Don't Hang Up on Direct Mail Channel

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While the conventional mantra for one-to-one marketing has always been "right message, right target, right time," the recent do-not-call shockwaves felt by telemarketers and direct marketers suggest an addition to the adage, that being "right medium."


Most industry observers and analysts agree that the $90 billion telemarketing industry will be forced to change to address the concerns of consumers and lawmakers, but will not go away. However, marketers reliant on cost-effective, response-driven forms of acquisition media, yet wary of the negative sentiments associated with telemarketing, may be re-evaluating their options. For those who are, there are compelling reasons to consider direct mail.


As a discipline, direct mail marketing has evolved in recent years and could emerge as one of the industry's most viable alternatives. Recent studies from Universal McCann and MediaPost's Forecast 2004 cite direct mail as one of only several categories projected to grow next year, despite the Olympics and 2004 elections.


The U.S. Postal Service rate freeze through 2006 will help contain costs and increase spending predictability. These factors alone may enhance the "try rate" for marketers under tremendous pressure to defend their spending and still achieve results.


As a one-to-one marketing medium, direct mail can offer many of the benefits of outbound telemarketing. Like telemarketing, it can be cost-effective, accountable, targeted and personalized. And direct mail lends itself to predictable response rates and yields important customer-specific data designed to feed the marketing database and strengthen subsequent campaigns.


Above all, direct mail is widely accepted by consumers as a means of acquisition, retention and continuity/loyalty communications alike. Veronis Suhler Stevenson reports that response rates to direct mail have risen by an average of 12 percent in the past two years, and a recent survey by Vertis cites that 31 percent of consumers prefer direct mail not only over telemarketing but newspaper inserts, catalogs, newspaper ads and e-mail as well.


Despite such attitudes, many marketers regard direct mail as difficult to implement and cumbersome to manage, particularly compared to single-location outbound call centers. Telemarketing operations are relatively easy to establish and manage, usually producing immediate responses and revenue generation.


Admittedly, in-home mail delivery dates can be difficult to predict for different parts of the country, and nationwide campaigns typically require the use and full-time management of multiple vendors. Though most agree that direct mail is cost-efficient, the concern is that the medium is not necessarily time-efficient.


Success is found in identifying a direct marketing services provider that has invested in facilities, equipment, people and technologies to make direct mail campaigns as easy and effective to execute as any other marketing option, including telemarketing.


Direct marketers should find those that can offer the benefits of investments made in their behalf. Providers that offer these advantages give marketers pause to consider how best to spend their DM dollars. Such investments also have facilitated high-speed production, resulting in reduced cycle times and improved time to market.


Providers that invested in fully integrated print, lettershop and fulfillment operations - especially those with multiple locations nationwide - offer the ability to produce billions of pieces of mail yearly, with faster in-home delivery dates regardless of a client's location or the mailing's origin. Marketers now can access full-service, nationwide production facilities, often through a single point of contact, reducing the number of vendors they work with, simplifying processes and reducing costs.


To further streamline day-to-day campaign management, some providers also have invested in Web-based workflow tools that let clients remotely track campaign results and inventories as well as proof and sign off on documents online. These types of functions make a provider easy to work with and, more importantly, reduce costs, save time for clients and improve results.


Regardless of the legislative or policy outcome of the no-call movement in this country, more than 50 million consumers have spoken. Marketers finding themselves considering other options shouldn't just "hang up" on direct mail. Evaluating whether it is the right medium for your organization can and should involve the expertise of a direct marketing services partner that has kept pace with the needs of marketers. n


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