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October 31, 2016

3 Simple Steps to Personalize Your Physical Mail at Scale

This blog post will introduce you to the benefits of building an omni-channel outreach strategy, show you how to use data to personalize your physical mail at scale, and help you run your first A/B test.

TL;DR

Facts:

  • Digital marketing channels are becoming chaotic, expensive, and inefficient for reaching consumers
  • Direct mail is making a comeback for its ability to reach audiences
  • Personalization is the future of marketing

Myth:

  • Direct mail personalization is hard to do at scale

Every year, marketing analysts release studies finding that email is one of the highest ROI channels for reaching targets online. It's obvious why: your audiences are glued to their email inboxes. You can run campaigns using automation tools, and you can optimize in real-time.

From a marketing efficiency perspective, however, email is also a leaky bucket. Since most companies see average email open rates below 20% (per research from MailChimp), the majority of email campaigns are going to waste. That probably has something to do with why physical mail is making a comeback, according to the 2016 Demand Gen Report.

A number of B2B marketers have told Demand Gen Report that direct mail will play a bigger role in marketing plans this year, partly as a way to gain attention among the overstuffed email inboxes plaguing many B2B buyer

In 2016, marketers will likely see a higher proportion of budget devoted to direct mail outreach.

The key to succeeding with direct mail will be an effective personalization strategy. While it’s true that 98% of Americans check their mail every day and 77% of people sort through their physical mail as soon as they receive it, your outreach needs to do more than be visible. You need to speak to a clear pain point, need, or desire among your target audience.

Thanks to new technology, your direct mail program can be as easy to manage as email. You can manage your end-to-end process with a few clicks, software integrations, and analytical tools. Here’s a step-by-step guide to building a personalization strategy from the ground-up.

1. Craft an omni-channel strategy

Remember that your target audiences aren’t paying attention to the lines between physical and digital worlds like you are. At the end of the day, they just want to receive a message that’s tailored to their in-the-moment needs.

That’s why you’ll want to prioritize your direct mail outreach as part of an omni-channel strategy, in which you use multiple marketing strategies such as email, social media, and paid advertising to reach your end-user. You can use the data that you’re generating from digital channels to inform the performance of your physical mail campaigns. According to a study by VB insight, 80% of marketers personalize email campaigns, while 42% personalize content on social media. You likely already have the data that you need to personalize your campaigns off-the-bat, even when emailing cold prospects.

For instance, take a look at this new customer mailer from Hayneedle. The company has amassed a list, likely from the USPS, of people who have recently moved. Using this list, Hayneedle sends an introductory brochure, complete with beautiful pictures and a coupon that’s redeemable online. The coupon code ensures that Hayneedle can track the full buyer journey, including conversion rates. Data flows from offline to online campaigns, with ease.

Why separate your online and offline marketing efforts when your target buyers aren’t? By approaching your physical mail outreach as part of an omni-channel strategy, you’ll connect more dots in your sales funnel.

2. Use data (and data partners) to personalize your direct mail

If you’re making an investment in direct mail, the key is to tailor the information that you’re generating to your audience’s needs. Use public domain data to improve the precision of your targeting and send more personalized notes. As an example, take a look at Knock, a company that enables homeowners to list their properties for sale. Instead of sending a generic note for outreach, Knock includes the recipient’s address, as well as a Google Maps screenshot of the neighborhood—all elements in your mailer that are possible to personalize using Lob.

Here are a few specific steps to get you started.

  • Explore your CRM data. Browse through your CRM to identify your highest-value buyers, actions they’re taking on your website, and messaging that inspires them to make a purchase. Using this information, you can build trigger-based campaigns that deploy direct mailings at key decision-making moments. For instance, you may be running a website for a restaurant with online ordering. If someone browses your restaurant menu online but doesn’t complete an order, send them a postcard with a coupon code.
  • Work with a third-party list or data provider. With this basic data on hand, you can find a list provider to help build a “lookalike list.” Cross-check your email list with a DaaS provider like TowerData to retrieve physical addresses and behavioral data for each of your recipients. Even better—you can automate this process using Lob’s API.
  • Use public domain data to get a sense of someone’s neighborhood and livelihood. Location often dictates personal needs. You can run a few reports using publicly available datasets to answer these questions. The U.S. government's American FactFinder database makes it relatively easy to export general estimates on age, race, sex, education based on geography. This information can help you understand who your audience is.

3. Plan to optimize and iterate upon your messaging

As with any other form of marketing, direct mail is an investment that needs to yield ROI. In the digital world, campaign planners will A/B test their messaging and campaigns as soon as launch day. Whether you’re running an advertisement or sending an email blast, you want to make sure that your images, headlines, and CTAs are on-point.

Imagine that you’re sending thousands of mailers to dozens of customer segments. Where would you even start A/B testing?

The key is to manage your direct mail campaigns using an API. With Lob, for instance, you can automate every aspect of your postcard or letter mailings. From personalizing subject lines to testing variations of images and messaging, you’ll want to follow some simple steps for your optimizations:

  • Eliminate all spreadsheets, paper, and manual effort from your workflow. Focus on planning, execution, and analysis. By using an API to automate redundant time sinks, you can spend your time segmenting your lists and optimizing your messaging for your target recipients.
  • Before deploying your physical mail campaign in full, test performance on a portion of your list. If you have a list of 1,000 people, for instance, try running your campaign on a subset of 100 people. You can split your test in half exactly, sending email variant A to 50 people and B to the remaining 50.
  • Focus on testing just one element at a time. Try personalizing your greeting line, testing different visuals, adjusting the length of your copy, and trying new calls to action.

For inspiration, take a look at this A/B test with Amazon Fresh. When tapping into a new market, the company sends out two variants of the same postcard, and then tracks which creative concept has performed better.

Final Thoughts

Direct mail is a powerful marketing channel and window of opportunity for your company to stand out from digital marketing noise. You need to make these key interactions with your target audience count.

As a marketer, you need the mental bandwidth to be creative. You need to eliminate the grunt work (list-building, data validation, integrations, personalization, design, A/B testing, etc.) so that you can design campaigns, figure out what works, and scale your successes quickly.

If you’re looking for ideas on how to optimize your direct mail strategy, get in touch with the Lob team. We’d love to help you figure out what integrations, list-building techniques, and time-saving processes to build into your direct mail strategy.

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