Tracking Direct Mail Response in a Digital World

As the world of digital marketing has evolved, a divide has emerged between the disparate channels of digital and traditional marketing. Enabling this divide has been consumer adoption of technology—in particular, smartphones—which has created an inherently digital world.  Whether directly or indirectly, the Web now plays an increasingly significant role in consumer purchase behavior.

To a large degree, digital and traditional marketing channels are now comingled, creating both challenges and opportunities. The challenge is that fewer and fewer consumers follow a linear conversion path. The opportunity is that new digital solutions can help marketers gain more robust insights into consumer purchasing behavior.

Direct mail continues to be an effective direct response channel because of its ability to target and, perhaps most important, because it’s tangible. Given that the Web plays a role in most purchases, it’s important to understand how mail delivers Web traffic and how a company’s website helps the conversion process once a consumer gets there. 

Vanity URLs help to identify offline campaign traffic to a website and track corresponding visitor behavior once visitors arrive. Vanity URLs are easy to remember—for example, instead of use XYZInsuranceForMe—and should be prominent in any mail piece. Vanity URLs can be direct links to a website or landing page, or set up to use redirects, which set a cookie in a visitor’s browser that can be tracked in a Web analytics program, such as Google Analytics. The latter process essentially simulates a click on an online ad and is seamless to the end user. When visitors enroll or complete a lead form on a website, it can be tied back to the mail campaign.

Mail can also stimulate navigational searches, using a search engine like Google for example. While this is a fantastic byproduct, it leaves a gap in tracking because the visitor isn’t using the vanity URL. Looking at pre- and post-mail drop website visits or year-over-year site traffic data in a Web analytics tool can help tease out potential lift. The numbers may be subtle, but at a minimum this should provide enough directional data for taking a best guess approach to filling in the small gap. 

Dynamic phone tracking uses IP forwarding to allow for rapid versioning of phone numbers. It requires a software implementation that, from an IT perspective, is similar in scope to Google Analytics. The real magic of dynamic phone tracking is the ability to add tracking parameters to URLs the same way that campaign links are appended for Web analytics tools. Once a visitor clicks, a cookie is placed in their browser. Once the code on the website detects this cookie, it will instruct the user’s browser to render the page with the dynamic phone number in lieu of the default phone numbers. This number will essentially follow the user throughout their site visit, so if they call at any time it’s possible to know from which campaign their call originated. This method can also be used for tracking phone calls from mail traffic using vanity URLs, as described above. 

Many phone tracking solutions have the ability to integrate with Web analytics packages. One option is to create an off menu tracking page that a call tracking solution will visit with an automated bot when a call is placed using a reserved number. Those bot visits can then be set up as a campaign goal similar to online campaigns.  This also makes it easy to compare days and time of day when phone calls occur to correlate with site visits. This should make it possible to tease out some lift in traffic as a result of a mail campaign.   

The larger goal for marketers is to find ways to use technology to increase the measurement of our programs. Conversion paths are no longer linear, and there are interdependencies between the traditional offline world like mail and digital channels.  Understanding how these programs work together is essential to truly understanding our campaign performance and maximizing our responses.

Greg Marta is director of digital marketing of DMW Direct

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