How to Best Use Direct Mail Marketing During COVID-19

During a time of crisis like COVID-19 it can be hard to know how best to market to your customers. Direct mail is still a great way to reach them, but you will need to adjust your tactics somewhat in order to remain a trusted resource.

During a time of crisis, it can be hard to know how best to market your products or services to customers. If your customers are consumers and not businesses, direct mail is still a great way to reach them. Of course, with businesses having employees work from home, this certainly creates challenges for B2B marketers who use direct mail in their marketing mix. However, there are other channels that can be used instead. So for now, you many want to put B2B direct mail plans on pause  and wait for when those individuals are back in the office.

Also to note, a few people have expressed concerns about virus transmission from mail, but the WHO and CDC both say that no coronavirus transmission has occurred from a newspaper, magazine, letter, or package. Sending your mail pieces to customers and prospects is still considered safe. So what is the best way to use direct mail right now?

  • Images – Avoid images of people in groups, touching, or at events. Instead find other images that are compelling to convey your message.
  • Message – Avoid using terms that involve touch and closeness. Instead, keep your message about how your product or service will help the prospect out. Do not try to capitalize on the crisis. It is acceptable to mention any changes you have instituted, but do not have a COVID-19 sale. It’s just tacky phrasing. And of course, do not dramatize the crisis for your benefit.
  • Empathy – Be sure to show sincere empathy for what your customers are going through. Times are tough and you don’t want to come across as insensitive. Consider creating direct mail that conveys optimism, hope, and humanity.
  • Plan – When setting up your mail piece, consider how it can actually help people. If you have a product or service that already will help prospects during the pandemic, highlight that – without capitalizing on COVID-19. If not, then find a way for the mail piece to educate, entertain, or inspire prospects into action.

Another way you can help customers and prospects at this time – and generate some good PR – is to find ways to help your community, as well as encouraging mail recipients to do the same in their communities. Or consider teaming up with a relevant local nonprofit, and make a pledge to donate a portion of your sales revenue. Creating a mail campaign with a positive message and needed products, services, or information will be well received and responded to.

It also is important to consider your list. There may be people on your list who are better targets to reach out to than others right now. Segment them out and send only to them. This is not the time for a one-size-fits-all campaign. Sensitivity and relevancy really matter right now. The best direct mail is sending the right offer to the right person at the right time.

In a crisis, your customers want you to be reliable and credible. Provide them with needed products, services, or information so that your mail is relevant and appreciated. Be a friendly, trusted resource to help them through the crisis. Keep in mind that how you communicate contributes to how your brand will be remembered. This will position you now and in the future as a company that your customers and prospects want to do business with. Are you ready to get started?

Simple Math: Direct Mail + Email = Better Response

The job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

Direct mail is a strong channel by itself for nonprofits, but like I’ve written before, the job of direct mail is specific. You can’t ask direct mail to do too much; just like you can’t ask Facebook ads or Instagram to do too much. Each channel has a job to do, and they all do different jobs.

And knowing this, you have numerous opportunities to parlay multiple channels to create a stronger response. Let’s dive into a combo that’s an easy one: direct mail and email.

Think of it like shortstop and second-base position players: They each have a distinct job on the field, but when a double-play is available, they work as a tight combination and move as a duo.

The reason direct mail and email is a natural pairing is because their jobs and strengths are so different, but they’re united by data and personalization.

Direct mail is great at storytelling and using its leave-in-the-basket physicality to just simply hang around until your donor acts. Email is great for peppering your donor with reminders and moving them through an easy click-to-donation experience. And both of these channels reference the donor’s name and drop their message right into that person’s life space — mailbox or inbox. It’s a personal outreach.

Plus, the data shows this works: All the studies from the ANA (formerly the Data & Marketing Association) reveal that combining digital and direct mail increases response about 20%.

Use the Strengths

Direct mail is strong with storytelling. Use direct mail to tell a longer story via a letter, and drop in some visual assets that linger as a reminder. Most folks don’t want to or have the basket space to keep a letter, but if you have an insert slip, sticker, bookmark or postcard as a visual leave-behind, it lets the user recycle the letter without feeling like they’re going to forget you. They can put the asset on the fridge, keep in the basket, etc. as a lingering reminder to get back to you with that donation.

Emails are strong in visual frequency. Since emails can be designed lots of ways, and with high frequency, reference a direct mail asset in the email. Visually connect the inserts of the direct mail package in the emails. And use snippets from the letter in the shorter form email, telling the story of the letter in multiple touches. Also, you can use the email as a preview for a letter package coming in the mail. If your open rates are 30%, then those folks may be on the lookout for the upcoming letter and be more inclined to open the letter, too.

