We were thrilled to be a sponsor of the 2023 DELIVERED Conference, the free virtual conference all about direct mail. We had the opportunity to step on stage as Lob’s Direct Mail Industry Expert, Summer Hahnlen, spoke with thredUP’s Senior Manager of Growth Marketing, Britt Reano, during a session on Revolutionizing Direct Mail.
This information-packed session was on the “I’m a Pro” track at the conference, and Hahnlen and Reano discussed thredUP’s history with direct mail marketing, the success the brand has found with direct mail, and A/B testing the channel. Finally, they chatted about future testing opportunities. Attendees learned about tests they can run at their organizations and some lessons from Reano and her team.
Recommended reading: Read more about a specific direct mail A/B test thredUP ran through Lob and the results it found by reading the case study: Increased ROI is always in fashion.
thredUP had used direct mail marketing in the past but paused campaigns due to low returns for the level of manual effort going into the channel. Reano was given the opportunity to revive the organization’s direct mail program after a two-year break. She was new to direct mail, and Lob’s direct mail automation software was there to solve the problem manual mail had posed in the post.
“I liked that I could get direct mail back up and running through a self-service motion with Lob. I didn’t need engineering support, and our creative team was excited to try print and something new and different. Lob is so easy to figure out. I can take a direct mail campaign across the finish line on my own, making it easy to scale the program,” said Reano. “And it really resonates with our customer base. We found that direct mail could be competitive with digital channels.”
Having proven the channel was effective, it was time to test, learn, and optimize direct mail. Let’s dive into some key takeaways from the presentation.
Key takeaway #1: Direct mail is for everyone
When asked if thredUP targets specific age groups with its direct mail program, Reano replied, “We’re seeing responses across our whole audience. It’s something we’re thinking of dialing into deeper: What’s that age group that loves direct mail? My research has shown that direct mail resonates with Gen Z, as it cuts through the noise of email and stands out.”
Good to know: A key point of data from our 2023 State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report shows that 49% of respondents ages 18-34 agree that it is important to me that brands interact with me beyond the digital space. Also good to note, 44% of respondents ages 18-34 agree that “I am often introduced to new brands via direct mail.” Get more stats like these in the 2023 State of Direct Mail Consumer Insights report!
Hahnlen added her insight by saying, “There’s a stigma that you must be 55+ to engage with direct mail. But we’re finding wins with the 18-29 age group. Direct mail comes across as trustworthy compared to links in email or SMS.”
Key takeaway #2: Subtle changes can offer big results
A/B testing in direct mail has been a journey for Reano and her team at thredUP. She noted, “When we first got back into direct mail, we focused on big, splashy promo codes and personalization.”
Personalization was so crucial to the brand as it was targeting current customers.
Reano added, “We wanted our direct mail to be relevant. There was an intent to reach you [the customer]. There is a reason you got this. This isn’t junk mail. This wasn’t a mass send. We wanted to hone in on customer response and what they are responding to. The secret sauce? We focus on audience segmentation and then the creative. We now have a best practice in what a direct mail campaign looks like, but we can continue A/B testing. Testing, learning, and optimizing as we go.”
Reano focused A/B tests on more minor elements and saw significant results, such as testing:
- Multiple images vs. a single image
- A single image vs. seasonally appropriate imagery
- Background colors
- Portrait vs. landscape layout
- A larger QR code, which resulted in more clicks
- Sub-copy personalization, such as “it’s just for you, First Name.”
- A bigger logo
The larger logo test came from personal experience in the Reano household. She explained that her husband is the one who goes through the mail, sorts it, and puts the thredUp direct mail in the recycle bin without her realizing it! Reano saw the piece and asked him about it.
“Hey, you threw away what I do at work! We worked so hard on this.”
His response? “I didn’t even realize it was thredUP.”
What? How could that be?
Reano realized she and her team were so in the weeds that they didn’t realize how small the logo would look on the printed piece. She wondered how many others could miss their mail because the logo wasn’t large enough. Her husband noted he spent half a second looking it over, so she needed to capitalize on that half a second and get his attention with a bigger logo.
Making the logo bigger was a subtle change that made a huge difference. Plus, by starting small, you can feel confident that element contributed to the change in results.
Key takeaway #3: Direct mail fits with digital marketing channels
Hahnlen noted that direct mail does a lot of the legwork in capturing people’s attention initially, but it needs backup to move customers or prospects through the buyer’s journey. Reano agreed, and she and her team are working on making direct mail and digital channels work better together.
