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May 28, 2015

Direct Mail in 2015: Dos and Dont's

Since launching our Print & Mail API products, we have worked with many customers spanning several industries and dozens of unique use-cases. Most of our customers have seen great success building letters, postcards, and other physical mediums into their customer communications in order to beef up their sales, marketing, and operational efforts. On the other hand, we have worked with customers that have seen very poor results on their initial sends, but were able to make significant improvements by continuing to tweak and iterate their offerings. Today, we’d like to share a few dos and don'ts with everyone who has ever considered integrating physical mail into their communication efforts or are seeing poor results with their current campaigns.

Just like e-mail, physical mail requires a lot of science and thought in order to be successful. It is very easy to do it wrong and write it off as an unworthy pursuit, when if done correctly, physical mail can be your company’s most powerful method of customer communication.

Choosing the Right Vendor

Perhaps the single toughest part about getting started with physical mail is choosing the right provider. There are simply too many options when it comes to commercial print & mail providers. A simple Google search will net you thousands of options, and you are likely to get sent to the companies that devote most about of marketing dollars to search and display advertising. This doesn’t necessarily pair you up with the best fit in terms of what you are looking for. Here are a few things to consider in order to choose the best provider.

1) Sometimes Less is More

Many commercial print providers will sell themselves as “Full-Service” platforms. When you visit their websites, it’s not exactly clear what they can offer you. They use buzz words and phrases such as “a full-service platform to integrate with all of your marketing needs” to lure you in. While a few companies truly offer a full spectrum of services and execute well, many more tend to overpromise and underdeliver. Be wary of this as it is easy to get roped in and find out 6 months later that they are not a good fit and cannot execute well.

The right vendor will cut through the crap and lay out exactly what products they offer, who their customers are, and a clear indication of how you can get started. For example, If you are looking to send postcards and it’s not clear if they offer postcards within 5 min on their site, it’s probably time to move on.

2) Don’t be afraid of an unsexy website

The biggest and most successful commercial print businesses have been around for decades. Many of these companies have dedicated resources to modern web development best practices, so that their websites seem outdated and boring. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In our experience, some of the most reliable providers have very plain and boring websites and have continued to grow their business today because they execute very well and word-of-mouth / customer recommendations gives them great deal flow. So don’t immediately hit the back button if you see an ugly home page. It’s almost always worth your time to read through their website.

3) Self service is a must

In today’s market, if a print provider does not offer you a simple and clear way to test out their service, then working with them puts you at even more risk of time-waste. A good provider will allow you to run production tests with your mail pieces quickly without spending too much money. A great provider will even give you an easy way to run your live campaigns without ever having to send an email or make a phone call. A more painful provider will force you to find a contact, reach out, and wait a few days to get started.

Common Pitfalls When Setting Up Campaigns

Now that you have settled on a vendor, there are a few things you should keep in mind as you gear up to send mail. The decisions you make before you start are key to making sure your time and money is best spent over the life of your company.

Here are the most common pitfalls that companies fall into with direct mail. You should definitely avoid these or else you will unnecessarily dig yourself into a hole that is difficult to climb out of.

1) Allowing your vendor to control artwork templating and creation

Whenever you start discussing your printed piece with vendors, they will always offer to help you build your artwork and handle the variable data/image placement for each piece. They will sell this to you as a service that makes it seem like it will save you time and make it easier for you to get started. All you have to do is send them data when you want to send a batch of mail. If you allow them to do this, you are making a big mistake. This is handing design control over to a 3rd party on a silver platter. Down the line when you inevitably need to restructure things and make significant changes to your mailpiece, it will be annoying. The back and forth communication to get changes cleared will take too much time and you’ll move way too slowly.

Make sure to set up a system from the beginning where you have full control of your artwork. By setting up something internally that allows you to push any design iterations, you are saving time in the future. HTML is a good way to approach this challenge.

2) Untimely Delivery

Make sure to think about the timing on your mail sends. It’s easy to fall into the trap of batching all your monthly mail. Batching allows printers to save some money on the production side by running all of your cards at once.

Unfortunately what’s good for the printer is not good for you. All your mail should be triggered based on some customer interaction or data. The touch points must be be made at appropriate times in the customer lifecycle to maximize mail ROI. You want that welcome letter to be triggered the moment a user clicks “Sign Up”, not next Monday. A few days may seem inconsequential, but it actually goes a long to way to improving response rates.

3) Unclear Call to Action

When it comes to setting up your mail campaigns, it is important to be data-driven. Everything you do must be measurable! Make improvements along the way to perfect direct mail for your company. The most important piece of your mail campaign is the call-to-action. Be sure to include a clear and easy to follow CTA on your postcard or letter.

From what we’ve seen, our most successful customers include a bold and vibrant promo code with each mail piece. These promo codes are variable with each campaign or artwork variation. This allows you to make small design changes on the fly, A/B test effectively, and create the perfect mail piece.

We hope this advice was helpful. At Lob, we enable companies of all sizes to open up direct mail as another channel of communication and marketing. After talking with our customers, we have learned that direct mail offers powerful ROI when done correctly. We have heard many success stories, many which started as failures.

If you would like to learn more about setting up a direct mail campaign, just give us a shout. We would be more than happy to see if we can help out.

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