Judo-Block Weaknesses

One of direct mail’s weaknesses is that postage is a necessary expense and the frequency needs to be paced based on your budget. It’s rare for a business or nonprofit to mail more than once per month to their own customer base, and letter rate postage varies widely (from as low at $0.18 up to $0.42). As you plan the project, ask your mailing services provider for postage prices.

Judo Block: Use different formats for mailing that may be less expensive. Postcard rates — especially for nonprofits — are less than letter rates and could be an alternative. The postcard postage usually runs about $0.24 per piece, and some mailing services co-mingle to get even lower rates (for a full rate sheet, see the USPS calculator).

One of email’s weaknesses is that the donor data is incomplete. To make the subscription process easier and have lower barriers, many nonprofits just have name and email in their opt-in forms. That makes it faster to subscribe, but it doesn’t give you their home address, which limits your ability to do multichannel touches.

Judo Block: Do reverse-append to get a mailing list of your email subscribers. Usually a good partner can get 60% to 80% of your emails matched to a home address. Next to your house file of donors, this is the best mailing list you can get. And since they’ve opted in with their email, appending address data is privacy compliant (including GDPR and the upcoming California Consumer Privacy Act).

In the end, you want your direct mail and email to work together to tell your story to your donors and move them along the next-step action. Cross-referencing, using images, pacing the story between the two, are all good ways to get the combo working together.

As you move into your 2020 marketing plan, pair these channels up in new and creative ways, as two players in an integrated double-play.

As always, I look forward to hearing your comments.

A Better Direct Mail Strategy for 2019

Start your 2019 year off right with a better direct mail marketing strategy. The DMA has reported that customer response rates increased year-over-year by an impressive 43% and prospect response rates more than doubled — reporting an astounding 190% increase. With these results in mind, is your current direct mail strategy working as well as it can?

Start your 2019 year off right with a better direct mail marketing strategy. The DMA has reported that customer response rates increased year-over-year by an impressive 43% and prospect response rates more than doubled — reporting an astounding 190% increase. The USPS “Household Diary Study” found that people read postcards in greater numbers with a 3.9% YOY rise. With these results in mind, is your current direct mail strategy working as well as it can?

We all set goals and expectations for our direct mail campaigns, but they don’t always go as we expect them to. Working on a better strategy can help us achieve better results. Before we get started on 2019, we need to look at our 2018 results. Did customers and prospects show interest but not purchase from you? Was there no interest at all or just below your expectations? Did you have any known issues with campaigns in 2018? Focus on both who bought from you and who did not. Are there any likenesses between the people in each group? In many cases, we will find that there are common issues with people that can help us better target the ones who did not buy.

Direct Mail Elements

  • Audience — The people you are mailing to really matter. Do you have the most current data for mailing? There are many was to clean up your mailing list, make sure you are using them. Once you know you have the right addresses you are ready to focus on other parts of your data. Tracking purchase history, demographics and geographics helps you to target them better. The more information you can collect and process to refine your target audience for each mailing, the better your response rate is going to be. Keep in mind that you can also purchase targeted lists based on your best current customers. If you have not tried this before, you may want to consider it for 2019.
  • Offer — If your offer does not resonate with your prospects and customers, they will not buy from you. Look at your best offers in 2018 so that you know what works best. Then take a look at the offers that bombed. What was different about them? How can you make sure that the offers in 2019 are much better? Targeting the right offers to the right people is critical for your response rates.
  • Design — Did you have some great designs in 2018? There are many areas where you can get creative to stand out in 2019. What size pieces did you send last year? How well did they work? Have you considered using larger pieces to stand out in the mailbox more? Color, images and copy placement are all factors in good design. Consider using higher impact images, bolder colors and fun creative elements, like texture, to draw people in. Your choice of paper stock matters, too. So consider a different, heavier stock this year, or even a pearlescent to really sparkle.

Now that you have some things to consider for 2019, remember that it is best to only change one thing at a time to be able to recognize the impact that each change makes. Ideally, you will want to run an A/B test by using a piece that worked great in 2018 to test against a newer piece for 2019. This will give you an opportunity to continually create better direct mail throughout the year. The best direct mail pieces target the right people with the right offer at the right time. Are you ready to create your best direct mail campaign?

‘Take This Catalog and Shove It!’ – A Modern Customer Relations Parable

Somewhere within the bowels of Restoration Hardware, somebody got themselves a calculator and said to themselves, “Hey! I know how we can save a whole lot of money—let’s print these babies all at once!” What they failed to take into account was the potential negative reaction of their customers

Somewhere within the bowels of Restoration Hardware, somebody got themselves a calculator. And when they added up the cost of creating, printing and mailing multiple catalogs throughout the year, they said to themselves, “Hey! I know how we can save a whole lot of money—let’s print these babies all at once, and drop ship them via UPS. It’s gonna save us thousands in time, paper and postage!”

What they failed to take into account was the potential negative reaction of their customers.