“Every piece of direct mail is a new campaign launch. We need to be able to integrate based on customer behaviors and add follow-ons like email or ads to become more efficient and take some heavy lift off other internal stakeholders. It takes a village. Having something trigger-based will allow us time to test and try new things while running our best practice campaigns in the background,” Reano said.
Hahnlen shared that doing the above would make an excellent A/B test: analyze a trigger-based direct mail vs. an ad-hoc campaign when using the same creative.
At the end of the session, Reano summed it up best by saying, “For anyone on the fence about direct mail, I know it can feel intimidating. Many in our organization were not expecting this to work. I’m so glad it did. I’ve gotten a lot of support and buy-in for direct mail. Try it. Continue to test and optimize. There’s so much more we can do with mail. We’ve just scratched the surface of what direct mail can do for us.”
The attendees had some excellent questions for Reano and Hahnlen at the end of their session.
Q: What mail formats have you tested?
A (Reano): We’ve only tested our 6x9 postcard as it’s what we launched our program with, and it’s worked well. There’s a possibility to test other shapes, cutouts, and letters vs. postcards in the future.
Hahlen added that marketers should prioritize the basics first to understand what test created a lift in results. The cost of a direct mail piece with a unique shape that might stand out might not offset the additional costs or effort. Marketers need to define what success looks like in their organization and then experiment with testing.
Q: How small of a mailing can you use automation for?
A (Hahnlen): You can send as little as one piece of direct mail. If you need to reach someone and don’t want to wait for a minimum with a printer, you can send one piece through Lob.
Q: With your testing, are you using a thredUP or purchased prospect list?
A (Reano): We are targeting our current customers. We’re looking into testing direct mail with prospect lists.
Q: Does direct mail work for customer acquisition?
A (Hahnlen): We’ve found that direct mail works incredibly well in acquisition, and it’s a great way to reach someone the first time and get a relationship going. We’ve seen studies of marketers who cite they’re using direct mail across the customer journey and wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t work.
Q: What about state privacy laws regarding direct mail marketing?
A (Reano): Being in California, we run a suppression list when pulling our audience to remove people who have opted out of mail. Our customers can contact customer support to opt-out at any time.
Q: How does direct mail's Cost Per Acquisition (CPA) compare to social, paid, or other digital channels?
A (Reano): We’ve found it to be competitive. When you think about the cost of mail, it’s not the cheapest. But, it’s so effective because the CPA is efficient. Direct mail looks expensive in a Cost Per Impression (CPM) model where you can reach millions of people for pennies. But direct mail stands out compared to thousands of emails in an inbox. The CPA is competitive and sometimes even beats our digital channels.
Hahnlen pointed out one of the key learnings from our 2023 State of Direct Mail report, which shows that 74% of marketers agree that direct mail has the highest ROI and response rate of all channels used.
Q: How does one prioritize testing?
A (Reano): I prioritize by looking at business goals. The smaller tests I discussed earlier have been our most valuable tests. These little tests have created a gold standard for our mail. We determine the one variable we can learn from and apply to future campaigns.
Hahnlen added that you need to start with your audience and your data. The creative, offer, and personalization are important but the data alone has such a high impact on your testing. Start with your audience, the cadence, and how they like to be talked to.
Q: How does seasonality come into play in direct mail?
A (Hahnlen): Depends on the industry you’re in! Black Friday, tax refunds, and back to school are important seasonal things that can impact different industries. Figure out seasonality in your industry and what it means to you and your audience.
Q: What about sustainability? For a company [thredUP] focused on thrifting, how do you justify direct mail, a paper-based form of marketing?
A (Reano): That was a concern. We’re a company about sustainability, and we’re sending paper? We’re being specific about who we’re sending these mail pieces to, and the audiences are also thoughtfully crafted. We’re not wasting paper. It might seem counterintuitive at first. One big thing that helped is knowing that all mail sent through Lob is carbon neutral.
Hahnlen also reiterated how important it is that all of Lob’s direct mail is carbon neutral. Look closely at some Lob mail, and you’ll see the eco logo that was added through a partnership with USPS.
Continue learning about direct mail best practices
Want more direct mail marketing insights from Summer Hahnlen? Check out these podcast episodes:
Curious to continue your exploration on the topic of testing and optimizing direct mail? Download our complimentary eBook: Optimizing Direct Mail for Maximum Results!