How to Create Influential Variable Data Direct Mail

The real power in direct mail is sending the right offer to the right person. In order to do this effectively, you need to be using variable data direct mail for offers and images, not just names.

The real power in direct mail is sending the right offer to the right person. In order to do this effectively, you need to be using variable data direct mail for offers and images, not just names.

“Dear Summer” does not grab me. What draws me in are offers that I want. So if you send me direct mail, send me offers for fishing, camping, reading and, of course, the normal household requirements. Yet, every day I get mail that is not appropriate for me, such as offers for baby gear (my kids are adults now).

When direct mail is sent to someone who is not interested in it, it’s basically junk mail and is thrown in the trash. So how can you prevent that from happening with your mail? Use your list wisely.

  • Step 1: Your Data — You need to make sure that your data files are correct. This means not only checking to see if addresses are correct, but that you have all of the purchase history and any other relevant information up to date. You can’t use bad data.
  • Step 2: Your Offers — Now you will need to decide what your offers are going to be. You can have as many offers as you want, just be sure you send one offer per person.
  • Step 3: Your Copy/Messaging — You will need to create your copy/messaging to highlight your offer and raise interest. Compelling and relevant copy drives response. Take the time to write yours. Remember to stay away from acronyms and keep your word choice simple and concise.
  • Step 4: Your List — Now you are ready to target people in your list based on your offers. Select people into groups for which offer best matches them. You can code them and use that offer code for them to respond. This will with analyzing your results later.
  • Step 5: Your Images — Now that you have your offers and your data segmented you are ready to select the variable images to match each offer. The image should help convey your message without words. It should also grab attention. You will want at least one image per offer and depending on your design you may need more than one.
  • Step 6: Your Design — You will need to decide what your design will be no matter whether it is a postcard, self-mailer or booklet you will want to create a layout that has static elements across all versions and areas where your variable copy, offers and images will drop in.
  • Step 7: Your QC — Variable data requires extensive quality control. You should sample each version with multiple people to make sure that everything is working correctly. We have also found that once everything is good then create batch pdf merged files rather than printing direct to the printer. This helps maintain your quality through the run and prevents any hiccups in large file transmission across a network.
  • Step 8: Your Results — Since you coded your offers you will know who responded and what they responded to. This allows you to plan future mail campaigns based on what worked and what did not.

Obviously variable data is not the be all and end all of direct mail marketing, but it can really help you to save money by only sending pieces to people who are interested in it. You will also see a response increase when you send the right offer to the right person. Another benefit is that people look forward to getting mail that they like. So when you have a track record of sending offers they want, they will take the time to read your next mailer to see what great offer they can get now. Are you ready to get started?

In Direct Mail, More Is Less: How Oversaturation Kills ROI

Yes, we are saying that more mail pieces actually get you less as far as results go with direct mail. Don’t be fooled by the notion that more choices, more text and more offers are better. That does not hold up to reality. It is harder for your prospects and customers to make a choice, understand more text and pick from multiple offers than if you stick with one or two.

Yes, we are saying that more mail pieces actually get you less as far as results go with direct mail. Don’t be fooled by the notion that more choices, more text and more offers are better. That does not hold up to reality. It is harder for your prospects and customers to make a choice, understand more text and pick from multiple offers than if you stick with one or two.

With two, they can make a comparison. Once you move past two, you get confusion. Confused people do not buy. Your ROI will reflect your “too many choices” with poor results. Not sure if I am right? Let’s look at some key ways people process your mail pieces.

  • Decision Processing — Good decisions are processed in three steps, on avaerage. The steps are: know the importance of your goals, consider your options to meet them and pick the winning option. Knowing this, you can help them make decisions faster by providing them with the benefits of your product or service to them in your copy. The more options you offer, the harder it is for people to make decisions. When decision-making is hard, people tend to just not do it. Your mail pieces should make it easy for them to decide to buy from you.
  • Intake — As people are looking over your copy, they skim as they read. Many tests have shown that what resonates with them is the last item read; make sure your strongest copy is last, in order to convince them that it is in their best interest to buy from you. The more positive spin you put on the benefits, the better people feel about your product or service and the more eager they are to buy.
  • Past Experience — All decisions we make are based on past experiences, but your prospects and customers can be influenced by other people’s experiences, too. That is why testimonials about your product or service are very important. Your customers and prospects can relate to others’ experiences and want to get that experience for themselves.
  • Familiar — People buy from companies that they are familiar with, so your company branding is important and must be carried through all your marketing channels. They need to be able to recognize you to help them decide to buy from you.

