin, with a note on it and a room key. Recipients were instructed to go online and activate the key to unlock a prize. They certainly hit the mark—everyone in the office who got the offer went online and activated it.

The main point: Tap your creative juices to come up with something clever and fun that will resonate.

4) Don't rely on standard-looking envelopes: The worst thing in the world is to make your mailer look like a bill or an invoice. People love to get things addressed to them, especially if it's personalized; think summer camp letters. If something unusual comes to the office, everyone wants to see what you got.

IProfile built a million-dollar-plus business using one simple gimmick: sending out samples of organizational charts for sales reps enclosed in flat USPS mailer boxes that hadn't been popped open and had the ends taped closed.

5) Automate with analytics: Create rules in your marketing automation or CRM system so when a prospect takes a particular action on your website, it generates a direct mail piece. There's a lot you can do to automate outbound mail based on behavior.

Make sure your mailer includes a clearly printed personalized URL so you can track in real time when someone visits, or takes an action on, your microsite. Analyze the responses to fine-tune the campaign on the fly. Also for tracking, use unique telephone numbers and coupon codes that can be inserted on the microsite to unlock an offer. Test different messages on the same audience to see which one sparks the best response rate.

Think of it: You can have a hand in helping to boost up the ailing USPS, and realize a bang for your postal buck at the same time. It's a win-win scenario.

Henry Schuck is the cofounder and CEO of DiscoverOrg

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