Direct mail is still one of the most important channels to break through the noise as consumers become more selective in what they read. Per the CMO Council, 91% of people have unsubscribed from emails they previously opted into. By comparison, only 44% of direct mail goes unopened. For context, most households receive over 150 emails daily as compared to only two pieces of mail.
Companies are still lagging behind in effectively deployment of direct mail for engagement with their customers. At Lob, we’ve noted three major operational challenges that companies face while setting up this critical channel. Here is what you should look out for and key questions you should be asking to address these bottlenecks.
1. FTP: An Outdated Protocol
Many print and mail vendors can be a nightmare to onboard because most vendors utilize FTP for transferring data. FTP is a decade old method that is insecure, lacks two-way communication, and is unreliable.
FTP can be tuned to outperform newer protocols in some instances. However, those cases are restricted to sending smaller numbers of large files. When customers try to send many smaller files to printers, FTP’s slowness restricts throughput and creates delays on triggered mail.
A mailed offer, triggered off a customer action, should be sent as soon as possible. Transferring content via FTP might add a delay simply because it takes longer for the printer to read. Since FTP doesn’t provide specialized error responses, you won’t know if there’s an issue with the data or content until after your vendor has manually reviewed each batch.
Another major concern about FTP is its relative lack of security. If a printer has taken inadequate steps to encrypt the data in motion and at rest, personal identifiable information can be hijacked as it is sent over. Printers should be using more up-to-date protocols like SFTP or secure APIs to prevent costly data loss for their customers.
When you are vetting printers, make sure to ask detailed questions about their data transfer process. If you’re forced to use FTP, consider asking about throughput speed and verify that the print and mail vendor uses SFTP to ensure security. Make sure your vendor has a transparent process for logging and a process or SLA in place to address issues with data within a timely manner. In an ideal world, consider printers that are sophisticated and have an API option.
2. Slow Setup and Rigid Templates
Using a traditional print and mail vendor requires four to five weeks from setup to the initial batch to mail being sent out, and another 2 weeks to be delivered.
There’s usually a lot of back and forth between marketing managers and account managers at the print and mail vendor. Proofing, setting up the templates with the correct merge variables, and creating new templates all take time because two different parties need to iterate on necessary changes.
What is a ‘rigid template’? Finalizing these templates and creating plates if necessary takes a week once the printer confirms content and variables with their customers. Beyond that, there an approval process to set up any variable data composition with the customer which adds another week. Any change to the printed collateral requires the creation of entirely new templates, and builds in another two weeks of lead time.
At that pace, testing a new variant or treatment is extremely inefficient. Marketing teams thus find themselves strapped for time and unable to implement data-driven insights. A modern solution for direct mail should make iterating and A/B testing as easy as possible.
When evaluating a vendor, ask them how they split up different campaigns and handle treatments. Is there a single point of contact and a Service Level Agreement (SLA) in place to ensure speedy response? A solid print and mail partner should have ready answers for all these questions.
3. Lack of Visibility
Traditionally, print and mail vendors provide you a timeline and SLA on how fast it will take them to send out a mail campaign, but there isn’t an easy way to verify if they are actually following their commitment. Insight into the process is largely absent and accurate delivery times are not always provided.
This creates a variety of problems if you are trying to plan other campaigns or ensure you have sufficient inventory based on a mailed promotion. For example, it would be hard to plan a joint email campaign if marketing teams can’t even ballpark the arrival date of a mailing.
When you are working with your print vendor, be sure to ask for a timeline and mail reports. An IMb (intelligent mail barcode) is a unique code assigned to a mailing by USPS. Each time a mail piece passes through USPS facilities, a scan event occurs. Ask your vendor if they are using IMb to surface these scan events for additional insight into the delivery timeframes. If they don’t use IMb, make sure to put a mailing report plan in place and ask for proof of mailing so that you can be positive your mail arrives on time.
By requesting additional insight into your campaigns, you create more accountability with your vendor and enable true omnichannel campaigns.
Smarter Direct Mail Marketing, with Lob
We know that running an effective direct mail campaign can create all sorts of challenges. At Lob, we’re here to help you make sure you are getting everything you need from your print and mail vendor.
We’ve spent tons of time building the perfect direct mail platform that tackles all of these problems. Learn more about Lob APIs in our FAQ and start exploring the possibilities of programmatic direct mail today.