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Launch Your Direct Mail Pilot in 3 Easy Steps
October 31, 2016

Launch Your Direct Mail Pilot in 3 Easy Steps

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Shrav Mehta

Thanks to new technology, direct mail can be as simple to manage as email. Using an application programming interface (API), you can build workflows and system to launch trigger-based campaigns. Instead of managing campaigns manually and via spreadsheets, you can limit your involvement to a few clicks. Healthcare companies such as Counsyl use direct mail to send HIPAA-compliant invoices; thanks to APIs, that process is largely automated.

The biggest benefit that automation brings is bandwidth. When you eliminate the grunt work from your direct mail operations, you have more time and flexibility to optimize your strategy. That’s why so many companies see an immediate improvement to bottom-line metrics when they switch over from manual process to an API:

  • Amazon Fresh, over the course of has generated significant lift on offer redemptions in new markets.
  • By automating 17,000 monthly patient invoices, Counsyl increased patient payments by 20%.
  • eShares uses a direct mail API to simplify IRS form processes, saving its customers hundreds of hours each week.
  • Couchsurfing is able to verify 25,000 member verification requests per month with absolutely no manual effort.

When you’re running a direct mail program, automation can help you manage your outreach efficiently and at scale. A focused pilot will be an important part of this process. Start small, optimize your model, course-correct upon your weaknesses, and scale your successes. Here are 3 simple yet frequently overlooked steps to take.

Step 1: Validate the integrity of your list

Your list is the foundation of your direct mail outreach strategy. If you’re reaching the wrong recipients—or if your messages are being delivered to the wrong address—you’ll risk wasting resources.

During your pilot, a critical first step will be to check the integrity of your list. Take a random sample of recipients—between 10-25% of your list, depending on the overall size, and check for potential errors. Here are two simple ways to get started:

  • If you have your recipients’ email addresses, you can a third-party Data-as-a-Service (DaaS) provider like TowerData to validate that your recipients’ addresses are accurate.
  • Send a sample mailing to a small portion of your list. Measure initial conversion rates as a function of offer redemptions and/or responses. If your conversion rate seems uncharacteristically low, there could be a problem with your list—for instance, your data may be inaccurate.

Your goal should be a sanity-check. Does it look like your addresses are inaccurate? Are you reaching the right recipients from your customer database?

By investigating these tough questions, you’ll minimize risks in your direct mail program: you’ll make sure that the right messaging is reaching the right audiences at the right times in their buying journeys. Since you identified problems early in your direct mail strategy, you’ll avoid the potential for error and waste as you start to scale up your campaigns.

An accurate list—in addition to an understanding in any holes or gaps in your strategy—will be the foundation of a successful direct mail strategy. A small test campaign will help extinguish efficiencies, before they have a chance to arise.

Step 2: Create a personalization strategy

From marketing to operations, the key to success with direct mail outreach is personalization. Whether you’re sending HIPAA compliant invoices or promotional postcards, your messaging needs to strike a chord with each recipient. A direct mail API will help. Rather than importing spreadsheets or customizing letters manually, you can automate workflows using a few clicks. As a result, you’ll eliminate the potential for human error from say, merging your cells incorrectly.

Let’s say that you’re managing your customer records in a CRM or billing system, for instance. Rather than copying and pasting addresses—or bringing data together using spreadsheets—you can use an integration between Lob and Blockspring to import the information that you need with a single API call. The end result is personalized mail, minus the hassle. If your operations team is launching a direct mail pilot, take a look at this use case with eShares as an example.

Similar to operations teams, marketers can use direct mail to send personalized, targeted communications. Unlike sending an invoice, you may not have insight into the steps that your recipients are going to take. But you can make sure that your messaging, at a high-level, is on point. Here are a few steps that you can take:

  • Make sure that your list recipients are grouped in a way that makes sense—by geography, past behavior with your company, and demographic variables.
  • Choose a persona to represent each grouping, or segment, that you’ve created.
  • Tailor your messaging to your segments.

The goal is to streamline your messaging as much as possible: while you may not be able to reach recipient on your list with customized, individual-level communication, you will want to make sure that your communication is tailored enough.

For inspiration, take a look at this use case with Lead Liaison and Lob.

Step 3: Go through this checklist to streamline the small details (efficiencies add up!)

The purpose of a direct mail pilot is to resolve inefficiencies ahead of time, through testing. That’s why direct mail strategists will want to iron out their smallest campaign nuances. Go through the following checklist of common errors that we often see in direct mail:

  • Align your pilot to the right use cases. Define your business KPIs upfront, so you can measure, track, and improve upon your early results. This frame of reference will keep your campaigns focused as you scale them up.
  • Gather cross-functional perspectives. Pull a developer <em>and</em> designer into a room to discuss your strategy and to brainstorm the best ways to 1) set up the direct mail trigger and 2) create a simple, informative and compelling offer to entice your target audience.
  • Set up systems for A/B testing and optimization. Figure out a process to run ongoing testing, so that you can start making improvements from the jump. (Hint: programmatic!)
  • Have a strategy to quickly scale your highest-value audiences and segments. This tip is especially relevant for marketers who are conducting direct mail outreach for growth purposes. Even before you launch, you should have a system in place to scale your most successful efforts.
  • Make sure that you have enough time devoted to planning and analysis. In total, a successful pilot will take 2-3 months.
  • Make sure you have enough wiggle room in your budget but aren’t overspending. For companies starting out, we recommend sending 10,000 mail pieces. If you do not have budget to support that volume, start with a lower quantity. If the ROI is reasonable, you can increase the quantity and try to duplicate the results.

Final Thoughts

When crafting your direct mail pilot, leave no detail to your imagination. Laser focus around your target audience, check the health of your mailing list, and tie up loose ends. The key is to get a working model off the ground quickly and then to scale up your efforts. If your direct mail program is ROI positive and efficient at the ground level, you’ll likely see the same efficiencies when you’ve grown your scale and reach.

Done well, direct mail has no upper bounds. WIth automation technology, your processes can be as straightforward to manage as email, and you can integrate your online and offline campaigns seamlessly. If you find yourself dealing with option overload or wondering how to take the right first step, get in touch with the Lob team.

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