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Reinforcing Your Online Image With Direct Mail

Now that things seem to be moving along on your Web site, you need to attract more customers. As the effectiveness of banner ads diminish and the costs of cross-promotion, portal space and search site tie-ins rise, attention is being given to more traditional ways of getting a message to the masses. You do not have to look far to see print, radio and TV advertising geared toward driving traffic to Web sites.

But increased traffic does not guarantee increased sales. This is where direct mail can play a significant role. Direct mail allows you to select your audience with greater control and detail than most mass media. A more focused target audience will increase the probability that greater traffic will translate into sales.

Direct mail is tied to the physical world, not the virtual, and there are more things to consider in creating a direct mail program than just putting a URL on a postcard. Reinforcing your online image incorporates the planning of direct mail package designs, online tie-ins and production lead times.

Planning Direct Mail Package Designs

In the planning stage, you can work with a direct mail agency, an advertising agency familiar with direct mail or a production company that also handles the creative side. Part of package design is making sure it is consistent with your online image. Using the same fonts and logos helps to create this consistency.

Personalization and customization can create a one-to-one relationship between you and your potential customers. With the right document design software, you can employ advanced design and personalization capabilities to generate customized documents using variable text and graphics — without complex scripting or lengthy concept-to-production times. For example, Firstlogic's DocuRight software, which integrates with Microsoft Word for Windows, offers the ease of point-and-click setup along with features such as automatic creation of printer resources (fonts, forms and images), multiple output capabilities, on-screen proofing and intelligent inserting. With customization, you can produce effective documents because your direct mail projects reach the right audience with the right message, significantly increasing your response rates.

Another factor in package design is production capabilities. The design must conform to U.S. Postal Service regulations to ensure that the postage costs of the package remain controllable. In addition, the package must be designed with production in mind. It is far too easy to create an eye-catching and memorable package that is nearly impossible to ramp-up into large production runs. Agency experience is very important in this part of the design.

The final factor of the design is the online tie-in. What about the package will convince the recipient to visit your site or at least put the mail piece by the computer instead of in the trash? Keycodes and passwords to unlock special discounts or offers are powerful tools to accomplish this goal. Also consider promotional items that can be affixed to monitors or mini-CD-ROMS that contain music demos or other product related items.

Planning Online Tie-ins

Last Christmas, Toys 'R' Us became the poster child for improper planning of online tie-ins. Toys 'R' Us developed a campaign that used TV, print and direct mail to advertise their online presence. Their tie-in was powerful: $10 off the first order of $25 or more plus free shipping. The response was overwhelming, making Toys 'R' Us restrict access to its site until more servers could be added. In the end, they gave out $100 coupons for customers not served in time for Christmas.

Their direct mail piece was a colorful, large-sized postcard that was inkjet personalized with name and address information. The postcard listed a special code that directed the user to a URL that differed slightly from the URLs in the other components of the campaign. This tie-in helped ensure that the postcard made the journey to the computer instead of to the recycle bin.

Not every direct mail program will produce this overwhelming response, but resource planning is an important component to the planning process. If a password or keycode is used to unlock special discounts or offers, the infrastructure must be in place in time to support the response.

As this infrastructure is being planned, don't forget to build in reporting and tracking. It will be very important to know the results of the direct mail campaign when planning additional promotions.

Planning Production Lead Times

In the virtual world, it is easy to get caught up in the idea that the whole world operates on Internet time. Although direct mail has made great strides in shortening the production process through automation and the use of computers, lead times are still measured in weeks rather than days.

As you work with your agency or direct mail company, it is important to get a good understanding of the lead times involved. The time to order paper and lists of names to mail plus the time to personalize and package the mail can add up quickly.

Another factor to consider is the cost of changes. Be sure you budget enough time and money for alteration to your direct mail package. Even small changes can entail large costs.

Direct mail is a powerful partner in any effort to increase your customer base. Increasingly, Internet marketers are taking direct mail beyond the ubiquitous AOL free disk mailings and pushing the online tie-in envelope. As you consider this traditional means of getting your message across, be sure to plan carefully to make your campaign a success.

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