The environment for direct mail today is a challenging one. Marketers are looking to optimize their spend in the direct mail channel, and improving ROI performance is top of mind. To do that, successful direct mail needs to be engaging, compelling, and relevant. From frequent postal increases to a tight paper market and economic uncertainty, it is forcing marketers to mail smarter and do more with less to ensure a strong ROI. The key to doing this effectively is leveraging data to target each specific audience’s high-value customers and prospects, presenting them with a personalized and relevant message across channels to maximize each campaign’s impact.

With the digital technology and automated manufacturing systems available, data can be harnessed to maximize what this technology is capable of to yield tasteful, personalized, and tailored communications that can lift both response and conversion numbers. Hyper-personalization can help ensure your organization is targeting the highest-value customers. According to the Association of National Advertisers, targeting customers one-on-one through direct marketing can increase business response rates by 50%. Mail has proven to be the most responsive lead generation channel for marketers when used correctly.

Data-driven direct mail that is integrated across channels and propelled by creativity, data, and analytics has enormous potential to drive consumer response. Creative for each specific audience or segment within a campaign can be tailored and driven by each recipient’s data along with prior testing results to generate optimal performance. Testing is key as the metrics drive creative, copy, call to action, offers, etc. Direct mail’s measurability is one of its greatest strengths.

So, what do you need to know for effective direct mail? A few key questions to ask are what, who, how, where, and when. What are you selling, who are you selling it to, how will they want to respond, where should we communicate with them, and when should that communication happen?

Let’s Start with the Data

A successful direct mail package cannot be based on assumptions. Starting with data and insights can help create award winning direct mail results. This starts with first finding the right audience. Finding the right audience is a matter of balancing the interest in your product and service with your ideal audience’s willingness to engage. When you are working with the highest-quality data, you’re able to analyze a smaller group of individuals with a higher propensity that may be interested in your product or service. Types of data can include behavioral data, financial data, psychographic data, demographic data, and geographic data. When you have the tools to research top-tier data, you’re able to create improved model performance, resulting in sales. Models can be built around the desired characteristics and attributes of your target audience to best fulfill the purpose of each direct mail campaign. All of this dynamic, data-driven content must be managed to approach each prospect personally. Protecting your brand and customer information requires marketers to ensure that their process maintains compliance with all information, privacy, and data security requirements. With access to this type of data, it is critical to remain compliant with privacy legislation and personally identifiable information (PII) data security.

Great Mail Is Made Up of Quality Ingredients

How you build your direct mail piece matters, and it’s not a fixed solution. It is important to maximize your relevance across the package, utilizing a strong offer and making it clear to your audience. Every direct mail piece should present your message with honesty and clarity, answering the question, “What’s in it for me?” Your call to action needs to drive a sense of urgency and ask for specific, defined action with all barriers removed.

There are a few common direct mail mistakes to avoid, including a poor list/model, ignoring testing results, focusing on features rather than benefits, not including an offer at all, or starting with the product rather than the prospect. To ensure your direct mail package is of the highest value, testing is crucial. Testing will allow you more results with less spend and will give you the opportunity for more targeted, relevant messaging with fewer wasted dollars. When testing, there must be a clear, measurable objective, or hypothesis. This could be inclusion/removal of a card, a different headline, or different imagery. We’ve seen program performance improvement up to 184% (and sometimes more) when combining predictive analytics, scientific testing, production optimization, and technology enhancements. Multiple clients have experienced creative-based response lift of 31%, and some have seen annual postage savings in excess of $950K.

In order to do this, though, successful and nimble technology is critical. Digital print and mail manufacturing technology for direct mail continues to advance, fueling easier testing, improved targeting, one-to-one messaging, and faster speed-to-market. The technology available in digital mail manufacturing makes testing even easier while maintaining postal qualification and density.

Direct Mail and Digital Team Up

Using a data-driven, holistic view of your consumer to coordinate mail with digital, social media, and other channels to maximize marketing impact is essential to successful integration. Ideally, your target customer could receive an informed delivery ride along image, a call to action prior to receiving your mail package in their mailbox. They could also see a branded online ad for your product within one to two days of the mail piece landing in their home. This ad message serves as a reinforcement or reminder of the benefits. This message could be on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, or other sources. Frequent exposure can increase the rate of response and conversion up to 20%.

Sophisticated Postal Logistics

Sophisticated postal logistics management with visibility gives marketers greater control of in-home dates and tighter coordination of delivery with digital channels. It allows them to measure and track every event or touchpoint, offering greater understanding of internal flows. Sophisticated postal logistics are giving marketers greater control of mail in-home dates and tighter coordination of mail delivery with digital channels. This requires coordination and precision from marketers and all supply chain partners in order to fully execute the plan. This is an ongoing continuous improvement process, as every mailing campaign is different. It is critical for all marketers and supply chain partners to leverage all available visibility and data tools to strike the best balance to maintain effectiveness in the use of the mail channel to optimize ROI. Data and visibility are keys to optimize mail manufacturing, postage costs, and transportation plans for achieving the desired in-home delivery.

Keeping Direct Mail in the Marketing Mix

There are better tools and technologies available today to improve the results of your direct mail marketing efforts. Mailing personal and relevant content to your prospect or customers continues to perform well. Leveraging data and analytics to pinpoint prospects with mail in coordination with social media efforts can increase the rate of response conversion, fuel improved targeting and lead to faster speed-to market. When marketers connect direct mail to digital marketing efforts through a data-driven, holistic view of the company, sophisticated postal logistics can drive tighter coordination of delivery with digital channels. Digital direct mail is growing for the above reasons. Make sure digital direct mail is part of media spend and marketing mix!

Bob Rosser is Director, Postal Affairs, Products and Services at IWCO Direct.

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2023 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.