When 15 pounds of catalogs landed on my doorstep I was stunned. At first I thought they must have mistaken me for an interior designer, and figured I need to be “in the know” on every single product SKU in their inventory.

But upon further examination, I was simply disgusted at their lack of marketing savvy. Not only did it take me more than 10 minutes to cut off all the plastic that encased them, but the books instantly filled my small recycling bin in the kitchen.

As a marketer, I wondered why I was even on their list. Not only have I not spent $1 at Restoration Hardware in the last 12-months, but upon further reflection, I’m not sure I’ve spent more than $100 there in the last several years!

Cranky, I took to Facebook to see if I was the only recipient of this marketing fiasco. It turns out 45 of my FB friends were also on the receiving end of this giant mailing effort. And 25 of them left equally cranky comments of support to my rant. One even suggested that we collect all the catalogs in the neighborhood and drive over to RH headquarters and set them ablaze on their doorstep! Yikes!

Next, I decided to let Restoration Hardware know of my frustration. First I visited their FB page and left my post, expressing my disgust. Taking a quick peek again this week, I’ve discovered lots of lots of similar customer complaints, including comments like “I will never shop at your store again!!!”

But the highlight (or perhaps lowlight) was my experience with the RH brand directly. I went to their website and completed the Feedback form. But it was the response I got that told me that RH is clueless when it comes to marketing. To help put this into perspective, I’ll share my note to them and their canned response. This is all a true case study in what not to do.

From: carolyn@goodmanmarketing.com
Received: 6/6/14 1:49:23 PM PDT
To: carolyn@goodmanmarketing.com
Subject: RH – Feedback

As a homeowner, I am appalled at the 50 lbs of catalogs you sent me recently. It took me 10 minutes to cut through all the plastic, so I could dump 13 catalogs in my recycle bin. I posted my crankiness to my FB page and have had over 40 others respond with equal disgust.

As a marketer, I am stunned at your lack of understanding of your customers and prospects. It can’t possibly make good financial sense to send me all this stuff as I haven’t made a purchase from you in years … and even then didn’t spend more than $100. Please, I’m begging you, take me off your mailing list … and contact me if you want some help with marketing strategies and tactics that can truly pay off with engaged customers, higher average order sizes, and brand evangelists.

From: Restoration Hardware Customer Service [mailto:webcs@restorationhardware.com]
Sent: Saturday, June 07, 2014 7:22 PM
To: Carolyn Goodman
Subject: RE: RH – Feedback <<#419189-1221170#>>

Dear Carolyn,

Thank you for contacting Restoration Hardware regarding our sourcebooks. We respect your environmental concerns and assure you that we are also very conscientious about our global footprint. The paper we use for our catalogs is sourced from sustainable forests, certified by ‘Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification’ (PEFC). According to the PEFC website, the group works throughout the entire forest supply chain to ensure that timber and non-timber forest products are produced with respect for the highest ecological, social, and ethical standards.

Additionally, we recently reduced the number of sourcebooks and the frequency by which we send them. Mailings that were once monthly are now only twice per year. For those who prefer to view our catalogs online, we have made our sourcebooks available on our website and through various smartphone and tablet applications.

In order to ensure that you are removed from our mailing list, please cancel your subscription via our website by clicking here. If you are unable to do so, please respond with the name and mailing address in which the sourcebooks were delivered, and we can certainly cancel your subscription for you.

We sincerely value your feedback. It is through our customers’ input that we continue to improve our quality of service. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us.

Again, thank you for contacting Restoration Hardware.

Sincerely,

Jenna Blase
Email Customer Service Advocate
Restoration Hardware

12 Overlooked Ways to Help Your Video Rank Higher on YouTube

YouTube is currently the second largest search engine on the Internet. With 1 billion unique monthly visitors watching YouTube videos, enabling your marketing videos to rank higher can lead to more people discovering you, drive traffic to your website or landing pages, build your mailing list, and sell more products and services. There are a dozen often overlooked ways you

YouTube is currently the second largest search engine on the Internet. With 1 billion unique monthly visitors watching YouTube videos, enabling your marketing videos to rank higher can lead to more people discovering you, drive traffic to your website or landing pages, build your mailing list, and sell more products and services. There are a dozen often overlooked ways you can help your video rank higher on YouTube, and today we’ll quickly dissect them.

(If the video isn’t just above this line, click here to view it.)

Today you’ll learn how these steps will help your video rank higher on YouTube.

  • The importance of encouraging viewers to add your video to their playlists and how that builds social signals
  • Why you need an authoritative YouTube channel
  • Uploading new videos regularly helps you rank higher
  • Monitor and reply to comments promptly
  • Ideas to get more video views
  • Create quality content so your viewers watch more of your videos
  • Annotations can help keep viewers on your video
  • Using “in video programming” to showcase other videos
  • Why “Likes” are a good thing (and how to get more)
  • Why you should embed your videos on websites, blogs, articles or even a press release
  • and more

If you have additional tips to add to this list of strategies to make videos rank higher on YouTube, please share them in the comments section below.