Take the confusion out of your direct mail pieces in order to increase your response rates. Your prospects and customers are inundated with marketing messages all day long in various forms. In order for your mail pieces to resonate, you need to grab attention with your design and then wow them with concise, easy-to-read copy. Focus on how great their life is going to be by using your product or service. Then make it a limited time offer so they respond quicker. Finally, make it easy for them to buy from you.

Stay away from multiple offers per mailer; target the right people with the right offer. You can still have multiple offers in your campaign; just send different offers to different people. When you are not sure what offer will work best, do an A/B test so half of the people get one offer and the other half get the other offer. You can then analyze your results to see which offer worked better. There are enough difficult choices in the world, make buying from you an easy choice and you will see your results increase. In your marketing, you cannot be everything to everyone. You need to be something to someone. Focus on the someones. Are you ready to get started?

The 10 Most Effective Tips for Customer Reactivation

Are you looking for the best ways to reactivate dormant customers and reduce churn? Here’s a roundup of the 10 most effective practices today, in both business and consumer markets. Consider which of these may be the most applicable to your business, your customers and your objectives.

Are you looking for the best ways to reactivate dormant customers and reduce churn? Here’s a roundup of the 10 most effective practices today, in both business and consumer markets. Consider which of these may be the most applicable to your business, your customers and your objectives. And don’t forget to set aside some budget for ongoing retention and reactivation marketing. It’s the best money you can spend.

1. Move Quickly

The longer a customer is inactive, the more likely an eventual defection. Early action is arguably the single most effective technique in reactivation marketing. But, you can take this principal a step further if you examine customer behavior patterns to predict inactivity before it even starts. For example, if purchase frequency slows, or order size shrinks, inactivity is likely to follow. Analyze the characteristics of your purchase cycle.   Anomalies in a particular customer’s behavior may indicate a problem that, with early intervention, can be addressed.

2. Segment Your Dormant Customers, and Treat Them Differently

As marketers well know, different customers have different needs, and represent different levels of value to the firm. Applying segmentation is a key success factor in the reactivation effort, just as it is elsewhere in marketing.   Consider such segmentation variables as:

  • Original acquisition source media, like email, SEM, direct mail, display advertising, event, or telemarketing.
  • Channel usage. This can be communications channels like email or telephone. Or it can be purchase channel preferences, like retail store, tablet, mobile, or desktop computer.
  • Product usage.
  • Customer value, using indicators like RFM, cumulative margins, or intent signals.
  • Inactivity length, typically divided by months or years, depending on the purchase cycle in your business.

3. Deepen Your Understanding of the Dormant Customer

There are a number of approaches you can take, among them:

  1. Analyze behavioral patterns, looking for insights. For example, you may notice that an unusually large order is followed by a period of inactivity, and hypothesize that the customer is not getting ready to leave—she just has all the product she needs for a while.
  2. Use data append to gather more information about the customer. Your database marketing partner can add data points to your customer record that will suggest effective reactivation strategies. Demographic, lifestyle and attitudinal data are especially revealing.
  3. Consider some research, using an outbound telephone call, or a focus group, to gain additional insights into the reasons for the inactivity.

4. Communicate Through Different Channels

Thanks to marketing automation, email communications have become very easy to deploy, and there’s no question that email is effective for current customer communications. But relying entirely on email may annoy lapsed customers, not to mention leave you exposed to possible spam traps. So don’t forget the other options available—telephone, postal mail, mobile, retargeted display advertising, social media, your website — and add them to the mix to broaden your reach and keep your customers interested in your messaging. If your customer records are incomplete, ask your database marketing partner to append additional elements to allow communications through these other channels.

5. Use Proven Offers

Once you’ve determined that the inactivity is not a customer service problem, then the essential tool for reactivation is a motivational offer. Discounts are widely used by marketers today—because they work. But consider additional offers that have proven to be effective in reactivation marketing, such as:

Don’t Make Me Think — Or Choose: Marketing From a Position of Strength

You think you’re being helpful by offering your site visitors and email subscribers a lot of choices. You’re not. You’re being counter-productive. And you may even come across as a little desperate. The counter-productivity is a result of our natural inclination to shut down when confronted with too many options to process.

Position of StrengthYou think you’re being helpful by offering your site visitors and email subscribers a lot of choices. You’re not. You’re being counter-productive. And you may even come across as a little desperate.

