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Direct Mail
December 19, 2023

How to Prepare for a Direct Mail Pilot

by 
Stephanie Donelson

We love talking about the results of direct mail marketing, but let’s take a step back and look at how marketing teams or those sending operational mail get up and running with direct mail automation platforms.

We sat down with our own VP, Solutions Engineering, Mike Tuffley, who you might recognize from our Optimizing Direct Mail for Maximum Results webinar or episode 16 of the Lobcast Podcast: Marketing Optimizations & Old Fashioneds, to discuss direct mail pilot programs. He has introduced himself as the mad scientist of Lob, so we knew he’d be the right person to talk to about experimenting with direct mail solutions and testing software programs. 

We wanted the inside scoop on what it takes to set up a direct mail pilot and how prospective customers can get the most out of their software testing. Let’s get into the interview!

Preparing for a direct mail pilot with Lob

Question: What are some things marketers or those testing direct mail platforms should have prepared before a pilot launches? Such as the direct mail creative, marketing lists, a CRM integration, or goals for the campaign?

Tuffley: As with any marketing campaign, it all starts with the brief to define all those inputs, the project timelines and stakeholders, and the key objectives.

For direct mail with Lob, this would be designing a creative more like an email than a traditional static mailpiece. We suggest using dynamic product and lifestyle imagery, body copy, and offers/CTAs that are informed by first-party customer data to create a highly personalized mail piece and customer experience.

When selecting the audience, be sure to include all of the purchase history or household information in the data so those elements can be mapped into the creative and ensure a resulting mailpiece that will resonate with your consumers. If the campaign will be event-triggered (eg. a postcard being sent when someone unsubscribes from email), then a CRM/CDP or Marketing Automation Platform are great systems to automatically map that data into a mailpiece that will land in-market in a timely manner and with no manual intervention.

The last component to a personalized and automated direct mail campaign is the ability to measure the results. With CTA elements such as dynamic QR codes and PURLs, along with the extensive mail event data available in Lob, measurement and attribution can be greatly improved and simplified.

Q: What’s the minimum amount of mail you recommend for a pilot? How does this impact the budget for a pilot?

Tuffley: This question really depends on the customer who is executing the campaign and the nature of the campaign. If this is an experiment (eg. A/B test) or if the marketer is testing out a campaign, then that minimum volume would be dictated by the statistically significant sample population required.

If the marketer is not testing a campaign, then any audience size is possible, and we advise that the pilot target those consumers that show the highest intent (eg. an abandoned-cart postcard campaign that triggers automatically after an email sequence and shows images of the products in the cart and includes a QR code link back to that unique cart checkout).

Q: Should the pilot focus on one product or stress test multiple solutions, like direct mail automation and address verification together?

Tuffley: Again, this depends on the marketer and the nature of their test. We always advocate for testing a single use case with well-defined targets. Sometimes that can include A/B or multivariate testing of elements within the creative to get the most out of Lob’s capability to create many permutations of a single mailpiece and measure for the best performers.

What to expect with a direct mail pilot program

Q: How long should a pilot be? 

Tuffley: On average, a successful pilot should be around 60 days to design, execute, and measure the campaign’s outcome. Our technology has reduced the time from 90 days through mail tracking data, dynamic CTAs, and automation to facilitate quick and accurate measurements for reporting.

Q: What kind of metrics do you tell prospective customers to measure to determine if the pilot was successful?

Tuffley: For our prospective customers piloting an operational mail use case, they would use our mail event data to prove out our production SLAs and the speed-to-mailbox value that our distributed print network affords our customers.

For marketers, the response and conversion rates or the network effect of incorporating intelligent mail into their multichannel communications strategy. At the end of the day, ROAS/ROI is why our customer prospects sign up with Lob.

Q: Should this be a proof of concept, or should they try to run an A/B test during a pilot?

Tuffley: Either is fine, and we’re always happy to support both types of initiatives, but the underlying spirit of the pilot should be to prove out the value of deeply personalized, timley, and measurable mail. I defer to the customer and consult their level of comfort with varying degrees of complexity. The maturity of their marketing program will typically provide guidance for the most successful pilot.

Q: How much personalization should be included in pilot programs? Should that even be a big consideration during a pilot?

Tuffley: Some degree of personalization should be incorporated into every pilot. Whether it’s personalized creative to optimize response or replicating the same measurable click-through experience we’re accustomed to in our digital channels, our dynamic and personalized creative capabilities allow you to push every element of your direct mail campaign into the digital age.

Q: Have you found any particular mail formats perform better in a pilot, or does it depend on the industry?

Tuffley: We’ve had customers test postcards, letters, and self-mailers within the same pilot campaign. Preferred formats tend to align with the nature of the campaign and the customer vertical. I personally prefer larger formats that have more prominent profiles (eg. 6x9 postcards and self-mailers) that tend to stand out in a stack of mail retrieved from a mailbox.

Direct mail pilots at Lob

Q: Do you see more marketers piloting our direct mail automation API solution or Lob Campaigns? Why could one solution be better for a marketing team? 

Tuffley: This entirely depends on the use case. For those who want to test an on-demand solution for creating triggered or daily campaigns, the automation of our API is the way to go. With most of the popular CRM, CDP, and marketing automation solutions out there, this is typically a quick and seamless implementation.

If a prospect wants to test a small number of campaigns, our Campaigns functionality allows for simple execution in a matter of minutes. They select their creative, upload the audience list exported from their CRM, and after approving the digital proofs, they can send that campaign off for production and mailing.

Recommended reading: How to Send Mail with Lob

Q: What have you learned about direct mail pilot programs between your first experience running them at Lob and your most recent?

Tuffley: To get the most out of piloting Lob, prospects should be piloting the technology as much as the fulfillment of the physical product. This should include dynamic content, mail tracking, analytics, and automation where applicable.

We have a comprehensive playbook to ensure that our pilots are architected for success and this was entirely based on the successes of many previous pilots and literally decades of collective experience and wisdom in the direct mail and direct mail marketing spaces by Lob’s team.

Q: What’s your favorite pilot you’ve run at Lob, or what was your favorite solution you’ve helped a prospective customer with? 

Tuffley: I enjoy building really cool stuff to help our customers realize the most far-out ideas and map the cutting-edge stuff from digital to direct mail. One time I built a custom API that generated custom map images with driving direction routes overlaid to illustrate to customers how close a property was to their home address. Every postcard in that campaign had a unique map with driving directions printed on it. They A/B tested that against a product image, but the maps were the prevailing content!

Q: Is there any final advice you'd give to someone planning a direct mail pilot?

Tuffley: Work closely with the Lob team to allow us to understand your requirements and intended outcomes early on to be set up for success. When a customer is collaborative and receptive to feedback, the sky is the limit, and they’re typically surprised at the art of possible with our technology. We don’t want to execute your status quo direct mail campaign. We want you to pilot Lob and allow us to execute your next-generation mail campaign.

Ready to test Lob for your team? Schedule a demo and we’ll explore what Lob can do for your direct mail marketing program!