Stretch a Mail Campaign Into A Multichannel Marketing Effort

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If your organization's marketing strategy includes any subset of the under-30 crowd - such as Generation Y or "Slackers," - you've likely discovered their preference for using the Web to research companies and respond to offers. But these markets aren't the only ones using the Internet. Baby boomers, Gen Xers and everyone in between respond to direct mail campaigns via the Web.

These trends make it increasingly important to integrate several media into your campaigns to maximize penetration among your target audience, regardless of the demographics. Many tools are available to help turn your data into dollars with relevant multichannel communications.

If you can, start with segmentation. Segmentation divides your customers, prospects or donors into groups based on characteristics such as purchasing or donating history, career type or hobbies. Segmentation isn't a must for starting multichannel campaigns. You can use several media to gather the level of information you need to increase the personalization of future communications.

But if you already have historical data, use it to organize customers and prospects better, customize your communications and enjoy higher response rates. With segmentation you can target each group individually with more relevant messages and offers.

The anatomy of a multichannel campaign. The initial touch point in a multichannel campaign typically is a targeted direct mail piece. Variable-data printing capabilities let you customize your mail pieces for each recipient, which helps intrigue recipients and generate interest with a relevant message.

This is where your multichannel campaign will differ from your "typical" standalone direct mail campaigns. The highlight of your mail piece is a personalized response Web address that takes each recipient to a customized Web page. Though you may opt to provide a mailed response device for recipients who prefer that option, the creative elements of your piece should aim to drive responses to the Web for the maximum benefits of sophisticated tracking and easy ROI calculations down the road.

A customized Web page can serve several functions. Each personalized Web address, such as www.yourcompany.com/joecustomer, can take recipients to a page with information about your organization that is relevant to them, including a detailed selling proposition or donation appeal based on the market segments you've defined. Customized Web pages also double as a response mechanism. If you offer a premium in your campaign, each person's Web page can be programmed to reinforce that offer personally and allow for a quick and easy response by pre-populating the page with the user's information.

Critical tasks in implementing a multichannel campaign are capturing responses and using that information to customize future communications. You also may want to consider the way recipients responded to plan the next action. Perhaps those who responded via the personal response URLs may be flagged for a follow-up e-mail campaign while those responding through the mail are triggered for a follow-up mail piece.

The software used to create the personal Web pages offers sophisticated response tracking. As each person types in a response URL or opens a dynamic e-mail, a record of this interaction is logged automatically, and any actions the person makes can be tracked. For this reason, two of the biggest benefits of these new Web channels for direct marketing are dynamic reporting and improved ROI calculations.

Your direct marketing production partner can use the same software to drive both sets of customized communication streams using a single database. New barcode printing and scanning technologies also can virtually automate data entry from mailed reply devices, which will save your organization much time and effort and minimize the chance of costly errors.

All about the data. Proper data management, before, during and after the start of your multichannel campaign, is essential. Each facet of your campaign, from customized mail pieces to the follow-up e-mails, is based not only on the quality of data, but on how well it's implemented and organized.

A direct mail campaign that uses variable-data printing can be complex to plan. Based on your level of personalization and the depth of your database, your campaign may include thousands of possible combinations of variable text and graphical elements. A multichannel marketing campaign can add to the complexity.

Consider that in addition to the design and creation of the customized Web pages and follow-up e-mail and mail campaigns, the data used to drive these communications - most coming from Web-based and mailed responses - also must be aggregated and organized. This can be a daunting task.

Data are no different than any other aspect of production: The less that data are handled, the less of a chance that something will go wrong. However, your data are your most valuable marketing asset: Whatever medium you use to reach customers, prospects or donors, its efficacy depends on the purity and skillful handling of your data.

Rather than source your multichannel campaigns with multiple providers, consider a single provider that can perform the complete range of printing, mail processing, Web and e-mail development, response management and data processing functions. Full-service direct mail production partners with variable-data printing capabilities are a good place to start, as they have the experience and horsepower to handle this level of data management properly.

New software lets some of these providers weave in the creation of personalized response URLs, e-mails, follow-up mail campaigns and customized Web-to-print modules that let your organization manage a multichannel campaign from your desktop.

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