The counter-productivity is a result of our natural inclination to shut down when confronted with too many options to process. You’ve probably heard of this referred to as analysis paralysis or the paradox of choice.

These phenomena are very real, and offering too many choices, even if they are presented in a visually compelling fashion, leads a higher percentage of your audience to opt for “Door No. 3” — doing nothing.

Offering fewer choice requires that you do the research and planning work before crafting your offer so that you know what will resonate with each of your audience segments. Once you’ve done the work to establish your audience’s needs, there’s no risk in offering a manageable number of options. You already know what they want.

Reducing that risk has the added benefit of eliminating even a whiff of the desperation that comes with trying to please everyone all the time.

Appealing a little to everyone isn’t the goal. The goal is to appeal strongly to those best suited to benefit from your product or service. This allows you to market from a position of strength. You’ve built a great offer around a product you know to be of value to your target audience. Now you know your marketing is much more helpful than intrusive. (Assuming you’re backing it up with great content.)

Don’t dilute your message with extraneous choices or choices designed to appeal to other segments. Those belong elsewhere, on separate landing pages or in emails targeted specifically to those segments. (You are segmenting your email list, right?)

The action you want your audience to take should be immediately clear, apparent, and transparent. This isn’t the Penn & Teller show. You’re not going to trick anyone into taking meaningful action.  You can only convince them that what you’re offering is worth their time.

That isn’t to say that you want to offer your audience no choice. Frequently, a choice of options is appropriate for even a tightly segmented audience. But that choice should be limited to just a few options. As in two or three — tops.

And your CTAs should not be equally weighted. As I mentioned above, there should be a clear objective, with everything in the email or landing page pointing toward that desired action. The secondary action(s) should be just that — secondary. They should be an acknowledgement that our research and data and segmentation might not be perfect and that some members of our audience might be just slightly off the target you’ve created. That’s OK. Those secondary choices also serve to re-affirm the choice the bigger part of your bell curve is making.

Top 3 Questions I Hear About Direct Marketing

Clients and friends who are traditional marketers often seek my advice on direct response. Here are the answers to the three questions I hear most frequently:

Unknown peopleTraditional marketer clients and friends often seek my advice on direct response. Here are the answers to the three questions I hear most frequently:

Question No. 1: What Kind of Response Rate Should I Expect?

There are response rate benchmark studies published by the DMA and others, usually organized by industry and type of offer (lead generation, free information, cash with order, etc.). These reports can provide you with some guidance in setting your expectations, but they can just as easily lead you astray. How? If you’ve seen one campaign, you’ve seen just that: one. But some marketers fall into the trap of applying previous results to various campaigns.

Your response rate is driven by three factors, listed here in order or importance:

  • Media: If you don’t get your message in front of the right people, your response will suffer. It is the single most important driver of response, so choose wisely.
  • Offer: What’s your value proposition to the prospect? Simply stated, your offer says, “Here’s what I want you to do, and here’s what you’re going to get when you do it.” If your offer is not appealing or relevant to the prospect, the response — or lack thereof — will reflect that. Also, keep in mind that soft offers, which require little commitment on the part of the prospect (e.g., get free information, download a whitepaper, etc.), will generate a higher response than hard offers, which require a greater commitment (request a demo, make an appointment with a sales rep, payment with order, etc.).
  • Creative: It’s hard for traditional advertisers to believe that this element is lower in importance than the first two, but it is. And the biggest driver of response from a creative standpoint is a clearly stated prominent call to action.

Question No. 2: We Have a Strong Campaign Coming Out of Market Research. My Client/Management Wants to Get This Out As Quickly As Possible. Why Do I Have to Test?

Three reasons:

  • You may have a well-researched creative position but it can be executed in a variety of different ways (see the third bullet under Question No. 1, above). Furthermore, your market research couldn’t predict the response rates from different media. But knowing whether email lists, websites or social media fare best for your audience and offer will be crucial to generating the highest response rate.
  • You want to be able to optimize the three factors above to determine which combination gives you the most qualified leads at the lowest cost per lead.
  • Most importantly, you want to avoid a potentially catastrophic result if you’ve gotten one of the three key elements wrong. It’s better to do that with a small quantity rather than a full-scale effort. It’s always disconcerting to hear people say, “We tried direct. It didn’t work.” Keep in mind that if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen one. Previous successes and shortcomings won’t apply when you tweak the context.

Question No. 3. How Big Should My Test Be?