If you missed it, check out our last blog post: “Top 10 Ways to Improve YouTube Video Search Ranking.”

Inside the Recycling Tub: Catalogs & Direct Mail, Post-Consumer

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

The year was 1990. Earth Day turned 20 years old. The darling book that year was 50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth. Its author’s top recommendation was “Stop Junk Mail.” The book was a “cultural phenomena,” as one reviewer recalled, selling more than 5 million copies in all.

During the early 1990s, millions of consumers wrote their request to the then-Mail Preference Service (MPS, now DMAchoice) to remove themselves from national mailing lists, partially as a result of the media hype around that publication and its recommendation to consumers to sign up for MPS. Even some cities and towns urged their citizens (with taxpayer money) to get off mailing lists. I don’t think the Direct Marketing Association released publicly its MPS consumer registration figures, but it swelled to the point where some saturation mailers nearly considered not using the file for fear it would disqualify them for the lowest postage within certain ZIP Codes where new MPS registrants were concentrated. (DMA developed a saturation mailer format at the time to preserve MPS utility.)

Removing names from a mailing list is what solid waste management professionals call “source reduction”—an act that prevents the production of mail (and later waste) in the first place.

One of the reasons “junk mail” met with some consumer hostility then was simply because once you were done with a catalog or mail piece, wanted or not, there was no place to put it except in the trash. It seemed to many, “All this waste!” (that actually amounted to about 2.3 percent of the municipal solid waste stream back then).

Thankfully, there were other marketplace and public policy dynamics tied to support of the green movement, circa 1990. In a word, “recycling” (like source reduction) was seen as a part of responsible solid waste management. At the time, North American paper mills were scrambling to get recovered fiber to manufacture paper products and packaging with recycled content. Some states (and the federal government) set minimum recycled-content and “post-consumer” recycled-content percentage requirements for the paper they procured, while California mandated diversion goals for solid waste from its landfills. Increasingly, foreign trading partners were clamoring for America’s discarded paper to meet their ravenous demands for fiber. The cumulative results were an aggressive increase in the amount of paper collected for recycling and the number of collection points across the United States.

All this boded well for catalogs and direct mail, as far as their collection rates. Catalogs and magazines are considered equivalent when it comes to their fiber makeup. They do tend to have more hardwood (short, thinner fibers) versus softwood (long, strong fibers) since the hardwood gives a nice, smooth printing surface. When they are collected for recycling, recovered catalogs and magazines are suitable for lower quality paper/packaging grades, as well as for tissue. Some of the fiber does wind up getting used as post-consumer waste in new magazines and catalogs, but producers of such papers much prefer having recovered office paper (ideally not mixed with other lower-quality post-consumer papers) as their source of post-consumer content, as the quality is better for making higher quality magazine/catalog papers. (See link below from Verso Paper.)

Most direct mail when recovered is classified as mixed papers, and is suitable for tissue, packaging and other recovered-fiber products. (Today, a lot of paper recovery mixes it all together, and with positive reuse.) By 2007, DMA had received permission from the Federal Trade Commission to begin allowing mailers to place “recyclable” messages and seals on catalogs and mail pieces (roughly 60 percent of U.S. households must have access to local recycling options before “recyclable” labels can be used). Upon this FTC opinion, DMA promptly launched its “Recycle Please” logo program. By 2010, in addition, thousands of U.S. post offices were placing “Read-Respond-Recycle” collection bins for mixed paper in their lobbies.

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began tracking “Standard Mail” in its biennial Municipal Solid Waste Characterization Report in 1990, the recovery rate (through recycling collection) was near 5 percent. By 2009 (the most current year reported), the recovery rate had increased more than 10-fold to 63 percent—but I cite this figure with a big asterisk. There will be a discussion in a future post on why the EPA MSW recycling data may not be as accurate (and as optimistic) as these findings seem to present. In fact, the EPA itself has asked for public comment on how its current MSW study methodology can be improved—again, more on that in another post.

While I’m not an expert on solid waste reporting, I certainly can see the positive direction underway here, no matter what the actual recovery rate may be. The more catalogs and direct mail that are recovered for their fiber, chances are that there will be more efficient use of that fiber in the supply chain, rather than ending up in a landfill. That helps relieve pressure on paper and packaging pricing, which is good for our bottom lines.

It might also, just a little bit, make a consumer think to herself “I love my junk mail”—as she takes the no-longer-needed mail at week’s or season’s end and places it into a recycling tub. Recycling makes us feel good. It is simple to do. Recycling may not truly save the Earth, but it certainly does extend the life of an importantly renewable natural resource, wood fiber.

Helpful links: