Rising Above the ‘Noise’ of Digital Marketing With Direct Mail

As marketers, we have to ask ourselves how much “noise” we will be required to make to have our offerings heard against this cacophony of messages and how much our customers and prospects are willing to tolerate?

Remember in the 1960s when a direct mail campaign of a million pieces was a dream, but it was unlikely that even by combining house names, rentals, and trades, you could get your hands on that many names? (We hadn’t yet begun to call them data files or databases.)

And did you know what the abbreviations MM or M; B or Bn or Bil; T or Tn stood for? And if you did or could guess, it’s doubtful you could attach a specific number of zeros to each of them?

Things were quieter then, something like the quiet we have recently been experiencing in whole or partial lockdown. Admittedly, back then it was nice to hear the blare of trumpets on the Fourth of July holiday when the local brass band paraded through town, much nicer than the blasting sound of today’s boom boxes at full decibels. But paraphrasing the old saw, silence was golden.

Accepting that we are entering a totally different marketplace than any of us have experienced, it is fair to say that it is likely to be more boom box than brass band. According to the “Wall Street Journal,” WPP is forecasting “Political ad spending will total $9.9 billion in 2020…. up from $6.3 billion in 2016, when President Trump was elected.” That’s “B or Bn or Bil.” The same article projects the digital portion at “$2.8 billion, or 2.2% of total digital ad spending.”

If the spend was evenly divided among the 153.07 million registered voters, that would provide $6.53 each. But as we know, only about 30% of these, 9.5 million, are what are said by FiveThirtyEight to be potential swing voters and, if the spend was divided equally among them, it would allow $21.78 to bombard each of them with “electoral noise.”

As marketers, we have to ask ourselves how much “noise” we will be required to make to have our offerings heard against this cacophony of messages and how much our customers and prospects are willing to tolerate? We will need to contemplate whether the answer will be as T.S. Eliot wrote of the end of the world in “The Hollow Men”: “Not with a bang but a whimper.”

This may be one of the reasons why — along with the fragile and uncertain future of the U.S. Postal Service — so much recent interest has been generated by the resurgence of direct mail as a serious participant in the marketing mix.

Instead of being denigrated as “snail” (or worse) “junk” mail, the quiet “whimper” of a well-conceived and directed mailing, delivered in the mailbox, may single itself out and have greater impact than yet another loud explosion in the endless digital war for attention in the inbox.

Imagine Express put it succinctly:

“Direct mail provides companies with the commodity of time — time to communicate the message effectively, convey emotions and convert the customer.”

The “commodity of time” is often the secret asset missing from our frenzied marketing activities. It is so much faster, easier, even seemingly cheaper to fashion promotions for social media and digital than to weigh and choose all the interesting new options for direct mail, that this path of least resistance is the one chosen.

But wouldn’t be a good idea, especially now that we are emerging into new era, to revisit the past successes of direct mail as a major generator of leads, sales, and profits, and determine whether mail might make our messages raise above all the noise?

‘Crassmas’ Messages Show the Strengths of Snail Mail, the Weaknesses of Poor Digital Personalization

Even if the old-fashioned way of choosing, inscribing, and snail mail posting greeting cards has given way to “eCards,” the good intention is the same. It’s a reminder that someone is actually thinking of you. Which is why I was annoyed when I recently received cards from friends sent using the Jacquie Lawson platform.

Seasonal greeting cards are many things to both senders and recipients.

Starting at the top, they can be very personal communications of greetings, reminders of friendships often left to lapse during our busy year. At the bottom, they can be nothing more than purely commercial direct mail — with a bough of holly or a reindeer to give them a seasonal scent.

Either way, they are big business (estimated at 6% of the $7.5 billion greeting card market).

And even if the old-fashioned way of choosing, inscribing, and snail mail-posting them has to a great extent given way to “eCards,” the good intention is the same: If absence makes the heart grow fonder, the reminder that someone is actually thinking of you and expending time, effort, and money to send a greeting should be at least heartwarming, even if the non-digital examples have become somewhat anti-environmental.

Which is why, despite this un-Christmas like critique, I became really annoyed when I recently received cards from friends sent using the Jacquie Lawson platform. However brilliant the superb graphics (and they are truly beautiful) the gross commercialism of the accompanying messages totally detracted from the personal richness of the senders’ intent.

The notice in my inbox was straightforward enough. It said that my named friend had sent me an ecard. The “Correspondent” was simply, “Jacquie Lawson ecards,” a name I may or may not have known. And when, for no good reason, I had not opened the original missive, the day after Christmas I received a reminder. (Identification of the generous sender in the illustrations has been surpressed: what might her husband say?)

personalization absent
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

What Bothered Me?

These notices, instead of keeping the focus on my friend’s message to me and the hope that it would be something pleasurable, instead were Jacquie Lawson branding-dominant. Using the next-to-last paragraph of the reminder, right after “You can view your card here” to invite the reader to “learn more about us here” may be someone’s idea of a good promotional ploy. But to me, it was a rather good example of turning Christmas into “crassmas.” Can you imagine receiving a seasonal gift with a promotional message in the box?

Lest we have missed the Jacquie Lawson come-ons and just enjoyed the animated card, after the greetings message from the sender, at the bottom of the card this line with its links reminds us not of our friend’s greeting but of, you guessed it, Jacquie Lawson.

personalization absent, branding present
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Perhaps this is a singular example, but there has been a growing tendency this past year for marketers to forget that “personalization” — the heart of truly successful targeted marketing — needs to stay focused not on the super technologies that make personalization and the accompanying graphics possible, but rather on not letting anything get in the way of truly personal interactions.

Sure, Jacquie Lawson has every right to promote the beautiful work done by her team and, no doubt, I’ll be receiving plentiful invitations to know more about it and purchase new designs from the company.  That’s the business we are in.

But in this New Year, let’s not let our desire for growth and profits outweigh the personalization sensitivities of our messages

13 Things You Must Do This Year To Boost Your Biz! Part Two

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

[Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a two-part series.]

In Part One, I mentioned some great, low-to-no cost tactics to help boost your business this year, including affiliate marketing, content syndication, search engine optimization, online lead generation polls, viral marketing and cost-effective media buying.

Today, I’m wrapping up the list with even more tips and tricks to get the most out of your marketing efforts (and marketing budget!) this year.

7. Pay Per Click (PPC). Many people try pay per click only to spend thousands of dollars with little results. Creating a successful PPC campaign is an art—one that I’ve had success with. If PPC is new for you, then don’t start out with the big guys like Google or Yahoo, run your “test” campaign on smaller search engines such as Bing, as well as second-tier networks, such as Adbrite, Miva and Kanoodle. In addition, you must make sure you have a strong text ad and landing page and that the ad is keyword dense. You must also have a compelling offer and make sure you do your keyword research. Picking the correct keywords that coincide with your actual ad and landing page is crucial. You don’t want to pick keywords that are too vague, too competitive or unpopular. You also need to be active with your campaign management which includes bid amounts and daily budget. All these things—bid, budget, keywords, popularity and placement—will determine the success of the campaign. And most campaigns are trial and error and take anywhere from three to six weeks to optimize.

8. Free Teleseminars or Webinars. These are a great way to collect names for list building, then cross-sell to those names once they’re in your sales funnel. You can use services like FreeConferenceCall.com, where it’s a toll (not toll free) call. But in my experience, if the value proposition of the subject matter is strong, people will pay that nominal fee. Promote a free teleseminar or webinar to prospects (that is not your internal list). Remember, this is for lead generation. So your goal is to give away valuable information in exchange for an email address. You can have a ‘soft sell’ at the end of the call and follow up with an email blast within 24 hours. But the most important thing is getting that name, THEN bonding with them through your editorial.

9. Free Online classified ads. Using CraigsList or similar high traffic classified sites is a great way to sell a products or get leads. The trick is ad copy that is powerful and persuasive, as well as geo-targeting—picking the right location and category to run your ad in. Hint: think of your ideal audience. Ads are free, so why not test it out.

10. Reciprocal Ad Swaps. One of the best kept secrets in the industry: Some of your best resources will be your fellow publishers. This channel often gets overlooked by marketers who don’t give it the respect it deserves. In the work I do for my clients, I spend a good portion of my time researching publishers and websites in related, synergistic industries. I look for relevant connections between their publications (print and online) and list (subscribers). Let’s say I come across a natural health e-letter that has a list of readers similar in size to one of my clients, who is a supplement manufacturer. Since many of their audience share similar interests, cross-marketing each other products (or even lead gen efforts) can be mutually rewarding. Swapping ads will save you money on lead-generation initiatives. Since you won’t be paying for access to the other publisher’s list of subscribers, you can get new customers for free. The only “cost” is an opportunity cost—allowing the other publisher to access your own list. It’s a win-win situation. This technique also opens the door to potential joint-venture opportunities for revenue sharing (sales).

11. Guest Editorials and Editorial Contributions. Another popular favorite used in the publishing industry is editorial contributions. This is where you provide quality editorial (article, interview, Q&A) to a synergistic publication and in return get a byline and/or editorial note in your article. In addition to an editorial opportunity, this is a marketing opportunity. You see, within the byline or ed. note you can include author attribution plus a back-link to your site. Some ed. notes can even be advertorial in nature, linking to a promotional landing page. Relationship networking and cultivation come into play when coordinating these, as it’s usually someone in the editorial or marketing department that spearheads such arrangements. These are great for increasing exposure to other lists, which can be beneficial for increasing market share, bonding, sales and lead generation efforts.

12. Snail Mail. Direct mail is still a consumer favorite—and another good way to get your sales message out. It can be especially effective used in conjunction with another effort, such as an email campaign. Studies indicate that 70 percent of respondents prefer receiving correspondence via mail vs. email. As with any marketing medium, though, you can end up paying a lot between production costs, list rental costs, and mail shop/postage costs. The most costly direct mail packages are magalogs and tabloids (four-color mailers that look like magazines). However, 6 x 9 postcards, tri-fold self-mailers and simple sales letters are three low-cost ways of taking advantage of this channel. Note that copywriting, list selection and geo-targeting can be crucial for direct mail success, no matter which cost-effective mail format you pick. Although 100 percent ROI (return on investment) is what you should aim for, many direct mailers these days are content with 80 percent returns. This lower figure takes into consideration the lifetime value of the names that come in from this channel, because they are typically reliable buyers in the future and snail mail address are more solid—they don’t change as often as email addresses.

13. Print Ads. This is another channel that gets a raw deal. One reason is because it can be costly. To place an ad in a high-circulation magazine or newspaper, you could shell out serious money. But you don’t need a big budget to take advantage of print ads. If you don’t have deep pockets, consider targeted newspapers and periodicals. Let’s say you’re selling an investment report. Try using the Internet to research the wealthiest cities in America. Once you get that list, look online for local newspapers in those communities. These smaller newspapers hit your target audience and offer a much cheaper ad rate than some of the larger, broad-circulation publications. You end up getting quality rather than quantity. I once paid for an ad in a local newspaper in Aspen, CO, that had a flat rate of less than $500 for a half page ad. My ROI on this effort turned out to be more than 1,000 percent. Most important rule: Know your audience. That will determine placement and price.