Your test should be large enough to produce statistically significant results. There are two parts to this: the confidence level of your results and the variation you’re willing to accept.

There are statistical formulas for calculating sample size, but a good rule of thumb to follow is that with 250 responses, you can be 90 percent confident that your results will vary no more than plus or minus 10 percent.

For example, if you test 25,000 emails and get a 1 percent response rate, that’s 250 responses. That means you can be 90 percent confident that (all things held equal) you will get between 0.9 percent and 1.1 percent in a rollout.

A smaller number of responses will result in a reduced confidence level or increased variance. For example, with a test size of 10,000 emails and a 1 percent response rate at a 90 percent confidence level, your variance would be 16 percent rather than 10 percent. That means you can be 90 percent confident that you’ll get between 0.84 percent and 1.16 percent response rate, with all things being held equal.

Flashlight Fu and the Art of Extreme Benefits

Did you know a flashlight could be a better self-defense weapon than a gun? I sure didn’t! We’re talking about something portable, purse-sized, “tactical.” And it can break a car window! Wow, those are extremely awesome benefits for a … flash … light. So what extreme benefits can your product offer?

Did you know a flashlight could be a better self-defense weapon than a gun? I sure didn’t! And I don’t mean one of those big night watchmen club-style flashlights. No, we’re talking about something portable, purse-sized, “tactical.” And it can break a car window! Wow, those are extremely awesome benefits for a … flash … light. So what extreme benefits can your product offer?

J5 Ultra Bright. Or, "Witness: The Chuck Norris of Flashlights!"
The bottom really has this copywriter’s best lines: “Attack head design.” “Aircraft grade casing.” “Warning … May Cause Temporary Blindness”!? I think they missed an opportunity by not invoking Chuck Norris, but this is otherwise inspired work.

That’s from this bit of advertorial for the J5 Tactical flashlight. In case that link goes down, here are some of the highlights. (Because this should be preserved for posterity.):

Self Defense … Why a tactical flashlight can be better than a gun

Can you take your gun on an airplane? Heck no, can you take your tactical flashlight, absolutely! In this day and age the same goes for a number of states. Guns are suspect without the correct permits to carry, flashlights aren’t.

You need to incorporate a tactical flashlight into your everyday carry situation and read below on some tips on how to use this tool for hassle free self defense.

But can a flashlight really be used to fend off an attacker? The short answer is: Yes, if you know what you’re doing.

Tactical flashlight defense is apparently a two-stage process that has been described as a Flash and Bash or Light and Fight technique. To make this method work the defender holds the light in their dominant hand, the jagged (or “crenelated”) bezel of the light pointing downward, and their thumb on the tail-cap switch.

As the attacker approaches and swings, our victim flashes them in the eyes with a burst of light while stepping forward to intercept the punch, and raising both forearms up in front, and to the inside of, the swinging arm . As the defender’s trailing arm grabs hold of the attacker’s arm, the flashlight is thrust forward to apply a strike, or constant pressure (both seem to work), from the business end of the light to specific pain points under or behind the ear, on the temple, the collarbone or down on the top of the shoulder.

If the light is being held upward in the hand (like you’d hold a spoon) it can also be shoved up under the chin while pulling down on the arm, shirt or shoulder of the attacker with the other hand.

And that’s not all! The advertorial goes on to highlight even more extreme benefits: It’s apparently an effective car window breaker, and “The Perfect Rescue Beacon.”

And let’s not overlook the content value of the introduction to flashlight martial arts. The “apparently” aside, this is a fine example of using content to educate your readers on the benefits you’re listing so they feel comfortable that they’ll know how to use them after the order arrives. All of their readers are now leading scholars in the emerging art of Flashlight Fu.

Doesn’t that make you think of your flashlight in a new way? The plastic “torch” I have at home sure ain’t getting me out of a home invasion or my car sinking into the river.

I didn't even know flashlight envy was a thing.
I didn’t even know flashlight envy was a thing.

Now maybe not all of the copy has been convincing, but there’s a lot you can learn about how to write benefits (even the kind that don’t force you to reflexively use the word “apparently” in your copy). These authors aren’t just thinking outside the box of normal flashlight benefits, they’ve lit the box on fire to make S’mores.

If J5 can spin its flashlight’s crenelated head and aluminum frame into “better than a gun” for self defense, what extreme benefits can you spin out of your product? What kind of proof can you offer to back them up?

Even if you don’t use those benefits in live marketing copy, the exercise will change how you see them.